** My review of Great Little Gifts To Knit **
Bursting at the seams with ideas, apparently Jean Moss has an imagination which never rests. I wonder if like the rest of us, she has the same few twenty-four short hours in a day? Beyond her long-standing association with the Rowan clan, other personal and professional attributes I can hardly grasp the breadth and width of — having designed for household names like Ralph Lauren, Laura Ashley, Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, Benetton, to name a few — she runs with those designers who are written into history.
Elements which stand out for me about Jean’s designs are her playfulness with color & shape, her romantic & sensual choice of yarns, and her putting it all together with an ethnic signature — just ticks all the right boxes for me. I personally am ‘big’ on that style (who would know, my few designs so far are so played-down and predictable.) Her designs reveal about Jean a sense of real adventure too, and if there’s one thing I’d like to say above all, that is I sure would like for some of Jean’s artfulness to rub off on me!
Oh, and her writing style absolutley tickles. Such as in the pattern one might see in the instructions, along with Skill Level, Yarn & Gauge, a category suggesting the best ‘Time To Knit’. I thought for a minute, is this for real? Jean is obviously entertaining between the stitches with a delightful sense of humor. No staid reading here!
As I admire Jean’s epic career in design, so I can’t but love her latest book “Great Little Gifts To Knit“. A sumptuous presentation of thirty designs, each design encompassing two or more versions or color-ways, and with projects ranging from beginner to advanced. There are designs to knit For Baby, For Her, For Him, and For Home.
I particularly love the chapter of designs For Home, and Jean’s talent with assemblage photography is amazing — the colors and textures reach out and pull me in , Of all the designs For Home, the Wensleydale Tea Cozy rather shouts out the most I think, with bling, bling, and more bling !
There are five sizes for any possible teapot one might own! This is certainly what every artsy tea-drinking knitter ought to dress their teapot with, and what I would expect to be a regular part of Jean’s tea-making. Yearning to try Rowan’s Creative Focus Worsted yarn, or just dip into my loose odd balls in my yarn drawer, I am eyeing this project as first on the list that I would knit For Home !
For Baby, who can see-and-not-knit Shower Set, with those exact shades of Sky Pink and Lime Green in Rowan’s Cashsoft DK ?
A project for beginner or anybody — a dear wee set of hat, slippers and tiny mittens – just look at these adorable baby mittens! All three in combination or separately are marvelous wee gems, and would be my first choice For Baby.
In the designs For Him, I can’t take my eyes off of the handsome physique of Hugs Socks, made with Rowan Felted Tweed Aran yarn.
Maybe this will be a Him-Her hybrid, as a lover of tweed, and be really for me, though it does make me rather yearn for my fella to wear them. Really huggable indeed, I think this would definitely be my first choice For Him!
Perhaps one of the most uber feminine designs that look to be also uber fun, in Kid Silk Haze, in three sizes, are the FrouFrou Fingerless Gloves.
Now, I’ve been on a fingerless glove trend this year, and these are particularly a thing which might pair well with mandolin playing at the early morning October Farmers Markets, or even for the Autumn evenings wine-tasting courtyard gigs.
However, of all the things to knit For Her, I have my heart set on learning lace soon, and so am as curious as a cat to learn, why not then with Jean’s Kitten’s Paw Stole !
( I recall the upsetting blog post of Jean’s kitten Django having an accident involving his paw and for some silly and very odd reason I can’t help but connect the two) The Kitten’s Paw Stole is written in two versions, for a larger stole using Rowan’s Kid Silk Haze Trio yarn, and smaller made with the regular Kid Silk Haze–two stoles, two yarns, and two yarn color-ways– in the chapter For Her !
Jean’s new book is a treasure trove of sparkling ideas and has a perfect gift to be knitted for any occasion. And now I’ll end the book review with a round of applause, from left-of-center, three rows back! What is the best thing is that Jean has given me the opportunity to offer to you, readers of my blog Yarnings, a give-away of her new book ! To be included in the drawing for winner, you need only to comment on this post by telling us your favorite in the project gallery here.
Now, my last wish is that before you comment , that you will hang around for the interview next, and partake in tea & truffles with us, because I am really excited about this bit.
And now . . .
** MY INTERVIEW WITH JEAN MOSS **
The kettle is whistling, and I am here with Jean Moss, and we’re going to be talking about things, but first allow me to offer up some of my hand-made bittersweet chocolate truffles along with a nice calm cup of Earl Grey. Note, that *is* my knitted version of Wensleydale Tea Cozy, though it is far less effervescent than Jean’s, and as it is made entirely from stash, I had a sore lack of the dyed mohair locks with which to embellish, however, I compensated the with as many tassels as I could manage. ( I want to whisper aside to Jean, that her cozy design is modelled on the teapot of my duo-mate’s, he who is from Wales, and the very teapot which accompanies our music practice & recording sessions. ) Okay, on with the interview !
JEAN: What a treat this is, not only do I get to chat with another knitter/musician, but I’m offered hand-made chocolate truffles too – I’m half-way to paradise! How did you know, Jen, that Earl Grey is my fav teatime tipple too?
JEN: I knew Jean, because I have read it in your lovely blog of course !
I have a few questions to ask you Jean, and hopefully ones you don’t get asked too often. You and I are two kindred souls the way I see it, women who split our artistry between two really big loves – music and knitting. We are Knit-Pickers ! I’ve heard your song about knitting, and have just discovered on your website your music cd about love of yarn (found HERE .) I can’t really say I’ve met anybody else who crosses over music into knitting, more than you do. How about the knitting about music? I have seen the musical instruments photographed with the knits, but how else might you tell me, have you managed to merge knitting and music?
JEAN: Yes, I included a chapter inspired by music in my book In The Mood, but the designs were not graphic interpretations of instruments or music-related images. Instead there is an oblique reference to their musical inspiration in the way each project is shot. So in answer to your question, I don’t think I’ve explored merging my twin passions further. But now that you’ve mentioned it I can see myriad possibilities. My knitterly brain is on overload considering the potential of musical designs.
Years ago at the start of my design career I did a well-received collection of fruity knits, incorporating words as well as images of fruit like strawberries, pineapples and pears into each piece. I can well imagine doing a similar collection based on music, in fact you’ve made me reach for my sketch pad straight away!
JEN: As far as you know, did you pioneer a kind of relationship between music and knitting, or were there influences you drew from early on?
JEAN: The women in my family were all knitters, so I never thought about it, I just accepted being able to knit from the moment my lovely grandmother handed me some needles. I couldn’t have been more than five. I don’t remember any instruments being played in my childhood, but everyone sang, not in public but as a normal part of everyday, in the bath, doing the housework etc.
At school I was told I couldn’t sing and didn’t get into the choir, but I was always a cussed little beggar so I wasn’t discouraged, just more resolved to prove them wrong. I bought a mandolin as soon as I could afford to buy an instrument, but realized I was never going to be any good, so I traded it for a guitar and my love affair began. Singing and playing guitar is my therapy, it takes me somewhere else where I can forget any problems. Often if I’m writing a pattern and I get stuck with the logistics, I pick up my guitar and after a while I’m able to see things clearer.
My first career was as part of a folk duo, Scarlet Vardo, with Brian, my late husband. For several years we travelled around playing folk clubs and festivals in the UK. I love performing, especially when there’s audience participation, it’s a very special feeling to be bringing people together in one voice. When our kids started school we found it more difficult to continue, so I fell back on the other thing I loved and knew I could do well – knitting. I started off with a knitting machine, only progressing to handknits when Ralph Lauren’s agent saw my work at a trade show in London and asked me to produce a collection for him.
So I never consciously tried to pioneer a two-pronged path, like most things in my life, it just evolved.
JEN: A little more about the past. I am a late bloomer in knitting design, and am lately collecting a lot of knitting books and things which associate to a particular ‘golden era’ in my life — the last years of the 80’s and first of the 90’s — and that seems to be when you were beginning to rise to design fame. It was a time when I learned to knit, began to perform at open mics and get my first gigs, and I’d go once a week to a fiber spinning group, would spin yarn & learn to knit, and practice away the days on my mandolin. This to me is the magical time of my youth, when everything was new and I was captivated by music and craft. My question to you now is, for my own personal curiosity, what was going on for you professionally at that time, say, from mid-80’s to the mid-90’s?
JEAN: This was a time of flux for me. My first book, Designer Knit Collection, was published in 1990. Also my husband became ill and died, so life changed enormously. Throughout the 80s Brian and I had run our business with 2000 handknitters all over the UK, producing handknits for my own collections which I would showcase at the New York Pret, but also producing sweaters and homewares for high profile US designers like Ralph Lauren, Laura Ashley and Benetton. This business quickly had to be scaled down, but I continued writing books, working on commissions and smaller collections. My music suffered at this time, I found the guitar held too much emotion for me to cope with for about a year after Brian died.
JEN: How can I not give you the opportunity to run loose with your stories of music, please tell us a favorite story of music and performing.
JEAN: As you know Jen, I’ve been trying to rekindle my musical career recently. Performing is a part of me I can’t ignore – a basic need to express myself through my songs. I can’t remember any real disasters although the nerves are always there under the surface, but here’s a lovely story about my guitar. Earlier this year I bought myself a Martin, something I’d always wanted. I felt slightly guilty and as if I’d betrayed the guitar I’d always played, a beat-up old Guild D40 and told the story of why it looked so characterful on my blog. It had been my husband’s guitar and he had bought it nearly fifty years ago in a shop in Manchester. He couldn’t afford a case and soon after he bought it he was carrying it across a busy road, didn’t see the tow-rope between two vehicles, tripped up and… horror of horrors, smashed the body of the guitar. He couldn’t afford to have it mended and so he patched it up with gaffer tape and continued to do gigs with this slightly eccentric-looking guitar. After a while, Ian Chisholm, a fellow musician with a passing interest in making guitars, took pity on Brian and kindly offered to try to mend it. This he did, and sadly over the years he and Brian then lost touch. Imagine the scenario when he saw his repair on my blog nearly half a century later in good shape, still holding together. In the intervening years Ian had had a career as an engineer with the BBC, then fifteen years ago had decided to become a full-time luthier. We met up at Whitby Folk Week recently and I was able to reunite Ian and the Guild, and was delighted when he pronounced it to be sounding better than ever.
JEN: As for the future in music-about-knitting and knitting-about-music, I have been brewing some ideas relating the two, if not just matching my designs-to-be with the titles of the tunes my duo-mate and I have composed — are there any fresh ideas you’ve been brewing up?
JEAN: What a great idea Jen! Since I broke my wrist, I’ve had lots of time to sit and think about new designs. Swatches are small and good therapy, so now the cast is off I’m slowly working my way through some of the concepts. I’m looking at the easiest ones first as I don’t think I could handle fairisle or intarsia knitting yet, but it feels good to have sticks and string back in my hands again. Musical knits are definitely on the agenda, I’ll keep you posted.
JEN: The last question about music & knitting – Do you wear your knitted designs when you perform, and if so, do you have any performance-specific designs?
JEAN: I don’t go out of my way to wear my own designs, although recently I’ve been wearing several of the pieces from my last book, Sweet Shawlettes. My approach to what I wear is completely whimsical. I love street fashion and get loads of inspiration from just watching what people are wearing. Clothes are a great way of expressing who you are and I love the process of putting them together. To answer your question more specifically, if I was performing I might very well wear one of my own designs, but not because I was promoting it, only because it would be a part of the ensemble I’d chosen for that occasion.
JEN: I love your style Jean, the way you dress, such playful whimsy marrying sophistication! Also how you dress your home– antiques, hand-made rugs, all with lived-in feel, with artfulness inside and spilling out into the gardens– the same marriage of color and texture which has been your mark in the world of design. I just love the way it all comes together! What words to you use to define this personal style?
JEAN: Colour, texture and form define my world. I firmly believe that we all have an innate personal style just waiting to jump out given half the chance. If you trust your instincts, regardless of what others may think, eventually what works becomes apparent. I’m a very visual person and I love putting clothes and interiors together.
My life is a work in progress – it’s rare that I would ever throw everything out and start again, hence my wardrobe is bulging and I’m still singing songs I sang years ago alongside new ones. I’m continuously tweaking home, garden, knitting, music and life. My clothes and interiors style tends to reflect how I feel at any one moment, and sometimes changing the colour of one wall in a room is all that’s needed to express this. If pressed I suppose the nearest you’d get to this in one phrase is shabby chic, helped along the way by two young Maine Coons with sharp claws!
JEN: Because you are a person who injects artfulness into every conceivable aspect of living — into gardens, food, music, & craft, and you have travelled the world observing all these in a global context, what do you aspire to experience in a creative sense, that which is new and unexplored?
JEAN: I’m not continuously looking for new things, however I do have an overactive sense of curiosity (perfectly illustrated by breaking my wrist falling off a unicycle!). I often feel I could do with a couple of lifetimes to experience a fraction of the things on my bucket list. I’ve been very lucky in my career, but in another life I would love to be an architect.
JEN: Okay, the question I always love – What can you tell us about you that nobody could possibly know from all the book reviews, interviews, magazine articles?
JEAN: I’m a Bolton Wanderers fan.
JEN: Thank you so very much Jean for including me in your book tour! I’ve immensely enjoyed previewing your newest book (as I also have just acquired your first out-of-print book, there seems to be an interesting correlation) , and writing this little review & most of all having this interview with you, and learning more about you and about your contributions to the world of design. I have for over a year now enjoyed reading your blog which has brought me around the world with you (the music sessions in Ireland were fab !) Most of all, I’ve enjoyed this one-on-one time with you to have a wee talk about the things we love and share!
JEAN: Thanks Jen, great to chat with you.
** ** **
You can purchase Jean’s book on-line at Amazon (USA) , or Amazon (UK) , and discover for yourself the tasty knittable treats ! Or, maybe you will actually WIN her book by leaving your comment below ! The winner of Jean’s book may ask for either the digital version or the actual book, whichever is preferred. The winner will be chosen at random on October Oct. 7th … and I then will contact the winner via email.
** EDIT IN: We have a WINNER, Kirra Bennett ! (Chosen from a random number generator is lucky number 18. ) Kirra, now you may start knitting those baby coccoons for all your friends who are expecting, because you will be recieving Jean’s book very soon ! **
Thank you, and Good Knitting !
Great Little Gifts to Knit ~ Jean Moss
Blog Tour Itinerary
Mon 2 Sep Wendy Knits Wendy Johnson
Wed 4 Sep WEBS Kathy Elkins
Fri 6 Sep Getting Stitched on the Farm Kristin Nicholas
Mon 9 Sep Stolen Stitches Carol Feller
Tues 10 Sep Knittedbliss Julie Crawford
Wed 11 Sep Black Bunny Fibers Carol Sulcoski
Thur 12 Sep Rhythm of the Needles Joanne Conklin
Fri 13 Sep Tiny Owls Knits Stephanie Dosen
Mon 16 Sep Just Call Me Ruby Susan Crawford
Tues 17 Sep Zeneedle Margene Smith
Wed 18 Sep Redshirt Knitting Erika Barcott
Thur 19 Sep A Friend to Knit With Leslie Friend
Fri 20 Sep Craft Sanity Jennifer Ackerman Haywood
Mon 23 Sep Connieleneknits Connie Lene
Tues 24 Sep Knitsofacto Annie Cholewa
Wed 25 Sep Ulla Bella Anita Tormoen
Thur 26 Sep A Really Good Yarn Julie Schilthuis
Fri 27 Sep Urban Yarns Alexa Ludeman
Sat 28 Sep Linda Marveng Linda Marveng
Mon 30 Sep Yarnings Jen << You are Here !
Tues 1 Oct Tentenknits Margaux Hufnagel