Books with Franklin: Looking Back
Your Hit Parade
Yet another knitting book has arrived in the mail that set me spinning in a whirl of dewy-eyed nostalgia. I saw myself at a young(ish) age, standing for the first time in front of a display of Rowan stuff. The yarns were handsome, but what knocked me to the floor were the Rowan magazines and pattern books. Literally knocked me to the floor: I reached for one on a high shelf and pulled about sixteen of them onto my head. They were heavy. It hurt.
After my vision cleared, I spent half an hour leafing through one of the books. As a raving Anglophile who has always felt he should have been given a grace-and-favour cottage in Kent as a first birthday present, this was more than a collection of sweaters (excuse me, jumpers) and scarves. This was aspirational knitting porn.
When you love knitting as I love knitting, even mediocre photos of the stuff have a certain allure. I can run across a pattern for a kickass cowl, shoved onto the unwilling neck of the designer’s teen-aged daughter and indifferently photographed through an iPhone lens covered with spit, and still think, “Oh, yes. I’ll have that, please.”
So Rowan’s signature brand of superbly captured knitted gorgeousness surrounded by classic (if often soggy) British landscapes, architecture, and tea cups is something that I prefer to look at alone, in my room, with the door firmly shut and the phone off the hook.
Sadly, the individual pattern books from years gone by can be difficult to come by, and pricey when you find them.
In recognition of a milestone anniversary, Rowan has looked to its back catalog to put together Rowan: 40 Years, 40 Iconic Hand-Knit Designs (Sixth&Spring Books), a hefty helping of what they do best.
I find it’s difficult to write the usual sort of review for this book. Are the designs lovely? Of course the designs are lovely. When you skim the cream off four decades of output by the likes of Kaffe Fassett, Kim Hargreaves, Martin Storey, Sarah Hatton, Sharon Miller, and Marie Wallin, it’s going to be first class cream.
Half the collection is reprinted more or less in original form, even when yarns have been discontinued (a helpful substitution guide is included). Half have been reimagined in current yarns.
Fickle by Louisa Harding. (if the model looks familiar, it’s because it’s kate moss.)
What strikes me is how well even the oldest designs have aged. Louisa Harding’s playfully cabled “Fickle” pullover and Kim Hargreaves’s snuggalicious “Plaid Coat” both date from Magazine 10 (1991), and are far from the latest word in knitwear.
Plaid Coat by Kim Hargreaves.
But they’re pieces that (especially after you’ve put yarn and time into them) become the kind of wardrobe staple you reach for over and over and over and over until they wear out or you die.
And of course, there are the pieces so monumental that once you’ve knit them, you are entitled to withdraw forever from show-and-tell at guild meetings and just look smug.
Valentina by Martin Storey.
Martin Storey’s “Valentina” is one such: grand in scale, opulent, and the kind of thing that will shut up anyone who might dare point out to you that they sell sweaters at Wal-Mart, you know.
Binding Off Is Hard to Do
Talitha Kuomi’s latest, it’s not me, it’s you is one of the most personal pattern collections I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen collections based on Shetland, California, coffee shops, Santa Fe, flowers and trees, fairies, Paris, murder mysteries, old movies, new movies, and chocolate.
But this is the first one I’ve seen that was inspired by the end of a relationship.
Unlike Shetland, California, fairies, et al., break-ups are never picturesque, at least not to the parties directly involved. However, Kuomi never has been one to look for inspiration from usual sources.
The designs are mixed in with that perennially popular feature of romantic endings: poetry. Please don’t stop reading. It’s really quite capable poetry, especially if you’re in a broken-heart frame of mind. And it’s short.
Pointed and to the point. Curt parting shots from end of an affair.
What about the designs?
There are thirteen (hmmmm…), mostly garments aside from one large blanket suitable for curling under while you angrily eat several pints of ice cream. Not one of them is a large pullover with AND I NEVER LIKED YOUR CAT spelled across the front in intarsia. The inspiration comes through, but not so explicitly that people will look at your scarf and think, “Wow. I hope she threw their X-box out the window.”
The Layers by Talitha Kuomi.
No, these are designs of the sort Kuomi is known for–quirky, energetic, modern. Or maybe postmodern, as many pieces (like “the layers,” an openwork tee; and “more like myself,” a sweater dress) have clear vintage roots.
More like myself by Talitha Kuomi.
But they’ve been loosened up, re-mixed, re-interpreted. My favorite, “admit,” is a shawl-collared cardigan with a jittery colorwork passage that looks nothing at all like the shawl-collared cardigan you rescued from your grandfather’s closet.
Admit by Talitha Kuomi.
Even in these days of single patterns on demand, I’m still a big fan of looking at a designer’s work in a collection. it’s not me, it’s you hangs together well, and if Kuomi’s style is your style, you might well find yourself not only making many of these pieces, but wearing them together.
Oh–and there’s a link to a Spotify break-up playlist. Mind you don’t felt the yarn with your tears. No ex is worth that.
Photos courtesy of Rowan and Talitha Kuomi.
Reviewed in this column:
Rowan: 40 Years, 40 Iconic Hand-Knit Designs
it’s not me, it’s you by Talitha Kuomi