Daily Archives: May 12, 2009

Book Review: Knitting and Tea

I’ve been remiss in getting back to the book reviews the past few weeks, but now that I’ve gone through a period of post-term sloth, it’s time to get back to the writing and the thoughts-thinking, and what better way to ease into that than with a book review? This one has been on my desk for a month or so, and is a recent publication called Knitting and Tea, by Jane Gottelier:

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On the surface this would appear to be a collection of knitting patterns inspired by the world of tea, but it actually strikes a decent balance between both halves of the title. It does contain knitting patterns inspired by the world of tea, but also includes a great deal of attention to tea itself, including brief notes on how it is processed, different locations where it is planted, and particular attention to cultural events or sites focussed around tea – cricket matches, afternoon tea, or even more workaday ‘builder’s tea’. All of these provide chapter divisions between patterns, but also a small series of recipes. I’m quite interested to try the cake-like Bakewell Tart, as one example.

The knitting patterns themselves are diverse, and include a variety of techniques and skill levels. Sweaters are definitely in the majority, but there are several accessories including a scarf, capelet, hat, pillow, knee-socks, and – as would be expected in a book like this – several different kinds of tea cosies. Here are some relatively lo-tech images to illustrate.

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The ‘builder’s tea’ chapter offers several casual knits, including this ‘biker’s’ scarf and a-symmetrical cardigan jacket. I would make either of these, although I might adjust the cardigan as a plain front. The men’s sweater above is a beautiful cabled piece, and I might actually be inclined to adjust it to a women’s pullover – but I admit to wondering if this piece would actually appeal to a broad number of men. My sense with male knits is that cables are best used in a more modest fashion, but I’m very happy to be proven wrong.

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These two sweaters above present me with similar questions – I like the women’s Somerset Cable sweater, but find the back more attractive than the front which includes an extremely bulky cable in the centre. I would knit this with the back piece adjusted for the front as well. The men’s Cricket Cardigan is definitely reminiscent of the pale-coloured layers worn by men on cricket fields, and I commend the design. Again, though, I wonder at its versatility, similar to the builder’s pullover above.

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This Flowerdew camisole is, I think, one of the strongest pieces in this collection. It is feminine, delicate, and includes delicate stitches, beads and YO frills around the edges, and a lacy hem. It is knit in fingering weight and I am imagining the decadence of making this in a merino-silk or merino-cashmere blend. Another strong piece is the Garden Jacket (below), worked in a DK blend from Rowan that could be easily substituted with the DK blend of your preference.

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And tea cosies? Well, we’ve got your tea cosies right here. There are sparkly ones, pom pom ones, a tea-cosy made to look like a cupcake and another with tassels on top. These, like some other patterns in the book, will be entirely up to individual knitter style preferences. I would recommend a nice browse through this book before deciding whether to purchase, but overall there is a broad range of patterns here, an intriguing theme, and delicious recipes as a bonus.

The only thing that leaves me less enthusiastic about this book is the way the models are used to showcase the garments. According to theme, the chapters are organized according to the location of tea consumption or tea production, which affords 2 chapters in India and ‘Ceylon’ (now Sri Lanka), and several more located in the imaginative space of the United Kingdom or elsewhere in Europe. It is clear that the models have been chosen for each of these chapters with the same kind of visual homogeneity in mind – chapters ‘set’ in England use models are pale-skinned, and often pale-haired, and chapters ‘set’ in India use models with darker skin likely of South Asian ethnicities. The two sets of models do not overlap in either set of ‘locations’.

This leaves me wondering how appropriate this is to visually represent people according to the sites of colonial history in this way. On the one hand, the history of tea is a colonial one, which includes a hefty share of power imbalance and trading relationships across the British Empire. On the other hand, how does it help us to so casually reinforce the assumption that people’s skin colour must always locate them in a specific part of the world? Particularly when such assumptions are more and more difficult to hold, in our present day world. I wonder if the Gotteliers considered such questions in their process of producing this book.

If you’ve had a chance to look at this book I’d be pleased to know your thoughts as well. As a collection of knitting patterns alone, this is worth looking at, but in many ways leaves me uncertain if such a theme would have been better approached with different organization.

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