I had the chance to peruse Rowan No. 39 this weekend, the new spring/summer Rowan magazine that came out on February 1st. As a long-time fan of Rowan, I was struck by a couple of things. First of all, the composition of the patterns seems to be changing: more crochet (although since Rowan renamed the magazine "Knitting and Crochet" instead of just "Knitting," we shouldn't be surprised) [EDIT: Allow me to clarify that I don't think crochet is a bad thing; this is just an observation about the content of the magazine. I happen to be a crappy crocheter, so although I can admire crochet patterns (or at least some of them, like the ones by my pal Kathy Merrick), I can't do them. Apparently there are a lot of knitters who don't crochet.] and more dinky little accessories (like the armband, below).
When a magazine says it has "over forty designs," and ten of them are one-offs like this, I feel cheated.
Of course, in fairness, there are some technically challenging and interesting designs in this issue.
There's lace, textured stitches, beads and other embellishment, edgings and so on, and I appreciate that this isn't a magazine full of boxy, garter-stitch garments in chunky yarn. Let me not be accused of failing to give credit where credit is due.
The group of participating designers is starting to morph; we are still seeing some of the classic designers, like Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mably, but a younger crowd of designers is more prominently featured these days. This is also not surprising: several Rowan designers, like Debbie Bliss and Kim Hargreaves and Louisa Harding, have left to start their own lines of yarn and publish designs under their own names. I have nothing against new designers, so long as their patterns are good. (Although I have to beseech the person who calls him- or herself "Kid Acne" to please, please change your name. Ick.)
But for me, what is most striking is the extent to which this particular Rowan feels trendy. I've always thought of Rowan Magazine as a publication to which one could frequently turn, even years later, and still find good patterns to make. And to some extent, I figured the world agreed; otherwise, why would old Rowans from years back sell so vigorously (and so expensively) on Ebay?
This year, however, more garments look like they're going to have a short shelf life. Crocheted shortie halter top?
Apart from the question whether anyone will want to make these now, will anyone turn back to these in five years and think they've stood the test of time?
Another aspect of the magazine that is notable is the styling of the photo shoots. The layouts are so busy, the models so heavily layered with stuff (hats, belts, sweater over sweater) that it's very difficult to get a clear look at the garments.
This is problematic from the standpoint of construction -- if you want guidance in creating a garment, it helps to be able to get a good clear look at a photo of it -- but also from the standpoint of selection. It's hard to decide whether you want to invest $100 or more in a sweater if you can't see it, or if the geegaws and makeup and styling are so busy
In this respect, Rowan 39 feels more like an issue of Vogue (regular Vogue, not Vogue Knitting). Fashion conscious, funky styling, showing us the edge of the fashion trend, but offering less in the way of guidance for the average Jane.
I'm looking forward to hearing the thoughts of my commenters on this one. I can't tell to what extent my own age is playing in to this: am I more likely to think hip, fashionable garments are too outre simply because I'm now on the other side of forty? And what is, or should be, the function of an industry leader like Rowan: to provide a look at fashion, like Vogue magazine does, or to provide clear blueprints for creating garments, seeing as it's a pattern magazine and all? Both? Is it even possible to do both?