A review of knitting publications and the impact of the internet. Part one.

What did I buy at Loop on a recent visit, Sonia asked. Books. It struck me that they represented such different types of publishing that it was worth discussing in some detail.

Quirky by Kim Hargreaves
Quirky by Kim Hargreaves

Quirky by Kim Hargreaves.
Kim is as traditional as it gets. Her knitting is famous for its fine detail, its finishing, its sophistication, often within the constraint of being simple and classic in look. Her books are as classic as her knitting. Everything is generously photographed. She appreciates the aesthetics of blank space, in which her series luxuriates. She’s the very opposite of the idea that every teensy bit of space must have something on it. If I never knitted a pattern of hers, I would still be happy to buy her books for the sheer pleasure of looking at things like this:

Lyle
Lyle

Observe the exquisite tailoring. You can see the designs online at her site, but she has stuck to the idea of books-only printing, at least for now.

I’m a huge fan of the printed book and pray circumstances never force me to purchase a machine for the containing and reading of books. Nonetheless, technology obvious has its place, and knitting has certainly made it work in many ways, one of which is in printing. The advantages of the soft copy knitting patterns will be discussed another time, but for now I wish to make the point that real books have joined forces with the electronic book to create the best of both worlds, which brings me to my next purchase.

Knit With Me

Knit with Me by Gudrun Johnston
This couldn’t be more different in style from Quirky, being a small collection of pieces in what I might call an American style of casualness. The hard copy is nicely photographed and laid out with non-professional models.

McIntosh from Knit With Me
McIntosh from Knit With Me

Kim Hargreaves uses young models with model bodies. Gudrun has chosen, from friends, real people with normal bodies. No make-up. This is all a big plus for me and I note that this does not detract at all from the attractiveness of the models, the garments or the photography. I love all three here in such photos. By making each design suitable for teenagers as well as adults, Johnston immediately permits a comparison of a look on different body types, nice to be able to do that in a thematic way.

But the big difference for me, is that this book comes in a hard and electronic copy, the latter being complimentary with the purchase of the former. There are various advantages to this, but most notably one can get updates of the electronic version as errors are discovered by the knitting community at large. It turns out that the author is so far not aware of any errors. I’m impressed by that. One can imagine how hard it is to proofread knitting patterns.

Kim Hargreaves used to be Rowan’s premier designer before going out on her own. I don’t know if the yarn label’s pattern support has ever recovered from her move to independence. She still exclusively uses their yarns, but it’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to purchase a Rowan magazine. As you will see from the cover of Knit With Me, it is a book brought out in association with Quince yarn and using their yarns.

The issue of pattern support is the ongoing battle of yarn companies. I would speculate that there is a direct link between success of a yarn company and their capacity to provide good pattern support. There are some major differences in the practice of this since the advent of the internet. One is that the process is much simpler for the yarn company as well as for the customer. Another is that the designer has become a far more important aspect of the design. Instead of getting a book of patterns to go with a yarn, with no indication as to the origin of the pattern, this has become pre-eminent. Designers are able to have a much higher profile due to the internet and are not dependent upon yarn companies to sell their patterns in the old way. The tables have, I imagine, fairly turned in this regard.

Quince uses independent designers, as does St Denis, a Canadian label under the auspices of Veronik Avery.

St Denis magazine
St Denis magazine

Look online and you’d be forgiven for thinking they’ve closed down. So I’ve thought every time I’ve dropped in to have a look until earlier this month when a blog post – the first for two years – appeared. Nonetheless, since the post had nothing to do with St Denis yarns or patterns, I am no wiser as to whether the label exists. When it first appeared, a few years ago now, it planned to support its yarn brand via a magazine of patterns to appear twice yearly. Again, this plan seems simply to have been abandoned with no explanation. Still, back in 2011, I was struck by a Robin Melanson pattern Woodward Cardigan.

Woodward Cardigan
Woodward Cardigan

I couldn’t believe my luck when I discovered a hard copy of the magazine at Loop. Designers (and pattern publishers) vary in their level of communicability. Some of them seem to sit on line and welcome even the dumbest of queries. Others are almost impossible to talk to, even if it would be in their interest. I’m afraid to say that Avery and St Denis are right down the rankings in this regard. Although Melanson had rights to her pattern, whatever signoff was needed from Avery was, I understand, never undertaken, so I’d well and truly given up on the idea of a pdf version, much as that should have been easy to obtain.

St Denis is an example of the whole process failing. I’m not sure how much this is their fault and how much it is simply the fickle-mindedness of the customers who decide on the successes and the failures. But it may be no coincidence that the online aspect of their venture is rather poor compared with the others discussed so far. It doesn’t fill a potential customer with confidence to see a blog last updated years ago, or a statement that a magazine comes out twice-yearly combined with it not having come out for some years. These things take minutes to update, so there isn’t really any excuse for the lack of feedback for the potential customer. The Ravelry comments for their yarns never elicit a response, including one of some months ago now that says the yarns are now discontinued, though St Denis’s Ravelry page has not been updated to reflect this.

Meanwhile, there are patterns like Woodward Cardigan, which almost nobody has knitted simply because getting hold of it is nigh on impossible. Pity!

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