The rise and rise of luxe knitwear

POOR knitwear. Despite its high fashion credentials and cleverly crafty origins, vestments made of knitted wool are still commonly associated with commune-dwellers and grungy boho hippies. Yet as British Wool Week draws to a close, one has only to look at labels such as Missoni, Sonia Rykiel and wool-based label The North Circular, co-run by supermodel Lily Cole, to see how cool wool – and all things knitted – really are.

Catching the moment, Jenny Lord, a Londoner who works in publishing, has just published her own how-to book on knitting, a chic little affair called Purls of Wisdom.

We caught up with her (pictured right) to find out just why knitting, and knitwear, are the must-have look for a cosy, stylish winter.

City A.M.: Why did you choose to write your book now?

JL: Although I’ve been quietly knitting for years, it’s only been fairly recently that any of my friends have wanted to join me. Now it seems that everyone I talk to either harbours a desire to learn to knit or already has the skills so there really has never been a better time to publish a beginner’s guide. The recession obsession with all things “thrift” sparked an interest in knitting and other crafts but I don’t think we can give the crunch all the credit.

City A.M. What is it about the craft of knitting that appeals to amateurs and designers and keeps it further away from the hippy reputation?

JL: I think the high quality of yarns these days has helped shift knitwear from folk festival to folking cool – visit any of the capital’s boutique yarn shops (Loop in Islington is a particular favourite) and you’ll be amazed at the quality of the yarns for sale – cashmere, angora, alpaca yarns in the most beautiful colours.

City A.M. What is the best way to wear knitwear?

JL: Sparingly! Betty Draper is the only woman who can pull off a twinset. Mix your knits – don’t be tempted to team a chunky knit cardigan with a bulky scarf and instead go for a finer knit.

City A.M. Is knitwear very expensive and if so what is worth spending money on?
JL: Knitting your own accessories – scarves, hats, cowls – can be far cheaper than opting for shop-bought versions. Especially if we’re talking the higher end of the spectrum - you can knit a cashmere scarf for a fraction of the cost of those you can find in Liberty.

Those not in the know believe cashmere to be the fairest yarn of them all, but merino wool is where it’s at as far as I’m concerned. The highest quality merino wool (which comes from the world’s most valuable sheep – an Australian breed of Saxon Merino) has much finer fibres than cashmere, and finer fibres equals softer yarn. This is the stuff that the most luxury Italian designer suits are made from. Plus wool has an impressive list of natural benefits that knocks all other fibres off the table – it can keep you warm or cool you down, it’s strong, breathable, absorbent, hypo-allergenic, naturally anti-bacterial, flame retardant, renewable, sustainable and biodegradable. Purls of Wisdom:?The Book of Knitting, is published by Penguin (£16.99).