Saturday, August 21, 2010

James Norbury's The Family Knitting Book/Hardcore/This Could Have Been Me

I was recently given a truly wonderful gift by a student of mine, C.

She mentioned in passing that she had some vintage knitting books. I'll jump at any opportunity to rummage through book collections. I love all vintage knitting books - whether for humor value, design inspiration value, or educational value. I'll happily take and read any knitting book, of any era and quality. (Which is how I ended up with a copy of "Knitting With Dog Hair" in my collection, but that's a story for different day.)

When rummaging through a collection, there are a few key names I'm always looking for; a few key designers and authors whose fabulous books are long out-of-print and very hard to find.

Alice Starmore used to be in this category, but her books are being reprinted one-by-one, thank goodness. But two authors remain sadly unreprinted: June Hiatt (specifically, her encyclopedic "The Principles of Knitting"), and James Norbury.

Used copies of the Hiatt book sells for hundreds of dollars, and is treasured by serious knitters. It's -- apparently -- one of the best reference books out there. I've never actually had my hands on a copy, which saddens me. (If anyone has one they'd be willing to lend/rent to me, let me know!) If it's as good as they say, I'd be up for buying a copy, but I feel like I'm not going to spend that much money without knowing what I'm getting. I have heard from reliable sources that Ms. Hiatt is working on a new edition, but she is very thorough and it's taking longer than anticipated.

James Norbury's works are less sought after, but just as wonderful. He was a prolific designer and author, and even had his own BBC television series. He was an opinionated sort (not that that is a bad thing ;-) ), and insisted that there was a right way and wrong way for everything.

When I mentioned Norbury's name, C. said she thought she might have a book of his. Indeed she did - specifically his 1969 book, The Family Knitting Book. It's an all-in-one book, featuring patterns, instructional material, and a small stitch library.

C. very generously gave it to me.

The patterns are terrific - many of them timeless classics, although the styling and photography is very much of its time.

And I'm loving the educational material at the front: he starts, naturally enough, with casting on. And the first cast on he shows in the Long Tail method. That's before knitters have even worked a single stitch.

The Long-Tail cast on (although he calls it the Thumb Method) is on page 15. How to actually knit a stitch is shown on page 20. I know that in a book you have to show casting off before you get to knitting, but I love that he chooses the Long Tail cast on as the first one you should learn.

(Click to embiggen and read the page.)

I'm on his side on this - I strongly believe that the long-tail is the best all-purpose cast-on - but when teaching beginners I do tend to start with something a little... err... gentler.

I love this book for two other reasons: James Norbury was born and lived around the corner from where I was born, and where my grandmother Hilda lived, and I'm quite certain she would have had some of his books, and likely would have knitted some of his designs. And give nthat this book was published the year I was born, I have the distinct sense that I may well have worn some of the babies' designs.

Yes, this could have been me....


Sherri said...

I love vintage too - especially WW2 (even though I don't fit in them!).

Good news is that I've heard the Principles of Knitting will be updated and re-released this fall!


Robynn said...

Growing up, I always thought sniffily of the "thumb method" as the for-dummies version. (That was before I actually tried it out, and was converted.) But I still don't see it as any harder than the cable or knitted-on cast-on - and it's clearly better!

Dawn said...

The Principles of Knitting book from the Toronto Public Library for three weeks at a time.

Kim said...

I was browsing around our local library used library bookshop last week and purchased this book for 50 cents. I really like the classic designs. I think of Elizabeth Zimmermann as I look at the patterns in this book.

Squashed Angel 60 said...

Hello "Wise Hilda". I'm a descendant of James Norbury !

My mother ( b.1927 ) has been chatting about where we might have got our creativity/artistic spark ! I'd like to seek out/read his books. He was a cousin of my maternal grandmother. Mum was born and brought up in Knutsford Cheshire, but can't remember him. She thinks he left for London quite early on.

Kind regards, and best wishes for 2011. Jane

Tanya Murray said...

I am currently knitting the Men's Socks from this book and love the pattern. It is very true that this book holds some timeless classics