April 2009 Archives

Maxine is up!

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Hi everyone! I'm back from Oahu, with lovely knitting and non-knitting photos to show you, and even a little design surprise to share. There was much snorkeling, sitting-on-the-beach-with-a-book, revisiting of old family haunts, and sitting in hot tubs watching the sun go down over the Pacific.

But first, in time for May Day, I'm pleased to announce that the Maxine Elliott pattern and essay are up and ready to be read, bought, and enjoyed.

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I hope knitters enjoy working from this pattern as much as I enjoyed designing it. It was pretty much a delight from start to finish, and the finished product is a great addition to a Spring wardrobe. Heartfelt thanks to Erin over at Eat.Sleep.Knit. for speedy and communicative test-knitting, and happy knitting to everyone else!

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Under the wire

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It's done! Edging crocheted, buttons sewn on, pressed and folded in David's suitcase and waiting for lift-off. No modeled photos yet, obviously, but I'm pleased with how it turned out, and VERY pleased that I'll be able to photograph it in its natural habitat.

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I don't expect Charles Victor to be my most popular pattern; the small gauge and pronounced drape go against popular wisdom for a mens' garment (even though I envision Charles as non-gendered), and there will probably be some put off by the color and particular retro style. I have to say, though, I learned a TON designing it. Things I did for the first time while designing Charles Victor include:

  • Combined a drapey fabric and a fair amount of ease for a "tunic-y" look;
  • Knitted or designed full-length kimono-style sleeves;
  • Knitted or designed sleeves in one piece with the body, grafted at the tops of the arms and shoulders;
  • Designed a representational motif (the pineapple), which included figuring out how to approximate the textures of the actual fruit, as well as how to handle the decreases around a semi-circular area of a smaller gauge than the surrounding stockinette;
  • Incorporated a textured stitch and cables into the same motif;
  • Knitted or designed a garment with an asymmetrical front opening;
  • Knitted or designed a cardigan-style garment where the button bands were knitted in one piece with the fronts, and made of a non-ribbed stitch;
  • Crocheted buttonholes; and
  • Designed a garment inspired by a time period outside of my normal 1920's-through-1950's window.

I've been thinking a lot lately about saleability and artistic growth. I actually debated whether I should even make Charles Victor, because I didn't anticipate it selling many patterns. Then I thought about how this is my Art Project, where I challenge myself as a knitter and designer, and try to make the best representations I can of my ancestors' characters. Charles Victor was something I'd visualized, which I liked in my head and wanted to see whether I could actually execute. I was kind of shocked at myself for considering just abandoning the project because it lacked market appeal. And now that the sample garment is done, I'm so glad I went through with it. The fabric is lovely and complex; the textured sections have a scrumptious weight about them; the asymmetry of the pineapple is balanced by the buttons; and the thing is just relaxing and fun to wear. On one level, if David and I (and my Tutu, who apparently wants to buy it from me) were the only people in love with it, what would that matter?

Yet, at the same time, designing is also something at which I'm trying to make money. And it's not like the more popular things I've designed have less "integrity" or are less interesting, or any such snobbish nonsense. From that perspective, maybe it's not so awful to consider how best to come up with things that are interesting both to me and others. So I've been vacillating between these two perspectives throughout work on Charles Victor...and I've also been spending time reminding myself that these questions are nothing new. I'm reading Hermione Lee's amazing biography of Edith Wharton right now, and boy howdy, did arguments about profitability and artistic merits ever fly fast and loose around her. (Not to class myself with Wharton, but it does make me feel better to realize that artists I admire faced some of the same issues with which I'm struggling, and made fantastic art anyway.) In the end, I think it's one of those fine lines we all have to tread. I would never want to stop setting myself interesting technical challenges, or back out of a project that intrigued me because I didn't think it would make money. On the other hand, trying lots of different things, expanding my scope and coming up with a range of designs that appeal to a diverse array of people, is definitely a goal of mine as well.

I will just continue to mull this over over the next few days. On a beach. In my swimsuit. Yeah, life is hard.

Countdown: Seven days

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Exactly a week from right now, I'll be in an airplane over the Pacific, on my way to Honolulu. And hopefully (fingers crossed and breath held), this will be done by the time I go:

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You can get much more of a sense now of how the finished garment will look now: it's a heady mix of kimono, mandarin jacket and British colonial safariwear, with an unexpected touch of 60's caftan thrown in for spice. I'm pleased with how it's coming, and with my execution of the little surprise down there in the corner. Here's a closer look:

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Pineapple! The real-life Charles Victor Morine was an engineer (although I prefer the more glamorous term "inventor") who spent his professional life on Oahu designing fruit-harvesting machines for Del Monte. So the pineapple has significance to him personally, although it's also such an iconic Hawaiian symbol of hospitality and welcome that I thought a garment incorporating one could only bring good things to its wearer. I wanted it to be easily recognizable yet low-profile, and be integrated into the overall design of the garment. I think all three criteria are pretty well met; I like how the textured basket stitch of the fruit's body extends seamlessly out of the lower border, and I'm delighted with the look of the cabled spines I invented for the top. I'm also delighted that my theoretical methods for handling decreases and getting the whole thing to hang correctly, despite differing gauges in stockinette, basket, and cabled stitching, seem to have panned out in practice. As a side note, I think this drapey, casual look is really flattering on David!

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So. That's great. Back and right front are grafted at the shoulder and seamed together at the side, and all that remains is the smaller left front, the seaming, and the crochet finishing...to do in seven days. I think this is doable, but it's definitely tight, especially if I want to do a wet-block before we go (which would probably help with the still-visible grafting seams). Just in case that wasn't sufficiently exciting, I'm also a little nervous about running out of yarn, and it's a color I had to special-order from a local shop. Yikes! Needless to say, frantic knitting is taking place around here in an attempt to figure out the proper next step. Hopefully, the yarn will hold out and so will I. Wish me luck!

Very Exciting Housekeeping!

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I usually try to keep Family Trunk Project focused on knitting, but I just had to brag: check out the GORGEOUS new book blog that David designed for me:

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Evening All Afternoon

I can't get over how pretty it is. David designed it based on my descriptions of what I wanted, right down to doing the charcoal drawings of blackbirds, and it's always so amazingly exciting watching Exactly What I Wanted Except Better emerge from his design work. Some of you know that I had previously been publishing all of my posts, both knitting and books, at an old blog that David and I used to share. Frankly, that setup was making me kind of insane, and I'm VERY excited to have this beautiful new forum for writing about books and books alone. (Be sure to scroll down and look at the footer! So pretty!)

Nothing will change over here, and in fact I'm almost ready to post an update on the Charles Victor tunic: it will be a photo-finish with the trip to Hawaii, but I'm still hoping to have it done by the time our plane lands in Honolulu. In the meantime, hop on over to Evening All Afternoon. Take a gander, leave a comment. Even if you're not interested in my literature-related ramblings, it is at least lovely to look at.

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