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:


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


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.


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.


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.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

As I Was Still Saying

I was going to blog again yesterday, yeah; but I had to do stuff. Christmas-type stuff, with the ribbons and the glitter glue and the peace on Earth and the what–another party, and the hey–what did you put in that egg nog and the excuse me–where are my pants.

But I woke up eventually, and so here's something else from my stack of backlogged blog topics.

Thing Four.

Look at this. What does it look like to you? Besides an indifferent cell phone shot? Stripes, right? White and purple stripes?


But...let's look at it from a slightly different angle.


Huh. What's that? Is there something weird going on? Let's try another angle.



Calm down, please. I didn't put anything funny in the egg nog. However I did put a griffin in the stripes. He was there the whole time–you just couldn't see him at first.

His name is Merv. Merv, say hi to the people.


Merv is very street.

This technique is called either Shadow Knitting or Illusion Knitting, depending upon who is doing the calling. I started fooling around with it this year, just as a goof. Merv was one of my early experiments. Now I'm unabashedly in love with it. It's a technique lots of folks look upon as a mere parlor trick. But I believe it has potential that hasn't yet been fully explored, in spite of Vivian Høxbro's excellent book from 2004 and the further elaborations of the UK outfit Woolly Thoughts.

Also, it's the only knitting technique I have yet encountered that makes non-knitters literally gasp. They gasp!


Exactly so.

I felt so strongly about Shadow Knitting's potential that I've spent a great deal of 2013 exhuming every bit of information I can find about it; and playing around with different ways of designing it, charting it, thinking about it, and putting it to use. In 2014, it will be a new addition to my menu of classes.

The début at the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat is sold out, but I will be teaching it at the Plucky Knitter Shindig, the Squam Art Workshops, and a bunch of other gigs that'll be added to the calendar as they're confirmed in full. We'll learn the technique, of course; but we'll also learn to make new motifs, and ponder larger philosophical questions like the merits of mystery, opacity, surprise, and subterfuge in design.



That may seem dreadfully ambitious for one knitting class, but if you've taken classes with me before you know I'm not kidding.


Yes. Thank you, Merv.


Yes. That's quite enough, thank you. Goodnight, folks. More soon.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

As I Was Saying

Seventeen weeks in a row on the road, kids. Seventeen weeks.

It all went well, I am pleased to report. But I confess to being a smidge tired. 

I started in Florida (with a private engagement in Key West) and ended in Florida (sailing to Central America with Melissa Leapman and a jolly crew of knitters). There were multiple trips north, south, east, and west in between. Looking at the calendar, my longest unbroken stretch of at-home time since September was four days.

It's nice to be needed, but it's also nice to put the suitcases in the storage room and firmly shut the door.

Meanwhile, blog topics have stacked up on the worktable until they've blocked out the sun. I could dump the whole lot in the trash and pretend I never saw them, like I do with the annual I-still-love-you Christmas card from my ex; but I don't want to start 2014 feeling like I'm in arrears.

Better to see what I can do about lowering the stack over the next few days.

Mind you, it's going to be messy. I'm just going to pull items off the list at random and do a couple a day until I run out of the new year arrives, whichever comes first.

Thing One.

When you saw my Tour de Fleece 2013 challenge I had sleepily increased and increased on the intended improvised hat until I wound up with this.


That got ripped out, and re-knit into this.


The hat's not for me. It'll go to somebody, I dunno who, with a slightly larger head than mine and who looks well in these colors. (I do not.) I'm also not much of one for novelty shapes like that pixie point in my own hats. I am insufficiently whimsical to carry them off.

Looking at the finished piece, I am astounded at how easy the Smoothie Batt from Lunabudknits made it for me–who had no previous experience of this sort of thing–to make an acceptable color-change yarn. I enjoyed it so much that at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival, between classes, I bought another Smoothie Batt. This time around maybe I'll detail the process, since I now I know what I did. Which is not be confused with knowing what I'm doing.

The yarn itself is distressingly imperfect. Yet it turned into a hat. I suppose I need to keep that in mind. Imperfect yarn is yarn nonetheless.  If nothing else, you can tie up wrapped gifts with it.

Speaking of gifts.

Thing Two.

houseofmusic My niece is growing up and developing opinions. She will no longer always agree to wear whatever you shove her into, even if it's made by hand. I was warned this day would come.

So I was hunting around for other gifts she might enjoy, and found a hidden gem on the Schoolhouse Press Web site. Among the offerings for children is a sweet book-and-CD set called A House Filled with Music, by Margret and Rolf Rettich. It's a lighthearted introduction to the instruments of the symphony orchestra, originally published in German. The fluid English-language edition retains the lively original illustrations, and includes Meg's new narration on the companion CD.

If you're a fan of Meg Swansen's knitting videos–the ones she did with her mother, Elizabeth Zimmermann, or her solo output–you know Meg's got a notably musical speaking voice. She does such a superb job with this book that I'd enjoy hearing her do more audio books. I wouldn't mind a few for grown-ups. Are you listening, Meg? Please?

Quite aside from that, I recommend the book as being simple enough for kids to enjoy without being simple-minded, sweet without being goopy, and cute without being sticky. It'll entertain a child on her own, but adults who listen along won't be tempted to rip off their own ears. It's especially useful if you want to instill a love of good music, but know that if you have to listen to Peter and the Wolf one more time you will develop a syncopated twitch over one eye.

Thing Three.

Travel or not, I had promised to contribute new designs to a potpourri of projects and here is one of them.


Yeah. Another hat. I'm in a hat phase or something.

It's called Meliorus. It's very simple. It's also very colorful, because nothing lifts me out of gloom like vivid color and I figure you can't fight cancer if you're full of gloom. The e-book in which it appears benefits Breast Cancer Connections of Palo Alto, California. Here's a link to their Web site, in case you'd like to learn more about them.

While I'm on the subject, I'd also like to mention Calendar of Hope, a knitting and crochet calendar (available both electronically and in print) also supporting the fight against breast cancer. I didn't contributed to this one and I'm not part of the group; but I heard from the publishers last year because the 2013 edition featured designs based on antique patterns. It was too late for me to mention them then, so here they are now. This year's edition is a selection of original designs, and benefits Army of Women.

That's all for today. More things tomorrow. And yes, one of these updates is going to include the reveal of the knitted bathing drawers.