Friday, April 12, 2013
This morning I had a bit of an adventure. One of my friends here in Chicago teaches theatrical costume design, and was in need of a male fitting model for a class on pattern making. Would I be interested in the position, in exchange for the chance to audit the class?
This friend knows I have Sewing Envy, you see, and that pattern making is a skill I covet but don't possess. After a check of my travel schedule, I sent back an eager YES, PLEASE. So this morning, with notebook and pencils, I headed to the first meeting.
The costume shop was exactly what I expected it would be. Crowded. The arts never get enough space. Nor was it pretty in the conventional sense. Workrooms, except workrooms staged for display in craft magazines, seldom are.
Most of the floor was crammed with the requisite tables: high for cutting and pressing, lower for sitting and sewing. At the far end, costume sketches for the next production covered most of the wall. The other walls were stacked with supply bins: BRAID, BONE TAPE, HORSEHAIR, SNAPS. Two female forms, decked in day dresses in the style of the late Edwardian era, stood right and left like sentinels.
Again, not a conventionally pretty room. But if, like me, you love the possibility inherent in thread and snaps; and if, like me, you love to see the how behind beautiful things; it would be difficult to come up with a more fascinating space. I was so fascinated, in fact, that I forgot professional irons in a setting like this are usually a) always on and b) very hot. So I set my notebook on fire. But only a little bit. I don't think anybody noticed.
My friend is a top-notch teacher. The students had already been at work on their first pattern drafts (a female bodice, a skirt, a pair of women's trousers) and for the first hour of the class I watched him talk through each draft, making helpful suggestions and gentle, but firm, corrections.
It was difficult not to turn green with envy. They're all so young, these students. They have it all in front of them. They have so much opportunity, and so little responsibility. I had to battle a phalanx of If only... and Why didn't I? thoughts to keep my mind on the lesson.
Still, better late than never. Halfway through the second skirt draft I had my lightbulb moment. I've tried to teach myself pattern drafting many times without success. Suddenly–ZAP!–the measurements connected to the drafting instructions connected to the lines on the paper. I was so happy I wanted to dance. But you can't dance in a room crowded with cutting tables unless you get up on one of the cutting tables, and as this was my first visit I was trying to play it cool.
Not long after, I noticed (over the teacher's shoulder, at the far end of the room) a piece of fabric framed under glass. And even at thirty feet I recognized it as a handkerchief edged with knitted lace.
When we took a break, I made a beeline for it. Here are a few quick photographs made with my phone.
The framing job is, to be diplomatic, unfortunate. The handkerchief has been folded in four places to make it fit the frame, which is too small. There are neither spacers nor matte to give the textile room to breathe. The backing paper is probably not acid free, and neither is the label smashed between the glass and the edging. The acid in paper can, will, and does discolor fabric it touches. Also, I very much doubt the glass is treated to block out UV rays, which do nasty, nasty things to fiber–especially delicate fiber.
In other words, if you have such a treasure in your possession and you wish to frame it, this is an object lesson in what not to do. In other words, if you have such a treasure in your possession and you frame it like this, I will kick you in the nuts.
But enough griping. It was there, and it was gorgeous, and here's some more about it.
The work is super-fine. The fiber looks like cotton and is the weight of very fine sewing thread–closer to embroidery floss than, say, buttonhole twist. And the gauge is minute. I would venture to guess that the needles used would have been in the 000000 (that's six aughts) family.
The edge of the woven center was prepared with a rolled edge (in itself a feat of fine sewing) and the edging was then attached with tiny whip stitches in the same thread used for knitting. I can't help wondering whether the knitter made the center first and knit the edging to fit; or knit and blocked the edging and then sewed a center to fit. My guess is the latter, unless she was a masochist.
I also need to look at this again, closely and with more time, to try to find the start/end point. I tried for about three minutes, and couldn't. It might be buried under one of the folds. For a moment I wondered whether it might have been knit from the center outwards, but it's clear from the grain of the fabric (mostly easiy visible in the plain garter stitch passages) that it was knit sideways, across the short width of the fabric.
One of the fascinating design choices is the corner treatments. Corners, as I always say in my Lace Edgings classes, can be tricky and deserve special attention. Usually, the trick is in making the continuous pattern swing attractively around the angle. Here, the knitter altered the pattern to suit the corners.
And while I don't love the sight of an acidic label snuggling a precious piece of knitting, I do love that there is, in fact, a label. Here's what it tells us, verbatim.
HANDKERCHIEF WAS MADE BY MRS. CONRAD PERRY, RIVERSIDE, TEXAS, AT THE AGE OF 76 YEARS, IN 1834. NUMBER 300 THREAD KNITTED ON SMALL STEEL NEEDLES, AND GIVEN TO THE WOODLAWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY ON AUGUST 20, 1941 BY MRS. LETTIE MC CLARY, FORMERLY OF 6328 KENWOOD AVENUE, NOW A GUEST IN THE EASTERN STAR HOME, ROCKFORD, ILL.
I raise my eyebrows at that date. But Mrs. Perry, I salute you. Your work humbles me. And Mrs. McClary, I thank you for preserving this for us to see. I pray your days at the Eastern Star Home were pleasant, and ended peacefully.
Speaking of Lace Edgings...
My first online class for Craftsy, "Heirloom Lace Edgings," will launch early next week. It's an action-packed course: we play with lace edgings that are sewn on, lace edgings that are knitted on, and lace edgings that are knit at the same time as the center they decorate. So many possibilities...
Watch this space (or my Twitter and/or Facebook feeds) for the announcement. I had an absolutely ball working with the Craftsy crew and staff to make it happen, and I hope you'll enjoy taking it as much as I enjoyed making it. Here's an Official Photo of me on the set, looking all kinds of serious...with my beloved grandmother watching over my shoulder. She hated knitting, but I hope she'd be proud.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
I played with one more on the way home from the Craftsy shoot; I had tucked a few patterns into my luggage to fill in idle moments. As it turned out, there were no idle moments until I was on a plane hurtling back towards Chicago. Shooting went very well–in fact, we wrapped early–but when I wasn't in looking deep into the hypnotic blackness of this
I was usually sleeping. Shooting a class is fun, but it taxes a fellow's stamina.
Thanks, by the way, to all of you who asked here (and on Twitter and Facebook) what my class is, and when it will appear. As of this writing, I'm not allowed to reveal the topic. The launch will be in about four weeks. You can expect me to make a great deal of noise the minute Craftsy gives me the go-ahead.
Now, back to the edging.
This one is by Jane Gaugain, and it's first thing I've worked directly from the book I found in Cambridge. The yarn is that same Zitron Lifestyle I can't seem to put down.
You'll find it in the Appendix under the decidedly un-fanciful title, "Knit Edging, for Collarets, Cuffs, Petticoats, &c." I had to force myself to stop working it and bind off so I could photograph it for you. I think I'll be making some of this (in thread, of course) as an edging for a miniature dress I'm working on. (Not for me. I'm small, but not miniature.)
Sl 1. Slip st as if to purl with yarn in front.
Yo2. Yarn twice around right needle.
CO 7 sts.
Row 1. Sl 1, k2, yo, k2tog, yo2, k2tog.
Row 2. Yo, k2, p1 (into 1st loop of yo2), k2, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 3. Sl 1, k2, yo, k2tog, k4.
Row 4. K6, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 5. Sl 1, k2, yo, k2tog, yo2, k2tog, yo2, k2tog.
Row 6. K2, p1 (into 1st loop of yo2), k2, p1 (into 1st loop of yo2), k2, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 7. Sl 1, k2, yo, k2tog, yo2, k2tog, yo2, k2tog, yo2, k2tog.
Row 8. K2, p1 (into 1st loop of yo2), k2, p1 (into 1st loop of yo2), k2, p1 (into 1st loop of yo2), k2, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 9. Sl 1, k2, yo, k2tog, k9.
Row 10. BO until 6 sts remain; k3, yo, k2tog, k1.
Repeat from Row 1 as needed.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Saturday, March 09, 2013
Bow ties. Absolutely bow ties. I've always loved them. It's nice to be able to come by good ones easily again.
Before I leave, here's one more nineteenth century edging from Weldon's Practical Knitter that you might like to play with. It's called "Willow Leaf," and it makes me long to sweep everything off my to-do list and work this all the way around a throw for the armchair I knit in.
CO 12 sts.
Knit 1 row.
Row 1. Yo, k1, yo, k2, k2tog, k2tog, k2, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 2 and all even rows. Sl 1, k1, p10.
Row 3. Yo, k3, yo, k1, k2tog, k2tog, k1, yo, k2otg, k1.
Row 5. Yo, k5, yo, k2tog, k2tog, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 7. Yo, k3, k2tog, k2, yo, k2tog, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 8. As row 2.
Repeat rows 1-8.
You'd want to use this in a closed loop situation, of course–a pillowcase, a handkerchief, a cuff–because as you can see, an open stretch of it is going to give you odd shapes at the beginning and end. I suppose you could sit down and figure out something to take care of that, but you'll have to do it because I have to go to bed.
The Fiber Factor
You've probably already heard about The Fiber Factor, Skacel's forthcoming Web series that will put a group of aspiring handknits designers through their paces. I'm excited–I get to be a guest judge. I'm already pondering which sunglasses to wear; and practicing saying, "This confuses me," while tilting my head like a dimwitted puppy.
Applications for spots on the series are still open, but not for long. If you're going to toss your knitted hat into the ring, you only have until March 24. Opportunity, as that nice Mr Sondheim wrote in Into the Woods, is not a lengthy visitor.
Friday, March 08, 2013
I thought you might like to see them, and though I'm still learning to love the camera that lives in my new telephone I was able to take some tolerable photographs during our intermezzo.
They are family pieces. The knitter (who prefers to remain anonymous) says they were made by her great-grandmother (who was married in 1819) for her grandmother–a sweet and all-too-rare example of a knitter's handiwork being lovingly preserved and properly documented.
All are white cotton. There are knee-highs and thigh-highs. The knee-highs have ribbed tops.
The thigh-highs were obviously extra-special: turned-over picot hems, lacy tops, and then a row of eyelets just below for threading a ribbon tie.
The leg patterns were beautifully varied and the workmanship was impeccable.
And how to do you make a gorgeous gift like this even more special? You knit the recipient's initials and the date into it.
Notice that the initials are upside-down, just under the fancy leaf-lace top. I wonder if this was intentional (so that the wearer would see them when she pulled them on) or whether the knitter was halfway through when she realized what she'd done; and then decided she was absolutely not going to start over again. Hey, it happens.
Nineteenth-century knitters...knitters just like you and me.
Less Impressive Socks
The new Knitty is out, and as ever my column is in it. This time, by coincidence I wrote about a Victorian sock. A kid's sock. A flat kid's sock. A flat kid's sock knit from an 1870 pattern I just absolutely hated.
Blow Me, Thou Winter Wind
And the crabbiness continues over at the Lion Brand Yarn blog, where I wrote about spring, or the lack thereof; and drew a spring chicken.
Is this any way for a grown man to make a living?
Friday, March 01, 2013
I have stepped (reports of dragging, kicking, and screaming are almost entirely false) into the present century with the purchase of a new phone.
The old phone, which ran on paraffin and started with a crank, had begun to draw stares and laughter from cruel little children. I am not a technology hound, but one has one's small vanities.
Adjustment creeps apace. This is day two. On day one, I mostly stared at it warily while venturing an occasional timid tap at the screen. Imagine the elderly Queen Victoria attempting to enter her Facebook password; it was like that.
With inexpressible relief I got back to knitting, which is also touch sensitive but doesn't suddenly beep or disappear or take your picture if you put a finger wrong.
If you are reading this it means I successfully brought both together. This is my first blog post via phone...and if it goes well, this little gewgaw may allow me to post more often-even when I'm on the road. Here's hoping...
I'm even going to try to put in a picture. Can you see it? Hello? Is this thing on?
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Here, just for kicks, is another nineteenth century edging from Weldon's Practical Knitter (Fourteenth Series). It's called "Cyprus."
Not so unusual as "Lurline," but handsome and easily memorized. Like "Lurline," this edge is worked in garter stitch so it doesn't curl. It's heading for not one, but two upcoming projects I am otherwise not supposed to talk about right now.
yo2. Double yarn over–yarn wraps twice around right needle.
sl 1. Slip stitch as if to purl, with yarn in front.
CO 12 stitches. K 1 row.
Row 1. Sl 1, k5, k2tog, yo, k1, k2tog, k1.
Row 2. K4, yo, k2tog, k2, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 3. Sl 1, k3, k2tog, yo, k1, k2tog, k2.
Row 4. K7, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 5. Sl 1, k4, yo, k2tog, k1, yo2, k2.
Row 6. K3, p1 (2nd wrap of yo2), k2, yo, k3, yo, k2tog, k1.
Row 7. Sl 1, k6, yo, k2tog, k4.
Row 8. BO 2, k2, yo, k5, yo, k2tog, k1.
Repeat from Row 1 as needed.
The yarn, by the way, is Zitron Lifestyle from Skacel. I have fallen deeply in love with it. It's wool, it's superwash, it's lightweight, and it has so much spring that if I'd been in charge of branding at the Zitron mill I would have called it BOING. An absolute joy to handle.
Today is a bit overscheduled, so I must dash, but if you want more of me I just did an interview for the gorgeous people at Squam Art Workshops. Oh my yes, I will teaching at Squam again this year. I guess they took me seriously when I said if they didn't invite me back I was going to sneak in anyway, sleep in a tree, and eat moss.