Wednesday, September 27, 2006

No-Bull Book Review: Romantic Style

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.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

OK - I live in the Mid-West and I am not as young, thin, blond, or as pretty as model; but still I am offended :-(

Anonymous said...

I don't think she meant offense to Midwesterners.

I'd like to thank you for your review, actually. I'm one of the countless suckers who gets drawn in a bit by pretty pictures and lovely, romantic ideas, and I'd like to be, like you, a little more level-headed about these things!

--Shana in Missouri

Kathy Merrick said...

Yikes, anonymous, you get offended awfully easily.
So offended you have to hide behind "anonymous"?
It's hard, I think, to take anonymous commenters seriously.

Oh, and Carol, just as I don't think every knitting book has to include a how-to-knit section, I don't think every book has to accomodate out of the general range sizes.

Carol said...

Well, I guess that begs the question as to what the "general range" is. If, as the statistics say, the average American woman wears a size 14, then 38-inch busts ain't gonna cut it in a lot of cases. In any event, I think it's important for people to know before they buy a book whether they're going to be able to wear anything from it without revision.

And I didn't mean to suggest that there's anything wrong with the midwest -- just statin', not hatin'.

Christina said...

Carol, that past paragraph is priceless.

kmkat said...

I'm from the Midwest and I was a little, er, taken aback by that part of the review. But I got over it by the next sentence or so. There's a lot that is good with midwestern *style*, but contemporary/with-it/cutting edge it isn't.

Thanks for the objective review. I'll stick with my Ann Budd books and design my own (midwestern, of course) sweaters. ;-)

mindy said...

Thanks for the once-again honest review. At first I was thinking "Wow, a pretty Rowan-like book to look at" but that quickly dwindled to "eh, I'll flip through it in the store, then come up with my own freakin' ruffly patterns."

mindy said...

Oh, and cool Flickr thingie. I'm up way past my bedtime, and am finding it mesmorizing...

Sherry W said...

Hey, I'm a size 10 and 38-inch bust ain't gonna cut it! Urgh! I agree with Kathy not every pattern sizes to the extreme. However, the last I checked I was a 'medium'.

Will someone please tell Rowan it's one thing to have ideas for the runway and then expect people to *knit* them?! That bathrobe sounds as bad as the mohair prom dress. Crazy concepts are fine, but they should inspire patterns people can use.

Cynthia said...

Aren't there "romantic" Rowan patterns from that are like 10 years old instead of only a few months. I know as a fairly newish knitter, I buy the Rowan books now, but would love to recycle some old things I have not seen previously.....

Melissa said...

It's funny, I looked through this book the exact day you posted this!

The photos are gorgeous, but I agree that the designs are not practical. Under the description of the cover dress it says something to the effect of "wear it over a sexy silk slip and go out on the town!" Well, I don't know about you, but I don't really go out in public in lacy shifts over slips and pantaloons. Like you said, more appropriate for a tea party in a boudoir.

I think the range of sizes is less of an issue than the actual practicality of the designs. I mean, it says that the designs are 1930s inspired, so naturally only boyish straight figures will look good in them, regardless of actual size. The book is nice eye candy though.

Joe said...

I am such a sucker for a well-printed book, and no one does it better than Rowan and their ilk.

Aren't there at least ideas that inspire in this book, even if you couldn't make a garment as directed except for your 13 year old niece or cancer-ridden grandmother?

Carol said...

Oh, my quibble isn't with the lack of inspiration. It's just that I could find the same exact inspiration in several of the Rowan Magazines I already own. And I do love the fact that these are designs which are not chunky rectangles in garter stitch - they have lace, edging, shaping, etc. These designers are very talented -- I'd just like to see some new material, that goes one or two sizes larger.

Anonymous said...

Well, Rowan is British and British sizing is different to USer sizing. USer women are, in general, huge. Why should Rowan cater to the fast food generation of the US? Designers shouldn't have to compromise their vision just because some knitters eat more than they should. Rowan isn't alone in recycling - Interweave's latest special looks to be all recycled patterns.

Bronte said...

I saw sample photos from this book earlier in the week and since then have been trying to find out what the sizing would be like, so thank you so much for your review! I admit I fell in love with the bathrobe, but would have worn it over an evening dress rather than after a splash in the bath!

But yet again, I was going to be disappointed. Rowan seem to thaink that by having 50% of the patterns in the latest magazine in larger sizes it means they can sit back and not worry about any of their other publications. Well knickers to you, Rowan. I'll design my own fancy bathrobe!

Carol said...

Anonymous, Rowan makes gobs and gobs of money from its "huge" "overeating" American knitters (and hey -- thanks for the ugly American stereotype! every tall woman in the US with a large frame or big tits says bugger off). This book was published in the US, by a US publisher, so I think US purchasers have every right to beef if it doesn't contain US sizing.

I've said before, one reason I write book reviews is to give people information I think they'll use. Knowing that the patterns are drawn from previous magazines may be an important reason for someone with a limited budget not to buy this book.

And I'm wondering what Interweave publication you're referring to?

P.S. I love the way all the critics are "Anonymous."

Lee Ann said...

Anonymous Dude, British women aren't exactly all Twiggy either, and this tiny little expat American also says bugger off for assuming that a request for US sizing comes from snarfing fries...

Carol, I think the thing that would completely put me off buying this book is the fact that I have a copy of Rowan 37. Man, that drives me batty when publishers throw a bunch of patterns from previous publications into a book and call it new. They could have at least said it was a "best of the Rowan magazine romantics" book or something.

Melissa said...

Carol,

I think Anon is referring to the Gift issue of Interweave Knits. They just posted their preview, and it's a lot of recycled patterns. It's a magazine though.

Jen said...

Ok, there are several misconceptions floating around here that "Anonymous" needs to let go of - that Midwesterners are...what, exactly? I'm from the Midwest and I'm flattered that you'd say we look like Miss America. Two, that all Americans are fat. I'm not overweight, but I have a 36-inch bust and I usually wear a 41" finished size. Blame my Swiss and Norwegian ancestors for that bone structure. Third, that women get big on top from overeating (because honestly, a skinny woman with a 40" bust isn't going to fit these sweaters either). Apparently British women haven't learnt this trick (in his/her mind), or don't have big chests. Eat more, get well-endowed! Why are we bothering with cosmetic surgery when you can get the same result from a box of Twinkies?

Carol, THANKS for a great book review, and for saying exactly what people are really interested in - practicality, originality and fit. You rock.

Nikki said...

Thanks for the review. I don't have any Rowan mags and am a small girl, so I was really thinking about getting this book. But it was good of you to point out that it really isn't all that practical.

Jen, I want to live in your world, where eating a lot makes only your boobs get bigger. That would be SWEET! I think I'd be eating Twinkies (blech!) right now, but unfortunately, seems when folks around me gain weight, it goes to more than just the titties. Curse you, titty gods!

Anonymous said...

thanks for the review; it's nice to see a book that isn't for beginning knitters. and maybe i can finally master crocheting.

however, the sizing is a little inconvienient, if the smallest size is a 32/34. it means getting tricky and resizing as i go it will most likely hang on my small frame. (then again, i'm from the midwest.) :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I am so tempted to buy this book... but I think I'll hold off once again. I'd fit most of the patterns, but as you said, practicality. If only I could buy just one or two of the patterns for less...

As for Interweave, I notice that a bunch of their patterns are all over the place. I bought the Gift Ideas 2006 Mag, and was VERY disappointed to find that I already had a lot of those patterns(from older magazines or books). In addition, I've found that a lot of the contributors will submit a pattern to the magazine, then reuse it in their own books. Wenlan Chia did so in her Twinkle's Big City Knits, Scarf Style has a number of scarfs finding their way into recent magazines when they need to fill a space, etc. So, it does happen, and I think it's always a good idea to check a book out before you buy.

Thanks again tho for reminding me to not splurge on things that I won't really use. :o)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up - I've been keeping an eye on the local Borders for this one, but will stop now. Mainly due to the repetitive patterns. I was already down to 2/3 of the book being useless to me - knowing that some of the patterns are reprints cut it back even more...not worth the $$.
Thanks again!
-Cara