10 of the best knitting books
Create your own library of craft classics with our list of the top books every knitter should have on their shelf.
Helen Spedding is the book reviewer for The Knitter, and has read hundreds of titles about knitting over the years. Here, in no particular order, she picks the top books she couldn't live without, and explains why she thinks these books will inform and inspire her knitting for years to come.
1. Knitting Workshop by Elizabeth Zimmermann
Witty, charming, inspiring and informative, the writings of Elizabeth Zimmermann have rightly become classics. It’s hard to name just one of her books as being ‘the best’ – ‘Knitting Without Tears’ and The Knitter’s Almanac are fabulous, too – but for me, Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitting Workshop is the book that personally helped me become a ‘real’ knitter.
By working through the set projects, I quickly came to understand so much more about the process of knitting and construction; I was encouraged to think for myself, and believe in my own abilities and instincts, too. After reaching the end of this book, readers will be armed with the skills – and confidence – to begin designing their own sweaters. They’ll also be entertained and inspired every step of the way. That’s some achievement.
2. The Principles of Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt
This book of knitting techniques is a must-have for every knitter – and well worth the £30 price. An instant classic when it was released in 1988, it was revised in 2012 and now boasts nearly 700 pages of information – with 26 pages alone on knitting tension squares, you know you are in the hands of a master!
Whatever your question, June Hemmons Hiatt will answer it here, explaining both how and why to work each method. From constructing all types of knitted fabric to shaping, patterning, designing and more, its breadth and depth is staggering. It’s illustrated with black-and-white photographs and line drawings. Our much-thumbed copy in The Knitter offices is referred to almost daily, and we regard it as an indispensable part of our knitting library.
3. Knitted Lace of Estonia by Nancy Bush
I really struggled to choose just one book about lace knitting; it is my absolute favourite of all knitting styles, and I nearly opted for ‘Heirloom Knitting’ by Sharon Miller or ‘Victorian Lace Today’ by Jane Sowerby. However, Nancy Bush’s book about Estonian lace won its spot in my top 10 due to its breathtakingly beautiful projects.
The stitch dictionary alone will make your fingers itch to try out the intricate, exquisite patterns, while each of the 14 shawl and scarf projects offers heirloom style and quality. I would happily knit every one of these designs, again and again; the book proves the statement that knitting is a genuine artform.
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4. Aran Knitting by Alice Starmore
Because Alice Starmore is one of my all-time favourite designers, it was hard to pick just one of her books; I have spent many evenings poring over ‘Fair Isle Knitting’, ‘Fishermen’s Sweaters’ and ‘Tudor Roses’. However, for its scholarly yet highly readable approach to the history of the Aran knitting tradition (and its debunking of many of the myths surrounding it), Aran Knitting is the one I would pick.
The in-depth section on Aran patterns has large swatches and clear charts, enabling us to create our own combinations of stitch patterns in our knits. It’s followed by a gorgeously photographed collection of nine classic Aran garment patterns for men, women and children, including sweaters, cardigans and shawls, inspired by early examples of Aran sweaters from museum archives, rather than the more well known, commercial products that emerged in the 1950s. If I was only allowed to make sweaters from this book for the rest of my life, I would still be a happy knitter.
5. 200 Fair Isle Designs by Mary Jane Mucklestone
Mary Jane Mucklestone’s boundless enthusiasm for stranded colourwork knitting is infectious. Through her books, blog and patterns, she shares her love for Fair Isle, and for anyone wanting to create their own Fair Isle garments and projects, this sourcebook is a must-have. Mary Jane treats us to 200 life-sized swatches of the most beautiful, exquisite patterns.
Each is accompanied by four charts, including a black-and-white version so you can choose your own colours, plus alternative colourways. The ‘mix and match’ feature helps you to combine patterns with confidence, while at-a-glance photo indexes make it easy to pick out patterns you like. Along with essential technique information, this book will have knitters playing with colour like never before.
6. Folk Socks by Nancy Bush
I am fascinated by knitting history and knitting cultures around the world, and I admire the research that went into this classic book, first published in 1994 and updated in 2011. Nancy Bush scoured archives and museums to better understand “the history of the humble sock”, and she brings us her findings, beginning with the development of socks in ancient times and the Middle Ages, to the sock knitting industry of the British Isle of the past four centuries.
Fascinating details and photographs of early socks add colour to her writings. We are also treated to an invaluable guide to knitting socks, including a wide range of heel and toe types including many more unfamiliar constructions. The stars of the book, though, are the 18 gorgeous patterns showcasing sock traditions, with designs based on socks from a range of countries including Norway, Finland, Estonia, Bavaria, Shetland, Wales and Egypt.
7. The Knitter’s Book of Wool by Clara Parkes
With her unstoppable curiosity and her evangelical mission to get us all swatching and experimenting, Clara Parkes is the undisputed queen of fibre. This follow-up to her excellent ‘The Knitter’s Book of Yarn’ focuses on wool, the number-one fibre for so many of us, and provides us with the tools we need to choose exactly the right type of wool to use for every project (in Clara’s words, to develop our “yarn whispering” skills).
Clara begins by explaining the microscopic properties of wool fibres, then takes us on a wool journey from sheep to skein. Then it’s time to meet 37 key sheep breeds, taking a look at their history, the facts about their fibres, and what projects each breed’s wool are best suited for. This is accompanied by 23 beautiful patterns from top designers including Nancy Bush, Cat Bordhi, Pam Allen and Evelyn Clark, which showcase the specific qualities of different wool yarns. It’s an insightful, intelligent and entertaining book.
8. A Stitch in Time Volume 1 by Susan Crawford & Jane Waller
The term ‘a labour of love’ is a cliché, but it genuinely applies here to this magnificent book of vintage knitwear patterns. A huge amount of research and technical editing went in to creating this collection of 60 original designs from 1920-1949. It certainly paid off, though, and this book has gained legions of fans around the world. Susan Crawford painstakingly reworked authentic knitwear patterns to suit modern yarns and body shapes, and each garment is exquisitely feminine, and rewarding to knit and wear.
Looking through the book fills the reader with joy at being faced with so much beauty and elegance – and knowing that some of it can be ours, if we pick up our needles and get knitting!
9. The Knowledgeable Knitter by Margaret Radcliffe
Personally, I feel I have much to learn as a knitter; I’m constantly striving to increase my understanding of our craft, and never tire of reading technique books. That’s why I’d have ‘The Knowledgeable Knitter’ on my bookshelf as well as ‘The Principles of Knitting’. What makes this book a winner for me is its beautifully clear photography, which makes it very accessible. Of course, Margaret Radcliffe’s book is also carefully researched and well written, and everything you’d expect to find is here, from evaluating the fit of a pattern, yarn choice, cast-on and cast-off methods and construction types, to shaping, adding collars and borders, fixing mistakes and finishing techniques - and so much more.
There’s also excellent, detailed advice on converting patterns from flat to circular knitting and from bottom up to top down, steeking, adapting necklines and shoulder shaping, and how to plan in darts for a better fit.
10. A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara Walker
Barbara Walker’s series of stitch libraries has influenced and inspired countless knitters; chances are, your favourite knitwear designer will cite Barbara’s Treasuries as being among the most important books they own.
Everyone has their own favourite from the series, but I’ve picked the ‘Second Treasury’, which has an appealing mix of often forgotten traditional patterns and contemporary stitches. It offers a wealth of beautiful ideas, from lace and cable patterns, fancy textures and mosaic colourwork, to borders and edgings, twisted stitches and good-old, timeless knit-and-purl patterning.
As Operations Editor of The Knitter, Helen makes sure that everyone works together to produce the best magazine they can – and that they hit their deadlines! As well as keeping the magazine running smoothly day-to-day, she sources all the latest stories for the news section, writes features, interviews top designers, and checks every word that makes it into print. When she gets a spare minute, Helen enjoys reading knitting books and blogs, and working on her own projects. Her first love is lace, but she’s also on a mission to improve her stranded colourwork so she can cast on more Fair Isle projects from her favourite designers, Kate Davies and Mary Henderson.