Thursday, February 23, 2006

Tribal Rowan (Edited)

This issue of Rowan magazine has been the target of ridicule and negative criticism among the knitting circle for quite some time. I haven't said too much about it since I didn't have the magazine with me, so I thought it was a bit early for me to pass any judgment. But I think much of the discussion was focussed on the Tribal section.

So, now I finally have the book and had indeed gone through it, what do I think? Before I go on to that, I'd like to show you some photos.

What goes into your mind? Yeah, the Tribal section of Rowan 39. When I first saw the photos on the Rowan International website, I didn't have the vigourous reactions of many knitters to this section. I just thought, "Last time it was Scottish Highland (that was what the Eco Romantic section appeared to me) and now it's ethnic minorities in China." Gradually, reading more of those negative criticisms, I felt a little bad. I am quite sure if it were a Mexican or Spanish theme, people would be able to recognize the roots and not think these are ridiculous clothes created for aliens. These ethnic minorities are significant components of the Chinese population and their cultures are as valuable as those of those tribes in South America or Africa. But it seems that the world at large is just so ignorant of their existence, not to mention understanding them. I am not pretending to be an expert here ... actually I only know enough to recognize where the inspirations for the Rowan shots came from.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Tribal section. For knitting pattern magazines, you always need a safe section like the Provence and Aqua Marine to provide knitters with patterns that they can feel an urge to make. But I appreciate Rowan's courage in exploring the more unusual arena in Tribal or Eco Romantic. There are always risks involved ... but it is in taking such risks that new directions / trends can be created. I like the explosiveness and liveliness of the mixture of styles - Asian ethnic minorities, Spanish, Indian, Tibetan, Andean folk ... and many more. What's better is that some of the patterns in this section are actually do-able and wearable.

I think this waistcoat would go very well with white plain long sleeves tee and jeans. If I were a jewelry person, I would also wear those big silver or wooden bracelets ... super cool!

This one would just be lovely using lightweight alpaca blend. I would consider changing it into a pullover instead of a cardigan.

Among the men's sweaters, I like Ash (interesting combination of textures and colours) and St Mawes ... but don't really get it why they keep putting stuff like Warrior and Chieftain in each and every issue.

And of course, being an unashamed fan of KSH, I think all the three patterns in Fashion Revival are heavenly. There is no photo of this section on their website, but here you can see Regency (dress) and Victoria (stole):

I always like the Jane Austen period dresses. If I always have the chances of going to balls, I would definitely make (or pay someone to make) Regency ... it would be a stunner. I have the yarns in my stash to make the stole. But I am having second thought ... because it is a 4-row pattern ... and you can see how long it is (4 balls of KSH using US3 needle)!

There are patterns I like in the other two sections too. But my feeling is that if Rowan 39 only contains Provence and Aqua Marine, it would just be another knitting magazine ... and there is really nothing too outstandingly spectacular to distinguish it from, say, the Rowan Classic collection or Debbie Bliss collection.

I know I am an oddball in my opinion concerning Rowan 39. But really, if I had any hesitation whether to continue my membership, this issue succeeded in driving it all away ... okay, the 2 balls of KSH help too. ;)

Note: If you are interested in reading and learning more about the costumes of these tribes, here is a list of websites which may be useful:

Costumes of Minority Peoples of China
China's Ethnic Minorities
Travel China Guide: Chinese Ethnic Groups

Edited to Add: Thank you very much for responding to my opinions. There are a few points that I'd like to respond to. li has made a good point that "the magazine is a consumer knitting magazine and as consumers, knitters have what they want in mind" ... and thus they make choices whether to buy the magazine or not. This is exactly why I applaud Rowan for their guts in challenging themselves and their readers. As I said, there are risks involved, and I am sure the Rowan people are well aware of this too. Very often you just don't know what you get yourself into when treading outside your own comfort zone ... that's the challenge. Obviously, Rowan got themselves into troubles with a lot of knitters this time! hahaha ... But just ask me what I would buy - Rowan 39 or Cast On (or substitute any knitting magazines you've given up on) - I'll tell you in a heartbeat no way I'm going to buy Cast On again. Consumers make the choices.

About the busy attires taking attention away from the Rowan knitwear, those tribes people may have a hard and simple life, but they certainly make their costumes and attires extremely colourful and heavily decorative. If Rowan has to capture this tribal spirit, there is no way they can do it well by being minimalistic. And I went through that section again ... what really are being "buried" among the tribal attires are belt, bags and armbands. To me, all the garments are clearly presented in the photos ... sometimes not to their advantage, if you ask me!

Finally, all these are personal opinions, yours and mine the same ... no right or wrong. I just want the Rowan people to know that their spirit is appreciated here.


candsmom said...

I don't subscribe to Rowan, but I have read many negative reviews on this particular issues. Having read your thoughts on the Tribal section, I want to tell you how much I truly appreciate your post and your courage in writing the things you did. I can't say what the hubbub was for certain, especially without having read the magazine myself, but it seems to me that your thoughts were probably right on target. Sure, many of the "fashions" inspired by these indigenous peoples may not be imminently "wearable," but I agree with your sentiment about how that distinguishes Rowan from other mags. I also especially appreciated your sensitivity toward ethnic minorities and cultures that may be less famous than other minority counterparts. BTW, that stole is fabulous!! I love period dresses, as well. Fantastic post, Agnes!! Take care! :-)

Janine said...

I see exactly where you are coming from and I applaud your setiments. I had no beef with Rowan using these tribal costumes per se what I found annoying was the fact that is some cases you had difficulty in figuring out what the knitted item was! The photos are outstanding, the colours are beautiful, but, this is first and foremost a knitting magazine and people are not going to spend large amounts of money on their (Rowan's) yarn to make a sweater if they can't be sure exactly what the finished item is going to look like :-)

Lolly said...

Wonderful post, Agnes! So informational and important - I applaud you for speaking out and going against the grain. I have not seen the magazine in person yet, but I have read many negative reviews. Thanks for breaking the mold, Agnes. Thank you also for all of those wonderful links.

Debi said...

What a wonderful post Agnes! I don't get why cultural diversity is so threatening? I applaud Rowan for seeking out "alternative" knits, not just the same old thing I can see in any knitting mag! I might not wear any of those items but I love seeing what knitting means to cultures and ethnicities outside my safe little world. And BRAVA for voicing your opinion that may be somewhat against the grain but hopefully may help one of the haters see things in a different light!!

I'm crushing on ya big time Auntie Agnes :)

li said...

Hmm...I don't think this is about ignorance. I think most people recognized there's a sort of aboriginal flair to the Tribal section (and hence the name...). It's more about context. Rowan is not National Geographic, but a consumer magazine selling yarn and knit designs, so as knitting consumers we're simply looking for what's wearable and aesthetically pleasing. Previous Rowan 38 issue didn't have a great response either, but I don't think it's because subscribers were down on the Scottish Highlands or because they've never seen a kilt before. There's style and then there's costuming. The beef is more with Rowan taking too much focus away from their knits and onto everything else the models are wearing instead.

That said, I do like though that Rowan is doing things a little differently though. Before 38 I thought Rowan pretty boring.

Rebekah said...

Agnes thank you for sharing your views, I think they are wonderful, and although I doubt I"d ever knit any of those Rowan patterns (mostly because I am not as little as rowan patterns are) I love seeing all the color.

Heritage is a wonderful thing, and everyone should explore it, even in knitting patterns.

Cookie said...

I generally ignore criticism about Rowan and Vogue. Sure I might not like some of the pieces, but at least they're trying to be fashionable. And I'm glad you posted the KSH picture. Those look beautiful! I'm going to have to find a copy of Rowan 39 now.

Ruth said...

i hadn't heard anything about their latest issue (nor the critism of it) - now i'm curious and want to look at what all the fuss is about. but i agree with your feelings on it - people will make judgments on things they are unfamiliar or ignorant about.

Liz said...

I too have read many negative reviews of this issue. Since none of my LYS's really carry anything Rowan my opportunities to peruse the magazines come few and far between.

I will be the first to tell you that I love the colorful photos and love native costumes. I live within an hour from the National Textile museum in Washington DC and marvel at the amazing exhibits they have year round. I think what thrills me most is that so many of these native costumes both historical and current (from anywhere in the world I might add) are almost always created using natural dyes. I'm fascinated by the colors and their combination and patterns created by the interplay of geometry and whimsy.

I think I would very much enjoy the "Tribal" section of the Rowan Magazine and I think I will drive the hour plus to the shop near me with Rowan mags to check it out this weekend.

claudia said...

There were actually a few things in that Rowan 39 that I quite liked. And I'm a tough sell.

erin said...

It was interesting to read your views. I don't mind the tribal influence, but the patterns don't look very tribal and they are a bit too off-beat for me. But now that I know they have other sections, I will go and check it out.

Toni said...

I didn't have such a negative reaction to the tribal section as others did either. Some were funky, some ugly, some cool, whatever. But some also looked to me like Anglos westernizing yet another aspect of a different culture. I've not seen the mag, just the preview, but I would hope that Rowan mentions a little about how a particular design came about, rather like Nancy Bush or Cheryl Oberle do in their books.

Lu said...

I agree with you completely. I had the same reaction when people made fun of the ethnic costumes worn by dancers during the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. I read so many bloggers writing things like "what the heck were they thinking dressing like that?", and I wanted to reply to all of them "how can you not get that they are traditional clothes that are hundreds of years old?".
Sometime people really amaze me with their hastiness in judgment!

Mimi said...

You are so clever, Agnes! I didn't notice that the ethnic clothes were inspired by the Chinese minorities group. I don't have the magazine but paying close attention to the big coral and silver necklaces I see the link. I've visited Yunan twice and I just love there so much. I bought their necklace, embroidered belts and batik clothes.
I think the knitted clothes from Rowan are wearable and some just need a minor modification.
I am descendant from the Manchurian group and just admire so much their clothing. Thanks for posting about it!

hege said...

I really like what you said about this issue. I was also at first glance put off by this story as it was not what I usually gravitate towards, namely romantic, vintage, feminine styles. But I do also love ethnic and folk costumes, so after reading your posting I went back to look again (I had only just received it) and saw how beautiful both the knitted items were and the garments they were worn with. And the combinations they come up with... I love, like you said, how Rowan pushes the envelope and puts their collection into a story. I get all kinds of new ideas looking at a story like that. All except for one of the items (Tilly) were totally wearable for me. But I do like Tilly for the cool wrapped stitches.