Rowan 50 – first impressions

I must say up-front that I have a love-hate relationship with Rowan.  I love their design aesthetic, the look of their magazines, the ‘stable’ of designers they have working for them.  I hate their yarns, the fact they discontinued the Jaeger brand, the fact that British knitwear designers almost automatically have to default to being in the Rowan ‘stable’, that if you knit it is presumed that you will covet Rowan yarns.  So my review is going to be coloured by these prejudices and I’m afraid, dear reader, you will have to take that into account.

So, Rowan 50.  A ‘big’ anniversary – 25 years with two magazines a year.  This is a celebration issue and if you’re a Rowan ‘member’ you will receive it as a hard-bound book, not the simple soft-bound magazine style that’s out in the shops and which I bought.  This is also a bumper issue with 200 pages, weighing in (in the soft-bound version) at a hefty 2lb 4oz.  There are 39 knitting patterns included and 4 feature stories which I have yet to read.

The first thing I’ll say is that I like the format of the Rowan knitting magazines where the first part of the book consists of the ‘mood’ photography of the garments interspersed with features, whilst the second part is the knitting patterns.  Some people don’t like this format so much and prefer the knitting instructions to follow straight on from the photo page.  The patterns are collected into three ‘stories’ and, as you will see , moving through the book I have embellished the stories for my own amusement

Story 1 – Wildwood

This was photographed at Westonbirt, The National Arboretum, Near Tetbury.  This is a great setting and selected to provide the ideal backdrop to the heavily autumnal colourways of the garments.  The garments are chunky, or colourwork, or both. My personal highlight = Elm jumper and Yew scarf by Martin Storey, a mid-blue 4-ply jumper with floral colourwork design and matching scarf.  My personal lowlight = Larch by Marie Wallin, a multi-coloured crocheted granny-square tunic with large circular medallion inset in front and back.

My real reaction to this collection?  Lovely setting, food for thought in the designs (which is to say, most aren’t things I would knit, but they’re nice to look at), shame about the model.  She’s so pale they’ve had to keep her standing up or we’d be thinking she was dead.  And her take on the traditional model’s “sulky” facial expression comes out as utterly fed up.  And her hair needs brushing!!  I’m sure she’s stunningly beautiful but Rowan have failed to capture that beauty.  What this model is saying to me is that some junior member of the hair and beauty team forgot to pack the hairbrushes and the make-up team got her make-up completely wrong and here she is sitting in a wood just getting through it so she can grab a ciggy, jump in her Renault Clio, and head off to something that’s actually worth doing.  I have no aspirations to be this woman.  I don’t imagine she knits.

Story 2 – Finesse

This was photographed at Calke Abbey, Ticknall, Derbyshire.  This is a stunning setting for the more classic collection of knits.  It has the en Vogue 1950s-1960s vibe going on, perhaps a little on the overkill side but that’s Rowan for you.  As befits the classic design ethos in this section, the garments are mid- to light-weight, with texture stitches, a tiny bit of colourwork, lace, some mohair.  My personal highlight = Loretta by Marie Wallin, a short-sleeved sports top with cable details to the sides in DK weight wool.  My person lowlight = Molly by Marie Wallin, which has a smooth shaped bodice section up to boob-level, with the upper section and sleeves worked in Kidsilk Haze.  It just doesn’t work, perhaps because I think it’s meant to look like a corset worn over a mohair top and you wouldn’t do that in real life, so why mimic it in a jumper?

My reaction to this collection?  I want to be this woman!  The setting is utterly fantastic, in a dilapidated huge house way, the designs are beautiful and largely wearable, and the model is gorgeous.  She is so beautiful that even the lack of hairbrushes on the set causes only a minor blip in the perfection.  And they got her make-up spot on.  Ah, but though she is a beauty, her life has been touched by tragedy.  In every photo she is smiling bravely but the tears are welling up in her eyes.  I think what happened is this.  Having forgotten to bring the hairbrushes to yet another photo shoot, the junior hair and beauty girl had been sacked.  Flinging out of the huge front doors of the stately home, she leaped into her Seat Ibiza in a state half pure rage, half self-loathing. Unfortunately, as she spun the car round on the gravel to make her ignominious departure, she failed to see Iolanthe, the model’s darling King Charles Spaniel, running in front of her….

My final comment on this collection is one for the photography studio.  Given that magazines can make Joanna Lumley look like she’s 23, why couldn’t they have airbrushed out the goosebumps on this poor model’s chest and back in the photos for the Connie jumper?  Perhaps she’s crying because she’s so cold?  Pretty bra, though.

Story 3 – Winter Essentials

And back to chunky, texture, every shade of oatmeal and a stark studio backdrop.  This collection means business.  These are the designs that Rowan thinks you’re actually going to knit, so there is some incentive to show you what they really look like.  They’ve even made an attempt, albeit half-hearted, to brush the model’s hair.  My personal highlight = Kind by Marie Wallin, a real Professor Higgins long-line cardi with a slight shawl collar, and some interesting texture details.  My personal lowlight = True by Lisa Richardson “the cape sweater”, it’s not a cape, it’s not a sweater, and it looks like you could only wear it if you kept your hands by your sides at all times.  The sweater equivalent of the hobble skirt.

What I really think?  Stylistically, I’m unconvinced by the backdrop – it could have been a more attractive colour.  If I have a criticism of Rowan’s magazine styling (and in the interests of fairness I have to say this is credited throughout the magazine to Marie Wallin herself) it is that everything’s a bit too matchy-matchy – using an Irish red-head model in the red foliage of the arboretum wearing a plummy-reddy Kaffe Fasset design in the Wildwood collection; and choosing a very oatmeal backdrop for the oatmeal shades in this selection.  The model is beautiful, but once again you have to presume that because her make-up is decidedly iffy, and it would be hard enough to look good against that slightly greeney-goldeny-beigey background at the best of times.  I don’t want to be this woman, mainly because she looks like she’s about my daughter’s age, but dresses like she’s my age….  I would like to own the outfit she’s wearing with the Kind cardigan, though.

To sum up

I like this magazine.  I think it’s well worth the asking price of £11.95.  Will I knit anything from it?  There are definitely designs that I like enough to knit.  There are always designs I like enough to knit in Rowan magazines, yet I’m not sure I’ve ever actually knit one.  These are inspiration books for me though, and the first two stories definitely provide a ton of inspiration.  Well done, Rowan.  Your yarns don’t suit me, but I’m glad you’re around.

Lastly, there is a podcast which I have listened to occasionally called Knitajourney.  The podcaster regularly interviews other podcasters and one of her standard questions is which knitting designer would you like to keep as a pet?  Well, for me it would be Martin Storey – a great classic designer whose designs seem to suit my body.  Colourwork is starting to sing quietly to me from the recesses of my psyche, and it’s possible that the Elm jumper and/or Yew scarf might be on my needles sometime this winter.

If you get a chance, check out the latest Rowan magazine – I think you’ll like it.