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

This is the third in a series of posts comparing Priscilla GIbson-Roberts’ Knitting in the Old Way (KITOW) and Donna Druchunas’ Ethnic Knitting Discovery.

The first two posts introduced this series and gave quick overviews of the original and revised editions of KITOW.

This post looks more closely at Ethnic Knitting Discovery, and then offers a few comments on the collection of books as a whole.

Ethnic Knitting Discovery

After Nomad Press released the revised edition of Knitting in the Old Way, we learned that some people are overwhelmed by all the possibilities in KITOW, or would like step-by-step help in getting from idea-in-head to garment-on-needles (or, better yet for some, to finished object). (Then again, many thousands of people liked KITOW exactly the way it was. It’s just that we don’t want any knitter to miss the delights of "knitting in the old way"!)

Our desire to make sure that contemporary knitters don’t stay tied to line-by-line patterns (because we know how much fun it is to make your own knitting trails) is where the Ethnic Knitting series by Donna Druchunas comes in.

I remember exactly when Donna and I first talked bout this: it was several years ago, in a funky coffeehouse that no longer exists in Loveland, Colorado. A book is not an overnight project.

The Ethnic Knitting project is a series, with three volumes in the works. It was conceived as a progressive, integrated introduction to the

    way of thinking about knitting

embodied in Knitting in the Old Way, with explicit instructions. The Ethnic Knitting books are still not pattern books, but they act more like pattern books than KITOW does: you can fill in the blanks to make a pattern.

The Ethnic Knitting series is not entirely coordinated with Knitting in the Old Way, although the books are based on the same philosophy and there’s some crossover.

The first in the series, Ethnic Knitting Discovery (EK Discovery), was published in October 2007. We’re already in production for the second volume, Ethnic Knitting Exploration (EK Exploration), which is scheduled for October 2008. And we’re also well underway with the third volume, Ethnic Knitting Adventure (EK Adventure).

Here’s the cover of EK Discovery:


As you can tell from the subtitle, this book looks at the knitting traditions of four regions: The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and The Andes. It also focuses on one basic sweater shape, with some variations: the drop-shoulder sweater (known in KITOW as gansey), with and without modifications like gussets, steeks, and very simple armhole shaping. EK Discovery looks at two traditions in terms of texture patterns (The Netherlands and Denmark) and two in terms of color-stranding (Norway and The Andes).

Each region is in a separate chapter that begins with a bit of history, a few techniques, and a handful of versatile pattern charts. Three project templates follow: one for a small, simple project that introduces the techniques (a scarf, a cap, a headband, or a change purse), and then two for pullover, drop-shoulder sweaters. (Later volumes will tackle other sweater shapes.)

Here’s a quick overview of the information that’s presented:

  • The Netherlands: Working texture patterns in the round and back-and-forth, and the simplest sweater construction options.
  • Denmark: Working more complex texture patterns, making welts, and adding gussets, plus working a fitted sweater profile.
  • Norway: Working color patterns, and how to make stitch-and-cut armholes and necklines (KITOW’s "modern Nordic" working method).
  • The Andes: More color patterning, along with Andean-style knitting, edging knitted fabric with puntas (as a cast-on technique or applied to a finished edge), and making steeks.

Some of the structures and designs correlate closely to information in KITOW. For example, EK Discovery‘s Pullover with Single Motif (from The Netherlands) is structurally the same as KITOW’s Dutch Fisherman’s Sweater with Single Motif, although the anchor motif chart in EK Discovery is simpler than either of the motifs KITOW offers.

EK Discovery doesn’t stick as closely to tradition as KITOW, while it honors the same roots. EK Discovery provides simplified approaches to some of its designs,
using contemporary techniques. For instance, it offers a neat,
self-finished square neckline for the Danish garments.

While the Ethnic Knitting series grows from the same soil as KITOW, it also looks into some new areas—like Andean-style knitting and the construction of puntas

Although the Ethnic Knitting series has been carefully planned to support people who are new to this type of knitting, it is not watered down! Heck, there are cut armholes and steeks in the first volume. (Haven’t done this before? It’s easy. . . . )

In the Ethnic Knitting series, each project is presented in worksheet formats with three levels of detail, from "I can work from a sketch" (close to KITOW’s method) to "I like to get all my numbers together in one place" to "I like a fully detailed set of instructions." Because of the worksheets, readers can design their own sweaters from scratch while having help in remembering all the steps and navigating the transitions from each part to the next.

EK Exploration and EK Adventure will increase in complexity and will cover new geographic territory. EK Exploration travels through Lithuania (not a KITOW country, but one that links to Donna Druchunas’ heritage), Iceland, and Ireland. It looks at raglans, circular yokes, and saddle-shoulder construction. It also tells how to turn any pullover into a cardigan (part of chapter 8 of the revised KITOW, approached from a different angle).

EK Adventure? Even more cool stuff, but we’re keeping it under wraps until we’re farther along with our work on it.

Which is the book for you (or for the friend you have in mind)?

As someone who’s been knitting for a very long time, I love KITOW. It’s a splendid desert-island knitting book. You could knit for several lifetimes with the information it contains.

I have also learned magical things from EK Discovery. I adore the puntas. I especially like the detailed instructions for the Danish garments. And my daughter is knitting her first-ever project based on EK Discovery’s Pullover with Single Motif, although she’s chosen a motif more like the God’s-eye in KITOW and she’s planning to steek the armholes.

EK Discovery has the nifty little projects, which I enjoy all on their own (I could get hooked on making variations of the Andean change purses).

KITOW lets you jump headfirst into simple designs (like speckled frocks) or complex ones, some incorporating crochet or intarsia. However, you may not realize initially that there are simple projects in KITOW, because of its comprehensive nature.

Leaf through both books at your local yarn or book shop, or by borrowing them from a library (interlibrary loan works great if your neighborhood doesn’t have copies yet). See which has a project or idea that grabs you.

That’s the book for you right now.

If you’re evaluating for a friend, it’s a matter of personality and of the stage that person is at in his or her knitting life: do you think this person needs an international smorgasbord (KITOW) or a series of carefully planned, nutritionally balanced meals from several different cuisines (EK Discovery)?


3 thoughts on “3 of 3: Knitting in the Old Way and Ethnic Knitting Discovery: What’s the difference?”

  1. I will definitely be getting all of these books. I have the original KITOW. When the new edition came out, I was hesistant to get it, but now I’m kicking myself for not getting it when I still had a job. Soon as I have a job again, I’ll be buying it. Right now I’m working on a polo pullover that I’m designing on the fly, and I went to the bookstore to take a look at the 2nd. edition for some points that I wasn’t clear on, namely how to do the placket and options for finishing off the neck.

  2. Deb,

    It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts on anything because you’re so clear and organized, and this post is no exception. I hadn’t realized that I needed to understand the difference between the two books. But reading your lovely explanation of how Knitting the Old Way and Ethnic Knitting Discovery differ in their approaches and in the material presented taught me about how we learn differently at different stages of our craft. Now I understand why some knitting books appeal to me and others don’t. Thanks for clarifying things for me! And happy knitting (when you’re not burning your eyes out on research or checking patterns)!


  3. Thanks so much for the clear explanations of what each offers — I think I’ll probably want all four! I have found, somewhat to my surprise, that I do not like being limited by patterns.

    (And as a librarian, thank you for mentioning your local library and interlibrary loan. So many people forget that.)

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