When I look at knitting books, vintage and present-day, I’m struck with how the cycles repeat down the years. We keep revisiting the same garments and themes, decade after decade. It makes sense: humans are still constructed the same way now as before, and knitters therefore knit the same types of garments. For all that stays the same, there is also much that changes over time: yarns, fashions in knitwear and in the other clothes we wear with our knitwear, and of course in photography and styling. The basic theme–cover these body parts with knitting–doesn’t change.
It’s exciting, then, when a collection of patterns strikes out on a theme not previously associated with knitting. It’s even more exciting when the designer explores that theme in an imaginative way. That is what Anna Maltz has done in her new book, Penguin: A Knit Collection.
Anna’s approach is curious and fresh. Everything is inspired by her lifelong fascination with penguins, but the connection is rarely literal or direct. She doesn’t hit you over the head with a fish with it.
The fun of Anna’s approach is easier to show than to explain. A few examples from the 11 patterns in the collection:
Fledgling. OK–on these mittens, there is a penguin image. But these penguin faces are simple and stylized–I find them Charley Harper-esque– and they would go very well with a New Yorker’s blackcentric wardrobe.
I love the checkered detail on the palm-side fingertips.
In the Flower King hat, the penguin connection is not obvious, but it is there. As Anna explains, “When I was looking at the king penguin for inspiration, things took on an unexpectedly floral twist. King penguins have what looks like a large yellow inverted petal on each side of their face. In using this shape to form the colourwork patterning on the crown of this hat, I found myself with a flower.” I would do it in all greys, like my Marimekko socks; Anna urges knitters to use handpainted or ombre yarns for the petals to pump up the floral.
There are garments, too. Aptenodytes, for example, is a cardigan with overlapping draped, cutaway fronts. If it were not in this book (and not knitted in black and worn over a white dress and yellow tights, perhaps), you would not look at it and think “penguin” (although aptenodytes is the genus name for penguins). With knitterly stitch details and an unusual construction, it’s a great layering piece.
I basically want to talk about every pattern in the book. None of them are standard in any way, and they’re all interesting as pieces of knitting–without regard to the penguin associations.
There’s Rockhopper, a reversible striped shawl with an intriguing zig zag construction that is knit without intarsia, using miters and Anna Maltz magic–it only looks penguinny if knit in penguin colors.
There’s Teenguin, which looks like a quirky vintage sweater unless you happen to know what adolescent penguins look like when they are halfway through the process of molting their baby down and acquiring their adult feathers.
Finally, there’s the one that intrigues me most: Humboldt, a graphic cropped pullover which deploys an unvented technique that Anna calls “marlisle,” a combination of marling (knitting with different colored strands) and Fair Isle.
It’s ingenius and striking, and probably warm as can be. I’m really into chewy knitted texture right now; I’m seeing it all over the place.