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Thursday Review: How to Knit Socks (book)

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First up in the Thursday Review series: “How to Knit Socks Three Methods Made Easy” by Edie Eckman. Published by House of White Birches (Annie’s Attic/DRG).

I picked this book up after deciding to learn how to “Magic Loop” socks. While I had watched several videos of the method, I wanted to have “hard copy” instructions for late-night and travel knitting when an online video isn’t feasible.Cover price is $10.95, but I bought it at Joann’s during a 40%-off knit and crochet books sale. The book (as you might guess from the title) teaches the 3 main methods of sock knitting: Double-Pointed Needles, Two Circular Needles, and One Long Circular (aka Magic Loop). The first three “chapters” of the book are a step-by-step “explained” pattern for the same “basic sock” by each of the methods. There are also 7 additional sock patterns included. All patterns are cuff-down, and there are children’s, women’s and men’s patterns in yarn weights from sock/fingering to DK (using needles from size US2 to US4). No “skill level” is declared for the book itself, but based on the “intermediate” rating given to the patterns and the lack of a “how to knit” section, I would place it at an “intermediate” level. The “teaching sections” assume that you already know how to knit, purl, increase and decrease. Basic instruction is given as to joining to work in the round, but personally I prefer to use a more secure and less obvious method for joining (and no discussion of other methods is offered in the book)–this would be my first criticism of this book, that for a “learning” book (even one that assumes more than beginner-level skill) there are some sections that leave you to your own trial-and-error or further research. Given that no prior knowledge of sock knitting is assumed (the Introduction says “If this terminology sounds confusing, don’t worry. You’ll know what it means by the time you complete the basic sock.”) I felt that this was a serious (possibly disastrously discouraging) omission. Another example would be that no discussion is given at all to cast-on methods. Just because someone knows how to knit, it doesn’t mean they are aware of what the best cast-on methods are for different applications…and for something like a sock, choosing the wrong cast-on could mean extra frustration and possibly an un-wearable finished object.

The patterns are varied and interesting, including a pair of toeless “flip flop socks” (also called yoga socks or pedicure socks), a cabled sock, and a children’s slip-stitch colorwork sock.

The photography throughout the book is excellent. Good descriptions of the yarn type and weight needed for each pattern is given. Of the 10 socks shown in the book–7 patterns and 3 “how to” basic socks–6 of the samples are knit from a Plymouth Yarn Co. offering.

All in all, I really want to like this book, as in general I like Edie Eckman’s patterns and way of explaining things…but I have found one major flaw that, in combination with the other issues, keeps me from recommending it.

The “explanatory instructions” for the basic sock on Double-Pointed Needles and Two Circular Needles are well-written, clear, and easy to follow. While I have not followed them to actually knit a sock, I have read through both sections completely and have not found any major mistakes. However, the “Magic Loop” section has several glaring errors that appear to be the result of copying instructions from the Two Circulars section without properly editing. One error is identically present in both the “Magic Loop” and Two Circulars sections (stitch counts in the directions is different from the stitch counts in the “expanded explanation” section directly under it). One “expanded explanation” portion of the Gusset section of the “Magic Loop” directions is completely confusing and if followed as written (if one could figure out a way to do so) would result in a not-quite-a-sock that wouldn’t be entirely wearable. Luckily for my own learning-to-knit-socks journey, I had already studied several videos of the “Magic Loop” method online (as well as having confidence in my years of crochet pattern reading and pattern-mistake finding) and was able to do what logically followed instead of being stymied by the breakdown in instructions.

The especially frustrating thing about these errors is that my copy of the book appears to be from the 3rd print run, yet a search online (via Google as well as on both the author’s and publisher’s websites) yielded no errata/corrections.

Thursday Review conclusion: While the photographs and patterns are excellent, the lack of sock-specific “extra” information (like cast-ons and joining) in what is supposed to be a “learning” book as well as the errors in the “Magic Loop” section results in a rating of 2 out of 5: I would not recommend it to others.

EDITED June 20, 2011 TO ADD: since publishing this post, I’ve found some additional HUGE problems with this book. The math on several of the patterns doesn’t add up…for example, the very first “real pattern” in the book, “Flip-Flop Socks”, gives a finished foot circumference measurement of 7 inches and the stated gauge is 16 sts X 22 rnds = 2 inches. The cast on is 60 stitches. 60 divided by 16 is 3.75, multiplied by 2 is 7.5 inches. So even before accounting for negative ease (the stretch inherent in knit fabric that makes a seemingly too small garment conform to the wearer’s body for a perfect fit) the sock is too big…which may explain why the photographed example looks baggy and wrinkly on the model…and why when I cast on for a pair of socks following this pattern, I had to frog it and start over with a cast on of 56 stitches to get a properly-fitting sock.

Even worse than the basic maths failure is the technique failure that finishes off the book. The directions for Kitchener Stitch (aka grafting) at the back of the book are wrong. For a “learn to” sock knitting book written by a professional knitter/author and edited/published by a major craft corporation, this is completely unacceptable.

Given these new discoveries, I am downgrading my rating. This book gets a 0 out of 5: don’t waste your money!

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Written by Sada D.

October 21, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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