Monday, February 13, 2006

A fashion magazine or a knitting pattern book?

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

and distracting.

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?



Stacey said...

I thought of the same thing when I saw Rowan - it looked like a high fashion magazine! Too much stuff and it's too hard to see the knitted garment and how it may actually fit a real person without a headdress on....

amy! said...

Well, I'm only 33, but I agree with the too busy and too "fashion" of the photos.

I had a bit of a go-round with Interweave Knits about their move toward more "fashion" shots as well, although they don't sin in quite the same extreme. But I don't want out-of-focus photos of a garment I'm trying to construct. And I want close-ups of some of the details, particularly one nice one of a complicated stitch pattern. They argued layout space. I said "Fooey, you have a website".

rincaro said...

I don't see the same "classic" look in the recent rowans. You're very right - so much of this won't stand the test of time.

Anonymous said...

Those are some pretty ... interesting... pictures. On one I had to actually squint to see what the knitted object was. I haven't seen the actual magazine itself, but if this is a fair representation of it, I don't think I need to. Prior to this, I had always thought they were pretty timeless, too, though I really haven't looked in the past few years. However, my first Rowan is probably about 15-20 years old, and there are still 2 sweaters in there that I would love to make, that would not look outdated.

Anonymous said...

I hate it when knitting mags don't give us clear views of the garment. I don't much care how artsy their photographers are or what funky ways we could choose to accessorize the finished product.

By choosing style over substance, I think they're hurting themselves. Shots that disguise their designs make me wonder what's wrong with them.

I think it's definitely possible for knitting magazines to be more fashion-oriented, but they still need to keep their focus. They should be showing off the individual garments, not the "look" as a whole. And the more they move towards being fashion magazines, the more dated their designs will become over time. A lot of us are not going to drop the cash and spend all our time making something that will be a tired trend next year.

Anonymous said...

I dropped my subscription to Rowan after the last mag and it sounds like I made a good choice. When I began knitting, I adored the mag and the designs. This past year, the move to younger (isn't that what R2 was for) and fewer knit designs (I don't know how to crochet) left me cold.

The fashion photos are lovely, but I agree with your position about the need for better photos to help the knitter. I feel that way about all knitting magazines--please show a photo (or thumbnail) or the back of the design and tell me what size the model is wearing. I still struggle with ease and sizing--this information would be a huge help.

Anonymous said...

I'm 25, and I don't think your age has anything to do with your reaction to this. Those tops (the cardigans are ok) look like something the "crazy crocheting cousin" played by a guest star on "Friends" would wear.
As for how dated they will look - for me, knitting magazines are for trends, books are for the more timeless designs. So that wouldn't really be a problem, if only this trend weren't so ugly to begin with.

Anonymous said...

I was going to weigh in on this one, but what do you know, I'm not unbiased here either.
Now that this is swiftly becoming a good old "I hate crochet and won't buy this publication as long as you continue to add crochet. After all, everyone knows crochet is only good for freeform and crazy-looking things and anyway it's scary" argument.
So I won't.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame they've become so overstylized. There are still lovely garment designs that are classic and lovely, you just can't see them. While it now takes a leap of imagination to envision Rowan things on my aging frame I've always had such good luck with their yarns and patterns that I'll keep coming back...After all, it's not like there's that much great competition out there on the design front.

Anonymous said...

I let my subscription to Rowan lapse last year. I'm strongly in the classic/not trendy camp & there's very little that I can ever see being tempted to make in the recent issues of the mag. It seems to me that the new crop of designers are doing a fine job of moving away from what I've typically thought of Rowan's designs as being. That's not a good thing.

Jen Hagan said...

I'm with ya, babe. I think their photo design takes away from the knitted item they claim to be showcasing. Jokes abound about Rowan's possible "find the knitted item" game. We knitters don't want to have to play games to see what we are investing precious time and money in. Amen, Carol.

Maria said...

Found your blog while researching the Fiona Ellis cable book due out soon. I don't care to read blogs much (would rather be knitting, or researching a knitting book, or yarn), unless the post is related to something I'm researching. I check on YKW once in awhile, when I need to snicker.

Sooo, I was reading your book reviews and enjoying them immensely, getting the feeling I'd found something special. And I scrolled down to the bottom and found your "counter". I knew then I'd mined a treasure from the internet ocean. I think I love you.

After reading all of your posts and most of the comments over the weekend (throwing the ToDo list to the wind), it confirmed that yes, it's love, not just lust. You are the real thing. In addition, I find the commenters here to be a cut above those I've seen elsewhere--more respectful and informed, the writing tight, pertinent and useful. I like the way you police the comments, too, Carol. It gives me confidence that this will remain a wonderful place to visit (daily) as long as you choose to maintain it.

Thank you all, for past posts and comments and those I will be enjoying in the future. My apologies for the long and not-on-point Comment, but I've never done this before (ever less the virgin, sigh) and thought it proper to give propers where due.

As for the Rowan magazine: If there was something in there that might be my taste, it would be very hard to ferret it out, much less actually knit it. Too bad, such nice yarn and obvious design talent. And yes, I think the artsy photography and cluttered layouts are a problem with many knitting books and magazines. I want at least one good, clear picture of what I'm considering knitting or I don't trust the design. I've complained to Interweave Press, too.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your comments about this Rowan mag, Carol. I just bought no 36 which has a few items I want to knit, but 39 left me cold.

I also agree about the crochet aspect. For a fairly expensive mag, there are even fewer patterns for your money if you are not a crocheter. What is wrong with keeping them separate?

Kira said...

I grew up in the UK where Rowan was the obvious option for knitting patterns and yarn. When I came back to knitting a couple of years ago (now living in the States), I automatically chose to start with Rowan patterns because of this prior knowledge. I subscribed to the magazine without really looking at it first. When it finally arrived, I was surprised and disappointed with the price of the magazine subscription (and the horrible colour of yarn that I got with the welcome gift) vs the number of patterns that I actually wanted to knit. Because of this, I haven't renewed my subscription again.

I have found that the RYC patterns are more the classic design style that I remember from before and have bought one of theose books and used it much more.

Anonymous said...

Thanks,lovey. Mwah.

Rana said...

I like looking at the funky, arty pictures, because they entertain me and I'm a very visual person -- but when I'm actually knitting something, I want pictures that are almost schematic in design: a front shot, a back shot, a side shot (maybe with arm raised), and close-ups on the detail work and fiddly bits. That way, if the pattern's screwed up or confusing, I can _see_ what I'm aiming at. Very very few patterns offer this, though.

So I guess that while the mags offer me a lot of eye candy, they fail miserably as guides to actual knitting.

Rana said...

Oh, and can I just say that there's something wrong in the world when it's Rowan that's making the weird, oddly styled fug, and Berroco the cleanly photographed wearable stuff? Stop messing with my head, people!

Anonymous said...

Now, I must confess to not being a Rowan fan (there's always ONE I like in every book... rarely more than one,so I tend not to buy it). But..
I've noticed this tendency elsewhere too.
HELLO? These are PATTERN books? so why can't we see the garment?? Why is it so buried in other crap we can't tell how it would lay on a real person? or how it's put together/

My other fave occurred inthe new IK. There's a tunic sweater whose model is holding her hands EXACTLY in front of the place where the neckline closes. I can't even tell if they've done a V or a curve!

I know it's possible ot photograph garments so that we can see the garment clearly, and eveng get clues on how it works...
Sure wish they'd find those photographers again...

Marg B said...

I'm with you. I've got nothing against fashionable shoots but a lot of the latest Rowan stuff is just plain silly (which probably explains why it keeps appearing on YKW). I like a knitting mag that shows the garment taken from several angles. That used to happen. Once upon a time

Anonymous said...

See, I'm thinking you all wouldn't like straightforward knitting photography that showed nothing but the garments from all angles.
With stitch and neckline details no less.
Because then the magazines would look rather like Cast-on.
Okay, maybe not the dorky dweebish designs, but middle-aged and Middle America.
With no style and little to aspire to.
I don't really think it so hard to discern what's being offered in Rowan 39.
What's wrong with a little adventure, a little license, a little odd?

Anonymous said...

If those photos wer in Vogue, Anna Wintour would be fired. They're just plain fugly.

Ann said...

Being a relative knitting newbie I have to confess that I don't know much about Rowan--please don't fall over in shock blog readers.

All I have to base my comments on are the photos you posted Carol. I guess it may be my age too, but I just don't get it--these designs. The marketing part of me wonders who the target audience is for these designs, and I wonder about the "demographics" of today's knitters.

Just my two cents. (If you add 5 cents you may have a nickel.)


Anonymous said...

Dare I say I've always enjoyed Rowan's wacky story photo styling? It's sure taking a slagging over at YouKnitWhat. But I would submit for consideration that it's hardly new to #39, e.g.:

#18's colorblind faux gypies/travelers

#14 & #16's greasy haired faux grungers

#22's faux highlanders wrapped in kilts (or are they plaid blankets?)

#10's Kate Moss playing Swallows & Amazons in jammies and sweaters

#12 models oddly accessorized w/fake eyebrows, an eyepatch, and violin bow hair accessory.


I would also like to point out that surely the oversized sweaters featured in the early magazines could be considered hilariously dated by now. You want classics? RYC or Jaeger strike me as having more classical designs, so the magazine doesn't need to meet that need.

That said, although I like several designs in #39, I agree the armband and necklace doodads shouldn't count in the "over forty designs."

Anonymous said...

Since I'm the only one using the word "crochet" before Kathy claims this is turning into a general crochet-hate discussion, I feel a bit pointed out. I'm sorry if it's not clear in my comment, but I have nothing against crochet, even if I don't like doing it myself. It's not the crochet I mind about those tops (it's hard for me to tell which are knit and which crocheted), it's the shape, colours, and over-ornamentation. And the fit of the one with the flower. And the layering.

Anonymous said...

Style and Fit...the two things I want from knitting patterns. Rowan comes in at the price of most books, so I need more that one possibility before I plunk down the bucks...the reason I don't subscribe. I would like to be able to wear the garment more than one season if I'm going to spend the time and money knitting it. Don't mind the arty approach, but a thumbnail photo of the garment in the pattern section in a normal pose would be nice. I'm always leary of strange poses and wonder how many clothes pins are in this garment really well designed or is it a circus tent with sleeves?

SolSionnach said...

On another subject, I just received a Rowan Classic mag (garden? it's in the other room...), and I like several of the patterns.

As far as the above... ick. Even my trendy young classmates wouldn't wear that stuff.

Anonymous said...

I love most of the patterns in this issue of Rowan - and I'm the wrong side of 50. It would be better if they relegated crochet to the rubbish bin, where it deservedly belongs, and just concentrated on knitting. Oh, and sack the stylist. Don't think I know anyone who wears 6 hats at a time.

Anonymous said...

I live in southern California and people do wear more than one hat at a time. Everything here is cutting edge, trendy, what-are-they-wearing-on-America's Top Model? Notice I didn't say beautiful, just cutting edge. Magazines like InStyle rush the latest gimcrack into the magazine, and the following month, it's OUT and another gimcrack is IN.

When someone spotted Julia Roberts buying a sewing machine, it made the papers. When what'shername started knitting, expensive yarn sales skyrocketed. A Type A sales rep I know knits at stop lights.

At a shop so IN you can't find the name in the window, Baby Onesies spell out BIG BOOBS in rhinestones. Price $45. BOOB MAN on a baby's baseball hat. $65. What you see on the Real Housewives in Orange County TV show is real. In the real estate section of the LATimes, there's whole column dedicated to what celebrities are buying.

What's IN? Shorts that have no inseam. Bikini tops where the boobs stick out the bottom, not the top. Yarn like cobwebs. Custom made perfume. Your name spelled out in gold on a tooth bracelet. And handmade sweaters for women so skinny they're cold all the time.

Love this blog. cburris25