A knitter who visited my workroom a couple of years ago was surprised to find that although I live and work in middle of a forest of bookcases that towers well over my head, the shelves devoted to knitting are relatively few.
“I thought you’d have … well … I thought you’d have all of them,” she said, in a disappointed tone not uncommon among those who meet me in person.
It is difficult for a knitting book to stay in my collection for more than a year or two. City living doesn’t allow for it. If, during my annual culling, I look at a title and think, “I’m probably never going to use this again,” out it goes. Chicago’s famous annual used book sale at the Newberry Library has had a rather more robust fiber arts selection since I moved out here.
When the editors of Vogue Knitting magazine revealed what they describe as a “completely revised and updated” edition of Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book (Sixth & Spring Books), I honestly didn’t pay much attention because I have my own battle-scarred copy of the 2002 edition. In fact, it’s one of the first knitting books I bought after I became a serious knitter. I remember using it to learn how to “join to work in the round, being careful not to twist.” (It worked, the second time.)
Now, if the 2002 edition was “ultimate,” meaning (if you ask Mr. Webster) “the best or most extreme example of its kind,” how can you do better than that? Is it possible to be more ultimate than the ultimate?
The new edition is both larger (by an inch) and longer (by seventy pages) than the old edition. That much is clear if you look at them side by side. The sheer heft of this thing is impressive. Don’t drop it on your toe. (I did.) It’s handsome, of course—Sixth & Spring (who, full disclosure, turned out my own I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book a couple years ago) do handsome books.
But as Mother reminded me as I stared forlornly into the mirror on the eve of my first school dance, “Honey, it’s what’s inside that counts.”
So, what’s inside?
I was pleased to see that after revising and expanding, the best of the old edition remains intact. One of the strengths of the book was its razor-sharp illustrations of techniques both fundamental (like the humble knitted cast on) and arcane. The new additions are up to the previous high standard, and photographs (of which there are far more) are even better.
And fond as I am of my old friend from 2002, the added content of the 2018 edition is enough to knock its predecessor right off the shelf and into the “donate” pile.
Certain techniques that were unfashionable in 2002 (hello, mosaic) have been given more room to shine, and techniques that were virtually unknown (hello, brioche) have been introduced.
There are are superbly clear sections about shawl shapings (fourteen pages of them) and methods for sweater construction. The design section is amplified, retaining the excellent Vogue Knitting Design Worksheet but reorganizing the flow of the information to improve usability.
Design for accessories (hats, mittens, gloves, socks) gets its own section, including fundamentals of measuring and shaping.
I am delighted to see that the only part of the older edition that made me snore—a motley collection stitch patterns plonked down in the middle of all the technical sections—is gone. There are still stitch patterns, but now they’re adjacent to the techniques that use them. It makes more sense and is, frankly, a better use of page space.
Finally: if you’re a details geek (I am) what ultimately (ha) makes the book worth keeping around is what has always made the book worth keeping around: the concrete guides to stuff the kwik-n-eezee skool of knitting usually zips past.
So you’ll find page after page about necklines, collars, hems, trims, handsome methods for picking up stitches, various seams and where to use them, knitted buttonholes and how to make them suck less. Vogue Knitting magazine has traditionally been a showcase for patterns that get the little things right, and those decades of editorial expertise are on full display here. It’s the little things, of course, that can make the difference between a fine piece of handknitting and … the other kind of handknitting.
Hail and farewell, my beloved 2002 edition of Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book. You have given excellent service and earned your rest. Do I donate you to the library sale? Or do I put you in a flaming Viking ship and push you out into Lake Michigan?