Monday, July 12, 2010

About those crafter's book clubs

On the Internet, you will find mentioned in tones of awe a knitting designer from the isles along the northwestern coast of Scotland. I am purposely not giving her name, because she has made it her life’s mission to secure intellectual rights to anything and everything to do with her name, her designs, even her island. But her designs are so beautiful they cannot be ignored.

This designer has published about a dozen or so books of her designs between the late 1970’s and the mid 1990’s. Most of them are currently out of print, though one of note is coming back in print this autumn. Most of them command impressive prices on the secondary market. Recently I noticed that one of her books, named after her home isles, was going for nearly $1000 (no, that is not a typographical error) at a used bookseller. Clearly, owning a set of her books is equivalent to nearly a semester of college tuition for one’s children.

Or is it?

Years ago, back when daughter #2 was in early infancy and #1 a pre-schooler, I joined a crafter’s book-of-the-month club. For a dollar, I got to choose 5 books, and I only needed to purchase 2 books over the next year, then I could cancel my membership. Fair enough, I thought, especially when there were great knitting compendia to choose from. So I picked up a couple of knitting bibles, two of Barbara Walker’s Treasuries of Knitting, and as luck would have it, THREE of the coveted books by this woman. This was before she became a phenomenon. I was struck by the intricacies of her designs, the lush colors, the gorgeous photography, the casual poses of the models. I wound up putting the books away on my bookshelf where they lay, forgotten.

Until a couple of years ago, when a knitting site mused out loud about the outrageous prices her books command, especially the later ones (rats, I dropped that membership right after buying the two required books). I dropped it too soon. I could have bought books worth hundreds, at 25% off the list prices. What was I thinking? What I was thinking was that DH wasn’t all that keen on the book of the month club, even if it was for knitting and even if he benefited from the lovely new patterns I uncovered for him.

Now, I haven’t rushed out to rejoin that or any crafter's book club because the rest of the books I covet are out of print. I’ve been watching auction and used bookseller sites, and so bought nearly all that I want at relatively good prices; a few at list price or near it.

Indeed, I have found that many great knitting books by designers are issued once, even if the designers still lives (Orenburg lace book, I'm talking about you!). So in my opinion, you should keep a bookshelf reserved for your knitting literature. Even knitting magazines with designs by the great ones will command astronomical prices on the secondary market ($49.95 for an old Vogue Knitting, anyone?).

The lesson I have learned is to keep every knitting book with designs in it that strike my fancy, whether or not I’m going to knit them right away. Either I’ll knit the designs, or I’ll pay for my retirement.


fleegle said...

I was stunned to see a book I bought in the '60s going for $1200. I use it often and the binding is falling apart. I wouldn't see it for anything. But yeah, I have the originals of a lot of knitting books--Roy will be able to live quite well on them if I shuffle off to that great Knitting Emporium in the Skies.

I actually think it's sad to see information locked up like that. My Japanese embroidery book is to be released to the Internet for free when I go. I can't take it with me.

Donna Lee said...

I agree with fleegle. It's a shame to see designs and information that isn't (aren't) available to everyone. I buy knitting books when a designer's work appeals to me without thought to what they might be worth one day. Magazines for the same reason. I have daughters who will take good care of the books and fight over the stash when I go. At least I know the stuff will get used.

How sad that books sit on shelves and gather dust.

Experimental Knitter said...

I love reading my knitting books, even if I don't plan to knit the designs. I get lots of pleasure, inspiration, education from them.
The market will bear reprints of so many of those books! Maybe PoK will come out again in my lifetime; we'll see.