Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Package

Around the time that Melissa Leapman's "Nautical Knitting" cruise was announced, I said that I (as Melissa's guest teacher) would use the trip as an excuse to knit up a pattern that had intrigued me for some time: a pair of men's bathing drawers from an 1880s pattern published in Weldon's Practical Knitter.

The idea of knitting bathing costumes had interested me since I first saw pictures of two made by Elizabeth Zimmermann (one for herself, one for her husband) in her lovely memoir Knitting Around. I thought it was interesting that knitted suits had been ubiquitous, and then gone. Usually outmoded styles of dress take time to fade away completely. Those who are long accustomed to a cut or style, especially those of a certain age, are often slow to give them up. But it seemed that knitted bathing suits, once other options became available, vanished virtually overnight.

Why? Could they really have been that awful?

When I announced the drawers project, several folks who had personal experience of the suits came forward to assure me that yes, they were that awful. The itched, they stretched, the stretched-out crotches filled up with sand, they smelled like wet dogs, and so forth. Nobody, not one person, remembered them with anything like fondness.

I didn't set out to make the drawers expecting them to replace my lycra suits and (spoiler alert) they sure haven't. However, I wanted to know, first-hand, what a knitted wool suit was like. This sort of curiosity about What Once Was is the reason people become historians–either the real kind, or my kind of passionate amateur.

You would not believe some of the mail I've had about this. Most bewildering were those insisting that the suit was too brief and revealing to be authentic to the 19th century. These messages persisted after I posted the photogravure from the original pattern:

bathingdrawers

They persisted after I posted this photograph of a men's bathing club in Brighton, England in the mid-19th century:

TopHatBTNSwimClub1860s

Some people will insist on re-writing the past to suit their modern ideas, even in the face of conclusive evidence. The human brain is a curious thing. I wrote about the phenomenon to a fuller extent in this post.

I promised to show myself wearing the drawers in here once they'd been revealed to the folks on the cruise. I promised it with a lump in my throat and a pit in my stomach, and my worst fears were pretty much immediately confirmed.

I am not a person who is confident in his looks. I never have been. It wasn't uncommon when I was child for adults to make critical remarks about my appearance–openly and within my hearing. Sometimes directly to me. I was described at various times by teachers, strangers, and blood relations as being (these terms are verbatim) way too dark, too swarthy, green-skinned, yellow-skinned, big-nosed, scrawny, tubby, husky, dwarfish, awkward, big-assed, funny-looking, or just plain unfortunate.

Then I reached adolescence, and things got worse. I was pimply, hairy, and oily in addition to all of the above adjectives. For about twenty years I didn't look at myself in the mirror. Ever. Not once. I couldn't bear to. I avoided having my picture taken and when pictures were taken, if at all possible I destroyed the prints when I got my hands on them. I wore clothes two sizes too large to cover as much of myself up as possible.

I fell in love with the history of architecture, but felt guilty walking into beautiful buildings. On my first visit to Westminster Abbey, I stood in the nave and thought, "It's so magnificent, and you're standing in the middle of it and wrecking the view."

I had my worst fears confirmed repeatedly by my fellow gay men. This still happens all the time. I stand five feet, four inches (which is too short). My waist is about twenty-nine inches (which is too fat for my height). My eyes are brown, when they should be blue. My nose is big, when it should be aquiline. My skin is olive, when it should be white. I am hairy about the chest, when I should be shaved. I am bald, when I should have a full head of hair.

There have been a few times in the history of this blog when I've shown some part of me in a photograph. If you go back and find them, you'll notice they were always a punchline. Always. Because that is what my physiognomy is suited to, and I know it.

I know I'm not a swimsuit model. I know that.

Once somebody, entirely without my permission, lifted an image of my chest from a blog post and stuck it up in a men's group on Ravelry. I wandered into the thread–I was a member of the group–and found myself being discussed in a "hot or not?" sort of way. The overwhelming consensus was "not." That was a fun afternoon.

With all that in my past, it didn't please me to find a pack of comments in here (now deleted, and wouldn't you?) openly discussing my disgusting body. And yes, the word "disgusting" was used. So were the words "spare us." Apparently the commenters in question had seen my chest hair (disgusting) in a photograph from the Blue Lagoon in Iceland and were hoping that any and all shots of the bathing drawers were spare them more disgusting shots of disgusting me and my disgusting secondary sex characteristics. They also noted that I didn't have the body for the bathing drawers. One person helpfully suggested I hire a male model to show them.

I wonder what would happen if I commented publicly that some female knitter's waistline was too big, or that she was far too bony to show herself in that outfit, or that I found her enormous (or tiny) chest disgusting, or pointed out after she posted a sock selfie that it was high time her legs saw the business end of a Lady Schick?

I don't need to wonder what would happen. What would happen is that within ten minutes my career in knitting would be over. Women, with good reason, are beginning to object strenuously to the constant objectification of their fellow women. Unfortunately, some of them don't have any trouble doing exactly that to the male of the species.

Yes, I am a professional in the business. And yes, being a professional means putting you work on the line for critique. Your work. However, one hopes that perhaps the ad hominem insults might be kept to a minimum.

So please, if you look below, be forewarned. My horrible horrible fat fat waistline and my disgusting abominable body hair will be on full display–along with the piece of knitting that is supposed to be the point of all this.

Without Further Ado

I gotta tell you, these things surprised me. The shaping of the Weldon's pattern is simple in the extreme–basically a large diaper. You start at the waist in the front, work down to the center of the crotch, and then the directions tell you to it all over again in reverse. That's it.

drawers-back

I expected them to be horribly, horribly droopy and ill-fitting. There's no special pouch shaping and no accommodation in the posterior for, um, fullness. The idea is that the stretch and drape of knitted fabric will do it all. And I'll be darned if it doesn't work rather well. The crocheted edge along the leg openings was quick to work and keeps the selvedges from curling. Looks nice and neat, too.

drawers-front

The pure wool Quince and Company Chickadee proved to be a perfect yarn choice. The itch factor even when wet (and no, I am not going to show you photos of that–they have proved impossible to take) was negligible, and while the suit did sag it didn't fall off. I wouldn't wear these in a situation requiring perfect modesty, but as I wrote previously they weren't intended for such a situation.

Another score for Weldon and Company. Turns out they knew what they were doing after all.

drawers-midshot

439 comments:

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Ellen said...

Nice Suit, nice buns and I prefer my men fuzzy.

FrkHansen said...

It doesn't matter if your insecurities are rooted in reality or not - miserable people will sense them and use them against you.

I try and stay as far away as possible from those types, but it's hard, isn't it?

Ps: I'm sick of the current waxed and buffed ideal, and am hoping it's just a fad. Your furriness is much appreciated ^_^

Idiosyncratic Eye said...

It seems that it is de rigeur for people to complain about swimming costumes, whatever the fabric, whatever the era.

Nice ribbon!

:)

gwen said...

Fat? What fat? I would die to see that slim waist on my husband.
On the knitting side, a knitted brief style swimsuit is a bit tmi and looks like it could be dangerous when wet. However it is really neat to see an old pattern brought to life. Nice work!

MIA said...

You are definitely not fat, you are definitely not ugly, yes, you are hairy, so what! some girls (myself included) like hairy guys.

If others feel so disgusted, they should not read your blog.

Big Hug, Greetings from Belgium

Anonymous said...

With such a build-up and cautionary tales, I expected someone who looked like me (and I'm a woman! Hairy! Fat!)

I wish I looked as good as you do. You look like an adorable human being to me.

Anonymous said...

Dude,

I am a big fan of your work, your mind and now, the body too.

Sigh, I can only look, as we bat for the same team.

I have thought you as cute as a button from day one, and usually when I find a comment from one of your friend's blogs, or one of my friends, they all say the same thing.

I think, without reviewing all 406 comments, that by and large, those of us who love you, are just shy about telling you. That and you have an army at your back against the haters.

You are a brave, wonderful man with a wonderful sense of humor, a wicked way with words, a sense of imagination that blows my mind. All this and a cute body too, methinks some are jealous. Don't even get me started on how much your knitting talent and production wows me every single time too.

Angela B

Anonymous said...

Please never apologise and never explain for your appearance again.

You are who you are, and that needs no excuses. Sadly all those who criticised show themselves all too clearly - its them with the problem. A big problem. Funny thing is I bet they are no great shakes in the looks department but manage to feel fine about it. As we all should. Being a nicer person is the bit the counts though, and they thought it was being meaning. Big fail for them. Oh and olive skin is a good thing! Actually all natural skin tones are.

Anyway, you look great. I think your end result is better than the original as well.

Beth said...

I think you look nice. And the trunks look good too! Love the yard!

Kerman Camacho said...

OK, I am in love with you now! Your wit and charm are second to none and if you were a chubby chaser I would marry you. :)
Thank you for putting yourself out there for us to enjoy and go ga ga over.

Erika said...

Policing and shaming other people's bodies is a practice that needs to end, whether the target is male or female. Good for you for speaking out against it, and having the courage to not let the trolls win.

Anonymous said...

So the suit came out great! Love the picture of the bathing club too. They're awesome! Well researched.

Ted said...

I love how the littlest guy in the picture has the tallest stove-pipe hat! Your drawers are lovely, Franklin. You are lovely, too.

KnitWit said...

It's horrible that people feel they can say all that crap. I'm "too short, too fat, too pale" and I was always, ALWAYS compared to my "prettier" sister with the aside "well, at least you're the smart one." Yeah. That helped.

Anyway, the suit is interesting, though I don't think I'd knit it for Hubby.

Please don't use yourself as a punchline. If ever I get the chance to go to one of your workshops, I will surely tell you that in person. Knit on, Franklin, and a big, fat PFFFFFFFTHHHH to all the meanies.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article. I think you look just fine in the pictures and you did a nice job with the suit. I'm wondering how this would wear up over time. Would knitted swimwear have a tendency to stretch and gap open around the legs? How would men keep their... um, anatomy, in place and not let it all fall out?

Erin Willett said...

Thank you for posting! I've been really looking forward to seeing your bathing drawers, and was not disappointed in any way, shape, or form! And my man's chest hair is one of my favorite features, and I will defy anyone who says otherwise :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for knitting those up and trying them out. I have seen that 19th c. swim club photo many times, and I love reading that someone has reproduced one of their garments and taken it on a test run. Bravo!

As for those "ewwww gross" commenters... I feel sorry for people who are afraid of body hair, and who think the only beautiful human shape is a 'flawless' one. I learned in life drawing classes why artists of old liked a bit o' flesh on their models - something to draw as well as cuddle ;-) The gentle curve of a fleshy buttock or (gasp!) rounded belly is a delight to capture on paper, as well as a wonderful shape to caress.

Leave those perfectionists to their smoothie Ken doll obsessions - they'll never figure out what they're missing.

Anonymous said...

I have a picture of my father in knitted bathing togs from sometime just after the 2nd world war. It is a black and white photo but they appear to be a dark colour with a belt of perhaps webbing holding them up.
I had knitted bathing togs when I was a child, the only thing I really remember is that the legs ended up around my knees when they were wet!

That was a fascinating project Franklin, and great pictures!

ivancull said...

You are so utterly wonderful that is somewhat unfair you are also damn handsome.
Whatever the hell was up with those sad obstuse folks (who alternately wonder why they're unhappy -check your own inner patterns y'all). Thank you for everything you do and all the joy you create in this world of ours.

Barb said...

Franklin, I just read this post. It touched a huge nerve with me, not only because I've always had that same insecurity about my body, but mostly because recently, my 13-year-old daughter--who is gorgeous and elfin and whip smart and funny --found that some anonymous middle schooler had posted a very unflattering picture of her on Instagram and asked "Who should date Jane?" The comments--the cruelty and sexist asshattery --left scars on her psyche that I know will never heal. As a mom, I always look for the teachable moment. There isn't one here. The lesson is that people on the Internet embody the worst of humanity. The people in real life can be insensitive and horrifically cruel. When I look at your picture, I see someone I have come to know through social media, blogging, and your art (photography, drawing, and knitting) and whom I respect immensely for his bravery, wit and kindness. Please know that who you are is a person worthy of love and connection EXACTLY AS YOU ARE. I hope some day, my little Jane will also receive this message and believe it. With love, Barb Cooper

Christine said...

Franklin, what a brave post. Most of the rest of the world sees an attractive man when they look at you. I wish those that spoke out more were the ones that were kind. Good for you. Thanks for the pictures and for sharing yourself emotionally as well. Plus you truly are a hottie, my friend.

Melissa Wood said...

I feel the need to add my voice to the choir.

I found your blog via Knitty. You have me considering the insanity that is ALL THOSE ENDS in plaid, but it's so wonderful!

Anyway, my point: I was browsing your blog and I had to stop and stare (and maybe drool a little) - You Franklin are eye candy.

Screw society and their expectations - they're crap anyway. But you, you are lovely. Are men allowed to be lovely? How about mouth-wateringly delicious? Cause that's what I see! And I'm not alone. :)

Oh, and those swim trunks look much nicer than I expected! The ones in the old photo you posted don't fit half so well. Also, I love stripes, so I'm likely biased here. Who am I kidding, it's the beekcake in the trunks biasing me. ;)

Anonymous said...

Good for you - very professional. I heard all sorts of comments too growing up. You know what I did? Dyed my hair hot pink and wore the wildest clothes I could find. Why not really give them something to talk about.

Rooie said...

I'm at work so I can't see the pictures (stupid firewall) but, Franklin, I've met you in person...and you're quite a handsome man.

Sometimes that old cartoon caption - "People are no damn good." - just seems far too true.

Anonymous said...

As a person who saw your chest (and just a little bit more) at the Blue Lagoon, I can tell the world you are just right. Perfect, even.

Maureen said...

Franklin--the bathing drawers are, as usual,a lovely historical project. A raspberry to those making mean sexist commentary. I am also 5 foot 4, and haven't seen a 29 inch waist since I was 10. Good on you, love your columns and pattern interpretations.

Anonymous said...

You look great! Anyone who says otherwise is acting out on their own insecurities. Forget them.

venice1093 said...

You are brave and brilliant, and yes, beautiful. I, too, have had to deal with negativity regarding my looks and understand very well of what you speak. Thank you for all of your contributions.

sarryb said...

What a beautifully honest post - personally, I find your body quite lovely, it reminds me of my gorgeous boyfriend!

Dodi said...

Now that's a cute tushy!!!!!! And the swim pants aren't bad either!

Dodi said...

Now that's a cute tushy!!!!!! And the swim pants aren't bad either!

Eileen said...

Well knit in *every* way! The suit looks good, and so do you.

Wish I could have gone on the cruise, but time and money...

Anonymous said...

I admire you for your knitting, your writing, and your bravery. It can't have been easy to put yourself out there, so to speak, after hearing all those negative messages. However, in my opinion, you have nothing to be ashamed of. From what I could tell, you have a perfectly serviceable body. My waist will never see 29" again, so if your waist is, well good on ya! Haters always need to pick; otherwise they might be forced to focus on their own shortcomings.

paesanC said...

Reading how much you dislike(d?) your physical appearance was heartbreaking. I've had the same thoughts about myself, and it was painful to read your pain.

But you still posted those pictures (which are completely lovely - your body is a gorgeous, human one). You have left those pictures there, and that is so very cool of you. Intentionally or not, you have bucked those who were nasty to you and embraced your physical self and in so doing, you have made this human being feel a bit braver and that there is the possibility for a bit more self-love (don't get dirty now) in the world for all of us.

So, thank you.
Also, your knitting, and your writing are spectacular!

Anonymous said...

I am aware I am exceptionally late to the comment party here (Darn life) and I confess I find it comforting that you too struggle with body image issues. It's something I've been fighting most of my life and I guess it makes me feel that if others can come at least somewhat to terms with the fact they will never fit the mold society expects them to fit, then perhaps I can too.

And for what it may be worth, I think you're very handsome. Those who said otherwise are entitled to their foolish opinions.

Michelle Roebuck said...

With so many comments ahead of mine, I can't reasonably hope you'll see this, Franklin, but as a brand new reader of your work, I gotta say...

I'm so very proud of you for being willing to brave the possibility of (inexplicable, rude, cruel, misguided) insults and just BE YOURSELF! I have been challenged by body issues all of my life. (I'm tall "for a woman" my age, so I heard a lot of "giraffe" and "Bigfoot" and "How's the air up there?") Contrast that early shame with later on when I matured and boys/men began being attracted to what I already believed was "gargantuan and disgusting" - I was so perplexed and wondered what was wrong with them! Your candid offering gives me hope, imbues me with courage, shines a light into some of the dark places of my worry to dispel the nasties that inhabit such places.

In short, thank you - I love the history AND the product!

Catriona said...

You knit and create beautifully. And you don't look like some kind of ogre. You look fine! Forget those ignorant people! And I love the way you'd made lovely stripes on your knitted swimsuit. And your regard for actual historical fact.

How dare people be so rude?
You're a brave and and talented man!

Catriona said...

You knit and create beautifully. And you don't look like some kind of ogre. You look fine! Forget those ignorant people! And I love the way you'd made lovely stripes on your knitted swimsuit. And your regard for actual historical fact.

How dare people be so rude?
You're a brave and and talented man

which_chick said...

Not that it matters at this late date, but you look fine. (I am a chick, so not your target audience, but hey, validation is validation.) Also, thanks for making knitted swim trunks because totally I wanted to see them and there is no earthly way I would make them for me. Kudos!

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