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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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Book Review: Knitting and Tea

  1. Hmmm… sounds like a book with ups and downs. The staging and model choices do sound rather objectionable.

  2. I checked this book out from the library, and while I found it interesting, and the pictures beautiful, I wasn’t so enthusiastic about the designs. What bothered me way more was the way the authors presented the history and culture of tea plantations in Sri Lanka and India as though it’s all jolly good fun. I don’t know much about the history of Sri Lanka, for example, but they’re in the middle of a horrible civil war and there are a lot of unfortunate aspects of British colonialism that weren’t even alluded to in the book, not even in passing. I wonder why, as I think that MUST have been a conscious decision in writing the book. The production and trading of tea, after all, was a huge driving force behind the British Empire in the first place.

  3. I saw this in Indigo, and flipped through it, and noticed the same thing- which I find too funny, since England is quite racially diverse. Also… I felt a little cold by the knitting and tea theme- I LOVE tea, I LOVE knitting, but didn’t really see the point in bringing the two together in one book. Maybe I’ve already been gifted a few too many tea books, and feel like there was no new ground covered.

    But yes, some lovely patterns!!

  4. Yikes, that sounds a bit awkward. Some of the patterns are lovely though!

  5. I wonder whether they didn’t just think – mmm knitting and tea what a heavenly combination – and then stretch the concept a little too far. Still pretty pictures and mmm knitting and tea what a heavenly combination.

  6. I agree with Julie in that tea and knitting don’t seem to be a natural pair (although coffee and yarn are another story — don’t ask me why).

    I appreciate the review because this was a book I did not even pick up because I have minimal interest in knitting for men. I had no idea it had some very feminine sweaters between its covers.

    The whole skin color/colonial location issue is interesting, and also makes me shy away from the book.

  7. Yeah, I agree with Julie as well. Maybe I’m too rigid in thinking that the two shouldn’t be associated in a book, even if they’re often associated when people are actually knitting, but if you’re going to make a connection between two things, it would be nice if they made a closer connection between the two. I haven’t looked at the book, but from your review I have to wonder what the knitting patterns have to do with the tea and vice versa.

  8. Good review, and thank you for including pictures! :) It was also a nice surprise to get a thoughtful analysis on the location/model type issue — this is not something I’ve seen most reviewers do (for whatever book is in question), and just reinforces my idea that academics are the right folks for me to hang around with. *grin* I agree that those choices are quite problematic given the British history of colonization and the problems that spawned. Perhaps a polite note to the publisher is in order? The sad fact is that they won’t change “what works” unless people poke them about it.

  9. Ann

    A very good review – thank you.

  10. harper james

    The Garden Jacket? Sorry, but to me it looks like she’s wearing nipple tassels! Just thought I’d mention it.

  11. Kathy B.

    I agree. I think the Flowerdew Evening Tank is beautifully done.

  12. Raven

    I discovered this gem at my library recently, and it has now been added to my home library wish list. I love it; it is as simple as that. I find it to be delightful and creative, inspiring new ideas from me and I discover that I am smiling each time I sit with it for a while. I hope others will find joy between its covers.