I just finished reading Sweater Quest by Adrienne Martini and today I’m happy to be able to ask her a few questions. Sweater Quest is the story of knitting Alice Starmore’s Mary Tudor sweater pattern within one year. If you’re a knitter you might understand why that sounds far easier than it actually is. If you’re not a knitter you should know that it’s an insanely complicated sweater for which the pattern is out of print and difficult (and expensive) to find, the yarn hasn’t been made for years, and the knitting technique is intricate. It was an interesting read, I learned all about Alice Starmore and why she has the reputation she does, there are meetings with lots of the biggest knitting celebrities, trips to knitting meccas, historical facts about Mary Tudor, and musings on why we knit.
One of the things you ponder in the book is whether your sweater is really an Alice Starmore design since you didn’t use the original Alice Starmore yarns. I do not knit with wool and one of the first things I learned to do was substitute yarn so this concern about authenticity was something I’d never considered before. Did you have any further feelings on the this in general or about your Mary Tudor in particular after the book was wrapped up?
For most designs, substituting yarns is no big deal. You might wind up with an object that doesn’t drape or feel like the original but who cares? You’ve made something that pleases you. With Starmore, it makes a huge difference what yarns you use because she is a master at color. Swap out any one skein and you’ll wind up with a mess — and I know this because I tried to do just that. I saved the swatch from that misbegotten disaster and it is hideous.
I’m still not certain is my Mary Tudor is a true Starmore, frankly. I used a yarn (Spindrift) that is very, very close to the original Starmore yarns but isn’t identical. I substituted one color in the blue background bands. It might be close enough to a Starmore to fool the non-connoisseurs. But I wonder how it would fare if put next to the original.
So tell us, did you hear from Alice Starmore or her people once this book came out? Did you ever consider writing to her during your project?
I haven’t heard from Starmore or her official people at all. I have been vigorously taken to task by a few people on Ravelry who claim to be her bosom buddies. But, given the nature of such things, you can be almost anyone you want on the internet. So, really, who knows?
Frankly, I’d love to hear from her and wished that I could get her side of the story directly from her mouth. The publisher’s lawyers were twitchy, however, and I was firmly advised to not make contact. I’m not thrilled with this, mind, but will abide by their advice, even though I wish the world were a different place.
After finding how carefully and how well Alice Starmore uses color, if you were to do another Alice Starmore sweater would you seek out the specific yarns called for? If somebody else was going to tackle a Starmore would you recommend they get the particular yarns?
If — and it’s a big if, given how many other things I want to knit — I ever take on another Starmore sweater, I would get even more obsessive about it, which is hard to imagine, I know. I’d track down all of the original yarns, just to see if it really does make a big difference. For those who aren’t quite as compulsive as I can be, I’d say to just do what you feel is right. To get the best result, you have to use wool, I think, and swatch like a mighty knitter who swatches. Other than that, just do it – because if you can manage a decent knit stitch, you can do Starmore’s Fair Isle.
Do you ever get requests from people who would like to see your Mary Tudor in person? (I have to admit I would.) Are you taking it on your book tour with you?
The Mary Tudor is my constant traveling companion. She doesn’t eat much but does take up a lot of room in my bag. I still get a little thrill when the audience at a reading makes appreciative noises, even though I know it’s wrong to take such pride in a sweater. There are some pictures online, if you can’t make it to where I am, see it here.
Is there any significance to the knitted border design on your book jacket?
Not that I know of. I’ve been working on getting the jacket designer to confirm that the yarn in the main picture is Lamb’s Pride. The designer thinks it’s hilarious that anyone would ask that sort of question about stock art. Clearly, he doesn’t know knitters.
Indeed, thank you Adrienne!