I’ve been working nights, over the past few weeks, on my recycled-yarn sweater, and it is slowly taking shape! After dreaming about tackling a seamless top-down sweater (a construction method I love), I decided to work on a seamed sweater project instead. Having had the fun and excitement of making a top-down baby sweater, I felt like I wanted a new challenge.
I felt a twinge of love at first sight when I laid eyes on Roberta Rosenfeld’s Drape front sweater in the pages of a slightly weathered copy of Vogue Knitting’s Very Easy Sweaters (2013).
The sweater looked comfortable, versatile and, yes, very, very easy in its all-stockinette composition. If you recall, the back of the sweater was completed a while ago.
The front of the sweater has since also been knit up, but with one major modification: it won’t be a draping sweater after all! It will be a plain-fitting, non-draping front. Literally, a sweater t-shirt. It’s as simple as tops get. I chose this modification for two reasons:
1. I learned that I did not have enough of the recycled yarn for the drape version, which requires an extra stretch of knitting at the front. Yep.
2. Knitting up using my recycled yarn ended up requiring making many (many) joins. The sweater is basically made up of yarn pieces! This photo may be tantamount to airing out my dirty laundry, but here’s what I mean:
The original pattern requires half of the sweater-front to be twisted after being knit up, leaving half of the front ‘inside out’ (with an outfacing garter-stitch side) and the other half in regular stockinette. The prospect of multiple loose threads from the joins above coming undone and leaving little ends sticking out did not appeal to me. I decided to abandon the dream of that beautiful drape and keep the joins where they belonged: on the inside of the garment!
What’s left, now, is to block the front, then sew the two pieces together. I’m a little jittery about this last step, but I can’t wait to share (and wear) the results. I resolve to love this ‘first sweater,’ regardless of how misshapen it may turn out. In honesty, I already love this future recycled garment with all my heart: I love that this sweater gave me so much time of happy work. It will be that funny sweater I wear that contains all the hours of joy and delight that went into making it. It will be my Happiness Sweater (for this reason, I really hope it fits!). More to come.
Hoping this week finds you enjoying some stitching under the sun!
My post this week is a big Thank You to Tierney at tierneycreates.com. She recently nominated me, among other bloggers, for a Versatile Blogger Award (Thank you, Tierney, for the honour and the share!).
If you haven’t discovered it yet, Tierney Creates is one of my favourite blogs. There, you’ll find not only Tierney’s ongoing quilting projects and creative/design musings – showcasing her incredible skills and her prolific quilting – but also great recipes, beautiful pictures of her adventures & travels, tales of bookstore jaunts, and thoughtful discussions of lots of great reads. And more! (I am barely scratching the surface). As a library-lover, I always come away with new reading ideas from her blog; as a crafter, I’m inspired by Tierney’s beautiful creative work and her enthusiasm for her process and materials. Tierney Creates is a celebration of the creative life.
Linked to Tierney Creates is a wonderful companion blog, Schnauzer Snips, which offers more quilting goodness and a slice of life from the schnauzer point of view! If it’s not already obvious from my gushing, I think her blogs are real gems – do check them out!
The Versatile Blogger Award info page on WordPress suggests that the VBA’s purpose is to “Honor those bloggers who bring something special to your life.”
Here are the folks that bring that ineffable “something special” in the way they inspire me to blog (and live) better. In different ways, these bloggers expand my understanding of what it means to make things and cultivate happiness through creativity; share knowledge (wisdom!) that comes from their own process and experience; inspire me to be brave and experiment through their own example; tell great stories in unique voices; and create a space to reflect on the extraordinary in the everyday. That’s versatility. A good blog is a gift and a generosity.
I could go into greater length about the specific things that I enjoy about these individual blogs (I thought of doing a separate post on that) but, I think, in the end, the joy of following a good blog is getting to discover the pleasure of it yourself. 🙂 This one’s for you, bloggers!
If you feel inclined, nominees, you can nominate your favourite blogs for the Versatile Blogger Award (rules below), though there is no pressure to do so from me. Either way, know that you have a reader who enjoys your unique contribution to blog-land. 🙂
In addition to nominating my favourite blogs, I think I’m supposed to include some facts about myself? So, in no particular order:
1. I used to cut and colour hair for my mother and friends in high school, and dreamed of opening up my own salon. I gave some haircuts to friends in recent years, and still really love it.
2. My first ever Hallowe’en out, I went as a hippie. It was 1991.
3. There are no other knitters in my immediate family. I started knitting after something like a waking fever dream. I was 16 and I remember suddenly wanting to make winter things like hats and mittens very badly. It was the middle of summer, and I walked 5 miles alone to get the things I needed (between the trip to the library craft-section and the big-box White Rose craft store where I purchased my first aluminum needles and a skein of rainbow-coloured variegated acrylic). I still don’t quite understand it, but there’s my knitter’s origin story.
4. I am studying to be an anthropologist.
If you wish to pass on the Versatile Blogger Award
Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
Nominate the bloggers of your choice.
Link the nominees in your post / inform them about their nomination.
Long post alert (but with some knitting updates in tow).
I’m coming to recognize and examine a few things about myself:
1. I like to get lost in work. Different kinds of work. Usually, whatever it is I have to do. Call it engagement, “flow,” or trance, I rely on that state of zoned-out engagement for a sense of balance and productivity.
2. I am a slow worker. By this, I mean that I like to take my time. Whether preparing a piece of writing, a piece of knitting, or a meal, I like to consider possible alternatives, undo and re-do my efforts, enjoy all the different steps of a process. I’ve often felt that my slowness has been, up until now, a disadvantage. World records, rewards and races endlessly validate speediness; “slowness” gets a bad rap. But, when I work slowly (and can manage to tame the urgent sense that I should work faster), I get the most work done over the long term. Slow work adds up.
When I first became aware of it, my habit of slow work seemed counter-intuitive and almost paradoxical. Business-y internet clip art and related images of productivity have taught me that productivity thrives on speed: doing multiple things on the go, doing them quickly, one after the other, life-hacking tasks to cut the time it takes to do them. But, the more I committed myself to the kinds of projects I actually enjoyed doing, the more I discovered that there are many things to which shortcuts don’t apply. Some very worthwhile processes are not very “efficient” or streamlined at all. For these processes, slow and steady plodding (with its second chances, pauses, and time for deliberation) feels more comfortable to me. I’m starting to appreciate my disposition for slowness, and am beginning to discover its benefits and advantages.
I cultivate my inner ‘plodder’ through knitting, which is the ability to create durable and interesting things one stitch at a time. Well-intentioned people have reacted to my knitting in ways that expressed that they thought it was admirable, but amounted to a form of tedium. In those moments, I wished I was capable – through some sci-fi mind melding – to transmit the states of pleasure and engagement that come from working on a project. For me, there’s the zeal of the pattern-search, when I entertain hope and collect aspirations; there’s the thrill of a fresh cast-on; there’s the mid-way chill-out that comes with seeing the knit grow (and growing into the knit); and the satisfaction of the final bind off. All of this, further, comes wrapped up in anticipation and self-doubt: I never know how the thing is actually going to turn out, so I knit for the simple pleasure of seeing what happens. There’s always some dread that a project might end up quite horrible, so I don’t rush to my doom.
I’ve made progress on the recycled yarn sweater of the previous tutorial, posted in April. I recall purchasing and unraveling the sweater in March. I’m mid-way through re-knitting it into a new sweater – 3 months coming! Now, that’s a slow sweater.
Writing provides similar refuge for my slow-plodder. I’ve been working on a writing project for nearly 3 years. I was once told by someone that, were they in my shoes, they would have given up. I wanted to convey to them how I get lured (tricked) into writing, how there is a wave-like cycle that oscillates between productivity and fallow-time, between the momentum of strongly desiring the things I’m going to write and being absolutely sick of the things that I have.
Unlike knitting, where I can watch my knit grow as I inch towards that FO, I’m often caught off-guard, when writing, by how quickly unrelated content can pile up. A big hunk of my written words, I’ve learned, will have to be cut from the next draft. The equivalent to this experience, in knitting, would be to start, say, a scarf, only to discover that a hat, sock, and some other unrecognizable stuff have also started to insinuate themselves onto the needles. Constant mutation! If my knitting constantly shape-shifted in this way, I would be faced with deciding which one of the emerging projects to pursue; this would come with a twinge of pain at having to say no to some very promising beginnings without any guarantee that they’d be completed later. Having newly committed, say, to knitting the sock instead of the scarf, I might once again find myself re-directed by some new emergent stuffand have to re-decide what it is I’m doing. This is how uncertain and non-linear the process of writing feels to me.
On still other days, there’s just the blankness to contend with. Either way, in the past, I could only make it to the writing table kicking and screaming.
The fear abides. But, I’ve learned that I can make things a little more bearable if I plod gently and slowly: I work my way to the chair, put on some music. I try to keep in mind that none of it is set in stone, and doodle things with pens that no one will see. I work one word at a time, one tiny revision at a time – time enough to build that awkward sentence, register that up-welling horror, and then take a gentler, more yielding stance to it, reworking it where I can. With slowness comes some space to practice forgiving myself, as I go, for all of the bad prose produced. I’m discovering that writing can be a valuable exercise in self-acceptance; the fear is always there.
More recently, I’ve found a new home for my slow, plodding ways: running. Not the race-you-to-the-fence kind of running, but the kind done slowly, at your own pace. Jogging, I guess.
Last weekend, my partner and I ran Chicago’s 5K Ridge Run. I ran the course in 40 minutes (a plodding 13-minute mile). I found myself – a barely trained running neophyte – having to slow my pace down in order to keep going. But, this pace was slow enough for me to not have to hurriedly toss the little cups of water they hand you to the ground (which felt wrong, the course was in a residential neighbourhood). Instead, I simply jogged to the nearest bin. It was slow enough to see and appreciate the good folks who had shown up, on their own time, to cheer the runners on. And it was slow enough to register the odd bit of chatter between runners – the way one mother explained to her small daughter the meaning of the word determination (“it means you don’t give up even when something gets really hard”).
We ran in honour and memory of my partner’s father – a seasoned and dedicated runner who ran a Ridge Run (10K or 5K) every single year since the race’s beginnings in 1977. That’s an unwavering 39 races run, over 39 years, in addition to a number of marathons also run, over the years, and all the training that happened in between. I have always been amazed and inspired by this example of commitment. He was able to not only complete courses most would find harrowing, but to maintain his dedication to the sport over decades.
It’s an example to live by.
How do you work best? And how do you, on larger projects, keep motivation alive long enough to go from start to finish?
Happy making, friends. Wishing you a beautiful weekend.
In early April, I posted a DIY tutorial on how I harvested the yarn from a recycled thrift-store sweater.
I’ve since hand-washed and dried the yarn, adding some weight during drying to take out the curls. Unfortunately, my strategy didn’t work as well as I thought it would. Once dried, the used yarn was still curling from its previous knit (though you’ll notice the waves are a little looser than before). I think this ‘yarn memory’ is due to several reasons, but the main one, I suspect, is a high synthetic content. It may not be the 100% wool I thought it was!
Anyhow, wanting to get on with things, I decided to go ahead and ball this curly yarn. For lack of a proper winder, I made the balls by hand using a toilet paper roll (!) removed when the winding was done. This was time-consuming, but was in line with my love of recycling. Hand-winding, it turns out, is also relaxing in its own way. The result was a neat, center-pull ball. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll let those speak for themselves.
Stay tuned to find out just what I have been doing with this recycled yarn. 🙂
We may be heading towards summer, but this didn’t stop me from casting on a pair of Mette Lea’s Norne fingerless mitts for a very dear friend last April. Knit on size 2 DPNs, these mitts are full of delightful details: braided cables along the front, broken-ribbed palms (k2 p2 rows alternate with a row of knit stitches), a stockinette thumb-gusset, and a garter-stitch ‘stripe’ down the side of the thumb for subtle interest. At 6.5 stitches to the inch, the mitts knit up snug and, I think, are pretty sleek. This pattern has made me a fingerless mitten lover.
I used Knitpicks’ Galileo in the Dragonfly colourway. 2 50g skeins were more than enough. Galileo is a Merino-bamboo blend that surprised me with its smoothness and lustre – great for getting those cables to pop and catch light.
The knitting in progress above benefited from the newly returned April sunshine.
By mid-month, the mitts were finished and wet-blocked:
Blocking ribbing + cables: one effect of wet-blocking, I noticed, is that ribbing tends to flatten out a little bit (I used almost no pins, and no pressure). For an already-snug glove, a little extra wiggle-room from the flattened ribbing was OK, but I’ve made a note to tread very lightly when blocking ribbing in the future.
I found that wet-blocking, strangely, had the opposite effect on the cables. The braided cables evened out and came to life after their soak. I was a bit concerned that the blocking would texturally blur them out, so I was really happy to see the opposite effect. Norne mitts were the perfect project for learning about wet-blocking different textures.
Tension: just as I “can’t step into the same river twice,” neither, it seems, can I knit the same fingerless mitten twice (at least not with my current skills!). The first mitten ended up a bit tighter than the second one. The tension difference isn’t visually apparent, but one feels it when the mitts go on.
I followed the pattern pretty closely on both mitts – stitch-wise, they’re identical. I do remember, though, being much more cautious and careful when working the first mitt, then relaxing and loosening my grip on the second one, having eased into a familiarity with the pattern and cables. Apparently, the knitting registered all of those shifts in learning, concentration, and relaxation. The lesson, it seems, is that in knitting, we are also swatching ourselves!
All the signs of summer are returning to my little corner of the city: the neighbourhood lawn mowers are revving, the iced cappuccino dog walkers are out and about, and one hears the slow invasion of flip flop sandals and night-time wind chimes through open windows again.
I look forward to taking my needles outdoors, and can think of nothing better than mixing up a batch of sangria, soaking in some rays, and spending some quality time with friends and the knitting fairies.
I had long been a bit anxious about how Instagram would change my life. Would it turn me into a chronically photographing person? (though, there is nothing wrong with that). I had long limited my social media to Facebook, WordPress, and the occasional project-specific Pinterest binge. Beyond this, it also usually takes me a long time to catch up with things. In matters of social media, I’m neither the tortoise nor the hare, but the sloth. I like to think that the saying “get with the times!” was made for folks like me, pre-occupied as I tend to get with my yarn, my books, and my coloured pencils and inks.
Today, I let myself go down the Instagram rabbit-hole. I’m a bit overwhelmed, but very excited at all the beautiful work that people are sharing and talking about. Also, I love all of the ways makers use Instagram to document the doing of their creative work as well as all of the living that happens around it. I really relish it when people share the behind-the-scenes of the things they make. I hope to use Instagram to do more of the same with my projects, while continuing to post here when I’ve got something longer to say. 🙂
In the meantime, in a bit of a craft/social media frenzy, I found these crafty social media buttons (as would be expected there are Etsy, Craftsy and Ravelry icons in the kit!). I thought they were too perfect.
Sock monkey was an unexpected gift from some dear friends, and has since become a kind of knitting muse and helper. When I’m in the middle of a long or more slow-going knit, looking at sock monkey – made up entirely of stockinette – reminds me to keep at it. When I was on the homestretch of my very first blanket last year, I pulled sock monkey into the shot to celebrate the soon-to-be FO.
I wanted to make something for sock monkey to wear – one gift invites another, doesn’t it?
I specifically wanted to see how the process of modifying a top-down sweater might work with a real wearer (that this wearer has long, skinny arms and no neck made this a special sweater-knitting challenge).
Karrie Flynn’s Sock Monkey Sweater pattern was just the right foundation to try my hand at some simple pattern modification. The wonder of top-down construction is that your wearer really can try the sweater on for size mid-knit, making for a customized fit. I love this idea; truly customized garments are a rarity these days.
I pulled together some ends of Cascade 220 Heathers and some leftover Patons Classic wool worsted and put my mind to some tiny sweater design. Something in me thought “stripes,” so I ran with that idea for the body and sleeves.
Spit splicing! The mysterious, felting properties of wool are such that a little bit of heat, spit, and friction are enough to magically join two separate ends together. Joining old and new yarn in this way isn’t perfectly invisible, and works mainly only with wool and other animal fibers, but the method yields a more or less seamless strand.
Like so many other knitting things I’ve encountered, spit-splicing is pure magic. See?
Do you have a little crafting helper? Or a symbol that reminds you of the work you love to do?
Today is one of those rainy, overcast Chicago Saturdays – the kind that makes the pavement wetly audible and keeps you inside with tea, a top bun, and time for quiet reading. It’s the kind of low-lit, indoor day where I’d rather listen to Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and dream about the city than go there myself.
Anyhow, just a doodle and a song to share today. Wishing you many good times with many good books!
The word ‘pastime’ is no coincidence. I’ve been reflecting, recently, on how creative activities seem to devour the time, sometimes voraciously. I am hoping to rein in the times where I’ve crafted myself into several hours-long states of self-forgetfulness; these zones of suspension are creatively desirable, and are calming in their own way, but (alas) lives aren’t entirely made on trance states. In and around the making, there are bills to pay, dogs to walk, taxes to be done, dishes to clear.
Here is a little doodle of that moment of coming up and out of a knitting session. It’s been a few hours, and someone has just reminded me – oblivious – of the time.
In the real world, the glasses will have slipped much farther down my nose, granny-style. As crafters out there know all too well, maker-time tends to escape the dictates of clock-time. That well-intentioned injunction to work for only “15 more minutes” goes unheeded as the knitting grows and grows and takes on a momentum all of its own (if only I could harness this energy when it’s time for the laundry).
What is your view? Do you regulate or schedule your inner crafter, set times when making is “off-limits” or, on the other hand, allow it days where it has free rein? How do you find the balance between clock-time and maker-time?
My posts have been more doodles and drawings as of late – something about Spring’s arrival has back-burnered the warm woolies and stirred up some hibernating drawing energies. I hope to have more knitting news in the next little bit…like a few new FOs!
I have reflected elsewhere on this blog (exactly when already escapes me!) on my sense that knitting is a medium of love. Like other creative activities, knitting renders tangible those important intangibles. Knit objects have, for me, become quite powerful material tokens of care, community, love, comfort, the pure glee of being alive (and the desire to share and communicate a little bit of that glee).
On that note, I recently drew this hypothetical picture of Andrew and I. It’s quite anatomically correct: witness Andrew’s curvy programmer’s back and my forward-leaning neck from the hours spent crafting, reading, and writing (I really must fix that neck). While he is not a knitter (!), I like to think that we’re two creative partners in crime.
I hope your week is going well and is feeling springlike and full of new energies. 🙂
Nothing too big to report on my end this day, except that I had a hankering to make some little paper sheep – a combo of watercolour paper and Black Magic india ink (I love that stuff). Since teensy sheep call for teensy scissors, I was aided by a quite portable pair of Swiss Army scissors. The little ones that, very much like these sheep, you can put in your pocket.
I’m not yet sure what to do with these sheep or where they’ll find their home; for the time being, I’m letting them explore their new environment on their quite wonky paper feet.
Sometimes, the best knitting book is a picture book.
If I enjoy knitting instruction books for the way they’re able to transmit the ‘how-to’ of the craft, I enjoy Barbara Levine’s People Knitting: A Century of Photographs (2016, Princeton Architectural Press) for how it manages to convey the everyday soul of knitting. This compact 144-page book is a 20th century photo compilation that captures some golden knitting moments. Levine reveals a varied cast of knitting characters: turn-of-the-century fisher girls and vaudeville performers, Hollywood starlets on break, nurses and youth group knitting bees, soldiers and wartime internees, and more.
There is no single or overarching story that Levine’s knitters tell; together, they reveal that knitting is as much a space for joy, joking around, community, and the rhythms of collective creating and everyday work as it is a place for convalescing, waiting, privacy, solitude and, in some cases, filling the time of internment (not to mention the photos of public ads which revealed the central role of knitting to various war efforts). Each image presents a unique knitting history, and Levine’s mostly text-less presentation of the images allowed me to appreciate the book as a collection of singularities that invite more exploration. This sense of historical, and human, singularities preserved is what I enjoyed most about this book.
I’m all for experiments and trying new things – especially when those experiments involve getting a sweater’s worth of yarn for $5.
After some Youtubing and hemming and hawing, I decided to try recycling yarn from a used sweater. I went to the local Goodwill, found what looked to be a woolen hand-knit sweater (just my luck) in a beautiful denim shade of blue, took it home for $4.99, and began the unraveling.
As you can see, it is not a bad sweater at all. It’s got some lovely cabling, and was made by an expert hand. But, my knitting dreams need yarn. And lots of it!
Here were my sweater-recycling steps: a conglomeration of different Youtube tutorials + my own spin…
1. Dissassemble the sweater: Cutting the seams
I learned (by trial and error) that the sweater needs first to be disassembled(!). I turned the sweater inside out, and found the seams. There were seams attaching the sleeves to the body, and seams attaching the front and back of the garment. What you see below are ‘good’ seams as far as sweater recycling is concerned (they are hand sewn rather than machine-serged). As a result, it was easy to find the thread that held the pieces together, and cut it. I recommend going slowly at first to minimize casualties (i.e. like cutting into the knitting itself!).
After less than a couple of hours, the sweater was disassembled: 2 body pieces and 2 sleeves.
This takes a while. The knitter who made this sweater was fond of securing the seams with huge knots. Impatient, I cut these knots away.
2. Finding a pulling point
I’m sure there’s a better way to go about this, but I simply looked for where I thought the ‘cast off’ edge was on each piece. Since this was a seamed sweater, I assumed it was knit bottom-up and looked for the cast off edge at the necklines and tops of sleeves. With a little sleuthing, I noticed an uneven dip in the collar of the front of the sweater (left, below) which signaled where the last stitch might have been made. I worked on it with a knitting needle + scissors, and was able to prise a thread loose. I was in business for some serious frogging! Woo hoo!
3. Frogging it!
This is the fun part – you pull and pull…and pull.
I had read that it’s a time-saver not to leave the yarn in a tangled heap when unraveling, so I was looking for something to wind my yarn around as I went. I noticed that our Ikea Marius stool had a good set of prongs on it, so I recruited the stool in keeping my unraveling job neat, for lack of proper tools. I suppose necessity is the mother of… winging it with whatever you’ve got!
Here is the front of the sweater being frogged: with the sweater in my lap, I’m spinning the stool on a table, winding the strand around the 4 legs. I admit, my first section of frogging wasn’t a perfect pull; there were quite a few joins that had to be made, places where the yarn broke because of my inexperienced seam-ripping (it pays to be precise!)
The front body of the sweater alone yielded a good amount of yarn. I tied the pieces together:
By the end of the whole process, I was left with some really copious blue hanks. Check out all that good stuff!
At this point, the yarn needs to be washed, and hung to dry. Adding a weight to the yarn as it dries will help to take out the curls (more on this process in a later post). Then, the yarn can be wound up, and will be ready for its knitting after-life.
There’s a world of beautiful fibre out there, waiting to be discovered and transformed. This experience is urging me not to dismiss Thrift stores and rummage sales as solid stash-sourcing options!
Have you ever recycled old knits? I’d love to hear about your adventures in yarn-cycling (and more!) in the comments.
I’ve been trying to get my stranded-knitting skills in swing.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw the Little Scallops hat pattern, and knew I had to try it. It’s a solid stranded-knitting starter. Just 5 rows of stranded colour work join the hat’s 2 colours – a veritable hands-tied-behind-your-back cakewalk for experienced stranded knitters, but a good introduction for newbies like me.
See those tiny bumps in the green scallop section? This is showing me that my tension is still a tad too tight, and is causing some puckering in the fabric. I need to work on loosening things up – stranded stitches need more room to ‘breathe’ than regular ones.
There are some relatively long (7-stitch) strands, or floats, in this pattern. I got to practice some float-catching, or weaving the longer strands back into the work…All in all, I’m happy with the hat and have been wearing it out on colder days.
For some reason, my first stranding project ever fared slightly better than this hat. It was an attempt, in Winter 2016, at knitting the houndstooth textile pattern. I think the more pucker-less appearance of this knit is due to some steam-blocking with the iron which relaxed the tenser stitches a bit.
On both practice runs above, I used a two-handed yarn-hold. It felt the most natural to me.
When I first taught myself to knit at 16, I ‘threw’ the yarn from my right hand – ‘throwing’ was the bold gesture I liked. It was what knitting was all about! When I re-started knitting in 2016, I learned Continental left-handed knitting. It felt a little faster to me, and I also liked engaging my usually dormant left-hand a bit more in my daily life. It’s been a bit of a circuitous path where yarn-holds are concerned, but this indecision turned out to be very good for easing into stranded colour work: I had a new-found left-handed ease, and re-learning a right-handed ‘throw’ brought back memories of those very first, very earnest, adolescent acrylic knits. 🙂
That’s all on the stranded-knitting front for now. I’m keeping my eye on the prize: an Icelandic lopapeysa-inspired pullover.
This week, I’ve been heavily leafing through Sandy Black’s Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft (2012), Black’s collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum. I’ve been reveling in the book’s archival colour photos. Lots of little learnings, here: like, that the first European evidence of knit upper-body garments arrives in the 16th century, and that, in the Middle Ages, knitting guilds were male-dominated domains. But also that knitting has long been connected to locality and livelihood, providing extra income for families, and was performed very much on the move by all members of the household. Knitting-belts and skeins-pinned-to-skirts allowed socks to be stitched during field work and market-runs (I’ll remember this the next time I get impatient with my DPNs on a sock-knit). I’ve enjoyed reading, too, about specific knitting traditions: the X O pattern of Fair Isle sweaters (a tradition synonymous with stranded knitting), and traditions of knitting fisher ganseys and Aran sweaters. The Aran’s lanolin-rich fibres made them warm and water-proof, true to their maritime purposes, and their unique patterns purportedly revealed a wearer’s local origins. It was a discovery, too, to read about strange fibres, like the rare byssus, or ‘sea silk.’ Byssus is harvested and spun from gleaming deep golden-fibres made by little mollusks off the coast of Sardinia. How amazing is that?
I came across one garment, though, which I keep returning to in the book: the Jane dress.
The Jane dress is a feat of lacework. Designed by Maria Luck-Szanto and hand-knit in Britain by one Peggy Cole in 1956, the dress is knit in worsted wool worked in a single piece, from the top down. Dress-shaping is incorporated right into the lacework pattern (wow). The entire garment, back zipper included, weighs in at only 6.5 ounces. It’s as though Mrs. Cole had, at her disposal, a troop of nimble-legged lace-making spiders, all spinning away. From the high neckline and radial scallops around the shoulders, to the final scalloped hemline (edged in crochet for reinforcement and definition), this dress is marvelous; the clean, simple contours of the dress are the perfect showcase for its handmade lace wizardry. All I can say is whoa (knitting whoas are far better than knitting woes).
Trained in tailoring, design and handcrafts, Hungarian-born Maria Luck-Szanto is known for being among the post-war UK designers who brought knitwear design into the world of high fashion with Szanto Models Ltd. in London. Rather than treating knit fabric like any other fabric (to be cut, tailored, seamed, etc.), Luck-Szanto saw the special qualities of knitting as an opportunity to rethink traditional clothing design. Her garments could, very often, not be made with woven fabric; fabric-shaping happened entirely on the needles with minimal or no seams, resulting in complex, sculpture-like garments.
Luck-Szanto kept a remote circle of hand-knitters across Britain who, working from home, were able to earn supplementary income by producing her designs. The completed pieces were sent in to be washed, blocked, and finished. A combination of several knitters’ work, the dresses combined warmth, elegance, and durability. “Completely uncrushable and the pleated skirts stay pleated”, one advert reads of the designer’s pleated “Barbara” dress (cited in Black 2012: 92). I’m absolutely crushing on Luck-Szanto’s uncrushable dresses! I’m inspired by the way her designs highlight and develop the unique qualities of knitting to make pieces that were seamless, comfortable, and stunning.
I’m not sure what I’d do with a garment like the Jane dress. My lifestyle seems completely at odds with wearing or owning something like this. I’d probably just hang it by an open window and let the breeze play on the lacework’s magnificent drape.