Monday, 21 July 2014

Film Muffler

The knitted stop motion short Film Muffler, created by Miho Yata, combines knitted scarves, crocheted roses, and a simple piano accompaniment by Mie Yanashita in a nod to the silent movie era that is the most charming thing you'll see all day.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Midwifery and Needlecraft

A few months ago I zipped through the first three seasons of the BBC-produced show Call the Midwife. I'd put off watching it for awhile even though I heard many good things about it because I didn't think I'd like it, but then I gave it a chance and was hooked from the first episode. Those involving storylines! The sociopolitical depth of the issues involved! The frequent hilarity! The period detail! And, not least among the many rewards of watching Call the Midwife, is that it features a lot of needlework and knitwear. Midwife Chummy is a highly skilled seamstress (out of self-defense, I am sure, because as a 6'1" woman in the 1950s, almost none of the readymade garments then available would have fit her), the nuns of Nonatus House have a daily needlecraft hour during which they make items for charity, the mothers of Poplar are frequently seen knitting, and the entire cast, from the midwives to the mothers to the random extras to the babies, regularly sport delightful vintage style knitwear.

However, for a show that does usually nail all its period details, Call the Midwife did demonstrate an absurd disregard for accuracy in episode eight of season two. In the screencap above, Midwives Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) and Trixie Franklin (Helen George) are shown knitting. And they really are knitting, not just pretending to, which is great. But what's Trixie holding in her lap? Granny squares. Crocheted granny squares, against which she measures the size of her knitting to be sure they match. Is the blanket they are working on to be composed of knitted and crocheted squares?

No, it isn't. Here, Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt), is shown "knitting" a granny square. No wonder she looks confused. Also, Sister Monica Joan is supposed to be a good knitter who can "knit in her sleep", as Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) comments, but it's all too clear that Judy Parfitt cannot knit at all.

And here we see the women of Nonatus House working together to assemble their "knitted" blanket while they anxiously await the news regarding the fate of their friend and comrade in midwifery Chummy, who suffered a hemorrhage when giving birth to her son and is undergoing surgery. This is something the show got right, as such work would be calming and very much in character with what these sensible, energetic, practical women would do, and this is a beautiful scene.

The finished afghan is lovingly laid over Chummy as she lies unconscious in her hospital bed after surgery. Happily, she rouses when her son is placed beside her, and all is well.

But I can't help being exasperated by the whole knitting/crocheting mix-up. For one thing, there is just no way those who worked on this episode didn't know they were making a mistake. Some members of the case are knitters in real life; Jessica Raine has said that they knit in the break room on set. Whomever made the decision to stage this plot point this way plainly didn't think it mattered. But it does matter, just as it would matter if a show were to confuse rugby with soccer. Conflating knitting with crocheting isn't some esoteric detail that only an initiated few will catch, but a silly mistake that will irritate every crafter in the audience as well as those who may not knit or crochet themselves but who recognize the difference, and there are not some insignificant number of us. More movie and TV directors need to understand this, and they also need to be careful about representing a character as an excellent knitter when the actor playing the character can't knit, or is only a beginning knitter. There are workarounds, such as showing an actor working on finishing details rather than the actual knitting (it is much, much easier to learn finishing skills), or showing the character merely sitting with the knitting in his or her lap rather than actually working on it.

That said, let's move on from the whole knitting/crochet kerfuffle in media topic and get to an aspect of Call the Midwife-related knitting that I'm sure we'd all much rather focus on: Call the Midwife-inspired knitting projects!

This pattern is for the real Call the Midwife fetishist, and it's an excellent rendition of the pillbox hats Jenny and the other midwives sport while cycling off to bring another new life into the world. This is the Midwife Calling Felted Pillbox Hat, designed by Kylene Moss Grell. It's available for $1.99(USD), and as a bonus it includes a pattern sized for an 18" American Girl Doll.

If you'd like a midwife-style burgundy cardigan, that should be easy to replicate, as it's a basic v-necked cardigan with five buttons. Your best bet is to use a vintage pattern from the 50s. The Yangtze Cardigan, designed by Courtney Kelley and published in Vintage Modern Knits: Contemporary Designs Using Classic Techniques might be a good choice if you nix the texture and pockets and scale the number of buttons back to five.

This Chummy doll, from the blog Amy's Gurumis, is crocheted, but is just too adorable not to include, and it's a free pattern. I did find a knitted Chummy doll, but it didn't look nearly as good as this one. Crocheting is the better option for amigurumi. I think if I were making this, I'd knit Chummy's sweater, though.

There's no pattern yet available for this Sister Bernadette/Shelagh Turner doll, which is again from the gifted Amy of the blog Amy's Gurumis, but I just had to show it to you anyway. This doll can be transformed from nun to civilian/doctor's wife because her hair's removable.

Perhaps, though, you don't care to make either a replica midwife uniform or a doll and instead want a Call the Midwife-inspired piece that you can actually wear. This would be my approach too — I've never been able to get into costume making because one can only wear the costume a few times, and I'm certainly well past my doll play years, so let's look at some Call the Midwife knitwear.

Of all the characters' wardrobes on Call the Midwife, Trixie Franklin's is your best bet for cute knits to replicate. The flirtatious, outgoing, fashion-forward Trixie wears detailed, eye-catching, tricksy little numbers (was ever a character better suited to her name?). We see her in this short-sleeved top several times, and the 1950s twinset pattern displayed above (which is available for free) could be made to be nearly identical with some changes to the stripe pattern in the yoke.

I don't have pattern suggestions for these three sweaters but include them for your possible inspiration. If any of you do track down a readily available similar pattern and care to share it with the rest of us, please email me the link and I'll add it to the post. Some of you will have the skills to write your own patterns using a picture as your guide (and if you don't now, you may someday!). I love the checked sweater at the bottom especially and am mentally playing with it to see how I could make it work for me.

Prim and reserved Jenny Lee wears simple, classic clothes (and a lot of yellow), but although she also looks lovely her clothes seems less worthwhile to copy than Trixie's, because they are so very plain, and there's not much point in putting all that work into such a plain item. (There are loads of articles on the net telling people how to get the Call the Midwife look by matching the characters' outfits up with similar and readily available current clothes.) Moreover I suspect a large part of the reason Jenny Lee's clothes look so appealing is because Jessica Raine is in them, which is an advantage the rest of us won't have. Raine seems born to wear 1950s fashions and hairstyles, which suit her so perfectly that she tends to look better in them than she does in contemporary styles. She even manages to look good in the hilarious hospital nursing uniforms, which the head nurse assures her are "practically couture" but which feature enormous puffed sleeves which look like they pose a possible hazard to the patients. I for one wouldn't want to get whacked in the nose by one of those starched sleeves.

I do have this one pattern to offer. The bottom picture is the Lady's Evening Jumper, designed by Susan Crawford. It appeared in A Stitch in Time: Vintage Knitting Patterns, 1930-1959, Volume 2, and it seems to have been the very same pattern used to make Jenny Lee's short-sleeved version. Which is yellow, of course.

Nothing else is popping up on my image Google searches that really seems worthy of mention. The other regular characters tend to wear frumpier looking knitwear, as Cynthia Miller does, or little knitwear, as in the case of Shelagh Turner, who usually sticks to beautifully tailored classic wool suits. One-episode characters and extras do tend to wear some nice knitwear, but we don't often get a good look at the designs.

But let's not forget the little guest stars of Call the Midwife, who regularly sport lovingly handknitted items. Styles such as these babies wear are readily found in vintage baby clothing knitting booklets and will look as cute as these when put on a baby. Babies are even better at looking cute than Jessica Raine.

We do have a Christmas 2014 special and a 2015 season to look forward to, so I may do a follow-up post on more possible Call the Midwife projects.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Wonderful Knitting Machine

One of the unsung heroes of the World War I, the knitting machine helped preserve the feet of the soldiers in the trenches and keep them fit for active duty. This documentary, The Wonderful Knitting Machine, directed by Rasec Ozal, talks about the knitting machine and its role in WWI, and includes a demonstration of how to make a sock on an antique knitting machine. Part 1 of The Wonderful Knitting Machine appears above while Part 2 appears below.

I will quibble with this documentary on one thing, though. In the video, the narrator claims knitters could make a pair of socks in a week. This might have been the average rate of production, but many knitters could and did knit socks much faster than that. One of my great-grandmothers, who was of an age to knit for WWI, could make a pair of socks in an evening.

Here is Part 2 of The Wonderful Knitting Machine.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Darn Good Yarn

A few months ago someone from the yarn company Darn Good Yarn contacted me and asked if I would like a free yarn sample. I gave the question of whether I would like to receive free yarn the 0.00001 seconds of serious thought it took for me to conclude that OH YES PLEASE I WOULD VERY MUCH LIKE SOME FREE YARN, and the skein of Roving Silk Yarn pictured above was duly sent to me. Which in turn led to me checking out Darn Good Yarn projects on Ravelry to see what other knitters were doing with Darn Good Yarn's yarns, and from there to the Darn Good Yarn website itself.

Darn Good Yarn, founded in 2008, offers a range of yarn that is handmade by hundreds of women in India and Nepal. These women, many of whom live in areas where there are few viable jobs for women, are selected for their skill and can earn a livable wage in their own homes. Not only does Darn Good Yarn give all these women the means to support themselves, they also help reduce waste as the much of the fibres used to make the yarns for a Darn Good Yarn are recycled and reclaimed, such as those used in their silk yarns, which are made from recycled silk saris.

Darn Good Yarn offers quite a full range of yarns, from hand-dyed silk, llama, yak, and banana fibre yarns that could be used for general purpose knitting and crocheting, to ribbon yarns, art yarns, and yarn made from jute, linen, newspaper, and hemp that would be better suited to home decor items, art, or strictly utilitarian projects than to anything wearable. They also offer some fabric, and spinning and felting supplies. The crocheted basket photo above is one of Darn Good Yarn's product shots and is available as a kit containing the instructions and enough ribbon yarn to make three nesting baskets.

This plant holder is another of Darn Good Yarn's suggested projects: it's a bread crumb container covered in newspaper yarn. The instructions are available for free on Darn Good Yarn's website. To be honest, many of the free project patterns on the Darn Good Yarn website leave something to be desired, but then that's often true of the designs offered by yarn companies; their forte is supplying yarn rather than coming up with creative things for a knitter to do with it. So let's have a look at what the users of Ravelry are doing with their Darn Good Yarn.

Ravelry user HaliBea knitted this hip scarf to wear in a student recital at the dance studio she attends. She used Darn Good Yarn's Recycled Resolution Sari Silk Yarn for the project. The play of colour is fabulous, and I'd love to see this idea expanded into a standard-sized shawl.

Ravelry user purple4885 knitted this Malawi Cichlid Skinny Scarf with less than a skein of Darn Good Yarn's Silk Cloud.

Ravelry user BettyBee made this Plush Boxy Bee scarf with some of Darn Good Yarn's Plush yarn and some black yarn from Lamb's Pride. This scarf is woven, not knitted, but it would be quite possible to knit something similar. This piece makes good use of a solid dark colour to tone down a bright, multi-coloured yarn.

Ravelry user babjoysong knitted and sewed this vest using Recycled Sari Silk Yarn Rope Cording and some coordinating striped fabric. She reported that "the yarn is tough, coarse, wiry, and challenging to work with".

This little witch doll isn't knitted or even crocheted, but she is just too wonderful and deliciously creepy not to include. Ravelry user magyarreeddog made twelve-inch Violet the Witch's hat, overskirt, and embellishments from Darn Good Yarn's dyed silk roving, silk gauze and ribbons.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Head Turning Hats

Post concepts for this blog come to me from a variety of sources. This post was inspired by a recent hall closet cleaning. I took my basket of seasonal hats down from the closet shelf and discovered that they weren't seasonal because I hadn't switched out the warm woolen hats, scarves, and gloves that were in it for my summer hats back in early May as I should have. So I got out my summer hats and reminded myself to wear them in order to prevent more sun damage and scoldings from my dermatologist, and then ran the winter accessories through the wash. As I was blocking my winter hats on various plates, pots, and bowls in my kitchen, I had an epiphany. I realized I'd been making hats and scarves for myself willy nilly because I liked the patterns and/or yarn without really thinking about what coats they'd go with. I'd never make a sweater without figuring out what it'll go with and where I can wear it, but hats take less time and material and had slipped under my practicality radar. Consequently I had coats for which I had no coordinating hats and hats which went with nothing. I promised myself that in the fall when I do the coat and hat switch out again I would figure out what went with what, do some weeding out, and possibly make myself some new accessories if needed. And that train of thought led to this post.

I got inspired to go through the hats on Ravelry and see if I could find some that had some style so I'd be prepared if I should decide I need to make myself some new ones come fall. There are tens of thousands of hats on Ravelry and I can't pretend to have looked at them all, but I did look at a great many and here are 20 that I liked. The hat pictured above is included mostly because I love the picture. I can't for the life of me make out the hat well enough to know whether I can recommend it or not. If you want to take a stab at making it, it's A Chic Knitted Hat for Spring, which originally appeared in the Australian paper The Western Mail in September 1931, and the pattern is available for free.

This is the Alannah Slip Stitch Hat, which was designed by Kristi Founds, and is available for $6(USD). I love the drape and the detail around the brim.

This is the Felted Fedoras are Fun pattern, designed by Kristi Holaas, and it's available for $5.50(USD). The fedora/trilby style is very popular right now, and you can make this pattern your own by doing it in whatever colour you wish and trimming it to suit your own sense of style.

This the Peacock Tam, by Celeste Young, and with my raging Art Nouveau fetish I immediately fell in love with it when I first happened across it some months back. This pattern was published in Knits of a Feather: 20 Stylish Knits Inspired by Birds in Nature.

This is the Slouchy Beret pattern. One can't not notice the vibrant stripes. It's a Noro Magazine pattern designed by Rachel Maurer, and it's available for $5(USD).

This is the very fetching Newsboy Hat Hannah, designed by Heidi Hennessey. It's available for $6(USD).

So many of the hats on Ravelry are unisex in style. When I'd picked out all the other patterns in this post and found they were all for women, I searched specifically for hats for men and came up with just this one. This is the Dublin Cap. It was designed by Cheryl Andrews and is available for $5(USD).

Here's another felted hat, this time in a vintage style based on the hats of the 1930s and 1940s. The Evelyn Tilt Hat, designed by Jennifer Tallapaneni, is available for $3.75(USD).

After that last distinctively vintage hat, here's a very modern hat, the Ecliptic pattern, designed by Jennifer Elaine. It's a free pattern.

When I was selecting hat patterns for this post, I ruled out many I had initially liked on the basis of how some of the pictures looked once I clicked into the pattern page. In many cases the pattern had a cute thumbnail shot but it turned out that the hat didn't look nearly as good when photographed from other angles. Do be sure to check out whatever pictures are available when choosing a hat pattern. Everyone's going to see you and the hat from all sides rather than at one carefully staged angle. This Sprig Cloche hat, designed by Alana Dakos, is a simple yet distinctive affair that does show well in a holistic viewing. It's available for $6(USD).

I haven't included too many caps in this post, because although caps are warm and wearable, they seldom have much style and I was looking specifically for hats with style. But I had to include this Frostfangs Hat pattern because it was irresistibly eye catching. It was designed by Liz Smith and is available for $3(USD).

Tams really lend themselves to some gorgeously intricate patterning because of their flat top surface. This is the Eomer Shield Tam, designed by KYMaggie based on one of JRR Tolkien's unused drawings for the Lord of the Rings series, and it's available for $4(USD).

The Sunflower Medallion Beret, designed by Anna Al, appears in Vogue® Knitting: The Ultimate Hat Book. That little twist-tied band just adds so much.

Trimming often makes or breaks a hat. Here's a very simple cloche hat made by the addition of an effective bow. This is the Beau Cloche design, by Natalie Larson. It's available for $4.49(USD).

Here's another newsboy cap style, this time with a band and buckle. This Newsboy design, by Sylvie Rasch, is available for €5.95(EUR). The newsboy style can be worn by everyone but always strikes me as a style that is especially cute on women.

The Annie Hat pattern, designed by Kristina McGowan, was inspired by the hat Diane Keaton wears in Annie Hall and uses pipe cleaners to maintain its shape. The pattern was published in Modern Top-Down Knitting: Sweaters, Dresses, Skirts & Accessories Inspired by the Techniques of Barbara G. Walker.

The Elfunny Beret, designed by FadenStille, has been made 171 times by Ravelry users, and it's easy to see why. It's easily wearable and looks good on everyone, and is also a free download.

Another beautiful tam. There were so many I wanted to include in this post and regretfully had to decide against to keep the post to a reasonable length. This one is the Béret généreux, by Isabelle Allard, and it's a free download.

The Adele Felted Hat pattern, by Laurie Pribbeno, is available for $4(USD). It's really the colour and the added brooch that make this one. Making a hat of this style might be a good use for any vintage/inherited brooches you've got lying around and never wear.

This is the Tiima pattern, designed by Lilja Palmgren and available for €4.00(EUR), and it's another example of the trimming adding a lot. The stitchwork on this cap is very pretty, but I looked at countless textured caps during my research for this post and chose this one because the simple eyelet ribbon trimming adds so much.

This 1940s Patons pattern for an angora hat and scarf set, originally published in Patons booklet #42, Styles by Beehive in Angora, isn't readily available, but I'm including it for your interest and inspiration. It looks nothing like any contemporary hat I've seen and yet I think it's quite wearable and attractive for today. I did find a couple of copies available online in a quick search, so if you really love it you can probably manage to get your hands on a copy.