Book Review—Victorian Lace Today

May 24, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Posted in Book Review, Knitting | 1 Comment

There are tons of knitting books out there. Being someone who isn’t particularly interested in pattern books usually, I don’t get excited about a knitting book very often. But when I had a chance to have a look at Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby at my LYS a few weeks ago, I was immediately hooked and just had to have it for myself. Thanks to the wonders of Amazon that happened pretty fast, and even at second and third look that book is just marvellous. It works on so many different levels for me, I’m sure I’ll use it as  a source of instruction as well as inspiration for a very long time.

While browsing randomly through the book at the LYS I came across an image of a page from an old knitting book that looked oddly familiar:

My Knitting Book page 12

Reading up on that page confirmed my suspicion: It’s the only illustrated page from Miss Lambert’s My Knitting Book (link to google books). And since I’m currently working to make this one available on Project Gutenberg through Distributed Proofreaders, naturally I’d seen this page before. And I can tell you, those old knitting patterns look very strange to today’s knitters, starting with the fact that charts were not yet invented and some of the terminology was completely different from today, going all the way to not having illustrations of the finished items and the pattern descriptions being rather sparse for today’s tastes.

And this is exactly what makes Jane Sowerby’s work so amazing: She tells the story of those early pattern writers and their books, showing what they did for knitting, where patterns were usually handed down orally before. And then she goes ahead and moves those patterns into the 21st century, presenting them in a way that’s attractive to today’s knitters. The author comments extensively on the trials involved in figuring some of those things out, and the results are beautiful.

And she doesn’t stop there: At the end of the book, in addition to explaining all the different stitches used in the book and showing methods of cast-on etc. suitable for lace knitting, she goes on to explain how to use the patterns given to design your own, complete with a work sheet to help you crunch the numbers.

Faced with so much inspiration, of course I had to go and play. The requested object was a skinny shawl from one ball of yarn, to be completed within a couple of weeks so my mum could wear it to my brother’s wedding. Completely different from the elaborate lace patterns in the book, right? Yes, on first sight, but the pattern for one of the simpler center panels proved to be just the ticket, and gave me an enjoyable first experience of “real” knitted lace (meaning there’s patterning both in the right and wrong side rows).

Narrow Scarf in Faggotting Stitch

Oh, and that’s not all of it: the book would make a great coffee table book as well. There’s lots of brillant photography not only of the knitted items but also of Victorian houses, parks and gardens. The information on where exactly all those photographs were taken is in the back of the book, so one could make a trip to Britain to see the beauty for real. Now I only need an opportunity for wearing one of those elaborate Victorian shawls, so I can make one.

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  1. It is a fantastic book, isn’t it? Once you have made one of the shawls, you will be amazed at the number of opportunities you find to wear it. I’ve even worn my wedding shawl as a scarf while hiking through muddy fields!


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