Friday, September 27, 2013

Twenties Real, Twenties Fake

Like fifty billion other Americans, I first read The Great Gatsby in high school.

I went to two high schools–one horrible, one merely mediocre. During my first of two years at the former, I was force-fed the Irish Christian Brothers' approved course of literary blood and guts. In keeping with the rest of the curriculum, it was intended to mold boys into men. Nasty, brutish, woman-thumping men.

We read the Odyssey, in a ridiculous prose translation that reduced Homer's epic to something less compelling than a Hardy Boys adventure. I still remember the blurb on the back cover insisting that " boy who reads it can ever fail to be thrilled." (I failed.)

We read The Red Badge of Courage, which was full of battle scenes we were meant to find alluring, not revolting. (Real men, we were told, love shooting and being shot at.)

And we were allowed one "free choice" book. As this was a Christian Brothers school, "free choice" was of course relative.

I picked Emma. Choice denied. Emma, said the teacher, was written by a woman. Men didn't choose to read books written by women. What was I, a pansy? (Um.)

I picked A Passage to India. Choice denied. E.M. Forster, said the teacher, was a sick homo. What was I, a pansy? (Um.)

I picked The Great Gatsby. Choice denied. It was for the juniors, said the teacher. You're not allowed to read it yet. You'll hurt yourself.

I honestly don't remember what I picked for the class. I do remember that I bought a copy of Gatsby with my babysitting money and read it as a silent Fuck You to the teacher.

I will not lie and say the experience turned me into a Fitzgerald fan. It didn't. I admire Fitzgerald in a chilly way, but if you banished me to a desert island with limited space on the raft for books I doubt that Daisy Buchanan and pals would make the cut.

What I did (and do) love about Gatsby was the parties, the houses, and the clothes.

This summer, after swearing I wouldn't, I went to see Baz Luhrman's film. I fell asleep during the second half, but before that I was surprisingly contented to just stare at the parties, the houses, and the clothes. They reminded me of why the book had sporadically carried me away

Luhrman's sets and costumes weren't "correct," but they felt correct. They felt like Fitzgerald's descriptions of the roaring twenties, which in time became the American popular imagination's sketchy idea of the roaring twenties.

It was this sketchy idea that I recently had to evoke in doing a piece of work for Babs Ausherman–known better to knitters all over the damn place as Miss Babs.

Miss Babs is a dyer, one of the best; and she has a yarn club. Lots of dyers have yarn clubs, but Miss Babs runs the only club that sends you places. Not literally, but in the comfort of your favorite chair. Each installment guides you through a different destination. As a souvenir you're given a yarn and coordinating pattern evocative of that place.

Or, in the case of my tour, that time and place. "What I want from you," said Babs, "is time travel."

Okay, sure. Why not?

So for my leg of the tour, which embarked this month, the knitters and I went to Chicago in 1923.

The tour part was easy. I live in Chicago, so I know my way around. And I borrowed a friend's time machine.


No, it's not that blue thing from Doctor Who, but it has reclining leather seats.

Getting all those knitters back to 1923 was a piece o' cake.

The tough part was the knitting pattern.

Because here's the thing: the past doesn't always look the way you think it did. The past doesn't always look the way you want it to. Rifling through my not-insignificant collection of 1920s knitting books, I realized that an authentic pattern wasn't going to cut it.

What folks often forget is that the world didn't remake itself to look like Radio City Music Hall on January 1, 1920. Art Deco was a machine-mad movement that started in France, and gradually–very gradually–began to exert an influence on international architecture and design. Lots of iconic American Deco wasn't even around in the twenties–including Radio City Music Hall, which opened in 1932.

In most of America, the 1920s simply didn't look the way we imagine the 1920s to have looked.

Knitting looked even less so. Knitting, I'm sorry to say, was undergoing a period of relative eclipse at the time. Not that nobody was knitting; but the people who were tended to be the people who are still, now, popularly imagined to be doing most of the knitting: spinsters, matrons, grandmothers, maiden aunts, little girls.  This was not the smart set. The patterns produced for this market tended to be, at best, lukewarm. At worst, they all looked like tea cozies–even the sweaters.

You can imagine my dilemma when Babs told me she wanted a project for her subscribers that would really roar, and all I could find were hats that looked like tea cozies. I fell in love with one of those hats, by the way, and though it wasn't right for the Knitting Tour I couldn't resist re-working it in Quince and Co. Lark for the Deep Fall 2013 issue of Knitty:


For Babs, ultimately I took as my inspiration a real piece of period clothing: the very long, very thin "lavalier" scarf. But whereas a period scarf would have been woven–likely a fine silk chiffon–mine had to be knit.

I asked for colorway that would mimic jade, and boy did I get it. I mixed it with silver beads, silver and jade being a classic Deco combination. Babs knows her way around a dye pot.


Deco motifs are tough in lace–I've never seen one that satisfies me completely (including mine). But I did my level best, and worked up an arrow that shoots from one end of the scarf to the other.


The result is a contradiction. I attempted to evoke period a manner wholly inappropriate to the the knitting of the period.




Jenn Sullivan said...

Love it!

Cynthia said...

I love the asymmetrical tassel treatment.

kmkat said...

Speaking of Art Deco designs, have you seen Natalie Servant's designs? Many use AD motifs, some are lace.

Tin Shed Yarns said...

I just want the shoes.

Veronika said...

I love it! And the tassels, so cute!
History is almost always far less glamourous than we think, and way harsher too. No wonder we are fooled when most our info comes from Holliwood movies =D

Unknown said...

Love you Franklin!! Thanks so much for creating such a wonderful lavalier for our trip to the 20's!!

Kate said...


Why can't kids read what they want when they want? Your teacher was dumb

I love the hat

Anonymous said...

Love the button on the hat. Did it come from Grandma's stash?

juliafc said...

you are, as ever, incredibly thoughtful, talented as heck, and super smart. I wish I'd been in high school with you. I could have used an ally.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher, parent, and Jane Austen devotee, it breaks my heart to hear of a student asking for permission to read Emma and being told "no." I'd be jumping for joy if the teenagers in my life displayed such an interest. Hope you've read her complete works multiple times since then. :o) -- Denise L.

Anonymous said...

I. LOVE. that.... Seriously, I'm kind of "I gotta stop knitting scarves" but this is just gorgeous!

Unknown said...

Thanks (?) for the trip down memory lane to high school. I went to the female equivalent of a Christian Brothers school. I think those wimples wedged the nuns' heads so hards their brains compacted. We got such wisdom as "Girls, girls, just because you are good in math doesn't mean you're a homosexual."

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the good (sic) Christian Brothers would think of the PBS documentary The Men of Hula....tres sensual!

Lee in Iowa

Anonymous said...

Very nice - but where's that bathing suit?

Krista said...

Looking forward to knitting it. I may have squee'd when I opened the box and saw the color and then beads and again when I saw that you were the designer.

Shelda said...

It's always so satisfying to read of your adventures while you've been "away." The scarf is oh so lovely. And here's to reading "inappropriate" books. The things we're drawn to do say a lot about us. Glad you were able to move away from that un-pansy place!

Liz said...

The scarf's great, but the styling makes it zing. Hope you've watched House of Elliot for the clothes (and especially the hats!) Nothing beats it for that 20s feel, British style.

Leslie said...

You can't imagine my excitement when my armchair travel package arrived and not only did it include luscious Miss Babs yarn, but this pattern!

And my book club at the LYS has decided to read The Great Gatsby and then watch the new movie - more of a compare and contrast thing, so we'll see what happens.

Maybe I'll get my lavaliere done for that night!

Pam Sykes (aka Pretty Knitty) said...

I love it, Franklin! It's odd how the classroom can squelch sad sometimes, what teachers can do to education...sigh!

Pam Sykes (aka Pretty Knitty) said...

Ok, I love the patterns, not the squelching. Of course, your telling of the squelching is pretty lovable... Just a quick clarify

Ellen B said...

That lavalier scarf is just beautiful- will the pattern be available after the yarn club?

Anonymous said...

I want the shoes too... You really are such an excellent photographer by the way.

CeltChick said...

Darling scarf! I'd love to knit it, as it looks to be a good intro to knitting with beads. For most folks, high school just generally sucks; sounds like your experience of it may have been rather more so.

Claudia said...

As always, your writing makes me laugh (sometimes snort) and educates me. Thanks!

Niki said...

Authentic period or not, it evokes my idea of the 20s, so I'd say you succeeded.

Unknown said...

Love your scarf. Love your comments on reading...and reading a book that had been denied for silly reasons.

At about the same age you read The Great Gatsby, I read The Scarlet Letter (because it had been banned for its sexual content). I am an avid reader, but I had to really plow through that book. There wasn't "sex" as we think about it now. And, it has only been in the last 10 years that I read it was banned not because she had an affair...but because she wasn't sorry she had an affair!!! Bummer.

Leigh in Portland (we are not burning down) said...

I went to a non-denominational suckola school. At our high school the PE teachers (also football coaches, surprising,no?) made mandatory a tackle game of 'smear the queer' during class. Quite disturbing. Fortunately we could opt out of PE after 9th grade.

Did I miss the swimsuit report?

Kristen Stieffel said...

"...evoke period a manner wholly inappropriate to the the knitting of the period."

That's how great art happens. Well done, sir.

Patti said...

Most people make me feel like the spinster, matron, grandmother, maiden aunt, when I tell them I knit, so normally I don't go around advertising my fiber affliction, but you my dear Franklin, make me feel like one of the cool kids. the CEO of our company in a company wide speech actually told the competition to "return to their knitting"

Anonymous said...

sometimes you can tell the era in which a "period film" is made by the sub-tones of the fashion design of the "authentic" period costumes. For example, it's not too hard to see the 80's in the Jeremy Brett version of Sherlock Holmes.

By the way, I hope you finally got to read Emma. It's fantastic. And not just for chicks or pansies either, though I as a chick liked it a lot.

Robin said...

I love to read but detested most of the book choices for high school English. In particular,Ernest Hemingway. I always feel depressed and displaced after reading his books. The curriculum hasn't changed a lot in 30 years. My son, who is now in high school, is reading the same authors that I did! So much for progress.

CatBookMom said...


Do you know the Phryne Fisher books from Kerry Greenwood? Phryne took Melbourne by very quiet storm in 1928. She was awesome. She would have loved to have someone knit her this scarf.

Anonymous said...

Franklin, I check your blog often and I beginning to think Tender Buttons was going to be your last post :>)

The arrow scarf is pretty, but I love the hat!!!!!

dawn said...

So, I have been searching for the perfect gift for a friend who is going through a tough time. She's a knitter so it's gotta be the right thing, and this scarf... this scarf is the right thing. Please, please share how we may procure the pattern.

I am excited beyond measure at being enrolled in the twisted bavarian class at SAFF this weekend and I came on the blog to 'catch up' with you and then there's this... this beautiful scarf which is exactly what I needed.

Anonymous said...

Okay. I have no idea what mirror you've been looking into but I'd strongly suggest you toss it out in the garbage. Your body is awesome and I mean that in the nicest of compliments. You're HOT. Please tell me why oh why the hot guys are gay?

Anonymous said...

Toss that mirror that tells you your ugly. Hun you have a awesome body I'd be thrilled to have you as my boyfriend.

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تُعرف حديقة الحيوان الرياض  بأنّها مناطق مجهّزة تضمّ تنوعًا كبيرًا من الحيوانات الأسيرة، ممّا يُسهّل عرضها للناس للاطّلاع عليها عن كثب، وقد ظهرت سابقًا على هيئة أملاكٍ خاصة كمظهر من مظاهر التفاخر بالقوّة والثراء سعر تذاكر حديقة الحيوان بالرياض  واختلف مفهومها منذ القرن 18م لتصبح من المرافق العامّة المتاحة للجميع بغرض في دليل البوصلة تعرف على الحيوان من ناحية علمية وترفيهية مع أنَّ حدائق الحيوان بطرازها الناس لم تظهر حتى القرن الثامن أو التاسع عشر، إلا أنَّ حدائق الحيوانات وُجِدَت بصورٍ مُختلفة - منذ العُصور القديمة؛ فقد أحبَّ العديد من المُلوك أو أصحاب الطَّبقات المادية العُليا على مرِّ الزمن الاحتفاظ بحيواناتٍ غريبة في منازلهم أو قُصورهم دار بارك من باب المُتعة أو الفضول لامتلاك كائنات غير اعتياديَّة

تحميل العاب said...

دائمًا ما أُعجب بـ دار التعليم، المكان الذي يُقدم العلم بكل ابتكار وتفرّد. إذا كنت تتطلع لفرصة للتعلم في المملكة العربية السعودية، يجب عليك ألا تفوّت التعليم في السعودية، حيث يُقدم المعرفة باستخدام أساليب حديثة ومبتكرة.

وماذا عن نظام نور؟ هذا النظام هو الأساس الذي يُساهم في تطوير التعليم في المملكة، حيث يوفر أدوات وموارد تعليمية متميزة تُساهم في تحقيق تجربة تعليمية ممتازة.

ولكن التعلم ليس مقتصرًا على الحدود الوطنية فقط، بل يمتد أيضًا إلى الدراسة في الخارج، حيث يُمكن للشباب استكشاف عالم جديد من المعرفة وتجارب التعلم الدولية المتنوعة.

وبالنسبة للتقييم والاختبارات، يُمكنك دائمًا الاعتماد على اختبارات دار التعليم لقياس تقدمك وتطورك في مختلف المجالات.

وبالطبع، لا يمكننا تجاهل دور الاذاعة المدرسية في نقل المعرفة وتوجيه الطلاب نحو أساليب التعلم الممتعة والمثيرة.

إذا كنت تسعى لتحقيق التميز في مسيرتك التعليمية، فإن دار التعليم هي الوجهة التي تقدم لك كل ما تحتاجه لتحقيق هذا الهدف!