* Prices may differ from that shown
As someone who has just learnt how to crochet (thanks Mum) I wanted a book so I could practise my new skills. I wanted something that was easy, but that would also test me, so after a good browse on Amazon I opted for "200 Crochet Blocks for Blankets, Throws & Afghans" by Jan Eaton. For some reason I love blankets, so I thought this book would help me on my way to making my first crochet blanket!
When you first open the book, you are visually stimulated with a vast array of colourful blocks, in what seems to be all the colours of the rainbow. These blocks cover the first 3 double page spreads and they are essentially the 'contents' list - you find a block you like, then go to the relevant page number to find out how to make it. So when I first got the book I was really excited and keen to get started.
Before you make a start on your blocks, especially if you are a beginner, the book gives you the opportunity to learn a little bit about crochet techniques, and about the different yarns you can use. It then tells you a little bit about how the book works and how to gain the best from it. All the blocks can be colour coordinated and combined to form a huge array of different style blankets or throws, and the block directory will help you to combine blocks that complement each other, as well as the colours. There is also a little key on each block which tells you the level of difficulty and whether it is worked in rows or in the round. These are things you will learn as you figure out the different crochet techniques.
The book then goes on to give you some advice on mixing and matching the blocks and drawing up plans & patterns; to be honest I glossed over this part because I really just wanted to make a start on some of the blocks. I had no real ambition in the beginning to be creating hundreds of blocks to make a huge blanket; I just wanted to find out whether I had the skills to create a complicated block!
You are then given a lot of advice on colour, and what colours do and don't complement each other. This made me realise that a lot of preparation has to go into creating the perfect afghan, and this was something I wasn't willing to do. All I wanted to do was go to the shop, choose some balls of wool that I liked, and start making blocks! So again, I glossed over this bit, but if you are serious about crochet, then this section you may find quite interesting.
***Mix and Match Designs***
The following 10 pages have some designs already mapped out for you, telling you which blocks you will need, and how many of each and the colours you need. It also tells you the final size of the blanket/throw, and the size crochet needle you will need. So if you don't want to create your own design, these patterns are quite handy so that you start off knowing exactly what you need to do without having to do any pre-planning.
This section has complicated designs, basic designs, bright garish colours and natural colours, so there is something to suit everyone in this section, but of course you can change the colours to suit your needs anyway. It also has plans for a couple of cushion covers and baby blankets which are perfect for someone less ambitious like myself, because they are small and simpler projects.
***The Block Directory***
This is where it seems to gets exciting, there is a large clear colour picture of each block, the difficulty rating, the colours you will need, and then clear instructions beneath of how to create the block. They also tell you the blocks that coordinate with other blocks, so if you were planning a large afghan, you would know which blocks work well together.
The blocks are varied in colour, design and difficulty. And it states there are a total of 212 blocks contained within the book, but as you get the rear of the Block Directory, from 101 onwards there are 28 blocks which are repeated 3 times each with different colour ways, so there are 4 blocks per page that are the same design, just in different colours. So instead of 212 blocks, you are only getting 128 different designs, rather than the advertised 212.
And I would have expected all the easier ones to be at the beginning, but they are not, everything is all mingled in together. I would have preferred to have been able to easily locate the easy blocks because in the beginning I was locating blocks that I liked, but then finding out that they were just too difficult for a beginner like me. Out of 128 (not 212!) blocks, only 39 of them are rated as easy, and even some of these are quite complicated for a novice.
So this is where I started to struggle, because I had only learned the basic crochet stitches from my mum, so I knew how to double crochet and treble crochet, and I also knew how to do a chain, and start with a ring. But I had no idea whatsoever about complicated stitches, or how to read a pattern, so I had to enlist the help of my mum once again to teach me about all the abbreviations and the way a pattern works. But once I had the basics, I could begin making a block, but as I said above, not many were easy, so I was very limited with what I could do. I think I succeeded in creating about 5 different blocks, both starting with a ring in the middle, and also in rows. And I have to say once I had the hang of it, my blocks did look pretty good!
But, each square is supposed to come out the same size if you use the same type of yarn and the same size needle, but mine rarely came out the same size, and one of them was huge! Perhaps it was my tension and amateur abilities that caused this, but who knows!
The rear of the book does give you basic instructions on how to perform crochet, but I find instructions like these very difficult to work from, it is a lot easier for someone to physically show you. The book does contain pictures of how to hold your yarn and hook, and how the stitches should look. But for someone who is a complete novice, I don't think this would be of any use - it is more like a refresher for someone who already knows how to crochet. It does give you the basic stitches and the more complicated ones, and how to sew blocks together, so perhaps if you had a lot of patience you could learn from this book, but sadly, this book taught me very little in the way of stitches! There is also a small section on edgings, but again this is way beyond my ability.
I'm glad I bought this book because it has shown me that crochet can be a lot more complicated than I originally thought, and creating visually stunning blocks requires a lot of patience and effort. So the blocks I ended up creating from this book have actually ended up useless because I couldn't summon up the energy to create enough to make a decent sized blanket. However the book has been handy for looking at colour combinations and different patterns, and it's also good as a reference if I forget how to do a basic stitch.
I lent the book to my Mum and she couldn't really get along with it either despite her being a seasoned crocheter! I think the thing about crochet is that it really is up to you what you want to create, and sometimes set patterns are not always the best way forward. I have been practising my stitches and I have created my own blankets and cushions just using random balls of wool, and the final effects have been amazing. Perhaps I just don't like following patterns, because then it doesn't look like I have made mistakes!
I wouldn't recommend the book for a beginner unless you have the patience of a saint, and I wouldn't recommend it for a highly experienced crocheter either. The book is probably aimed more at people who perhaps have quite a few crochet skills and feel like taking on a big project, because it's probably got just the right range of projects for someone of this standard. It's nice to look at and handy for reference, but as far as the 212 blocks go, well that's a con.
Currently available on Amazon for £9.09 (October 2012).