Tuesday, October 26, 2010

No-Bull Book Review: Fresh Fashion Knits, edited by Kate Buller

A few years ago, British yarn company Rowan began publishing a quarterly pattern booklet called "Studio." Studio is deliberately kept smaller than Rowan Magazine, the gold standard for yarn-company pattern support. Instead of approximately 30-40 patterns, Studio averages 8 to 12, and instead of the large format of Rowan Magazine, Studio is decidedly smaller: smaller in size and scope. There are no articles and no location photography -- just studio shots and patterns for the garments. The trade-off for the smaller size and less elaborate styling is that Studio garments are much more trend-conscious, pulling looks off the runway in a shorter time frame in order to appeal to a younger or, perhaps it's more accurate to say, more fashion-focused handknitter.

Our friends at PotterCraft have compiled twenty or so patterns from the pages of Studio, and present them in a paperback book called Fresh Fashion Knits: More than 20 Must-Have Designs from Rowan's Studio Collection (edited by Kate Buller; MSRP $22.99; available for $15.51 as of the time of this writing via the link). First off, let me say kudos to PotterCraft for recognizing that Rowan has a rabid following and probably more than a few knitters out there collect every Rowan publication they can get their hands on. (Why are you all looking at me?) By identifying the patterns as coming from Rowan's Studio Collection, PotterCraft is making sure that Rowanaphiles know right off the bat that these are patterns that have been published before. No one likes to buy a book and then realize that they already own the patterns in a different form or booklet, and I think PotterCraft will gain a lot of good will from knitters for being straightforward about it.

For those of you who don't have all the Studio booklets and are wondering what's inside, let's take a No-Bull look.


Fresh Fashion Knits is a paperback with a fold-in cover, measures approximately 7 x 10 inches, is approximately 120 pages, and is set up a bit like individual Studio booklets are. There's a brief introduction by the lovely Kate Buller, senior brand manager at Rowan,


then roughly forty pages of color photographs of the designs. There are no chapters or commentary, no how-to-knit instructions or technical tips; instead, you'll see two color photographs of each design, the design's name and a one-line description. The remainder of the book consists of the patterns, followed by a few pages of explanatory material ("Useful Information" containing instructions on gauge, sizing and the like, and "Yarn Information," which contains the specs for each Rowan yarn used in the patterns, including gauge, fiber composition and description -- very helpful in case any of the yarns get discontinued in the future). So what are the patterns like?


They are all designs for women, and they are all sweaters of some kind -- no skirts or shawls or accessories. There are a few options for warmer weather, like this cotton tank top,

but predominantly you'll find sweaters intended for cool or cold weather. The cover sweater is a great example of how a chunky tweed yarn combined with cables creates a stylish sweater that can serve as a jacket on a cool day:


You'll find sweaters with lacy stitchwork


textured stitches


and good old stockinette stitch, too.


Perennial favorite KidSilk Haze is used for several garments, and Rowan designers make the most of its hazy, filmy halo -- "Bella" is really lovely, as is "Lucille" (above).


Layering pieces are everywhere, from tunics to wraps to short-sleeved cardigans.


If you're looking for the numbers, I counted approximately:
  • 7 long-sleeved cardigans;
  • 2 long-sleeved pullovers;
  • one cardigan with 3/4-length sleeves;
  • 2 short-sleeved cardigans;
  • 4 short-sleeved pullovers;
  • 4 wraps or vests; and
  • one tank-like top.
The yarn weights are distributed pretty evenly: 2 in chunky yarns, 4 in aran-weight yarns, 1 worsted, 5 in DK-weight, 1 in fingering-weight and about 7 in the versatile KidSilk Haze. If you're wondering whether some of the yarn in your stash is used for any of the patterns, you'll find patterns for Felted Tweed in its original DK weight, as well as Chunky and Aran weights; patterns for Wool Cotton and Calmer; one for All Seasons Cotton and one for Kid Classic; one or two for KidSilk Aura; and one in fingering-weight (4-ply) CashSoft.


Patterns feature schematics and charts where appropriate; no fair isle or other colorwork here (good to know if you're a fan), so no color charts needed. Sizing tends to run from a size small, for an approximately 32-34 inch bust measurement to approximately 42-46 inch bust measurements (actual garment chest size ranging from 35-38 all the way to 50 inches in a few cases, but the very petite and plus sizes won't find much joy here.

I didn't actually count up to see which Studio Issues most of the garments came from, although I noticed that Issues 1 and 2 are especially well-represented among the patterns. This makes sense since those are no longer in print and therefore those patterns are harder to find.

I really enjoyed seeing Fresh Fashion Knits, a great way for those less obsessed with Rowan than I am to get a sense for the kind of designs presented in the Studio Collections -- not to mention a great way to see some of the beautiful Rowan yarns shown off to perfection. The collection is varied and accessible, with garments that span the seasons, and clear but sophisticated photographs showing them off. If you can't afford to buy all of the Studio booklets, this is a lovely and representative collection of what they have to offer: more trend-conscious designs to show off the gorgeous yarns they were made with, presented with the trademark Rowan (and PotterCraft!) quality and style.

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