IT IS HARD to discuss new books in any craft field without a feeling of despair. Why whet appetites when it will be almost impossible to find the books even at the moment of their birth? Despair mixes with anger at publishers who sadly underestimate the market, refuse to publicize the books and then justify not publishing others because such books never sell!

But there are small lights which keep getting brighter.

A lot of people are self-publishing, or setting up small specialized publishing enterprises to get out worthwhile books in the field. But how to find them? One way is through a small newsletter called Open Chain which does nothing but review craft books. They can't review them all but they are particularly thorough in covering the self-publishers.

And there is Dover--God bless Dover for bringing back books in all fields that have been dropped by other publishers, and for publishing new ones that would have a hard time finding other publishers. Send for their catalogue. Most of their books can be bought in stores, but ordering directly is very easy and their selection is boggling.

Once you know about the books, you need to find the stores that carry them. The list on Page 10 includes several good sources in the Washington area. NEEDLEPOINT

PROBABLY the most popular area of needlecraft today--and definitely ahead in numbers of books--is needlepoint.

Scribners will soon be reissuing, in paperback, several classics: Needlepoint by Design, by Maggie Lane ($17.50; paperback, $9.95); Needlepoint: Revised Edition, by Hope Hanley (Encore, $6.95); and Needlepoint: Design Your Own, by Muriel Baker et al. ($10.95). Another reissue is Mary Jaene Edmonds' Geometric Designs in Needlepoint (Van Nostrand Reinhold; paperback, $8.95). This stands on its own but reminds one of Sherlee Lantz' Trianglepoint (Viking, $12.95, 1976), a gem for any needleworker who is in love with color and form.

The oriental image is very strong in this field, starting with Maggie Lane's excellent books. This year we are offered Japanese Motifs for Needlepoint, by Sally Nicoletti (Morrow, $15.95). While not as inspired as Maggie Lane, it is a worthy addition to your library.

A Pageant of Pattern for Needlepoint Canvas, by Sherlee Lantz, with very clear diagrams by Maggie Lane, was published in 1973 and can be found now and then on remainder tables. It deserves to be reissued. Meanwhile it is worth hunting for.

Needlepoint Designs From Oriental Rugs, by Grethe Sorensen, is superb (Scribners, $17.95, 1981). The exposition and background are so clear, the illustrations so beautiful, that even a person indifferent to the beauty of oriental rugs wants to jump in and start.

Texture and Color in Needlepoint, by Michele Weal, published by Harper & Row in 1975, but out of print, is a book to savor and browse in over the years. As the title says, it covers both texture and color, but its greatest value is in the treatment of color. As she explains the integration of stitches, how to use them and combine them effectively, Weal subtly educates you in color fundamentals for textiles. This is another book that needs to be reissued but shows up on remainder tables now and then. It's worth owning. COUNTED CROSS-STITCH

AFTER NEEDLEPOINT, counted cross-stitch is undoubtedly the most popular fabric craft today. Most of the literature is in the form of leaflets with several designs on a particular subject. The number was so bewildering that Susi Torres-Bueno (president of Rainbow Designs) compiled The Index of Counted Cross-Stitch for 1981 (self-published, P.O. Box 6967, Durham, N.C. 27708, $4.95) listing over 1,000 books and 10,000 (!) charts. She deserves a medal for helping the enthusiast find a way through the confusion.

Among the newest additions to this pile is Counted Cross-Stitch Patterns and Designs, by the Swedish Handcraft Society (Scribners; paperback, $9.95, 1981). EMBROIDERY

ACTIVITY IN the field of general embroidery is abundant, but it seems to be fragmented into types, such as blackwork, hardanger, or crewel. The new crop of books is not very interesting. Far better to get the Encyclopedia of Embroidery Stitches Including Crewel, by Marion Nichols (Dover; Paperback, $5.95, 1974) or The Art of Oriental Embroidery, by Young Yang Chung (Scribners, $25, 1981), then study the stitches and let your imagination take over from there. QUILTING

QUILTING has surged into prominence as an art form as well as a satisfyingly practical endeavor. Beth Gutcheon, in her introduction to The Quilt Design Workbook, published by Rawson Associates in 1976, explains, "What I like is the general sense of continuity, the fact of communication between humans who know nothing about each other and who weren't even on earth at the same time. I don't make anything of it. I just like it." This book, unfortunately out of print, combines a practical explication of the how-to with a generous discussion of the possibilities of variation.

Other essential quilting books are:

Robbie and Tony Fanning's The Complete Book of Machine Quilting (Chilton, $15.95, 1980) which has a down-to-earth attitude, is full of all the information you'll need to machine quilt, and even discusses how to set up your work area.

The Second Quiltmaker's Handbook, by Michael James (Prentice-Hall, $19.95, 1981), leaning more to the quilt as art, profusely illustrated in color and in black and white. The practical methods are handled clearly while the end result--a thing of beauty--is always kept clearly in mind. This combination brings out the creative abilities of the reader much more than the superbly illustrated picture books with which we are being constantly bombarded.

And for the quilter who needs help in figuring yardages and how many pieces to cut, Bonnie Leman and Judy Martin have brought out Taking the Math Out of Making Patchwork Quilts (Moon Over the Mountain Publishing Co., 6700 44th Ave., Wheatridge Colo., 80033, $5.95 ppd), which does just that with a book full of charts.

Usually compendiums of knowledge in many fields fall down in all of them. But Readers Digest Complete Guide to Needlework (Random House, $18.95, 1979) seems to have avoided the pitfalls. It doesn't go very deeply into any of the disciplines it covers, but the contributing editors are all extremely competent in their fields and give a little more than the basics in each. It not only covers the obvious areas such as knitting, crocheting and embroidery, but has sections on tatting, lacework and macrame, among others. CROCHET

New Directions in Crochet, by Anne Rabun Ough (Viking, $17.94, 1981) covers the basic stitches and their more complicated variations in a clear and easy-to-follow manner. Ough uses the new symbol system along with the older method of explaining each stitch. This is a very valuable book, as crochet does not only stand on its own but is an adjunct to many other disciplines (trim and finishes for knitwear, for instance) and the symbol system opens a world of crochet design since it is used extensively in Europe and in Japan, and with it there is no need to learn three or four new languages.

Anyone interested in crochet as a medium for sculptures and hangings as well as the more traditional uses will want to get A New Look at Crochet, by Elyse and Mike Sommers (Crown, $10.95, 1975). KNITTING

Knitting Know-How, by Belle Meyers (Harper & Row, $14.95, 1981), bills itself as "an illustrated encyclopedia" but is more reminiscent of a pocket dictionary. It is the kind of book that looks like a gold mine to the new knitter, but to the experienced knitter the gaps in basic methods are apparent. It would be better for the novice to invest in Dover's Mary Thomas's Knitting Book (Paperback, $3.95, 1972) and Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns (Paperback, $4.50, 1972), and with the leftover money get Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitters Almanac: Projects for Each Month of the Year, which Dover will be reissuing this fall. Enough money will probably be left to buy a set of needles.

Dover is a treasure trove for knitters. Besides the books above, they also have The First Book of Modern Lace Knitting (Paper, $3.50, 1973) and The Second Book of Modern Lace Knitting (Paper, $4, 1973), both by Marianne Kinzel, Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans, by Gladys Thompson (Paperback, $4.50, 1971) and others equally wonderful.

Scribners will be reissuing Barbara Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Patterns ($12.95) in paperback sometime this fall. This, and her other books, A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns, Charted Knitting Designs, Knitting From the Top, and so forth, are a phenomenal collection of patterns.

Other "must" books for devoted knitters are Mary Walker Phillips' Creative Knitting (Van Nostrand Reinhold; paperback, $9.95, 1980) and Elyse and Mike Sommer's A New Look at Knitting (Crown, $12.95, 1977).

Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Workshop Book can stand alone, but it doesn't have to. When Zimmermann couldn't get her new teaching workshops on TV she put the three-part series on self-published video cassettes. The price is high for an individual, $350 for the whole cassette series, but groups might like to get it. The book alone is $10 and can be obtained direct from Zimmermann (address on list).

Machine knitters are a new and growing group. So far the books have been very limited, but that seems to be changing. A number of young fiber artists have been entering the field and giving it the same boost crochet received a few years ago.

Hand and Machine Knitting, by Tessa Lorant (Scribners, $19.95, 1980) is not a bad book, but then neither is it a very good book. And the price is exorbitant. The clothes pictured are tacky, but she does give a good survey of what a knitting machine can do. This would be a good book for someone thinking of buying a machine who had seen some well-made clothing already. Several years ago Hawthorn Books issued Creative Machine Knitting, by Linda Mendelson and Mark Dittrich (Hawthorn/Dutton, $17.50, 1979). So far, however, the field is mostly filled by paperbacks imported from Japan.

There are several good, self-published books in this area which should be in every home machine knitter's library. These include the series on basic techniques by Tami Nobuyuki and the books by Regine Faust.

Hand and machine knitters should also keep their eyes open for an upcoming book from the Brooklyn Museum. They acquired an antique knitted lace sampler and Susanna Lewis has charted the patterns for them. TATTING

TATTING HAS, in recent times, been a very minor part of the craft field, but recently it has become more popular. Van Nostrand Reinhold has just brought out a paperback of Rhoda L. Auld's Tatting ($8.95) with clear instructions and modern applications. For those who have always been attracted to tatting but could never make that shuttle produce, a new method using a hook has been developed in Japan. The book is in Japanese but the importer (Yo's Needlecraft, on the list) has inserted a clear translation of the instructions and exposition of the symbols used. You should be able to whiz through the book. The book title is also in Japanese, so just inquire about the tatting book ($7.35). The hook and the book can both be purchased from Yo's, or they can be picked up at Fibers in Temple Hills.

The Japanese are adept at using symbols to cross the language barrier and are putting out a deluge of beautiful books on many crafts. Some stores carry them --if you have any trouble finding them, try Yo's or Fibers. You'll get a marvelous illustrated catalog from Yo's, all in Japanese. Don't let it frighten you. All the instructions are clearly diagrammed and easily usable. Ondorri puts out a small paperback Basic Crochet & Knit ($2.95) that has all the symbols used for both crocheting and knitting and all sorts of basic information about each, including scale silhouettes of the hooks and needles for size comparison. It is loaded with good information and, at that price, it's a steal. WEAVERS

FOR WEAVERS, Scribners has just brought out a monumental work: The Weaving Book, by Helene Bress ($50). In 538 pages Bress explores the variations of five of the basic weaves and provides almost 3,000 patterns, complete with illustrations, drafts and treadling orders for each.

Dover, bless them again, has reprinted many good weaving books. Among them are two or three by Osma Tod, A Handbook of Weaves, by G.H. Oelsner ($7.95; paperback, $5.95) and Weaving a Navajo Blanket, by Gladys A. Reichard (Paperback, $3). Just out this year is a Dover original, Bolivian Indian Textiles, Traditional Designs and Costumes, by Tamara E. Wasserman and Jonathan S. Hill ($7.95). The illustrations, many in color, will be an inspiration for workers in many crafts besides weaving. SMOCKING

FOR YEARS almost exclusively the property of small children, smocking is re-entering the adult clothing field. Dianne Durand has championed its use and issued a few booklets. Dianne Durand's Complete Book of Smocking (Van Nostrand Reinhold, $14.95) will not be out until November, but will be worth looking for. Meanwhile, Smocks and Smocking, by Beverly Marshall (Van Nostrand Reinhold, $14.95, 1981) is out and combines a history of smocking with instructions and attractive modern applications.

Oenone Cave is clearly an enthusiast and gives an exhaustive history as well as instruction in the smocking techniques and the traditional embroidered accompaniments in Traditional Smocks & Smocking (Mills & Boon/ Transatlantic Arts; paperback, $7.95, 1979).

A book too good to be without, Exotic Needlework, by Dona Meilach and Dee Menagh (Crown, $14.95; paperback, $9.95, 1978) dips into every area of the textile arts and applies them to clothing, jewelry and purely decorative pieces. It is full of ethnic patterns and techniques and should be an inspiration for original work. If not, just using the material in the book, even just browsing, is a satisfying experience.