Friday, 1 August 2014

Interweave Knits Fall 2014

The Interweave Knits Fall 2014 issue is out! Let's have a look at it.

This is the Ropemaker Pullover. It's the kind of "classic with a twist" design that most appeals to me. It's wearable and yet there's something new and interesting about it, the twist in this particular case being the angled bottom of the front cabled panel that is a very clever way to incorporate pockets.

The Hitch Pullover. The overall design of this is fine, but the cropped sleeve length and the placket that is probably not designed to button in front make make the sweater look too small rather than looking like deliberate design decisions.

The Polo Pullover. I like this one on the whole, but am not sure about that broken rib yoke. I think maybe it needs a strip of some other contrasting stitchwork along the bottom to make it look finished off, rather than just stopping randomly as it does.

The Redfern Cardigan. Very much like this one. It's got quite lot of interesting detail and is totally wearable for daily life.

The Bee Stitch Cardigan. This says "depressed and frumpy sixties housewife" to me. It's shapeless and unfinished-looking.

The Zipper Cowl. The graphic design of this is very attractive, but the shape is perhaps not quite working. Cowls do have a certain unfortunate tendency to get that "flat tire hung around the neck" look. I'd maybe scale this one down a little.

The Wheaten Pullover. This isn't bad, but it is a tad on the boxy and sloppy side. I'd raise the dropped shoulders and add a little waist shaping.

The Meadow Tunic. I like this one although I am not sure about the built-in sleeveless glove gimmick on the cuffs. I'm assuming the half-gloves will fold back to look like cuffs, which will be useful should the wearer want to, say, eat a sandwich or use the toilet, but I do have other concerns. I know I've previously praised a jacket design that had attached fingerless gloves, but that was a jacket. This sweater looks meant for indoor wear and it doesn't make much sense to wear gloves all day long when you're indoors, unless you're the type who is always cold, but even then the gloves give the item a depressive look. This sweater looks like part of Sandra Bullock's wardrobe from While You Were Sleeping, in which she plays a dispirited forlorn type who always wears her sweater sleeves down to her knuckles and sits around eating cookies she's dipped into her cat's milk bowl. Which had a certain charm, but we all wanted her to move on from that, right?

The Tandem Scarf is convertible: it can be worn as a cowl as you see here or, when unbuttoned, as a scarf. It's a clever idea, and I love the intricate cables used here. I'm not sure the secondary colour adds anything, though. I would probably do this one in a single colour.

The Saddleback Cardigan. Classic beautifully detailed piece. Nothing to criticize here.

The Whitewood Beret and Mittens. Lovely cabled tam and fingerless mitts set.

The Tugboater Pullover is an attractive man's sweater. As a Torontonian, all I can think of is it looks like an adult, unobtrusive version of a Maple Leafs hockey sweater. Strangely though for a team that hasn't brought home the Stanley Cup in most of its fanbase's lifetime, its fans usually have little interest in being unobtrusive.

The Blush Cardigan. I don't care for this one, though I think it would look much better if it had been styled differently. Worn over an empire-waisted dress, or one without seams in the front, it would be much more attractive. One of the biggest problems with these cropped length cardigans is that they chop the figure up visually by creating too many horizontal lines in a way that isn't flattering to any woman. About the sweater itself, I do like the detailing around the neck, and the beautiful yarn used. The bottom hem and cuffs have been left looking a little too plain and unfinished looking.

The Erstwhile Scarf. This is another "convertible" cowl/scarf with buttons. It's quite lovely, with great texture, and it lies so well as a cowl. No flat tire here.

The Rock Quarry Stole is quite a nice piece. The linen stitch and bobbled edge are an interesting new combination.

The Milkweed Shawl is a lovely little item. It will be useful either as a shawl and as a scarf.

The Fiddlesticks Cowl. The copy for this design says it "uses a twisted stitch found in traditional Austrian and Bavarian knits. Twisted stitches are essentially mini-cables, giving the fabric the textural interest of cabling without the cable needle." Interesting, because I had initially thought this was cabled. Nice piece with great texture.

The Roosevelt Cardigan. Another lovely classic cardigan. As in the Ropemaker Pullover above, the pockets are ingeniously integrated into the cable design.

The Black Baccara Cardigan. This is a very decent piece of work overall, but I think the neckline detracts. It looks unfinished and even a little ragged.

The Climbing Rose Henley. I love the concept of a henley with pretty, feminine touches, but not quite sure I care for the execution. The roses are lovely, but I'm not sure the contrast colour used at the neckline, cuffs, and waistband is quite the best direction to go here. I think I might do the piping and the ruffled neckline band in the rose colour, do the waistband and cuffs in the main colour, and omit the ruffles at the wrists.

The Archway Hat. Nice little cap.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

I Lost My Wife at the Spinrite Factory Outlet Store

In a little town called Listowel, Ontario (population 5,000 and located about a 45-minute drive north of Kitchener), there is a factory that manufactures much of the yarn that is sold in Ontario and an accompanying factory outlet store that draws many yarn shoppers from many miles around. The selection of yarn and other crafting materials is quite good, the prices are very reasonable, and the store also has a lot of seconds and clearance yarn available for very little.

As a teenager I lived in Listowel for three years. My parents still live there, and I visit the store a few times a year when I'm back visiting family. As you might expect, I've invested much money and time in the Spinrite store over the years. I think fondly of the time that, for $14, I purchased enough rose-coloured mohair to make a skirt, a sweater and an afghan, and of the time I single-handedly kept three sales associates busy waiting on me for my entire visit (it was Christmas Eve day and I was the only customer there at the time). The yarn store employees know me by sight and tease me about how I should move back from Toronto to work there. I tell them, "Stock options, and then we'll talk," and they say, "Oh honey, we all want stock options!"

The Spinrite Factory Outlet has several big sales a year, and they have big tent sales which are crazily well-attended. Countless minivans pull into the parking lot with full loads of purposeful-looking crafters, and it's not uncommon to see buses arriving with a full load of avid day-trippers. At the entrance to the tent, Spinrite staff hand out enormous plastic bags (think larger than the standard black plastic garbage bag), and many shoppers do actually fill them. I've always enjoyed watching other Spinrite shoppers shop, because they do so with such an intense focus, and one sees many funny little vignettes.

Most of Spinrite's clientele is female. My oldest brother once visited the store on his own, armed with a Christmas shopping list written out for him by his wife, to get a gift certificate for me. He's a farmer and like most farmers he is very skilled at working with his hands, but he doesn't do any sort of needlework. Arriving Spinrite customers are usually greeted in passing and left to browse about by themselves, but when he walked in the front door, he was instantly approached by a store employee who asked if she could help him. My brother said, "This isn't really my kind of place," and the salesperson said, "That's all right sir, we get your kind in here sometimes and we can help you." I so wish my Christmas present had included video of this incident.

Such stray non-knitting men are a less common sight in the store than the husbands or boyfriends in the tow of female customers. Some of these male companions do enter into the shopping with an affectionate indulgence and spirit of fun that's adorable to see, but most look very bored, in either an impatient or a grimly resigned way. One time I saw a woman trawling the store accompanied by a husband who was lugging two enormous upholstery cushions in her wake. She'd pick up a skein of yarn, hold it up to one of the cushions, purse her lips, shake her head decidedly, put the skein back, and then move briskly on to the next set of shelves with her husband trailing along behind, physically compliant but with the most palpable look of frustrated resentment on his face that I ever saw. I hope he at least ended up liking the resulting afghan or throw pillows.

The video above shows how busy the Spinrite tent sales can be and how one such male hanger-on occupied his time while his crafty wife was shopping. A possible veteran of previous such sales, he had come equipped with a folding chair, a guitar, his sense of humour, and a song entitled "I Lost My Wife at the Spinrite Factory Outlet Store". I note that his wife has already purchased a big bag of yarn (visible in the vehicle behind her husband), so it's a safe bet she'll be returning eventually. She won't want to leave her yarn.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Sock, the First World War, and How They Changed One Another

Today is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, and Love Knitting has marked the occasion by posting an article I wrote on the origin of the Kitchener stitch.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Knitwear Design's Power Couple and Other Knitting Fables

After the special secret exercise she'd read about in Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret failed to work, Philippa decided custom design knitwear was the answer.

Arden wanted to show her boyfriend Kent, a master ping pong player, that she was his biggest fan even if she couldn't ever remember the rules of the game or find her way to his matches on time.

Vangie's earliest role had been playing a tomato in her kindergarten class, and every once in a while when the stress of drama school got to her, she'd put on the adult-sized tomato costume she'd created in order to recapture the moment when her passion for theatre had been born.

Petra and Erskine liked to think of themselves as the knitwear design scene's most preeminent power couple.

Giles thought the equipment worn by those who frequented the boxing gym where he was taking beginner lessons was lacking in style, so he'd designed a new look. He hoped his gift presentation of a rad new boxing look would keep him from getting beaten up so often by the regulars at the gym.

Jewel's chiropractor kept telling her that her knitwear shouldn't be of such scale and heft that it was making her bend double, but she felt that he didn't understand how much style really mattered.

Petra's new autumn line had been inspired by her breakthrough realization that knitwear would be so much more useful if it could be designed with several functions in mind. This tam, for instance, could also be used as a bath scrubby and as a pouf for the living room.

When Mira's knitwear design instructor pointed out that her design was going to be rather shapeless and unflattering on most women, Mira decided that he had a point, but that leaving the leg seams unstitched would more than solve that problem. There was nothing like showing a little leg to sex up an outfit.

Mira's design school classmate and best friend Inez agreed with Mira that showcasing the leg was a can't lose design direction.

Joby's newest creation was a scathing political statement about people who spit their bubblegum out on the sidewalk. She hoped that everyone got the message, and also that they noticed that she'd matched the model's shoes to the lining of the bubblegum poncho. It wasn't every designer who showed such political acumen and attention to detail.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Macramé: Why Knot Indeed

Circa 2006, when I was planning on redoing a couple of old lawn chairs, a Google search for instructions on how to work macramé lawn chairs led me into exploring the craft of macramé itself, which in turn left me shaken and scarred. Every click seemed to reveal some fresh new horror. I couldn't seem to find a single attractive use of this craft. There was nothing but bad jewelry, terrible home décor items, tacky lawn chairs, Elvis-style belts, wretched Christmas decorations, and really bloody awful owls.

Remember these plant hangers? They were ubiquitous in the seventies. Although fortunately back then it didn't generally occur to people to make their plant hangers do double duty as a wine rack.

And then there were the macramé owls. So many owls. For some reason people who did macramé had a real fetish for owls. There were macramé owl earrings, macramé owl key chains, and especially macramé wall hangings. If you have the fortitude you can peruse seven freaking pages of macramé owls here.

Eventually, defeated and demoralized, I just printed off some instructions and did my chairs in the "I heart Bingo" pattern above.

I kid. I actually worked them in a plain pattern using cream-coloured cord. And they turned out fine, but to this day that's my only foray into macramé.

Then a little while ago it occurred to me that I ought to write a post on macramé for this site as I've done for a number of other crafts that are akin to knitting. This time my image googling results were more mixed. Some of the same traumatizing crafts were still popping up (go ahead and google "macramé lingerie" if you dare), but there were also a number of very attractive items. I've since learned that macramé is also known as Canvandoli and knotted fiber art, which helped me uncover some of the better examples of macramé. As of course exist. There are bad crafts out there, but there's really no such thing as a bad crafting technique. When crafting goes wrong as it often does, the fault lies in the design and/or the execution, not in the medium itself. Every tree produces some bad apples.

So yes, macramé has loads of potential as a craft. If anything, it's underexplored as a medium. I do think it's fair to say that macramé is more limited than knitting. It isn't well suited to making clothing. Loosely knotted macramé will be too open weave to be wearable (unless one is, say, J.Lo), and knotting it more closely will make it too stiff and heavy for clothing.

Macramé does have some limited use as overlays and embellishments for clothing, as is the case with this hammered silk crepe and jersey macramé dress from the Spring/Summer 2010 Ready-to-Wear Collection by Tadashi Shoji.

Macramé can also be used to make straps or halter back detail for a garment. It could also be used to make a shawl.

The stiffness and sturdiness of closely knotted macramé makes it a good technique for purses and handbags, as in the case of this clutch and shoulder bag from Banana Republic.

Macramé can make some quite striking jewelry, in which the crafter can incorporate beads and stones and other findings.

If you've got a simple wooden or metal chair frame about, you can make a quite comfortable and attractive macramé chair that will be suitable for indoor or outdoor use.

Macrame can also be used to make pillows, as in the case of these from Amenity, though you will want to line them.

And I don't see anything objectionable in a simple macramé plant hanger, like these ones, the pattern for which is available for free on the Lion Brand site (I can't link directly to the pattern as anyone who wants to access it must register first). But please, no plant hangers with tassels hanging nearly to the floor, and no sticking wine bottles into your plant hanger, because that's just wrong.

If you wish to give macramé a go, there is, which offers some patterns (of varying quality, but that's to be expected given the price) and, more importantly, instructions on the basics and more advanced techniques of the craft. There's also Macrame School on Youtube, which offers a number of instructional videos, and for inspiration, there are quite a few macramé boards on Pinterest.

But it doesn't seem that macramé will ever distance itself from the owl. If anything, macramists seem determined to embrace the owl, as artist Andy Harman has done with this owl installation. There is, in fact, Macramé Owl, an "organisation [that] is dedicated to saving, rehabilitating and reviving the Macramé Owl".

I couldn't make this stuff up.