Writing a reasonable review of June Hemmons Hiatt's The Principles of Knitting: Methods and Techniques of Hand Knitting seems like an impossible task. The book is just too big (726 pages!), the original too well-loved; it's staggering in scope and difficult to do justice to in description.
This book is a must-own if not precisely a must-read, at least not in the sense of cover-to-cover reading. It's just too immense and overwhelming. Which is to say I haven't read this book cover to cover. That's something I'm not sure most people who own this book will ever do, certainly not in one big chunk of time, anyway. But any time spent with this book will certainly pay off, for a knitter of any skill level.
Principles is a reference book of the most comprehensive nature. It's a book to glance over, look through, explore, refer to and return to again and again through your knitting life. Hiatt is a wise, thoughtful and extremely knowledgeable companion as you explore everything from styles of knitting to textured stitches, reading patterns to ways to use I-cord (speaking of, did you know you can knit I-cord in Seed Stitch?).
Everything You Could Ever Want to Know
The other problem with writing a review of this book besides its length is its breadth. It would be impossible to catalog all the awesome stuff in this book or touch on the things that are going to be of most interest to some readers. Odds are, though, if you want to know something about knitting, it's somewhere in this book.
The book is organized into seven sections:
- Learning and Methods -- different ways to knit and purl, circular and flat knitting
- Constructing a Fabric -- casting on, selvedges and steeks, binding off, shaping, picking up stitches, openings, hems, facings, pleats and tucks
- Decorative Techniques -- stitches, increase and decrease techniques and stitch patterns, color techniques and surface decoration
- Special Fabrics -- double fabrics, inlay, twined knitting, felting/fulling and "uncommon shapes" (like moebius, modular knitting and medallions)
- Stitch and Color Patterns -- written and charted stitch patterns and charted color patterns
- Pattern Design -- gauge, measurements and schematics, calculations and charted garment patterns
- Materials -- fiber, yarn and tools
- Working a Project -- written patterns, "dressing" a garment and finishing techniques
There's also an appendix with conversions and needle sizes, a glossary of terms and an extensive bibliography.
Multiple Points of Entry
There are lots of different ways a knitter could approach The Principles of Knitting. A new knitter might start at the beginning, with the chapter on knitting methods (or the section on cast ons, really).
Knitters with more experience might start with the section on working a project, where they could learn about choosing patterns, how to keep records, using different kinds of markers and joining yarn in different ways, correcting mistakes and more.
Those with an interest in design might start with the pattern design section or even the portions on stitch patterns, which are sure to inspire swatches and projects.
Knitters wanting to learn a new skill might turn to the section on mosaic knitting, modular patterns or other special techniques.
Still other knitters might want to simply flip the book open to a random page and see what they can learn (I did this and found sections on beaded knitting, sleeve design and twined knitting).
Or you could use the index to find a particular issue or technique you're interested in learning more about or need to be able to do for a particular project you're working on.
No matter where you start in Principles of Knitting or where it takes you, readers are sure to find some information they didn't know before or a different approach to a problem or technique. For instance there are 13 different ways of knitting mentioned, more than 50 cast on variations (I actually got tired of counting!), more than 30 bind offs, 23 pages on picking up stitches and 15 pages on different ways to increase and decrease.
The writing can understandably get dense and textbook-like from time to time -- this is, after all, a huge knitting reference -- but if you don't try to read too much in one sitting it's not really boring reading.
If you can approach the book with an attitude of exploration and a willingness to learn, you'll be well rewarded by giving this book your time and attention.
This book covers things you don't often see in knitting books, such as how to hold the needles and tension the yarn (and why long, straight needles are bad, especially if you have repetitive motion issues). It includes tips for maximizing efficiency and comfort that will be of value to new knitters and those with more experience.
The way she describes things is a little awkward because she resists using the terms "right" or "wrong" or "front" and "back" in favor of "nearside" and "farside." It makes perfect sense but is a little jarring for people used to different terms.
It would also be really nice if the book had cross references with page numbers, which I realize would have added a huge amount of work to an already massive project, but I'm grasping for criticisms here. (You can also just use the index to look up a cross-referenced technique.)
The History of Principles
The Principles of Knitting was originally published in 1988 but went out of print in the 1990s. It became a cult classic (yes, I know how weird the idea of a cult knitting book sounds), with people paying almost any price for what used copies of it could be found. A reprint or new edition was rumored for years -- and Hiatt says in the introduction to the new edition that this version was 10 years in the making.
The new edition contains about 100 more pages and 100,000 more words than the original, and in all includes more than 900 illustrations (mostly black and white line drawings with some black and white photographs; no doubt the color was kept to a minimum to keep the price of this book a relatively low for what you're getting $45). The knitting community will likely ensure that this version stays in print for a long time to come, and what a benefit to us all that will be.
I don't know of a knitter who wouldn't benefit from owning a copy of The Principles of Knitting and looking through it regularly. Newer knitters will start their knitting journey with a firm foundation in technique (so long as they don't get overwhelmed by this massive book), while knitters with more experience will discover techniques they haven't tried yet.
Even experience d knitters are likely to find techniques here they haven't tried before and will surely learn something that will make them approach their knitting in a new way.
Publication date: February 2012