Can we talk about this book for a moment?
Background: Alice Starmore is a force of knitting. She wrote the literal book on fair isle, and while prior to this I didn’t own any of her books, Mom and I used her Oregon Autumn pattern (published in Vogue Knitting about a decade ago) for the allover we did together. Her daughter Jane is also a designer, as well as a photographer and writer. They live on the Isle of Lewis, in the Hebrides, whence they also sell their Hebridean yarns which are perfect for fair isle and aran knitting.
Glamourie is the sort of book I would never buy for myself, but I put it on my Christmas list on a whim. after reading Mason Dixon Knitting’s article about it. My sister generously bought it for me, with the enclosed note.
I had no idea what she meant – and she’s not very into knitting; had she read about what’s in it?
But she wasn’t that far off. This book is magical. It weaves a spell of knitting right out of the landscape of the Hebrides, then captures you and brings you into it. It’s a tapestry of story, costume, landscape, and patterns that allows you to become part of a place with the work of your own hands. I can’t even describe it without resorting to mystery talk myself. You have to get your hands on it to understand.
Under the mystery is tons and tons of work. There are years worth of work by a master knitter in these costumes and designs. There’s a lifetime of contemplation and observation of a small place worked into Jade’s original stories. Between them, they also share just the sort of insights into growing up in a place like the Isle of Lewis that you would hope for in order to understand the reality of this hard working landscape, not just its romance.
This book as an object is just delicious. It’s enormous; it’s the tallest knitting book I own, and doesn’t fit on the shelf with the others. It’s printed on thick glossy paper, with layouts that are minimal but have a confident flourish. There are fold out pages, for goodness sake. Fold out pages!
And the knits! The above is a full-body knitted costume. It’s a raven with a dozen different types of feathers, some felted for structure. Alice is showing off, and good on her. I really hope these pieces are in a gallery.
The first half has these over-the-top costumes, inspired by Jade’s fairy tales, which accompany them. In the back are the actual knitwear designs, inspired by the costumes, but quite different from them. For some stories there are three or four costume pieces, then two different samples knit for different options of the accompanying design. There are so many that even in this richly photographed book, some pieces only get a single picture. The amount of knitting in this book just staggers.
The reason for all the knitting, Alice explains, is that she’s showing you an intermediate, hidden step in her design process. In between the concept and the final design, she says, she often toys with outlandish ideas, which she then has to reign in. What if she actually knit all those outlandish ideas? Meaning these incredible costumes are not only works of art; they’re insights into her creative mind and process.
The inspiration for the whole book is a place: the Isle of Lewis, the Starmores’ home. The stories, costumes, patterns, and photography are all together an extended love letter to the small, extraordinary place where they have spent their lives. In that sense, this is an example of the infinite inspiration that can come from one place.
My favorite pattern, hands down, is the Selkie Cardigan. It is a practical garment with artistry worked into the subtle use of nearly a dozen shades. Selkie is Scots for seal, and you know how much seals mean to my arctic home. I’d love to work it up one day, in colors that remind me of my landscape.
This is the sort of book you have to be Alice Starmore to make. It’s a lifetime’s worth of experience, supported by six decades worth of top-notch credentials. I dream of designing from my favorite stories, and from my adopted island home. Jade and Alice have done both, and they’ve inspired me to continue dreaming to do the same. I wish them success with this work.