Rowan-aphiles will be familiar with Jennie Atkinson, author/compiler of Romantic Style: Knits and Crochet to Wear or Display (Martingale & Co.).
Atkinson is a frequent contributor to recent Rowan magazines, one of the newer faces in the current crop of designers favored by the British yarn manufacturer. Rowan fans will no doubt also recognize some of the other designers who've contributed to Romantic Style: Kim Hargreaves and Martin Storey, to name two. As you might expect, Romantic Style is very much in the style of current Rowan knits: floaty, ruffly, feminine, and, I suppose, romantic. There's a reason for that, which I'll go into later.
Romantic Style is the nicest book to come out of Martingale in quite some time. Instead of featuring those midwestern lady models and not-quite-contemporary-feeling photography, Romantic Style has the look and feel of a Rowan publication. More stylized photography, less Miss-America-ish models, even the layout is more sophisticated and fresh than most Martingale books I've seen. The book has lots of color photos, schematics for the sweaters, and the little photographic digest in the front showing miniphotos of all of the designs contained in the book. So far, so good.
As for content, the book is divided into three sections containing patterns (the first two knit, the third mostly crochet), and one containing techniques. The techniques section is not, however, a how-to-knit section; perhaps recognizing that many of the designs are pretty advanced for beginners, this section skips the basics, and is devoted to more specialized topics like how to crochet in rounds, different crocheted motifs and edgings, and how to follow patterns. Good stuff, all of it.
As for the patterns? The first section is called Out and About, and features seven patterns: a camisole, a beaded cape, a sheer dress, two lace sweaters, a beaded jacket and beaded shrug with hood. The second section is Home Comforts, including home dec items like a throw, two pillow covers (one square, one tubular), hanger covers, bed socks, a quaint bed jacket and a floor-length dressing gown/robe. The last section, Little Extras, includes jewelry, belts, shawls (one knit, one crochet), a cap, and two bags. For those of you who strongly prefer either knit or crochet, that amounts to sixteen knit patterns and seven crochet ones.
Whether you like the patterns or not is largely a matter of taste, but rest assured these are not boxy bulky sweaters made from rectangles. Lots of stitch patterns and lace are used, several designs are beaded, there are edgings and ruffles galore, and the shapes are generally hugging and body-conscious. There are not tons of items that I personally would wear, but again, this is more a matter of taste than anything else. As is always the case with predominantly pattern-based books, let the buyer beware by checking out the patterns beforehand.
A few things will, however, stop me from giving the book a vigorous thumbs-up.
First is the relative impracticality of most of the designs. A floor-length bathrobe made from nearly 20 balls of worsted weight yarn will be pretty heavy, will cost you close to $200, and, since the specified yarn is a wool/mohair blend, is likely to make you sweat. The hanger covers are elegant, but at 7.75 sts per inch in an intricate pattern, is there anyone out there with the time (or desire) to make more than one knowing you're only going to cover them up by hanging clothes on them? The lace bed socks are lovely, but you better not expect to wear them when you're actually intending to walk around on a floor. As a suburban, time-crunched soccer mom, many of these designs just aren't gonna cut it for me, but again, this is largely a matter of taste. If you have a less wash-n-wear style, and regularly attend tea parties in boudoirs, then you may not care.
Second, and a bigger stumbling block for most of us, is the ugly reality of the sizing. Yep, you guessed it, this is a book with an extremely stingy range of sizes. The dressing gown has exactly two sizes, an "extra-small/small" and a "medium/large." Or to put it more accurately, "teeny" and "slightly less small." For the smaller size is for a 32 to 34-inch bust, and the other is for a 36 to 38-inch bust -- hardly "large." (Especially in this brave new world of breast implants.) Other garments only go as high as a 40-inch bust (with two inches of ease). If you are more amply figured, then you'll either have to modify or give up the sweaters in this book.
The last drawback to this book is the recycling factor. I'm all for recycling when it comes to aluminum cans and newspapers; I'm not so big on recyling when it comes to knitting pattern books. Astute Rowan fans will note that many of these patterns have already been published in Rowan Magazine. To wit:
- Butterfly Dress appeared as "Butterfly" in Rowan 37;
- Crochet Motif Bag appeared as "Heirloom Bag" in Rowan 37;
- Rose Button Cushion appeared as "Rosetta" and the Buttoned Flower Bloster as "Elsie" in (you guessed it) Rowan 37;
- Chevron Lace Top looks awfully like "Prue" in Rowan 35;
and I lost patience there, since that's already something like 25% of the patterns that I easily identified as having been recycled. Shame on Martingale and Rowan for not disclosing this, even in small type on one of the introductory pages. Why take the chance of tricking your loyal fans into buying patterns they already have?
To sum up, if you are a petite Rowan-loving woman who doesn't mind dumping $200 for a bathrobe that won't soak up bathwater, and you don't already have all of these patterns in your extensive Rowan collection, then by all means take a look at this book. If, however, like me, you already have most of them, and they won't fit you even if you make them, and even if you made them, you'd probably never wear them, then just go and buy some sock yarn with that twenty bucks instead.