Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Letter from the Editor, VK winter 2010

I was going to do the usual review of VK once I got it. Then I did get it, and flipping through, happened to read the letter from the editor in the front. The title of it, "Size Matters to Us" caught my eye, and by the time I was done reading... well. I debated for two days how to properly address the letter in the VK review proper, without making it a hundred thousand words long, and I couldn't come up with a way. So I'm doing what I did with the 25th Anniversary Edition (links in the sidebar) and splitting this review in half. Because really, I've got a lot to say about this letter, enough that I don't think it's fair to cram it into the review. Since this isn't really a review, but a reply to the letter.

The text of the letter can be found on the VK web site, here. I suggest everyone who really is into this bip over and read it first. I'm going to quote the relevant parts (I don't know how long that link will work, once a new issue comes out), but if you read the entire thing, that way there's no question of me taking things out of context. I'll try very hard to quote everything pertinent so there's no misunderstanding. So stuff in quotes is from the magazine, specifically, the letter. Further down there will be photos of past VK designs. I'll list what issue they came from, for clarity.

And, while I'm trying to be clear, I understand the designers just submit a pattern to VK and VK takes over the sizing from there. It's implied in the letter itself. So while I'm ranting and raving over the size issue, it's not directed at the designers. As I see it, they don't have much to do with it either. (Plus, VK treats their designers rather shittily, and they deserve some sympathy... I'm not sure why they continue to work for VK, but a pay check is a pay check, after all.)

So, the gist of the letter is, VK analyzes each design carefully when it gets to the VK offices, and from there, they decide what sizes are flattering to each figure, and size designs accordingly. Now, part of this is inarguable. Sure, different things look better on different people. That's nothing but common sense. But the implication here is that VK knows better than I do (or you do) what looks good on my body (or yours). Considering they've never MET me, I find it damn hard to believe that they can sit in their office on the lower west side of Manhattan and know what I'm going to look good in. There are a few other gems.

"That’s the beauty of being a woman, and being a unique individual with varied tastes, knitting preferences and personal style." Really. Then why, in the pages of VK, is every model a tiny-sized, low-body-fat, unusually tall and thin female? Why are they all made up to look the same? Because it's high fashion? Is there no woman on earth larger than a size six capable of being high fashion? Is fashion about being thin? Where's the beauty of being a unique individual, in the pages of the magazine?

"We discuss how a piece would look and fit a body if sized much larger or smaller, and how a wide range of sizes would affect pattern repeats, cabling, colorwork and shaping. We look at length of body and sleeves, shoulder shaping and whether it would allow for more ease, design details that might be lost or simply would not work. Not all garments will flatter if they are sized too large or too small. A petite person can be swamped by the wrong silhouette and often by chunky stitches, and, conversely, the wrong length can cut a larger body at the wrong point, not flattering it in the least." I'm quoting this whole block here, because as I said above, I don't want to take things out of context or confuse the issue. This, according to the editor, is their philosophy, what they're thinking, if you will, when they decide what they're going to size and how to size it. I'm quoting all this now, because I think it's complete bullshit. I think they size according to what's easy to resize. I don't think looking good (if you're over a size six) is on their radar. I think it's all about how complicated the pattern is. If it's too complex, I think they lack the talent, the resources, or the time (or all three?) to bother resizing it, and that's where all those super-small once-size-only patterns come from in the magazine.

"As professionals, we ask that you understand why we make our choices to size only certain silhouettes up or down." As professionals. Implied expertise; they know better than we do. Not only is it ridiculous, it's contradicted further down.

"We choose those we believe will work for the greater majority of our readers, so you don’t waste time (and money) knitting a garment you will not necessarily be happy with when you’re finished." They want to save us money. Sure. I might believe it if that $600 USD cashmere sweater wasn't fresh in my mind. You know, the one in plus sizes, that was big-butt length. (See below; I'll put up a photo to refresh everyone's memories.)

"However, you know your body and personal style better than we do, and there will be times when you wish we had sized our sweaters differently. For those times, there are many resources available to help you custom-size your project." Here's the internal contradiction: We're professionals, and we know better. But if you're so hell-bent on a sweater that fits, do our job for us and size it yourselves. They also suggest hitting up your local yarn store for help. I don't know about you, but my local yarn store doesn't carry VK. They've given up on it in disgust (and because no one bought it).

For those of you who've been reading leBlog for a while, you know I've got a freaky-good visual memory. Especially if I've gone to the trouble of reviewing something, and stared at the photo for a while; it sticks in my head. So while I was reading this letter to the editor, there was this cascade of VK designs rolling through my mind. And since I started listing sizes in the past year's reviews, I even knew what sizes most of them came in. Here are some of the highlights of my brain montage.

They want to save us money, and keep us from knitting things we're unhappy with?

#16, Holiday 2009 VK. It's cashmere, and the largest size, a 54in/137cm bust, would cost $615 to knit. (Or did when I figured the cost when I did the review; prices may be going up.) I'm not sure anyone would look good in this without altering it a bit, because the length of it hangs down over the butt and adds bulk to it. Most of us don't need bulky butts.



#11, Spring/Summer 2009. $60 just for the feathers. (At last summer's exchange rate; the yarn was available from only one place in the UK.) Sizes only to a 40in/103cm bust, but considering the vest is a box with arm holes, I don't see how it's flattering to anyone.

But they want to save us money so we don't spend a lot and are unhappy with it later. Yeah.

"A petite person can be swamped by the wrong silhouette and often by chunky stitches, and, conversely, the wrong length can cut a larger body at the wrong point, not flattering it in the least." Really? Do you think? Then why do you keep publishing things like this?


#22 holiday 2008. Do you think she looks swamped in chunky stitches? I think she looks swamped in chunky stitches. I thought this was their great concern, what they were saving us from? Then why is it here? Oh, is it because there is a Designer Name on it? Which is it? Are they saving us, or not?



#18, Winter 2009. Bust sizes to 44in/111cm. Would anyone look good in this? Petite, plus size, my grandma? Anyone?



#4, Winter 2009. This would only look good on very slim body types. So why, then, is it available in a 50in/127cm bust?



#18, Holiday 2009. This is a nice lace pullover. There's a vertical line to it, which is flattering to just about everyone, and the design itself is fairly square and blocky, meaning it lends itself to a lot of sizes. Why do sizes only go from 29in/73cm to 40in/101cm? I've got a friend with F cup breasts who is at least a sixty inch bust, who would look good in that. Why wasn't it sized more broadly?



#15 Spring/Summer 2008. Is that a flattering length for ANYONE?


Know what I think? I think what I've always thought. That they don't really give much of a shit about true plus sizes (anyone up past a 56in/142cm bust). All those patterns that come in only one size? They're always complicated. I think they get complex patterns at the VK office and no one wants to re-size them, so they don't.


#3, spring/summer 2009. One size, 31in/78cm bust. You telling me NO ONE ELSE even slightly larger would look good in that? Or is it possible that because it's a complex, directional knit, no one felt like resizing it?


#19, spring/summer 2008. One size only. You telling me plus sizes don't look good in shrugs? I'm not sure shrugs look good on anyone, but they look as good on plus sizes as anyone else. Maybe it was just too complicated to resize?


#20, spring/summer 2008. Piece of major directional knitting. It would look good on a wide range of body types, thanks to the very delineated waist, but it's available in only one size, a 34in/86cm bust. I'm betting that's the size that showed up in the VK office and they printed it as-is.

Bottom line? I think the editor's trying to sell us a load of shit. Which isn't really shocking, we've been kind of saying that for years, but this letter from the editor is really, blatantly, shockingly obvious about it. On a personal level I find it extremely offensive, the claim that they know what's flattering better than we do - and then produce an overwhelming majority of small sizes. The implication is that plus sizes don't get/need/deserve flattering clothing. If they did a more equitable range of sizes, I might buy the claim. But as it is? It sounds like more fashion industry Thin Is Beautiful propaganda.

This may be the one that puts me over the top. I'm wondering if the library gets Vogue Knitting, because I think that's the only way I'm continuing these reviews. I'm too sickened to give them any more of my money.

47 comments:

Sue Sinclair said...

You go girl! I paged through this issue and it's still in the store., so are the last two issues. I have older ones from the 1960's forward and even had a complaining letter published sometime in the 1980's. Last time I was in a Barnes & Noble, there were nine knitting magazines. VK is not alone anymore. Knitters who have a choice will bypass Vogue.

Anonymous said...

the amusing thing is that the pictures that accompany the editor's letter include a tiny woman wearing what looks like a knitted bag with pockets. It's not flattering--it looks like a little girl trying on her mother's coat.

Alwen said...

I'm a thin person with a 34AA bust and 38" hips. Most of the time if I pick up VK at all, I flip through it, laugh a few times, and put it back.

I knit (and read blogs) for fun.

amy said...

I've never looked at Vogue. So I'm shocked that they print any of their patterns in only one size. I didn't think that was allowed (unless we're talking hats or something clearly one size). Isn't that what separates designers from the rest of us? I can "design" a sweater to fit me (or my kid, whatever); what I haven't quite figured out is how to write directions in a variety of sizes. That's why I'm not really a designer of anything, and if I did write up any of those patterns I'd offer them for free, because if somebody is PAYING for a pattern, it darn well better come in various sizes. In my opinion.

As for the sizing, well, I'm a small person. It's almost unfair how quickly I can knit myself a sweater, and how much less it costs in yarn. Isn't that enough unfairness? It's just adding insult to injury if you can't even find nice patterns in your size.

RacineDKringle said...

Huh, I kind of like #22 holiday 2008, but honestly if someone doesn't like something I'm wearing they can bite me.

That being said...

I saw a lovely design for a tank top in VK spring '09 - lovely tank top but with a design element centered such that if you have any abdominal fat at all, I would think you'd get asked when you were 'expecting'.

If I loved it enough, I'd still knit and wear it of course. But it's not generally 'flattering' to any but the thinnest in the population.

Nicole said...

Your VK reviews always make me laugh (I'm still working my way through your archives), and have taught me to never buy that magazine for patterns, ever.

I just love snark :D

kate said...

Hot damn, that letter from the editor could practically be a template for How To Piss Off Your Readers. I guess there was a sale on snotty condescension that day?

I'd say that yep, too lazy to scale up the complicated patterns. Sigh.

molliewollie said...

I got one of those "join the knitting elite!" offers from Vogue the other day, and I was seriously considering it just for the one or two patterns per issue that are fairly nice. After reading that letter, though, they can all go die in a fire. And I speak as someone who is tall and slim.

Donna Lee said...

I agree with your assessment. The tone of the letter is extremely paternalistic. Since I am a fairly new knitter, I depend on designers to provide different sizes. I truly can't figure that stuff out for myself with any degree of accuracy. To publish a pattern in only one size is blatantly unfair. It's like giving a kid a nickel to buy candy when everything costs at least a dime.

I got one of those "join the kitting club" offers, too. It's in the recycling box where one day it may become something useful, like toilet paper.

Jenni said...

I haven't found anything in an issue of VK that I'd knit in a long time. I'm a plus size. So either they don't have my size, they're insanely expensive ($600 - are you sh^&%ing me!?!?!), or they have my size but it would never look good on my body, not to mention the load of crap they publish...stuff I wouldn't be caught dead in outside the house. Knitting is beautiful, I don't want my friends who think its weird to begin with to see me wearing that stuff and think "OMG, that's hideous and she MADE it", I want them to see things I made and think "OMG that's so pretty, you made it YOURSELF?!".

Anyways, thanks for the comments on VK, I love reading your reviews!

Roxie said...

Yup, The magazine is published by ivory tower fashionistas who are relying on the "Vogue" cachet. I'm sure they work hard and have as much stress as the rest of us, but they aren't meeting their reader's needs, are they? No wonder they have to beg for subscriptions.

Georgi said...

I think that is one of the most obnoxious letters I have read explaining the size issues in patterns. I personally do not think it is a magazines job to tell me what pattern would look great on me and which would not. That is my decision, and if I am willing to spend the money on the yarn and the time on the knitting, I should be able to pick up a pattern and create the sweater (or whatever) without having to worry about getting directions from the LYS on how to increase the size because the magazine wants my money but does not want to create a pattern in my size. I so agree with your remarks on VK and am thankful that you pointed out their offensiveness on sizing patterns. I think I will go check out Ample Knits and see how they feel about it. lolol
Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Gosh I hope someone sends the editor a link to your review.

Maybe she would get a clue.

Pam

Bells said...

And again I say I never buy this magazine. I just read your reviews. I RARELY see anything I would knit. The same applies to regular vogue. I'd never wear it. I don't think they publish for real knitters. Sometime I should check Ravelry to see if anyone actually makes their stuff.

Well said Julie. Bravo.

Lola said...

Geesh . . . that is one insulting letter. It's just too bad, because there's one or two patterns that are actually even worth thinking about . . .

laurel said...

I used to think that Vogue knitting (and Vogue sewing for that matter) were just too high end for me to understand...until I really looked at the sewing pattern and thought "I could do this another easier and more attractive way..."

I think it comes down to pure laziness maybe mixed with a feeling of "well fat people aren't going to look haute couture anyways" all the while trying to excuse it with irritating condescension. I'm glad in Europe they won't let the models walk the runway if they are unhealthy or too skinny.

I also think that this attitude is why you could find almost any fairly recent edition of VK on Russian (and other shady) sites that care little for copy rights. As long as you don't mind getting viruses, lol. Rob from the rich to feed the poor mentality, mayhaps?

WikiBobo said...

I spend way too much money on magazines, but these days I subscribe to the British magazines.

The designs are much more fashionable, range from easy to pull-your-hair-out complicated, and the sizes usually end between 46" and 60" (of course, it depends on the pattern). They're also much more consumer-friendly -- they talk often about how to incorporate shaping, sizing, alterations, etc., into each pattern. It's a pricy habit -- I estimate I'm spending about $500 a year on the subscriptions alone, but for my money, I'm getting much more useful inspiration and advice.

What's even more telling: Every project I'm working on right now comes from one of the British mags, not from VK.

You go, Julie!

(Today's word: dutfu, as in "I'm a dutfu reader of the Samurai Knitter!")

NeedleTart said...

Oddly enough, I wrote to Debbie Bliss to complain on the same subject and her reply was almost the same as that letter. "We size our designs on how we think you (ya fat slob)should dress, not on how you really look. And besides knitting stretches so a size 31" might just look good on you at 46". Give it a try." Parentheses are me reading between the words. There are a few wonderful designs in her magazine but do I really want to feel that bad about my non-designer body every time I pick it up?
Maybe we should start a fund for you so you can keep us laughing at these.....people.

Teri S. said...

I've been getting VK for the last couple of years and decided to drop my renewal this year. Why? Primarily because I can't see how any of the garments would look good on me, even though I'm a small size (and short, which presents its own problems with sizing). Most of the garments are way beyond my technical expertise, or beyond my budget. Oh well... Interweave Knits is more my style.

Amy Lane said...

Whoa baby-- I think you're right on the money. And the suggestion that 'we do it ourselves' when their designs are supposed to be unique and interesting is sort of the cherry on the shit sundae ain't it?

Liz said...

Wow - that's a snotty letter. I've long suspected/assumed that they couldn't be bothered/didn't have the skill to resize the complicated bias-knit stuff... Nice to know we should all go and get the skills to re-size things because they're too lazy to...

Since I've been able to view copies of "Designer Knitting" (as VK has been rebranded across the pond, which is still confusing the hell out of us) before buying, it's always stayed on the shelf in favour of IK, one of the UK mags or one of the European ones like Verena or Sandra.

Or, frankly, a book; at £4.95 a copy, it's the same price as EZ's "Knitter's Almanac" here...

David said...

I can't believe I'm commenting on a knitting review, having said that; in my limited understanding of the art this is my impression of the VK Editor, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain"

Kathleen said...

Just found your blog by way of Jean's Knitting. Love your review! And I'm so grateful I didn't get the Yarn Coordinator job there in the fall. They haven't been connected with Vogue Magazine for years, and their idea of fashion is frighftully passé. Thanks for reaffirming my opinion to not buy VK and certainly not submit any designs there.

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Kathryn said...

Those who can, do. They design and make things with flair and creativity and beauty. They work hard at providing decent publications for their knitting audience.
Those who can't design or create or get publications vomit venom and spurious opinions at the doers and makers.
That being said, it's not even your vile proclamations that bother me the most.
It's the picture you have of yourself as a knowledgeable purveyor of what's fashion or chic or art or beauty.
It's a complete joke.
Where are your published, paid for designs, eh?
That we should cower in fear over the opining of some Schmenge from Leutonia, Ohio is totally risible.
Guess what?
Your idea that knitting publications are run by no minds whose goal is to trick you into looking fat is absurd.
And that whole clichéd ranting over horizontal stripes and ruffles and bands and peplums that you think do nothing but make your arse look big is a bore. Like you.
Learn maybe to look for a little inspiration, a little beauty, a little joy in this magazine you think you could do better, despite the fact that you've produced nothing.
And get over the childish Vogue is the enemy of knitters.

Kathy Merrick

Northwoods Baby said...

Kate, may I call you Kate? Thanks. Why go to the bother of responding to a "Schmenge"? If her review is, as you put it, naught but "clichéd ranting" and a bore, why on earth are you wasting your clearly valuable time responding? If you're plying the high road, why not act like it?

Awfully glad I haven't plunked money down on VK,and deathly allergic to horizontal stripes and ruffles and bands and peplums,

NWB

Tesha said...

I admit that I have a notoriously bad memory, but, am I incorrect that she HAS published articles on knitting and fiber in general, that she DOES (frequently) create her own patterns? If I'm wrong, please someone correct me.

BB said...

Kathy Merrick, I've been knitting for over 25 years and I never heard of you.
But I read this blog.
Signed,
A former VK subscriber

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms Merrick,

I used to buy Vogue knitting in the 1980s and 90s because it gave me designs that were interesting and different from the Patons cardigans that were my only other option. I have stopped because I now can get an attractive, well designed pattern from any number of other places and because I find the VK patterns expensive to knit, their sizing erratic and, frankly, the designs are pedestrian when compared with some of those I find in other places.The magazine used to fill a function and it no longer does. So, I share Samurai knitter's views that the magazine does not, at present, represent the cutting edge design source it once did, and I believe you might see this if you were to go back over the archive of designs. Or maybe not - but I certainly can.

I am not a designer, but I do feel able to critically judge VK's work in comparison with other publications. You see, that is what I do as a consumer of the product - I decide what to buy. I think you will find that is how the market works - VK sells and we decide if we buy. I judge VK on the basis of whether it delivers what it promises, whether I need what it offers and on the value it provides for money. At present I judge it poor value, so I do not buy. I don't see that I should buy out of kindness, to comfort editors or designers who try hard to show creativity but just don't achieve it. This is not a kindergarten, this is a market. VK either cuts it and I buy or it doesn't or I don't. And I make my own decision because it's my money, my time, my body.

I notice that you have a design in the latest magazine. It is a pretty vest, which I liked enough on the basis of SK's review to view on VK 360. I must tell you, though, that I agree it is not Fair Isle. For me, Fair Isle means a stranded colour knit that uses one or more of the traditional Fair Isle patterns. I do realise that other people use the term Fair Isle to refer to any stranded colour knitted garment, but I care about accuracy in reporting cultural heritage. It is acceptable to challenge paradigms, but I think you need to do it intelligently, knowing what the paradigm is.

Finally, I must express my disappointment that you sank to personal abuse. It is a pity, in particular, that you chose to use the phrase "vomit venom" so early in your piece, because it stayed in my mind as I read your post. Did you realise that was what you were, yourself, doing? And such a public record of your rant. Pity.

Antonia

janet said...

Tesha, what bothers me more is the implication that unless we HAVE published articles or patterns, our opinion doesn't matter.

I should (apparently) just consume whatever knitting content the publishers are selling and not think critically about it at all. Ever. Yeah, that's going to happen.

Anonymous said...

Interesting how the designer and editor who have gotten butthurt over the review have been more "venomous" than Julie.

Seriously Kathy Merrick, that was classless. Julie didn't call anyone names, she criticized their words or their work. YOU are the one with the venom problem.

David said...

After reading what Kathryn posted I just realized that I know nothing new about Samurai Knitter but I know a lot about Kathy Merrick...

David

TinkingBell said...

I'm sorry I missed the 'fun' bits (or possibly the rude bits - but that just sounds weird) Julies reviews are interesting, fair and informed. When things are well designed, in a variety of sizes, or are interesting, she says so. When the designs are poor, poorly executed or make basic mistakes, she says so. And we haven't even touched on VKs famous everlasting errata. I have never knitted a vogue pattern without errata in it. So, despite your rudeness and venom, Kathryn, I'll stick with Julie. I feel she is a better judge of knitting than you - and tends not to make basic mistakes.

TomJones said...

You sound fat.

Anonymous said...

I'm a longtime reader of your Vogue Knitting reviews, and I always enjoy them, whether or not I buy the issue. I suspect I won't be buying any more VK, either, but I will SO MISS your reviews if they stop! Hopefully, your local library does carry the magazine. Thanks for all the laughs & thoughtfulness.

Gauss said...

Julie, I love your reviews and I am so happy you keep writing them. It is so important to be able to judge a design before spending the $$$ and time making it, so thank you! I keep coming back to your reviews, even months after you write them.

I had heard about Kathy's habit of posting nasty comments on other people's blogs - just ignore her. You are not the first blogger "blessed" with her insults and will probably not be the last.

Laughingrat said...

This was pretty bada**. Right on, sister. I'm glad I'm not the only political knitter out there! ;)