Rowan and me

feltedtweed

Some time in 2005, I was walking through the Edinburgh branch of John Lewis when my eye was caught by the display of Rowan yarns and samples. The gorgeous colours of the yarns and the beautiful styling and photography of the pattern books and magazines really grabbed my attention. On the spot, I decided to start knitting again, and picked up several balls of Big Wool in, if I remember rightly, the ‘tomato’ shade. The first thing I turned out was a gigantic tomato-coloured moss-stitch wrap on 10mm needles, and since then I have not looked back. What I’m saying is that it was Rowan’s yarns, designs, and photography — their distinctive and immediately recognisable aesthetic — that inspired me to take up my needles. I am sure that many knitters (and designers) have a similar tale to tell.

mineral

I have been writing features for the Rowan Magazine since 2009, and each one has been a pleasure to produce. Marie Wallin always provides suggestive and inspiring editorial briefs; the generous word length allows one to properly get one’s teeth into a topic; and it is genuinely thrilling to see one’s words and photographs laid out in such a well-produced and seriously beautiful magazine. Research for the fine lace feature I wrote for Magazine 50 (A/W, 2011) took me to Shetland — the first of many trips, and, for me, the beginning of another journey.

cinnamon

Although I have worked with Rowan for almost four years, I have never met Marie or the rest of the team. Yesterday I finally had the opportunity to do so, and popped down to Yorkshire to visit Rowan’s Holmfirth HQ.

damask

I had a lovely day. It was both fascinating and inspiring to see behind the scenes, to gain an insight into the complexities of the design and production process from start to finish, and to catch a glimpse (and squoosh) of what knitters will be treated to in future seasons. It was also lovely to put faces to design-room names, and to have the opportunity to chat about future projects in person.

watery

As these photographs will suggest, it was one of those incredibly busy sorts of days when there wasn’t an opportunity to make use of my camera — but these tasty balls of Felted Tweed may give you some indication of various things-in-process. All I’ll say right now is watch this space!

pine

Thankyou, Marie, David, Kate and the rest of the Rowan team for a wonderful introduction to the mill!

58 responses

  1. Holmfirth is like Oz to me. Gotta figure out how to make a pilgrimage, someday. I could look at Felted Tweed pictures all day–thanks for taking us with you on your trip!

    • Holmfirth is worth visiting, but not for Rowan. The Rowan factory is not open to the the public and there’s no shop – it’s a difficult place to find, and when you get there there’s nothing but a reception desk and a very pleasant woman explaining that there’s nothing to see. The village of Holmfirth is very touristy – not because of Rowan, but because of the long-running TV show ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ that was filmed there. But the Holme Valley is lovely, as is the rest of the Yorkshire Dales. That’s why you’d visit.

  2. I am working with Rowan Felted Tweed right now for the first time and finding it quite magical. Can’t wait to see what you cook up with it!

  3. OH YUM is right! This magazine is my guilty pleasure, having to pay for it’s trip across the ‘pond’ !
    I have some on the very first ones and treasure them. Will be looking foreward to what you produce next…….it’ll be stellar. Your articles have been a treat. Thank you.

  4. Those colours are wonderful. I am feeling very proud today as I have finished Sheep Carousel, I had to buy a teapot, I dont drink tea, I have a teacosy that looks just like the picture. Thankyou Kate for your wonderful, fun pattern. I will now be knitting for my Shetland holiday in June I am choosing from your book.

  5. Yes, it was a beautifully styled Big Wool book that inspired me to immediately return to knitting. I haven’t stopped since. Such lovely colors up there. Thank you for giving us a glimpse and for sharing your magical isles.

  6. So glad you got to visit Rowan’s HQ and share your experience with us. I’m looking forward to hearing more. I have several of those same shades of Rowan Felted Tweed here ….still deciding how to use them.

  7. Although here in the States, we probably don’t see as much Rowan..and I’ve never seen the magazine….we do see some yarn..I absolutely fell in love with their Colourspun last year…just gorgeous…

  8. Glad to hear you enjoyed your visit to Holmfirth as I live just above the town. I also do a bit of work at Rowan’s outlet ‘Up Country’, running workshops and their knitting club…..I’ve lived here for 30 years and watched Rowan develop and produce their fantastic range. Nice article.

  9. Oh, this is tempting me back towards the magazine. I stopped my membership as there were no styles I wanted to knit for quite a while. I like fitted garments and moved over to buying a lot of Kim Hargreaves’ books. (Although they have fewer patterns with finer yarns now as well.)
    Those balls of felted tweed look so lovely and I do miss those interesting articles…

  10. As Gracey says above, we don’t see nearly as much Rowan in the US, and I’ve never seen the magazine either, except their electronic one by e-mail. The only indie mag I’ve ever found is Debbie Bliss. A trip to Holmfirth would be magical, as I’m also a longtime fan of the British series “Last of the Summer Wine”! Strange that I never saw any of the ladies knitting! xo

  11. Hmm .. any chance of their being a “collected Kate Davies’ Rowan articles” published somehow, maybe digitally?? I really enjoy your writing and the historical research behind it.

  12. My knitting adventure started with Rowan yarn too. It was back in 2007, in London. On a sunny October afternoon I found “I Knit” shop (it was still situated in Vauxhall area) and picked up one ball of Rowan Tapestry; I was instantly in love. I bought it with a pair of needles and went back home, excited to learn how to knit. I’ve knit with many different yarn since then but Rowan still is my favourite. It never disappoints me.

  13. I have yet to use a Rowan yarn (other than a bit of kidsilk haze to line a pair of mittens), but I do so love the look of that felted tweed. None of the shops around me stock it in large amounts, so it really is a special order for sweaters (which is something I’m terrible at!). I am definitely going to have to work harder at getting my hands on some! Those pictures are just gorgeous!

  14. Your story reveals just how much the internet has transformed the knitting world (among other things). Like you, I have business and social connections through knitting/the internet that would have been impossible 15 years ago, especially living as I do in a small city relatively in the middle of nowhere. Can’t wait to see what’s coming for you with Rowan. Now, if only Rowan prices here in Canada were more within reach…

  15. I also returned to knitting after discovering Rowan yarns and pattern books when a wool shop opened around the corner from where I work. It’s called Sharp Works and they,as well as selling beautiful yarns are also full of advice and inspiration.Your blog however opens our minds to a world beyond Rowan so thankyou

  16. The felted tweed has been on my “want to try” list. These photos just upped the ante a bit! Love reading your blog. Thank you.

  17. I had a similar experience when visiting the Rowan section in Liberty London : I instantly became smitten with the colours of Big Wool so effectively and beautifully knitted up in basic garter stitch : have been addicted to Rowan ever since! I love your photos of the felted tweed : a feast or the eyes!

  18. Ah! Felted Tweed. Got it in my stash for donkey’s years and never knew what to do with it. I’ve got both greens you displayed in this blog. I’ll be waiting for great ideas to come from your cooperation with Rowan!
    Curious?? Nah… Can’t wait!

  19. I have fond memories of Rowan magazines from the eighties when they were just about the only decent pattern and yarn producer out there. I’m still loyal to the yarn, not so much the patterns but only because they get lost in the noise of Ravelry most of the time. It seems to be de rigeur to knock Rowan yarns for price and sometimes number of knots in the balls but for me they’re always the go-to producer for jumper quantities purely because of the diversity and most of all the colours they produce. I’d love to spend a day there.

    (My Felted Tweed Manu is my most favourite cardi in the whole world ever – pistachio colour.)

  20. Hi,

    The LYSs in Massachusetts (U.S.) carry Rowan magazines so I have most of the them. Kim Hargreaves pattern books are also available. Both are an incredible treat. I never tire of looking at them . . .

    Norma

  21. Love this story, especially, “the first thing I turned out was a gigantic tomato-coloured moss-stitch wrap on 10mm needles, and since then I have not looked back.” And how lucky for everyone that you have not!

    My own Come to Knitting story is from 2004 and involves size 13 (9mm) plastic needles, acrylic yarn, and struggling to master the knit stitch in a craft store class. Yet even still it was a ‘through the looking glass’ day that changed my life!

  22. Lucky girl! (can you read the – good – envy in my words?!)
    I can’t start to imagine the wonders you will come up with!

  23. What is more enchanting to knitters than the appearance of yarn, ball or skein, filled with color and possibility? Thanks for the view and attendant frisson. Awaiting the arrival of your book in Vermont. So happy to have found this “tribe”.

  24. I am like many others, in that I have collected Rowan mag from the beginning. It is such a fun mag to share with my knitting students…each new subscription that comes in; goes with me to class and I do show and tell and watch their mouths drop open with the colourful splendour within the pages.

    Their colours, designers, articles are stupendous. One never tires of the grand results of each project as it slides off the needles for blocking. I was thrilled to see your articles within the pages. Rowan website is worth checking out. It was my first favourite yarn, followed by J&S, then Blacker Yarns(a fabulous rare breed supporter).

    How lucky are we all, to have such splendor at our fingertips! Many thanks again for the brain expansion Kate!

  25. I absolutely love Rowan and have knitted several cardigans with Felted Tweed. It’s not 100% wool though, Kate! ;) I begged my mom to buy me my first Rowan magazine in the 1990s. They weren’t easy to come buy in Canada and they were expensive, but still to this day I browse through them regularly. The only small complaint I’ve had over the years is that occasionally they could have used a bit of editing (for grammar, etc.). That said, the pictures and stories are always a treat.

  26. Ah, felted tweed is one of mu favourites! The gilt colour, the third pic down(?) is to die for.
    Looking forward to seeing what you are cooking up!

  27. Although I had already started to get back into knitting, Rowan pattern books and magazines is where I fell headfirst and never got up again. Oh the styling…and I adore Felted Tweed (and Kid Classic and..)

  28. Funny you should choose the felted tweed as yesterday it also caught my eye and I now have 7 balls of the beautiful green to make a jacket. I loved all the colours especially the purples but chose the green to start with. Can’t wait to see it develop

  29. Kate, your timing is perfect. Literally had the lime coloured ball in my hand last night, trying to pull some Alice Starmore 2ply together with it to do your headband. (Yes, I have all the colours :)). I know the tweed is a little heavier but have to give it a go. love, love your site. all best robin.

  30. Felted tweed is particularly scrumptious, and that lime-greeny one is my all-time favourite. They look so wonderful when all displayed; I’m not remotely surprised they tempted you back into knitting. I’d even be content just to gaze at them…

    I’ve been to a couple of workshops at Rowan, and the displays in showroom can be really inspirational. Sigh.

  31. I was tempted by the big yarn on Saturday but resisted. I love the photography in the books, it is so atmospheric and I often sit down with a refreshing cuppa and a Rowen pattern book. I have just started a lace collar in Rialto Lace but have had to unpick and start again several time. The needle size seemed too big for the tension to be correct so I have had to go down to a size 12.

  32. Felted Tweed is one of their standout yarns (though I miss Yorkshire tweed the most I think). I came back to knitting in 2003 with a copy of Stitch and Bitch, a Knitty pattern and a few hanks of Yorkshire tweed in that dusty lilac that Rowan are good at. I was told at the time that I’d be bored of knitting within a few months – how wrong the naysayers were!

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