Two knitting books turned up yesterday: Jennifer Stafford’s DominKNITrix and Wendy Keele’s Poems of Color: Knitting in the Bohus Tradition. I spent a most enjoyable evening with them both (more on the Bohus book later). Now, I am suspicious, as you know, of Stafford. I really didn’t warm to her when interviewed, couldn’t see the point of the whole Dominknitrix thang, and even found some of her lengthy reminiscing mildly offensive (For her, Europe seemed a whacky ol’ themepark designed solely for expatriate American delectation. Rural Slovakia is, like, medieval! Istanbul looked like a scene from the bible! &c &c).
However, her book is actually more interesting than I imagined it would be. The real point of the book it seemed to me (and certainly what I found most engaging about it) is Stafford’s integration of techniques more commonly used in sewing to handknitted design. She avoids some common knitting shortcuts (3 needle bind off makes an inflexible seam &c &c) and goes out of her way to make her patterns flattering and appealing through careful attention to shaping, detail, and a very professional finish. Patterns feature zips and facings, pockets and edgings and are carefully constructed with body shape in mind. This is refreshing. One of the things I am often disappointed with in, say, Louisa Harding’s lovely designs is the lack of shaping. Here are these fantastically feminine-looking sweaters…then when you check out the pattern, they are made only to fit a generic sack of spuds! (I was particularly struck by the lack of shaping in her Winter’s Muse collection). I realise shaping can be a designer’s worst mare when it comes to accommodating a pattern for different sizes, but still, no woman is a rectangle, and designing rectangular sweaters really seems a bit lazy. This is not the case with the best patterns here. I spent a good while with the Lil’ Red Riding Hoodie, for example, and found it ingenious and thoughtful. Here is Stafford at her best—every element of the garment is constructed with care. The pattern shows her evident interest in what knitted fabric really does when made and worn, and reveals a generous awareness of the possibilities of knitting and the realities of the body.
The book does have some shortcomings, though. Some of these are probably just a matter of my personal taste (intarsia? aigh!….and there is a lot of intarsia) but there are other things too. One problem is that there are not really many substantial patterns in here. The best patterns (city coat, lil red riding hoodie, and the elfin bride (which is not included in the book, but can be downloaded from Stafford’s website) are clearly those Stafford designed with herself, and her own curvaceous 6 foot form in mind (enviable, eh?). She has clearly made valiant attempts with the sizing, but the difference in attention to detail between these (few) patterns and those which pad out the rest of the book, is really quite clear. Limiting the book’s appeal, too, is it’s ‘dominating’ aesthetic. I still fail to see the point. How do vague sexual innuendo and instructions rendered as ‘commands’ add anything to knitting? Please tell me, what is the connection between knitting, and a popularly rendered, nudge-nudge, wink-wink version of sado-masochism? Far from being intelligent or witty these features of the book’s packaging and contents are more often just embarrassing. The sheer emptiness of the style calls to mind the hollow populism of Athena posters, or the way that the politics of punk have been so watered down, so completely decontextualised, that they can now be a ‘funny’ or ‘ironic’ feature of a line of children’s clothing (an infant with a mohican! ho ho ho!). This aesthetic also has the unfortunate effect of suggesting that Stafford might not take herself or her designs seriously—and this clearly isn’t the case. For me, the most interesting person in this book was Jennifer Stafford, a designer whose concern with process, shape, and finish makes her (like Teva Durham) really quite distinctive. The Dominknitrix I can take or leave.