I collect knitting books. By knitting books, I mean books containing patterns; for technique, I have the Stitch n Bitch series by my hero Debbie Stoller as well as Knitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmerman. I collect them for purposes of inspiration as well as actually making the projects from the book. I was happy to get a gift certificate for Chapters for xmas; I couldn't wait to scour the store for a new book of fun and exciting knitting projects. After spending about 45 minutes perusing the tiny section I wound up leaving, frustrated and empty-handed. Why? Read on...
First of all, I don't like it when knitting patterns give the brand of the yarn used and that's it. Stitch N Bitch Crochet: The Happy Hooker was the first knitting pattern book I've ever seen to include the yarn's weight number as well as the yarn actually used in the pattern. This is tremendously useful when you're substituting, and since most of my knitting books are American and use yarn available only in the US, I have to substitute. When the patterns don't give the general yarn weight information, I have to look the yarn up online and hope to find the info on it. I don't think I should have to do that.
My second and more serious gripe was brought to my attention by a certain Maggie Righetti, author of Knitting in Plain English. In her famously funny and no-nonsense style, Righetti drew my attention to a problem with the photos of the projects in contemporary knitting pattern books. She stresses that if you're going to invest X amount of dollars on yarn and XY hours of your precious time working on a project, you need to be really sure that you want what you're making. The only info you have toward that is the photo. However, Righetti points out that often, the photos are taken by professional photographers, NOT knitters. As such, their job is to make the photo look good. This might mean putting the model in a really stupid pose where you can't really see the construction of the garment, or even pinning the garment if it doesn't fall right!
Having read Righetti's warning against evil pro-photos, I took a critical eye to some of my favorite knitting pattern books. Lo and behold, I found some serious transgressions. One violator was Pretty in Punk by Alyce Benevides and Jacqueline Milles. The photos are beautiful, which is likely what attracted me to the book in the first place. Unfortunately, beautiful photos and useful informative photos are not always the same thing; in the photo for the "nautical vest", the adorable model is making a navy salute. Cute, to be sure, but her pose obscures the fit of the garment. Also, the pattern makes mention of adding an anchor to the vest, but it's nowhere to be seen.
Another reprehensible example nearly broke my heart; Stich N Bitch Nation by my precious Debbie Stoller! There's a turquoise sweater the wraps around, kimono-style and ties shut just below the bust. I was looking at it one day and wondered if the loose-edged panel at the bottom tends to flap open. Sure enough, on close inspection I saw that the garment was pinned shut at the bottom. I can only imagine the rage of some ambitious knitter who slaves over that sweater just to have it look nothing like the well-fitting sweater in the photo!
This isn't to say that a beautiful photo can't be a functional one, and vice-versa. An excellent example of good, functional photos is Jennifer Stafford's Domiknitrix book. The patterns in that book are pretty challenging, and I have to read over a given pattern several times before I could really make sense of the construction (she uses a lot of angular shaping and short-rows to create very shapely garments, which I love). She gets props because as complex as her patterns are, the photos are straightforward and she even includes thumbnails of certain details of the project throughout the pattern. Bravo, Miss Stafford!
I'm not sure how much control designers have over the photography of their garments, so I direct my complaints to the blogosphere rather than the authors of the offending books. My intention is not to bash either of these books, or even to give them a negative review. I've made several successful patterns from both these books, and other books with even worse photos (I saw one in Chapters yesterday that didn't even have photos; it had hand-drawn illustrations!). My words are meant as an extension of Righetti's warning to knitters; beware the lovely, glossy photos!
Take advantage of online forums like craftster.org and ravelry.com where you can search for projects and contact other people who have made them. Ask them questions, and be patient and grateful for replies. I find these knitters to be almost as valuable resources for pattern information than the pattern itself!