We haven’t had a book review for a while, have we? Let’s rectify that:-
Knitting and crochet often get a bad rap. Both crafts are regarded by some as the fast route to frumpy, style-less, doom*. And yeah, there are some… interesting patterns out there. But hey, it’s not as though all the ready-made clothes that you can buy are super-stylish, either. Fortunately there are plenty of designers who do understand how to breathe elegance into their work, and a fair few of those people have designed for Rowan at some point.
I’m a big fan of Rowan. For example, I designed this skirt in their Felted Tweed:-
And I’m a fan of the Rowan Magazine, their twice-yearly showcase of patterns. (Calling it a ‘magazine’ is a bit like referring to champagne as ‘grape juice’. Each issue is more like a slim pattern book, and I highly doubt you’d toss it in the recycling bin once you’d had a look at it.) I may have splurged, occasionally:-
Anyway, Rowan is celebrating 40 years of producing yarn and patterns, and in honour of the occasion, they’ve brought out a book to showcase the best of the designs that have appeared in the magazine. Would you like to see? (They sent me a free copy.) Open the cover, and you’re greeted by the sight of a youthful Kate Moss, wearing a jumper. I’ve been living under a rock, so I hadn’t realized that she’d modelled for Rowan early in her career. It’s testament to the style vision of the company’s design team that they booked her.
Anyway, let’s turn the page and carry on. Oh! There’s Kate Moss again, this time in a cardigan. But this isn’t a book about Kate Moss. It’s a collection of 40 iconic women’s knitwear designs, spanning all but the earliest days of the magazine. Leafing through the book, the word that comes to mind is timeless. For example, there’s a cabled jumper from Issue 10 – Is that Kate Moss again?! – that wouldn’t look out of place in a knitter’s WIP-pile even now.
Near the beginning is a brief description of the year-long design process that leads to each issue of the magazine. I only wish there could be more detail about the process, and maybe an interview or two with key designers. There’s a photo-montage of every cover ever, and it’s impressive just how few of these look even slightly dated to modern eyes. Over time, crochet patterns were increasingly included in the magazine, but none of them are featured in this book.
There’s real variety in the knitting techniques featured, from iconic intarsia by Kaffe Fassett, detailed Fair Isle by Marie Wallin…
…simple monochrome shapes by Kim Hargreaves, lacework by Sharon Miller, cables by Louisa Harding, and this sample of extravagant wonder by Martin Storey:-
I have no idea whether I’ll make any of these patterns, but that doesn’t really feel like the point. The book is more of a pattern-based memoire of four decades at the forefront of British fashion knitwear. Personally, I’d have enjoyed more words… about company history, about the design process, and so on, but maybe that’s just me.
If you’re buying this because you want a whole heap of high-quality knitting patterns, then you’ll need quite a range of knitting skills, and you’ll need to be an intermediate to advanced knitter. It’s also worth noting that all the designs featured are for adult womenswear. But you’ll love this book if you fancy a visual feast of the work of knitting designers at the very top of their game. And if you like Kate Moss.
Rowan: 40 Years is available worldwide now, published by Sixth & Spring. Hardback, 225 pages. ISBN 9781640210288. Pricing example: UK RRP £25.00.
∗I’ve written before about the time I was lying on my back, chatting with the woman who was tattooing permanent eyeliner around my eyes. (Please don’t judge: it’s pretty much my only vanity ‘thing’.) “You’re into knitting?!” she exclaimed and, laughing, she asked “So does that mean you make hideous, ugly, jumpers for all your family?” Err, no. No I don’t, actually. But when you’re flat on your back whilst someone wields an electric needle one millimetre away from your eyeball, you’re pretty powerless, so I smiled sweetly and said none of the things that I would have liked to have said. And I resolved never, ever, to knit anything for this woman.