By Dora Ohrenstein
with additional comments from several designers

1. Vogue Knitting Stitchionary 4, edited by Carla Scott
Sixth & Spring books

2. The Complete Book of Crochet Designs:
500 Classic & Original Patterns,
by Linda Schapper, reissued by Lark Books

3. The Harmony Guide: 220 more Crochet Stitches, volume 7
Collins & Brown

4. 365 Crochet Stitches a Year
by Jean Leinhauser and Rita Weiss
Martingale & Company

The explosion of new stitch dictionaries this year provokes thoughts about how we use these books, and why some formats are preferred over others. I’ve shared my views here, and further along you’ll find comments from some of my design buddies who are equally fanatic about collecting stitches. One point raised by Vashti Braha is, in the best of all possible worlds, would there be a stitch dictionary with absolutely everything in it? Or is part of the fun discovering unique stitches within the crowd of familiar friends?

A publisher must price a book to be competitive in the market place, and all the things we love to see in a stitch dictionary — big lovely swatches, clear stitch diagrams, well-written instructions, and more more more more stitches — cost money. Something’s gotta give, and what’s left in or out varies from one book to the other, and consequently the uses one might make of the book.

Vogue Knitting’s Stitichonary 4, the first crochet volume in the VK series, edited by Carla Scott, is a beautifully produced resource. Fresh colors and crisp stitches are popping out all over the lovingly photographed swatches. It covers a variety of motifs, shell patterns, color work, openwork patterns, edgings and embellishments, for a total of 159 samples, and in every category there are some you haven’t seen before. For a newbie crocheter, the sheer beauty would make this an inspirational first book, and because of the unusual stitches included, a good one for any inquisitive crocheter. On the other hand, the relatively small stitch count means that if you already have many stitch sources on your bookshelf, this may not be a must have book.

Just because I am a cranky old girl, I have to add that I wish the photographed designs included designer credits — I recognize designs by Jennifer Hansen and James Coviello, and wish I was told who the other designers were.

It’s interesting to compare this volume to another recently published tome, Linda Schapper’ The Complete Book of Crochet Designs: 500 Classic & Original Patterns, reissued by Lark. Given the impressive volume of stitches included, and the demands of budget, photography is less lush, but the wealth of stitches is a big bonus. At first I had trouble adjusting to the indistinct photography, but after several go-throughs, I am appreciating the way stitches are organized as “variations on a theme.” There are sections titled “Shells — Staggered,” or Shells — Small Lace Patterns” or “Single Crochet, Double Crochet & Chains.” Each section has a variety of closely-related stitch patterns, and the beauty of this is, if you have a certain look in mind for a design, you can browse through and zero in on the pattern with just the right amount of air or density, or intricacy or simplicity, for your stitching needs. Another interesting point is Schapper’s strong emphasis on lace work, making this an in-depth primer on lace stitches. Diagrams and instructions are very good, but this book is not eye candy. Rather, it’s a good design resource, and shows how inventive minds can create endless variety with the building blocks of crochet.

Jean Leinhauser’s latest contribution to the dictionary genre is 365 Crochet Stitches a Year, and it’s packaged as a perpetual calendar, a fine idea since one would need several years to absorb what’s in it. Unlike the other books mentioned, the stitch patterns are not grouped by category, so you never know what’s coming next as you flip the pages– a “stitch suprirse a day” approach. You’ll see some familiar stitches, and then, every few pages, something very unusual. In fact, there is a bounty of suprising stitches of many diffferent kinds, using many techniques and offering a wealth of textures. I’m told by Jean that she undertook extensive research into stitches from around the world and the result is a great gift for the perpetually stitch-hungry. As for visuals, the photos are large but of highly variable quality, and there are no stitch diagrams. The instruction writing is so good you almost don’t need them, but for the seriously challenged pattern reader (me) I still miss them. So how would I compare the usability of this book to the others? It s aimed at those who enjoys a blast of inspiration, rather than the a research tool, like the Schapper book. At the moment, I am frustrated, having found a stitch of great interest, which I forgot to mark, and now I have no idea how to locate it. Then again, as I flip through the months looking for it, I know I’ll encounter several more “must try” stitches. In fact, you will find some stitches I’ve found here in the free patterns offered on the New Yarns page of this issue.

The newest volume of Harmony Guide Vol.7 has won my heart as well. It manages to compact many of the necessary dictionary elements and still make stitches inviting. There are many wonderful stitches here, and I love the emphasis on large overall patterns in the current volume. It also has a nice section giving an overview of motifs and how to join them, plus sections on Irish Crochet, filet crochet and Tunisian. The stitchery in these volumes is always top quality and though the photos are small, they are attractive. Instructions are definitive and diagrams are included with every stitch. I can’t imagine a Harmony Guide on crochet that I wouldn’t want to have in my collection.

All but the Harmony Guide are hard cover books, though the perpetual calendar is in a semi soft on one side to allow it to stand up. The Lark and Vogue volumes are each $49.95, Martingale’s is $24.95, and Harmony Guide is labelled 8.99 in British pounds.

I invited some design buddies to contribute comments about stitch dictionaries, and here is what they wrote:

Vashti Braha

I’m an avid stitchdictionary collector and user and evaluator and I have strong opinions about the selection of stitches available in them because:
— I don’t want to miss any!
— I have this silly vision of the ultimate stitchdictionary that has everything I could possibly want in ONE volume–like, if I had to grab ONE as I evacuate for a hurricane, WHICH ONE? Oh the anxiety! It’s silly because it’s unattainable until someday an ultimate digital stitch bank is compiled.
— “dictionary” or “encyclopedia” or “bible” inclines me to expect something complete and/or comprehensive. I worry that they either purposely or inadvertently define what crochet is and can be to newbies.

Over time I’ve developed some objective, rational, left-brained standards, like:
— Symbol diagrams: included? if so, are they well done, accurate, easy to use symbols?
— Photos: crisp, in color, right-side up, big enough?
— Is there is a quick-reference index of thumbnail pics so I can find the st pattern I want at a glance?
— Stitch pattern families represented (shells, pineapples, tunisian, post/aran, “piggyback”, filet, colorwork, whatever–I’ve never had a clear map of “families”, I just know when one is missing!)
— Does the dictionary have a special forte? For example, some have variations of pineapples or puffs or love knots available nowhere else; sometimes the author clearly invented a bunch and I really treasure those. Sometimes there is a very new or original set of st patterns (like a very different way of thinking about crochet altogether) and this is incredibly exciting!
— Sometimes a type of stitch is “in vogue” for a time, so the old stitch dictionaries are valuable for this. For example there’s a 70’s book with these 3D bell-like shells. Or the creative love knot-sprinkled stitch patterns of the ’70’s. Or the sideways puffs. Or working stitches backwards (entering from the back).
— Some stitch patterns are so standard, it’s like they are canonical or something. For example, “Picot Fans”–the instructions are identical in all dict’ionaries I own, even the same name is used. For many other stitch patterns, there are slight variations on how they’re done or what they’re called. Sometimes the variation is insignificant, or only seems like it. Other times, it’s important–like the love knot mesh in I think the Harmony Guides–if I recall, it’s the only version that uses love knots for the foundation too, not chains.

But then there’s the powerful right-brain, subjective response that I also have! For example, I love Helen Jordan’s new Textured Crochet more than is rational. 🙂 A few stitch dictionaries have the power to inspire me past a designing slump. I enjoy browsing some just for fun, or it makes my fingers itch to have a hook and yarn in hand.

Robyn Chachula

Speaking for me, the visual learner and the fact that I am dyslexic, I only use stitch guides with symbol crochet. (Well, thats a bit of a lie. I use older stitch guides as well, but I draw in the symbols next to the text.) I never read the written directions, because my brain usually interprets them incorrectly. That’s why my favorites are the Japanese Stitch Guides. They have beautiful diagrams.

Amy O’Neill Houck

I’m with Robyn–I never read the directions, as I often find errors (esp. in the Betty Barnden book). I usually work from the chart until I’ve decided how I’m going to do the stitch, then I internalize it and never go back to the book.

Ellen Gormley

I still really like the Stitch Bible (Betty Barnden). I use these compilations to try new techniques, remind me of different stitches (I tend to have my favorites), and get me inspired when I am “stuck”. I like to take stitches I find in these books and then change them to incorporate my favorite stitches and techniques. I find that books that have only one stitch per page are easier for me to focus on. For some reason, I also like books that are smaller in my hands. I like the Harmony Guide (I have number 6), but I tend to get overwhelmed when I open it up and see all the possibilities jammed together.

Pam Gillette

I love Donna Kooler’s Encyclopedia of Crochet because her Crochet Pattern Gallery (pages 134-228) includes:
– a photo of the stitch in a generous sample
– the symbol chart
– and then the written instructions

I used the Harmony Guides for years, my 300 Crochet Stitches Volume 6 is so worn it’s taped together. The Harmony Guides also shows the photo, the chart, and the written instructions but they cram a lot on each page, whereas Kooler’s book gives plenty of space for bigger visuals.

I have a few students in my crochet class who purposely ignore the crochet symbols, they don’t even want to learn them (perhaps because they are just beginning.)

I have a fellowing crocheter in my Warm Up America group who ONLY looks at symbols, she’s never read a pattern, ever, she’s 89 years old and has crocheted since childhood.

I believe that providing all three ways to learn a stitch (photo, symbol, written) is the best way because I believe a majority of folks learn better that way.

Margaret Hubert

I have many stitch dictionaries, and each one may have something different to offer, but for the most part they are basically the same. I very often refer back to my old copies of Mon Tricot, for both knitting and crochet stitches, I have 7 of them, the early ones starting at 250 stitches all the way up to the 1500 stitches edition. I don’t know if there is one after that. Mine are tattered and torn and scotch taped together, but I love them.

Mary Jane Hall

I have many different Stitch books, both some of the newer ones (like the Harmony Guides, Crochet Stitch Bible, Donna Kooler’s) as well as many of the older ones that are in black and white. When I’m looking to swatch a particular yarn, I look in all these books. The newer ones in color are much better, but sometimes you can find a stitch pattern in the old books that are not in the newer ones. I find myself using the Crochet Stitch Bible more often just because it has a loose leaf binder.

Here are some that I have:

1. Harmony Guides Volume 6
2. Harmony Guides – Volume 7
3. The Crochet Stitch Bible – Krause Publications
4. The Ultimate Resource of Knit and Crochet Stitches
5. Donna Kooler’s Encylopedia Crochet
6. A Treasury of Crochet Patterns – Liz Blackwell
7. Crochet and Creative Design – Annette Feldman
8. Complete Book of Crochet Stitch Designs – Linda Schapper (500 stitch patterns)
9. Mon Tricot – 130 Stitch Patterns
10. Vogue Stitch Patterns
11. The Pattern Library Crochet

Myra Wood

Donna Kooler’s is the one I refer to the most since it has nice large photos and I can see the actual stitch construction. Most of the time you don’t even need the directions. I like to cruise through it to get ideas of how I want to build something and can see the garment made in my mind from the sample photos. The illustrated guides or ones with tiny photos are harder to imagine.

Marty Miller

The new stitch dictionaries are all so pretty. The photos are nice and clear. Lots of them have stitch diagrams to go with the directions and the photos. But – and this is a BIG but — when I opened some of them, and just looked at a few patterns, I found some big boo-boos. Pictures upside down or sideways, (really!), photos that didn’t match the stitch diagrams or directions. Things like that. Kind of disappointing after you spend a lot of money on this big book! But – I still think they are worth the money – just know that there may be some errors in them.

Annette Petavy

Here’s another stitch diagram fanatic! But that’s only one reason why I love the Japanese stitch dictionaries. The other is that I find some truly original stitch patterns there.

Which leads me to my problem around all these new stitch dictionaries on the market: How many of them do really contain stitches that are not already in the Harmony Guides, the Donna Kooler Crochet Encyclopedia etc. etc.?

If I had unlimited financial resources, I would of course buy them all, but that’s not the case. And when I check them out on a blog or with a friend, it seems that the content most of the time is very similar to what already exists – even if the layout is prettier.