I was asked by a publishing company if I wanted to review a knitting book. My only problem was that the publishing company has a back catalogue of, well, novelty knitting books and so I was sent Jane Brocket's The Gentle Art of Knitting when I showed a decided lack of interest in a Harry Hill knitting book. I think the Harry Hill book might have been better because the Brocket book confuses me. The Gentle Art of Knitting is pretty in a comfortable, yet aspiring way. The photography is lovely, the layout is stylish (but not dauntingly stylish) and the writing has a spring in its step. I was not surprised to find that Brocket is a blogger because her writing has a certain immediate, chatty style to it. I know I'm supposed to be charmed by her book and herself, but I have problems with the book.
I am well-educated middle-class woman who likes making things. I also like things with a story. And I appreciate aesthetically pleasing things. I am the target audience for this book but I feel condescended towards: Reading The Gentle Art of Knitting I feel like I am not good enough because I have not chosen the right wine to go with my knitting (but Jane can help!); I am not good enough because I did not pick up 20 skeins of Cascade 220 on my last breezy weekend trip to New York (but Jane did!); And I am not fun and retro enough to have a knitted tea-cosy for my teapot (but Jane sure is!). There is a sense that my own life is slightly lacking but that Jane Brocket hovering behind me will gently correct all my tiny flaws.
I am not sure where this lingering sense of inferiority is coming from. Ms Brocket's designs are not exactly earth-shattering: a knitted apron, a bog-standard ripple crochet blanket, a chevron scarf.. There is exactly one pattern I like in this book - a pair of pillows - while the rest of the patterns feel nondescript. Designs do not need to be complicated, of course, but I somehow expected more from a book with such a heavy emphasis on aesthetics. I somehow expected a cohesive design strategy..
(There is even an strange bit devoted to "cult knitting patterns" which has her describing the Clapotis scarf and The February Lady Sweater. This section feels very odd, very tacked-on, and oddly dated.)
It is a UK book, yet most yarns used can only be bought in a handful of shops throughout the country. We are not even talking unicorn yarn here, just straightforward US workhorse yarns: Cascade 220 and Blue Sky Alpaca. If Jane Brocket wants to use yarns that is more exclusive than what you can find in your average UK yarn shop, why use quite plain US workhorse yarn? Why not track down The Natural Dye Studio? Fyberspates? The Knitting Goddess? If exclusivity is not her aim, why not promote UK companies? Rowan? Debbie Bliss? Sublime? Her readers will thank her for being able to buy the suggested yarns.
But then again it's a book for knitters that do not knit. It is lifestyle porn in the same way as Nigella's cooking shows, Kirstie Allsopp's TV crafting and the Sunday newspaper colour supplements are inviting you to buy into a lifestyle. As a knitter who does like to knit, I am not sure what to do with this book.
I have tried hard to think of The Gentle Art of Knitting's unique selling proposition but I cannot really find one. At the end of the day it is an aspirational lifestyle blog locked into a book. There are many knitting and lifestyle blogs out there - many of which are far better than this book - and I can read them for free. I can also buy far better pattern books at a fraction of the price.
I'm sure I wouldn't have spent nearly 700 words on the Harry Hill knitting book. I'm also sure I wouldn't have felt so disheartened either.