Friday, June 3, 2011


Books that include a number of crafts (often prefaced in the title by "Encyclopedia of...", "Guide to...", "Compendium of...") are often overlooked when information about a specific craft is sought. I am here to say, "Don't" !!

Frequently, when people search for information about a particular craft they look for books that are specifically about that craft and miss books that include a variety of crafts.  Generally I would agree with this tendency since, in most cases, books that attempt to cover a number of different types of crafts manage to only scratch the surface of each topic - providing only the basic beginning techniques for each.  But sometimes it is too bad because some of them are quite extensive and provide a lot of information, projects, tips and patterns that you might not find somewhere else.

Point in case:  research for my last post led to a nostalgic desire to explore embroidery for a little while.  As I looked through our library shelves, I found some books specifically about Embroidery but I had a hard time finding as much information as I wanted.   But I recently came upon one of our new books that covers a number of needlecraft techniques, including Embroidery arts, and I am impressed by the caliber and presentation of the information it provides for each technique it addresses.  

The book that has caught my current attention is  The Needlecraft Book (click here to go to our catalogue record.) 

This book is a comprehensive step-by-step guide that covers knitting, crocheting, embroidery, needlepoint, quilting, applique' and patchwork.  It contemporizes these traditional needlecrafts and related materials and would be a great reference for anyone who would like to learn a new needlecraft as well as those who would like to improve on the skills they already possess.

I shouldn't be too surprised by the thoroughness of the information provided since the book is published by DK.  I have always loved the books DK publishes, no matter the subject, because they are well researched, comprehensive, and always include excellent photography.  The close-up photographs in this particular book present the subject matter against a white background, mostly without the distraction of hands (meaning the close-up focuses on the stitch), which makes it very clear to the needlecrafter as to what they need to do to form each stitch.

DK has assembled three authors for this book - each with expertise in the needlecraft they write about:  Sally Harding (knitting and crochet sections); Maggi Gordon (embroidery, patchwork, quilting, and applique' sections); and, Ellie Vance (needlepoint section).    The information is presented knowledgeably, clearly, and in a logical fashion.  Each author takes the reader through the skills necessary to master the technique. 

The information provided for each of the needlecrafts addressed in this book includes the necessary tools and materials, technique and design recommendations, and an ample Stitch Gallery (or Block Gallery in the case of quilting and patchwork).  Helpful tips, advice and information are sprinkled throughout each section as well and each stitch pattern or quilt block is accompanied by information as to how, or where, it is best put to use.  All three authors cover the basic techniques that will get any beginner up and running, and then they go above and beyond by adding a surprising amount of the more complex/advanced techniques that will enable one to advance the skills they already possess.  A final chapter regarding general finishing techniques guides the needlecrafter through the steps required to hem, bind, embellish and care for their projects.

I have to say "wow!" as I flip through the pages and examine the information, the presentation of that information, the clear photographs that support the step-by-step instructions (we know I am a big fan of good photographs), and the number of techniques and tips each section covers.  This is not just for beginners! It is a great all-around go-to guide.

To test the depth of the information, and its "follow-ability," I first turned to the section on knitting (what else?!).   I have looked at a number of books on knitting for beginners and I have to say that I am impressed. This book covers a lot more territory, and will take a knitter farther, than most of them, by putting an extensive amount of instruction in one handy reference.    

I even discovered a new technique to use when I wind my yarn into a ball.  I always like to to wind my yarn into a ball before I begin to knit because it allows me to discover any flaws or knots in the yarns that I can deal with BEFORE I meet them mid-project or mid-row.  Also, when I knit from a ball of yarn I plop it into a bowl (to keep it from rolling all over) which allows me to keep my stitch "tension" even.  In the "Beginner's Tips" section, the author describes a technique for winding a hank of yarn into a ball  in such a fashion that allows the yarn to be fed from the center of the ball, thereby alleviating the tendency balls of yarn have for rolling all over the place (and would mean I could use my bowls for cereal rather than yarn which would delight my husband who wonders where all the bowls have gone...). As fate would have it, a friend recently gave me a pattern for felted slippers and some yarn that needed to be wound before I could begin, so I decided to give this method a try. 

Starting with yarn from one end of the hank, I am instructed to create a yarn "butterfly."  The instruction provides a cross-reference page number leading to instructions to create a yarn butterfly...and the page number is correct!  (Good editingI hate when page numbers are provided but the information is actually on another page!).  Anyway, a butterfly is achieved by wrapping the yarn around your index finger and thumb in a figure-eight fashion.

I then pinch the yarn "butterfly" at its center and slip it off my fingers.

Securing the tail in my palm with the rest of my fingers, I proceed to Step Two which instructs me to continue by wrapping the yarn around the butterfly and my thumb to create a hole in the center of the ball.

I continue wrapping, and turning until I reach the other end of the yarn.  I secure the tail under some of the outer strands.

Isn't it a thing of beauty?  See the tail sprouting from the center hole waiting for me to get started on my slippers?  (So much for my piqued interest in embroidery....)

When I prepare to knit I am instructed to pull the butterfly out of the center and begin knitting with that end.  My cat is fascinated (she was never all that interested when the ball was in a bowl! hmmm.)

Lo and Behold!  It works!  My yarn ball stayed in place, the yarn played smoothly from the center, and I was able to maintain an even tension through my stitches.

I have never seen this technique in any other book.  I asked my friend about it and she was not familiar with it either.  I guess my husband can have the bowls back - our dish set is once again complete!

Oh, I finished the slippers.  Here they are before I felted them:

They look very silly and I am unsure how these saggy-baggy pieces of knitwear are going to end up being wearable slippers.  After I ran them through the felting process, however, I was delighted to discover they turned out exactly as they were supposed to.

I have momentarily been distracted from re-entering my pursuits of embroidering.  When I am ready to revisit embroidery or needlepoint, or learn how to applique', quilt (my friend would be so excited if I started to sew), create patchwork pieces or  crochet I definitely plan to check this book out.  I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about needlecrafting.

OTHER NEEDLECRAFT COMPENDIUMS YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN (some older but containing lots of good needlecraft techniques that aren't always addressed anymore):

Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts,
by Martha Stewart, Published in 2010
(click here to go to our catalogue record)

Covers basic techniques for sewing, applique', embroidery, quilting, dyeing, and printing.  It was the focus of one of my first posts: A Pattern is Like a Recipe, Oct. 2010.  Lots of techniques, lots of patterns and instructions.  And, of course, pure Martha.

Donna Kooler's Encyclopedia of Needlework,
by Donna Kooler, Published in 2000
(click here to go to our catalogue record)

 Covering Needlepoint, Embroidery and Counted Thread arts, it includes an extensive stitch guide for each needlecraft (over 400 stitches!) and each stitch is accompanied by a clear photograph and color diagram.  A brief history of the origins for each of the techniques is also provided, which is kind of interesting.

Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Needlework,
edited by Virgina Colton, Published in 1979
(click here to go to our catalogue record)
This is definitely an older book and the projects are somewhat dated, but stitches, instructions and most techniques don't change that much and Reader's Digest has always been good at compiling information such as this.  Furthermore, it provides instruction for a number of crafts, many of which are hard to find new information about:  including macrame', rug-making, and lacework.