Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Knitwear of Oscar de la Renta


As those of you who read my knitting magazine reviews may have noticed, I won't generally include the names of the knitwear designers whose patterns appear in them. My main reason for not doing so is that I think it would make my negative reviews too much like a personal attack on the designer. It would also mean my snark about their work would come up on Google searches for their names. So I keep the reviews focused on the merits of the specific item in question, and only name the designer when I think she or he is especially deserving of praise. But although my practice of not naming designers has become a policy with a carefully considered rationale, it wasn't originally so. No, when I first began writing reviews nearly two years ago, I didn't name the designers in them because I never thought of doing so. I'm not one to care much about name designers and labels. For me, it's all about the design, about looking at patterns on a case by case basis. And it seems like a reasonable approach to me because while there are exceptionally talented designers out there who turn out a very consistent body of work, many are hit or miss, and all of them are capable of laying an egg sometimes. I also don't think the famous designers are necessarily the best designers, because much of the most stunning work I've seen in the course of research and writing for this site was by some relatively unknown designers I stumbled across on Ravelry. This agnosticism regarding prestige designer names is an integral part of my entire approach to crafting. As I wrote in this March 2013 post, "The Mount Everest of Knitting Patterns", my belief is that when one makes one's own clothes one needs to be one's own designer, to make patterns one's servant and not one's master. It's so important when crafting anything to make an effort to maintain a certain critical distance from all outside design influences in order to make sound decisions about what will work and to guard against being overcome by slavish adherence to someone else's design and rules because as good as those may be, they weren't, after all, tailor made for you.

All of the above preamble is intended as an aside to explain why, when Óscar Arístides Renta Fiallo, known professionally as the designer Oscar de la Renta, died of cancer on October 20th, 2014 at the age of 82, it didn't make much of an impression on me. I certainly knew who he was and realized that he was considered legendary, but I wasn't that familiar with his work. And it was only after seeing all the Oscar de la Renta tributes on the websites and webpages I follow to keep myself somewhat informed about what's going on in the knitting and fashion scene that it occurred to me that I perhaps ought to do an Oscar de la Renta post myself. It took one image Google of the words "Oscar de la Renta" to make me decide that perhaps I also ought to reconsider my indifference towards name designers; that I ought to at least take the time to occasionally look at their work as a whole in order to gauge its general calibre and character. As I scrolled through images of Oscar de la Renta designs, dozens of beautiful confections were followed by dozens more. There is a reason why de la Renta dressed so many movie stars, royal and political figures including many American first ladies that he became a living legend: he was past master of elegantly and distinctively simple design. He is probably best known for his evening gowns, though as his long career progressed he diversified into bridal wear, home furnishings, and fragrances, but he also designed knitwear. And this post will feature a selection of his knitwear design. I've opted not to include any of the Vogue Knitting-published de la Renta patterns that are on Ravelry. They're all nice, but none of them really stands out to me. Instead I have included a selection of photos of the knitwear design that bears his name for your inspiration and replication.





Navy sweater and skirt set offering us an updated take on the polka dot fabric. I think those circles have been created by stitching beads in circles, and possibly cutting out the centre of the circle. The skirt seems to be self-lined while the sweater shows us glimpses of the blouse beneath it.





Beautifully shaped and detailed knitted dress. I love the kick pleats in the front and back, which are a great way to add interest and movement without making the silhouette too full.






This design is one of those that I could never wear but that gets my creative juices flowing, because the idea of those silver rose outlines against pale pink is one I would love to see translated into various handknit patterns.





I love this use of gradient colourwork, which is fresh and spring-like.





Many Oscar de la Renta designs have such a timeless quality. This sweater evokes the forties and probably could have been worn back then without looking at all out of place, but at the same time it looks very current.





Another good use of gradient colour, combined with great shaping.





Love this piece, which looks comfortable and casual enough to wear with jeans but has such incredible style at the same time.





I can't even quite tell what's going on with this design of this little cardigan, and how it is made. It seems to be knitted of some chiffon fibre and decorated with chiffon roses. I find the concept of a sheer cardigan with a textured decorative overlay around the neck to be an intriguing one that I would love to see interpreted by other skilled designers and knitters.





Something that I noticed about Oscar de la Renta's designs when I was researching this post is that wonderful sweater and dress pairings were very common among his offerings. Everything about this pairing is perfect, from its lines to its colour combination.





A beautiful lace cardigan over a coordinating dress.





Ever thought of embroidering a sweater to go with a favourite dress?

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Pom Pom Quarterly Winter 2014


Pom Pom Quarterly has released a preview of its Winter 2014 issue. Let's have a look at it.





The Fairchild design. Not impressed with this one. That pouch on the front makes the overall shape so unflattering.





The Falling Snow Mitts. I rather like these crocheted mittens. The texture's great and that's an interesting yarn. I would correct the pointy tips though.





The Cidre design. I think this model was styled this way in an attempt to give this item a certain hipster chic, but this model looks for all the world like a university student in the midst of exams, who has thrown on the only relatively clean items she could find on the floor of her dorm room and put her hair any old how before running out to her local coffee shop to fuel up on caffeine, where she promptly ran into that cute boy from her economics class she's had a huge crush on since the first week of term. That's always the way of it, isn't it? Anyway, about the sweater. It has its good points, such as its texture and the way the shaping has become part of the design, but it's too big for this model and that is one depressing colour. Neaten up the fit and knit it in a colour you love, and put it with things that actually go with it, and the wearer won't wind up dying inside when she finds herself standing next to her secret crush at the local coffee shop.





The Into Trees hat pattern. The stitchwork is good, and I admire the way the designer has integrated the earflaps into the design. If this style of hat is not for you, you could omit the ear flaps and the pom poms and have a nice slouchy style cap.





The Sorrel hat. This is the expression the university student had on her face when she ran into the local coffee shop the week after exams wearing a coordinated outfit and a very cute hat and found herself standing next in line to the cute boy from Economics again.





The Aubrietia sweater. Not thrilled with this design, which has a rough, amateurish look to it. A polished, accomplished design needs better shaping, a design concept that is carried steps farther, and a more sophisticated, interesting colourway.





The Brynja cardigan. I think I might make a few tweaks to this one, such as not going with a raglan sleeve, as it cuts into the cabled detail on the front to poor effect, and I think I'd create a cuff that employed some of that cabling instead of going with those ribbed cuffs that don't seem to belong on this sweater.





The Curio Mitts. These are nicely detailed and fit well.





The Trienne Shawl. Now our friend the young university student is trying to attract the boy from Economics class by being all Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the shawl she crocheted back in her gap year, when she was backpacking in the Netherlands and got into doing mushrooms. Honey. One of the cardinal rules of dating is "Don't try too hard," and one of the cardinal rules of crafting is "Anything you craft while high will look terrible, and you won't even know it."

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Knit in 80 Seconds



The children's storybook, Phoebe's Sweater, written by Joanna Johnson and illustrated by her husband Eric Johnson, tells the story of Phoebe Mouse and how she becomes a big sister. The book also includes knitting patterns: one for a child-size hooded sweater, one for a toy Phoebe Mouse, and one for a doll-size sweater that will fit the toy Phoebe Mouse as well as a 16-18 doll. The video above shows a Phoebe sweater being knitting in 80 seconds. Or more accurately, shows us 80 seconds out of of a day-long process of knitting the Phoebe sweater, but the 80 second stop motion video is quite well done and offers cute background effects, such as a last ball of yarn being delivered by a little vehicle made out of Lego. If you'd like to knit Phoebe's sweater for the little girl in your life, the pattern is available on Ravelry for $6(USD).

Monday, 20 October 2014

Tales from the Midknit Hour


Rosamund loved Halloween, but found it a let down when all the little trick or treaters who came to her house tended to run away screaming when she opened the door. So she decided to throw a "Midknit Hour" Halloween party for her knitting club.






Rosamund's best friend Caitlin came early to the party to lend a hand with the preparations, but wasn't much help as she got distracted by Rosamund's stash.






Rosamund's friend Mira had also offered to help but instead spent the entire party stretching, rolling over on her back, and rubbing up against people's legs. Rosamund, who was a bunny person herself, reflected that cat people were too much like cats to be much help at throwing parties.





Jena, a member of Rosamund's knitting group, appeared at the party in post-apocalyptic crochet and with dirt on her face and spent the entire time talking to everyone about the coming global warming holocaust.





No one could figure out who the guy in the clown mask was, but no one at the party quite had the nerve to ask him.





Rosamund was grateful for knitting club member Irwin's presence, as he and his macarenas really got her party started.





Knitting club member Lucian insisted his seventies "man around town" knitwear look was supposed to be ironic, but the irony wore thin after he got really drunk and asked each woman present if she'd like to come back to his place and help him unwind.





Everyone agreed that Enid had the best costume of anyone present.





Unfortunately Enid had brought Cyrus the Bumbledog with her, and he showed his disapproval of both his costume and everyone present by peeing on everything. Rosamund decided next year she'd stick to scaring off trick or treaters and eating all the candy herself.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Bergère de France Magazine 175


Bergère de France has released Magazine 175, in which they've not only aimed to appeal to young people but to try to teach them to knit by offering them patterns of progressive and calculated difficulty, which I must admit is ambitious all around. Let's have a look at it, shall we?





Pattern 01, Beanie. Simple, easy garter stitch hat. It's not bad. The knob on top is a little odd but it's in proportion and integrated with the rest of the design so I think it works fairly well.





Pattern 02, Short-Sleeved Sweater, Pattern 03A, Grey Mug Cosy, Pattern 03B, Pink Mug Cosy & Pattern 04, Turn Cuff Slipper Socks. Not liking anything here much. The sweater is way too, well, square. It does look better than I would have expected on the model, and I appreciate that Bergère de France is trying to provide dead easy beginner projects here, but garments need shaping and I'd advise beginners to stick to smaller items until they feel they can handle doing at least some shaping. As for the other items, those mug cosies are going to get soggy and stained the first time they're used, and the booties are clumsy and unattractive. I know they're probably on trend, but I'd argue ugly trends should be ignored. There are no Ugg boots in my closet, is what I'm saying.





Pattern 05, Bobble Hat & Pattern 06, Scarf. This is a serviceable enough hat and scarf, though I'd omit the pom pom if it were for a young man, and make both items in better-looking yarn. As I often say in my reviews, one way to make a simple project look like something special is to use a beautiful yarn.





Pattern 07, Blanket & Pattern 08, Slipper Socks with Cuff. Quite like the blanket, which has a crisp, sporty look to it, but the slippers are quite dreadful. I can't imagine any young man of my acquaintance voluntarily wearing them.





Pattern 09, Arm Warmers. These arm warmers aren't bad. They fit well and, thanks to the colourway, are kind of fun.





Pattern 10, Hooded Poncho, Pattern 11, Slipper Socks & Pattern 12, Pouch. Again, with respect to the hooded poncho, Bergère de France has managed to make a square garment look fairly good on this professional model, but this shapeless item is not going to play as well on the average girl or woman in real life. There are better beginner projects than this one. I'm actually not hating the slipper socks, which could mean that Bergère de France is wearing me down dangerously and I'll find myself with Uggs on my feet by the end of this review. The pouch isn't bad though I'd use it for a cell phone case rather than makeup brushes, partly because my makeup brushes are bigger than that, but for the most part because it would promptly become filthy.





Pattern 13, Rectangular Cushion & Pattern 14, Cardigan Look Sweater. The cushion is really basic but okay. I can see it looking pretty good in the right setting. The faux cardigan (it doesn't open in front at all) with its askew-looking collar just looks strange and rather dorky, like something one of the geeky guys in an eighties John Hughes movie would wear.





Pattern 15, Slipper Socks & Pattern 16, Snood. More clumsily constructed slipper socks and a cowl that is kind of cute but is styled as menswear. I don't think too many young guys would be willing to wear this cowl.





Pattern 17, Perfecto Jacket. This is actually a pretty smart-looking jacket.





Pattern 18, Studded Hat, Pattern 19, Tablet Cover & Pattern 20, Studded Slipper Socks. These are all pretty basic, but they'll do. This pair of slipper socks is better constructed than the previous pairs.





Pattern 21, Boat-Neck Sweater. This sweater has nice texture but is so very shapeless. I'd add waist shaping and raise the dropped shoulders.





Pattern 22, Hat, Pattern 23, Travel Blanket & Pattern 24, Boot-Style Slipper Socks. I haven't a fault to pick with any of these. They're very solid basic patterns.





Pattern 25, Large Snood & Pattern 26, Cable-Stitch Arm Warmers. Quite an attractive cowl and fingerless glove set.





Pattern 27, Shawl Collar Sweater, Pattern 28, Slipper Socks & Pattern 29, Messenger Bag. The sweater is actually quite nice, and as we've seen in the previous picture, looks very well when on. I question whether anyone will want to wear shin-high slipper socks, but if they are too high for your liking, you can always shorten them. The messenger bag looks tacked together and cheesy.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Jane Austen Knits 2014


Interweave has released the 2014 issue for Jane Austen Knits. Let's have a look at the Georgian-inspired styles therein, shall we?





Highbury Top. A henley with a lace border would have been considered underwear in the Georgian period. A piece like this makes for wearable outerwear these days.





Wheatsheaf Carpetbag. Oooh, love this one, with its unusual and beautiful pattern and detailing. An aluminum frame is used to give the bag shape. It can be knitted as a tote if you can't find or don't care to use such a frame.





Mrs. Jennings's Country Stockings. This is my favourite kind of sock: a basically plain pattern with a bit of lovely or interesting detailing added. Very patterned socks always look a little on the goofy side to me, no matter how beautifully designed.





Men's Driving Gloves. These are nice, although I'm a little unsure about their appeal to men on the whole. They might look a little gimmicky and foppish to most men.





Eliza's Hat. This one is really eye-catching. It's the particular needle-felted floral trimming that makes it because it's really something unique, but the hat does have a pretty good shape and could be trimmed in lots of different ways.






Harriet's Little Shoulder Shawl. This shawl is a little on the too little and too simple side for me. I think I'd want to make it a little larger and add a fringe or lace edging.





Jane's Barathea Mitts. Very nice fingerless gloves. They've got great texture and are so well-shaped.





Fine Stockings. Another mostly plain pair of stockings with some lovely detailing.





A Second Chance for Mr. Rushworth Socks. Classic pair of cabled socks.





Kitty's Chemise. This top needs some detailing (any detailing, for that matter) to make it work. It's just too plain as is to be worth making.





Socks for Mr. Bennet's Leisure. Love the horizontal herringbone pattern in these socks.





Cassandra's Tea Cozy. Can't say I care for this one. It just looks kind of lumpy and cheesy.





Col. Fitzwilliam's Huswife. In the nineteenth century, a huswife, or housewife as it was also called, was a little kit of sewing supplies. I'm trying to figure out what purpose this could be put to in the twenty-first century. Interweave suggests it could hold knitting notions, but I don't think I'd care to use it for that. Maybe it could work as a vanity case or cell phone case. As to the aesthetics of it, I do like the tartan pattern but the crooked embroidered lettering is really detracting.





Kellynch Cardigan. Beautiful classic cardigan. The yarn used here, Madelinetosh Tosh merino light in "Tannenbaum", is really fabulous.





Dashwood Lace Stole. This looks much more like an afghan than a stole to me because of its size and rectangular shape, although I must say it is a beautiful afghan. Love the lace pattern. If you want to wear this, I'd recommend sizing it down and shaping it.





Strawberry Picking Shrug. Very pretty little shrug.





Sweet Hearts Reticule. This is kind of cute, but it could have done with a little more shaping at the bottom. This purse will not sit upright on its own.





Regency Blouse. Very pretty top. The shaping is good and the ballet neckline, cap sleeves, and lacework add a lot of grace to it.





Accomplished Ladies' Reticule. Pretty little purse, though I'm mentally playing with the colourway in order to make it less "tea in a country garden" style, because that style is a little too precious for most women.





Susan's Bonnet. This isn't a bad-looking bonnet, but it is a bonnet. I can't imagine any woman wearing it other than as part of a costume.





A Shawl for Emma. Lovely, delicately lacy shawl.





Abbey Mill Farm Vest. Beautiful, classic fair isle vest.





Fitzwilliam's Gift. What a gorgeous piece. The lacework, the beading and that luscious yarn all combine to make something really luxurious and extravagantly beautiful.





Almost Pretty Stockings. Creative use of lacework here. That diagonal lace stripe make these socks look simultaneously quaint and contemporary.





Brighton Shawl. Lovely and gracefully shaped shawl.





Catherine's Bonnet. The shape of this little girl's hat is ever so cute. I'm having a lot of fun mentally playing with it and figuring out different things to do with it with intarsia and Swiss darning.





Little Man Waistcoat. Not crazy about this one. I find the shaping of the neck a little on the rough and ready side, and the colourway isn't doing anything for it. Fixing the neckline and going with a different colourway should make it work though.