1 of 3: Knitting in the Old Way and Ethnic Knitting Discovery: What’s the difference?

A friend-I-haven’t-met-in-person-yet wrote this week to ask what the
difference is between Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ new edition of Knitting in the Old Way and Donna Druchunas’ Ethnic Knitting Discovery, both published by Nomad Press. It’s a great question that requires a somewhat lengthy answer, so I said I’d do a blog post in response. At my daughter’s request, I’m breaking the resulting discussion into three parts: (1) Intro plus the original Knitting in the Old Way, (2) the revised and expanded Knitting in the Old Way, and then (3) Ethnic Knitting Discovery (and related series), plus conclusions.

The knitter who asked the question owns the original edition of Knitting in the Old Way (which I’ll talk about in this post and will compare to the new edition in the next) and wants to give one of the currently available books
to a friend and doesn’t know which one to choose. Maybe some of this
history and detail will help . . . and perhaps be interesting to other

In a nutshell

Although Knitting in the Old Way is at its core the same in both the original and revised editions, the versions differ in the amount and, to some extent, type of material covered. The revised edition contains many more charts and half again as many sweater concepts. The charts have all been checked, corrected, and, when helpful (which is usually), labeled. The text pertaining to each design has been revised and moved so it’s adjacent to the appropriate drawings and charts. The original edition contains information on spinning that was not readily available in the mid-1980s but is easier to find now, and so was omitted from the revised edition in the interest of including more garments.

Knitting in the Old Way in both editions offers a wide range of possibilities and information but almost no hand-holding.

Ethnic Knitting Discovery was conceived as a way of helping knitters bridge their way into the skills required to use Knitting in the Old Way. It is the first in a series of three books that will do this, chunking down its information and building progressively to more complex ideas.

The Ethnic Knitting series of books was also conceived as a sequence of independent titles that would stand on their own and would appeal as well to people who have already become comfortable with Knitting in the Old Way. It is based on similar ideas but does not cover exactly the regions or techniques that are in Knitting in the Old Way.

Ethnic Knitting Discovery provides small skill-builder projects that help readers master the techniques it presents, along with three types of worksheets to help them organize their thoughts and determine (and keep track of) the specifics they’ll need to make original sweaters using traditional methods.

Some knitters are gutsy enough to launch, or to have already launched, into Knitting in the Old Way without further ado. Others will welcome the more methodical approach offered by the Ethnic Knitting series.

Many, like me, will want all the books, for different reasons at different times. There’s stuff in Ethnic Knitting Discovery (and the whole EK series, when it’s completed) that isn’t in Knitting in the Old Way (KITOW), and vice versa. Sometimes my life is so fragmented I need worksheets to keep track of it. Sometimes I just calculate my cast-on number and wing it from there.

A bit of history: The first edition of Knitting in the Old Way

In 1985, Interweave Press published the original edition of Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ Knitting in the Old Way. It was in paperback (either perfectbound or spiralbound), had 187 pages, and looked like this:


Here are the contents, with notes about what’s in the chapters:

  • Introduction
  • Origins
  • Traditional yarns – Information on yarn construction and evaluation, plus the 100-yard rule (coordinating yarn to yardage for a plain sweater)
  • Knitting Techniques – English and Continental methods, plus equipment, techniques, and the basics of diagrams and charting
  • Sweater Plans – Gauge, working with the percentage or proportional system, sample sweater plans; 15 basic sweater shapes ("the evolution of the sweater"), plus cardigan variations, and necklines and collars
  • Color Stranded SweatersGarment concepts from Norway, Sweden, Great Britain, Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, Lapland, the Cowichan tradition, and using American folk-art designs (24 sweater concepts).
  • Textured Sweaters  – Concepts from Denmark, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Ireland, Norway, and Austria and Germany (19 sweater concepts).
  • Sweaters with Geometric Pattern – Concepts from Denmark, Finland, and Scotland (3 sweater concepts, plus sketch of cap).
  • Spinning Techniques – Selecting fleece, preparing fiber, yarn types, selecting sheep breeds suitable for knitting yarns, plying, and finishing yarns.
  • List of Suppliers, Bibliography, and Index

This edition also contained color photographs of 9 completed sweaters. The charts for the sweaters shown in the photographs were not included in the book. For example, the luskofte, Bohus, Fair Isle, and other sweaters in the photos use different charts than those that were printed with the drawings for those styles of sweaters.

(Personal note: When I first got this book, in 1985 or 1986, I really wanted to work out the plan for the Bavarian vest in the photo on page 156. I ultimately gave up, thinking I wasn’t smart enough or lacked sufficient patience to figure out how to put the garment together and to connect what I was sort of able to see in the photos with the charts that were provided. Only when editing the revised edition did I discover that the charts are not in the original edition of the book. They are in the revised edition. I haven’t made the vest yet, though! No time so far. . . . )

The original edition of Knitting in the Old Way was visionary, an outstanding and unusual accomplishment that brought together traditional knowledge of knitting with the handspinning tradition. It set a new standard in knitting books and helped many knitters and spinners break free from line-by-line patterns.

But by the early part of the twenty-first century, it was time for an update.

Proceed to part 2. . . .