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Review: Victorian Lace Today


First, the facts:

Title: Victorian Lace Today

Author: Jane Sowerby

Published by: XRX Books, 2006

Pages: 196

Type: Lace, History.


1. Miss Watts and Mrs Hope
2. Mrs Jane Gaugain
3. Miss Lambert
4. Cornelia Mee and Mlle. Branchdiere
5. Wide-bordered Scarves
6. Weldon’s Practical Knitter
7. Techniques, Tools, and Talk

Victorian lace

Pattern Size Range: N/A

The In-Depth Look:

The thing I like best about this book? It looks back at historically accurate sources and recreates some of the most beautiful shawls, just as they would have been knit over a century ago. Or, mostly.

The book is divided into chapters for each of several talented women who wrote knitting books during the Victorian era. Each chapter begins with an explanation of who the author was, and what affect her book had on knitting trends, as well as an explanation of what the fashion trends were. This alone I find fascinating.

These historical notes–which, incidentally, are interesting, well summarized, and definitely good reading–are followed by modern interpretations of the knitting patterns. Very helpful, this, because, of course you know that modern patterns spell details out ad nauseum, but older patterns expected you to think for yourself. “Cast on a goodly number of stitches and knit straight for 3 inches or until the length is one you like, then increase regularly…

(I totally just made that quote up, by the way.)

The point is that Jane Sowerby took these vague if authentic patterns and reinterpreted them for us modern knitters who barely have time to knit, much less to think.

The best part, though, is that even though the 21st century is rife in clutter, stress, and jam-packed schedules, these lovely lace patterns–almost entirely shawls–can let us recapture part of the serenity and slower pace of the Victorian past.

The patterns themselves, well … they’re classics. Literally. I don’t just mean in some fashionista kind of way, “Oh, the shape is so classic.” I mean that they are literally classics–these ARE the originals. They start with fairly basic, fairly simple triangles and then start to evolve into intricate, delicate lace.

And, oh, the photographs. If ever a knitting book was going to take the place of an eye-candy coffee table book, this is the one. The photos are stunning. Gorgeous. Evocative. Reminiscent. Atmospheric. There are scenery scenes from England to get you in the mood, as it were. There are shots of the lace shawls draped over balustrades of country manor houses and bridges. There are photos of the shawls being modeled, both close-up pictures that let you get an idea of the details of the lace, but also the scenic kind, where the model walks across an emerald lawn…

Have I mentioned that I really, really like the photographs? Absolutely wonderful.

The patterns themselves are clear and easy to follow, with very helpful schematics. The layout for each pattern is similar to the patterns in Knitters Magazine (since it’s the same publisher), and I’ve always found that easy on the eye and easy to read.

My one, big complaint? There’s no real Table of Contents and no Index at all. This is a travesty in an otherwise practically perfect book. The Table of Contents lists each of the designer/authors being followed in the chronology of the book, but there’s no list of each shawl. On the “title page” of each chapter, there IS a list of the shawls in that section, but it’s atrocious for browsing, and if you can’t remember the name of the book a shawl that caught your fancy came from, you have to wander aimlessly through the book until you find it again. As an organization freak and a librarian at heart, this absolutely appalls me. Not that flipping back and forth through such a gorgeous book is exactly a punishment, mind you, but if you’re eager to get started and you can’t find the pattern … it’s frustrating!

However, do NOT let that stop you from looking at this book. It’s beautiful. It’s historically accurate without being historically boring. It’s practical. It’s got great patterns. It even is well organized (even though it tries to keep that a secret).

Not to mention gorgeous.

This book is available from Amazon.com.

Want to see bigger pictures? Click here.

My Gush: Fantastic lace, historical interest, and oh, such gorgeous photos. Drool.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Chris February 5, 2009, 11:51 pm

    I love that book. Maybe someday I’ll actually knit something from it…

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