Book review: Tudor Roses

If you were to look at my knitting book shelves it would be easy to spot that I am a bit of a fan of Alice Starmore.

I have been since my mum bought me a copy of The Celtic Collection for Christmas many moons ago.

Mum had an ulterior motive, she wanted her own Donegal jumper (it was her home county). So among other patterns from the book did make this almost infamous piece of colourwork (long before I learn two handed stranded knitting making it even more of an achievement).

CelticThe Donegal and Armagh sweaters

And I still have my Armagh jumper which is coming up on 25 years old. I was a poor student when I made it but it looked great in poundshop acrylic and is a great reminder of my first goes at "fair isle".

Over the years I have gathered a little collection of Starmore works - some bought new, some second-hand - but there is a notable gap. I don't have a copy of Tudor Roses. Copies of the original tended to be as rare as solid gold hen's teeth, then when Starmore released the updated version in a sumptuous hardback in 2014 I was mid shift to freelancing and couldn't justify buying it. So it has been on my to buy list ever since.

Now the updated version is being released in paperback (Feb 2017) and thanks to Netgalley and Dover Publications I have a review copy in e-book.

The book contains 14 patterns inspired by the women of the Tudor dynasty accompanied by an explanation of their influence.

For a knitter who is interested in history, this is a perfect addition to my collection. Starmore and her daughter Jade have researched each of the 14 Tudor women in terms of their life, knowledge and influence presenting us with a pen portrait and later an explanation of how the research influenced the designs. So we see the plain beginning of Elizabeth Woodvile (a founder of the dynasty) in her simple sweater, the sumptuous colours of Spanish embroidery in Katherine of Aragon's coat and regal colours in the garments of some of the queen's garments. The shaping of the period reflected in many of the sweaters.

Tudor rosesClockwise from top: Elizabeth I, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Boleyn,
Katherine of Aragon

The photography and styling by Jade Starmore creates "portraits" of each woman, emphasising the art of these pieces.

I can imagine gaining a lot of pleasure from knitting many of these pieces, but there is also much joy in reading the patterns and enjoying the clever use of colour, stitches and construction to create a stunning collection.

This book definitely shows the art and artifice of knitting and what can be achieved by simply looping yarn round needles one stitch at a time.

I will be adding a physical copy of this book to my shelves before long and hope it will inspire me for many years to come.



Yarn, social history and award-winning ice cream - perfect day out

I recently had a day trip to New Lanark, the model mill village in Scotland.


Prior to my trip I'd only really thought of New Lanark in terms of the lovely, hard wearing, great value knitting wool produced on the site and that people said it  was an interesting place for a day out.

That sounded good, especially with the shopping opportunities, but what I found was even better. I'm fascinated by social history and studied politics so the work of utilitarians such as Jeremy Bentham and early socialist idealists have always been an interest. It is also a world heritage site - and I do like to get to a few of those every year.


Early on the guided tour we were shown the office (above) of Robert Owen the second owner of the mills and the man behind most of the interesting social experiments that happened there. The guide pointed out that the curved design meant Owen could see right round the site. I immediately thought "panopticon" - one of Jeremy Bentham's big ideas. So it was exciting a few minutes later when she explained how Owen was a disciple of Bentham and had put his ideas into practice in New Lanark.

This meant good living conditions for workers (though not as nice as Owen;s), decent wages (comparatively for the time) and education for children. It also meant compulsory self-improvement for all and the concept of everyone being observed leading to better behaviour. Not all of Owen's ideas sit well with a modern audience but we learnt about the influence his thinking had on both the co-operative and the union movements. He is certainly someone I will read more about - especially his valuing skills.

After our education, we had some play on the pod ride telling us more about the history of the mills - Owen believed leisure and play were important too - and then we ended up on a working mill floor where knitting wool was being spun.

Mill floor

The machines are still powered by the river as they were back in the mill's heyday but the waterwheels have been replaced by modern turbine technology. And it was good to see that the site is more than a museum. The yarn business is a real commercial enterprise and so the machines were running to purpose and not just to show us that textile mills are busy and noisy.

In fact as you can see below the yarn coming off the machines was definitely desirable - but it was alright, there was a factory shop.

New lanark yarn Collage

And if all that plus a roof garden and a waterfall isn't enough, we were delighted to follow our lunch by sampling the award winning ice cream flavours.

This is somewhere I'll visit again.

And yes, I did leave with a large amount of yarn. More on that as it turns into finished objects and patterns.