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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.


the space

you left

your presence
ever did

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


About The Author

Franklin Habit has been sharing his brainy and hilarious writing and illustrations with the knitting world since 2005.


  • Have just found 2 old Rowan magazines in a charity shop and I now want to throw out all the projects I’m working on and start on one or 3 of these patterns.

  • I’ve just returned to Rowan this year after a number of years knitting designs by various indy designers. After the last seamless sweater debacle (it hangs in a shapeless lump and slides off my shoulders) I have said “no more!” and have pledged to knit only traditionally constructed sweaters because they hang and fit far better than the garments designed to have as little finishing work as possible. Rowan is great for this — the majority of sweaters are knit in pieces and seamed. (Fine gauge stranded colorwork not included — that is knit in the round for very good reason!)

    • Amen! I will be so glad when the droopy dropped shoulder thing isn’t the only pattern design out there. I much prefer the look of a set-in sleeve…..more flattering to most body types.

    • I hear you, Wendy, but I’m not sure I’m ready to backstitch a sleeve into an armhole again. It’s been a long time.

      • Some of the best money I ever spent was on a class learning how to pick up stitches around the shaped armhole and knit the (also shaped) sleeve downwards. Perfect every time, and I haven’t come across a pattern (as long as it’s classically constructed) where this hasn’t worked. I’m sure you could still find out how to do this.

      • You can doooooo it!

    • Hear hear. I love Rowan’s schematics too.

  • When I saw that your book reviews were the subject of the day, my computer wouldn’t open fast enough. I ❤️books and I really . I just gave my best girlfriend my copy of Kaffe’s first book because she had never seen it and called me when she did. Thank You for your excellent reviews and support of my book and yarn problem

  • You never forget your first Rowan magazine. Mine was Issue 28 back in 2002.

  • grace and favor cottage………for knitting? Replete with old Rowan volumes. Oh to dream on

  • How I love all books of aspirational knitting! A friend’s mother used to have a subscription to Vogue Knitting – I loved poring over every issue, again and again. Mind you, this was at least 2 decades before I actually picked up needles myself! She had a few Rowan mags around too – how I wanted to move to an English cottage, looking through them!

    I think that those intricate gorgeous designs years ago convinced me that knitting was something for experts and not something I could ever do. I am so glad I eventually challenged that notion!

  • Love your book reviews

  • OMG, what a walk down memory lane! I’m also a huge Rowan fan (specifically Kaffe!) from wayback and have quite a few of those hard to find yarn books you referenced! I bought my Rowan yarn at the Tomato Factory Yarn Store in Lambertville, NJ. (It’s crazy but at the time I had no clue about their connection to Alice Starmore.) Even though I live in SoCal now, I still have my Foolish Virgins sweater, which I made in the year before I moved to LA. It only gets worn on the few (and getting fewer) cold winter days (sniff)

    Just ordered the book, which should arrive tomorrow – I hope I can sleep tonight!

    Thanks for the memories!

  • There is a great interview of Talitha Kuomi by Kristi Glass on You Tube which highlights the designs in this collection. They look fun as well as wearable.

    • That is a great video–thanks for the tip! Fun to hear about her unusual background and design ideas. What a brain.
      And reassuring to know that the “breakup” is not recent, she’s been happily married for a long time, but the memories are easily dredged up and put to work.

  • Sigh…..Martin Storey gets me every time

  • Your writing is just so enjoyable to read–hilarious and heartfelt. Another great article, and an introduction to a woman after my own heart: new-to-me designer Kuomi.

  • That sweater looks a lot like one that was in my father’s closet, actually.

  • I sent the first Kaffe book to my closest girlfriend. She has been too busy to knit and came across that life changing book She lives in Kansas and I am in Denver. Since it had been in my possession since 1987, I decided to part with it and it blew her socks off! Hurray for Rowan. A couple of weeks ago,she was hospitalized for pneumonia, pulmonary embolisms and a small heart attack. She decided to retire and start knitting again.

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