Book Review

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  The Complete Knitting Set
from Reader's Digest
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Did you know that you can buy yarn at your local bookstore? That is, if the store happens to carry this book from Reader's Digest.

I use the term "book" loosely, because the Complete Knitting Set is more of a boxed kit with everything you need—including yarn and tools—to begin your knitting journey.

There's only one problem: Most of the patterns are too hard for rank beginners. Let me explain.

Inside the Box
inside the boxThe glossy flip-top box contains a booklet of technique instructions, a separate booklet of 19 projects, a stitch library, and all the ingredients for the first project in the book: a cute knitted bag.

With all this inside, the box is a little clunky to be carried around in its entirety, but all of the inside items are designed to transport well on their own.

Just as Kris Percival's compact and contemporary Knit Knack Kit was based on an earlier book by Percival, this kit contains a techniques booklet written by Melody Griffiths, and it is strongly reminiscent of her earlier The Encyclopedia of Knitting, co-written with Lesley Stanfield. (Stanfield is also featured as the designer of the knitted bag.)

For Brave Beginners
This kit presents a high level of technical sophistication that may either please or intimidate knitters. Whereas Percival's kit walks you through several incarnations of garter stitch squares and rectangles before ever introducing the idea of gauge or shaping, this kit launches you straight into stockinette, seed stitch, and cables.

The patterns themselves seem more intended to teach technique than to fill a classic style. For example, you'll find a ruffled embroidered jacket, colorful Fair Isle socks, and a fine beaded vest.

Difficult Yarn Substitutions
The patterns in this kit call for Rowan, Jaeger, and Sirdar yarns, all of which are appealing and reasonably available. However, if you want to substitute, you have a challenge.

The patterns specify how many skeins of such-and-such yarn you'll need, and you get the weight of each skein, but no yardage. If you don't have access to the specified yarn (or if you simply don't like it), you'll need to research now many yards are in a 50g. skein of Sirdar such-and-such yarn first.

A Note about Needles
The patterns specify required needles only in terms of size. This means you'll need to think for yourself about which type of needle best suits the project.

For example, the baby's patchwork blanket calls for knitting all the squares across one giant intarsia row. So where the pattern says "one pair size X knitting needles," what you really need is a pair of circular needles with a long enough cord to hold all the stitches.

Challenging Charts
The project section uses charts intermittently in the patterns, sometimes in addition to written instructions, sometimes instead of them. The charts are well-done except for one small issue: Beginners are never instructed how to read them.

Again, another reason why this kit is better suited for knitters who already understand the basics.

Strong Techniques Guide
Challenging patterns aside, the kit does contain a fine techniques guide that will carry you through many stages of knitting.

It has almost everything you'd want in a full-blown reference book: bobbles and cables, knitting with DPNs and circulars, buttonholes, grafting stitches, working colors in intarsia, correcting mistakes, working with beads and sequins, knitting for right- and left-handers, sewing in zippers, everything. Agreed, it's not as thorough as the Vogue Knitting Quick Reference, but for a so-called starter kit, this ain't half bad.

Limited but Interesting Stitches
I enjoyed perusing the 13 glossy double-sided cards containing various stitch patterns and techniques. They explained not only bobbles and cables, but various stripe patterns, beads and sequins, ribbing, slip stitch, fair isle, embroidery, eyelets, and more.

They're a great starting point for people wanting to explore different stitches. Once you outgrow these, you have a world of full-sized stitch dictionaries at your disposal.

Not for Novices
I love the idea of this kit being available in bookstores, where many lapsed knitters are likely to stumble across it and think, "Hey, maybe I should get back into knitting."

The total rank beginner—especially those subject to overwhelm and intimidation—might be better served by Kris Percival's Knit Knack Kit or, in the book-only realm, Sally Melville's The Knit Stitch or Pam Allen's Knitting for Dummies.

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