May 2009 Archives

To pass the time


Well, it's that common knitting-design quandary. I'm deeply immersed in secret projects at the moment, and while I'm super-excited about all of them, I obviously can't blog any of them yet. There's a little something I'll be releasing on June 1, but for now, all I can offer is a little rant.

For starters, have you seen this?

It's a very, very silly article. VERY silly! Is this the kind of thing the Washington Post generally publishes? I was under the impression they were a pretty reputable paper, but now I just don't know. So, for those of you that don't like to click links and read long, silly tirades, George Will tries to claim here that blue jeans are a sign of moral and sartorial decay, symbolizing a cultural decline into infantilism (yeah, you read that right) and slovenliness. Plus, he says, they look bad on fat people. He locates in denim a harmful nostalgia for everything from a Steinbeck-esque agrarian lifestyle, to the 1950's rebel-without-a-cause posturings of James Dean and Marlon Brando. This nostalgia, says Will, is really bad. It's emblematic of everything wrong with our country. His solution? I quote:

For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don't wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly.

Fred Astaire. Way to sock it to the destructive nostalgic longings for an unattainable past age, Mr. Will. Very nicely done. A top hat and tails is just the thing for a family picnic. And Grace Kelly! What a practical, reasonable suggestion of a sartorial role model. I mean, she was a Hollywood star and also a PRINCESS, routinely clad in such bargain-basement brands as Chanel and Givenchy. She not only carried a $5,000 handbag, but had one named after her. So, conforming to her style choices should be easily within reach of the average American. And crinolined, wasp-waisted organza party dresses are so flattering to the obese among us!

I mean, don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of Grace Kelly's wardrobe. That pink suit she wore in To Catch a Thief, with the matching open-toe pumps? That amazing black and white confection Jimmy Stuart makes fun of in Rear Window? So gorgeous! But this article exemplifies a certain attitude, one I'm always afraid, as a person interested in vintage clothes and the stories they tell, that people will think I share. So let me go on record as saying that while I do think the fad for pre-distressed jeans is a bit decadent, and I have some concerns about the sustainability of cotton as a crop, I am socially pro-denim. I am not in favor of reverting to an idealized version of the past, in which gender roles were upheld even more rigidly than they are today. I am not for enforcing five pounds of underwear per woman, a top hat for every man, and a barrel and sheet for anyone who doesn't fit into those two categories. Classic 1940's and 50's femme is a place I love to visit, but oh honey, I would not live there if you made me Princess of Monaco.

Not only that, but I think denim is just as eloquent a storyteller as formalwear, and I think its stories are just as worthy of being heard. One of the many ridiculous claims that Will makes is that people who wear jeans now - he evokes, for example, Apple CEO Steve Jobs - are attempting to cash in on a Brando-esque rebellious image of which they obviously fall short. He doesn't acknowledge that the social meanings of fashions, as of all art, evolve over time. Steve Jobs is not making himself out to be Marlon Brando; he's making himself out to be a casual, approachable guy who likes to be comfortable, and likes his audience to be comfortable.

To see just how silly Will's argument is, let's think about music. Let's think, in particular, about the waltz. Modern conceptions of the waltz range from stodgy to romantic: floaty Regency women circling around a ballroom in the arms of Napoleonic officers. A nice instrumental waltz makes pleasant background music at an afternoon tea to which you're inviting your grandmother. Yet when the waltzing fad hit Britain in the late 1700's, it was so scandalous that even Lord Byron, notorious bisexual bad-boy and rock star of Romanticism, found it to be too much. H.C. Robinson, a contemporary of Byron's, wrote that

The dancing is unlike anything you ever saw. You must have heard of it under the name of waltzing, that is rolling and turning, though the rolling is not horizontal but perpendicular. Yet Werther, after describing his first waltz with Charlotte, says, and I say so too, 'I felt that if I were married my wife should waltz (or roll) with no one but myself.

By Will's logic, then, any young person wishing to learn the waltz is tempting scandal and should be taken firmly in hand. It's preposterous. Just like Brando's cosume designers changed the meaning of denim in the 1950's from "country laborer" to "teenage rebel," so the signification of denim has continued to evolve and branch out. Depending on how it's worn, it can now mean "raver kid," "50's schoolgirl on a picnic," "80's skateboarder," "crusty punk," "mainstream casual weekender," "hippie/free spirit," "little league coach," "spunky co-ed," "down and out," the list goes on. All of these types can evoke stories I'd like to hear, no matter what George Will has to say.

And the funniest part: Grace Kelly?


She wore jeans, too.


Here's Charles Victor!


Presenting the Charles Victor Morine Tunic, fresh from his stint on the lovely island of Oahu.


And, to reinforce Charles's multi-gendered quality, here I am wearing him as well:


After observing island dress at first hand, I am pretty pleased with my interpretation. The bright colors were out in force during our visit, and if one thing struck me about Hawaiian street fashion, it was that it's even more casual than what you find in Portland. (Which is really saying something, as Portland is a pretty darn casual place as well.) I think Charles Victor has a sort of lived-in, laid-back quality that accurately reflects both the man and his environment.


One of the things I learned in the process of designing this tunic is that an open bottom edge requires multiplying the ease by many times the amount I would normally desire. I was going to allow three inches of positive ease for this on David, but I quickly decided to double that. The finished garment has six inches of ease on him, which I would normally consider ample for drape and "room to move around." But, due to the open hemline, I wouldn't want it any smaller and in fact, I think the eight-plus inches of ease when I wear the tunic is actually more flattering. In some of these photos you can see how it tends to gap on David:


On me, by contrast, it hangs straighter:


So, for anyone making this in the future, I might recommend a minimum of eight inches of positive ease. Alternately, you could easily add more buttons or space them more widely apart. The buttonholes are crocheted on after knitting, so it's easy to experiment and find the configuration that works best for you. I considered putting buttons all the way down the front of Charles Victor, but David and I both thought that limiting them to the upper right balances the asymmetry of the lower-left pineapple motif in a pleasing way. And speaking of the buttons:


I'm quite pleased with the ones we found. As always, David was invaluable in picking these out. They're carved horn, and extend the tropical theme while also breaking up the visual field a bit with a different color and texture.


Another thing I'm happy about with this design is the subtle differences in texture. The denser basket-stitch on the bottom and cuffs is heavier than the stockinette, and makes for a nice drape and a lovely texture to feel. The linen/merino yarn is delicious to wear, even in the muggy weather we were having during these shots. Linen is, of course, a tropical classic, and I understand why: it really breathes, and the merino content cuts down on unsightly wrinkles and gives it some softness and bounce. I'd definitely like to work with Louet's MerLin again; I'm especially curious about the worsted-weight version of this yarn.


I'm also pleased with how the pineapple motif ended up working in the overall garment, and designing it taught me a ton about combining cables with texture stitches, and decreasing around a semi-circular motif of denser fabric to maintain a straight silhouette. I was thinking while working on the pineapple how many applications this general principle could have: a person could use a section of denser fabric to create garment shaping (we do this with ribbing all the time, but this kind of built-in shaping needn't be limited to ribbing), to create weight where it's needed, or for a brocaded all-over effect like stripes, polka dots or herringbone. Vertical stripes worked in textured stitches would be much easier than vertical colorwork stripes. The possibilities are endless!


Overall, I'm happy with Charles Victor, and happy he was done in time for these on-location photographs. One in particular could not have been taken anywhere else.




Much thanks to everyone who has bought, commented on, viewed, emailed about, or otherwise noticed Maxine! I look forward to seeing different versions start popping up on Ravelry. I'm also thinking of doing a blog post in the near future on different ways to wear it, as I've been getting a lot of questions about that. Apparently y'all don't go around dressed like flappers all the time: who knew?


As the new-pattern activity is settling down a bit, I thought I'd do a post about our trip to Oahu, which was just what the doctor ordered. The photo above is an early-morning shot from our balcony - or maybe I should say "my uncle's balcony," as he very generously donated a week at his time-share to my folks, myself and David. Most of the trips I've taken in the recent past have been hectic, geared either toward sight-seeing, or toward a recognition of some life event (weddings, graduations, birthdays, and so on). It was fantastically luxurious to have a vacation devoted primarily to relaxation. I actually don't have any beach shots (I was anxious about getting sand in my camera, or having it stolen), but a delightfully large portion of our time was occupied in lazing around the beach, books in hand, dipping into the ocean lagoons, or watching the sun set over the Pacific from one of the several hot tubs scattered around the property. I don't normally frequent resorts; they're just not on my radar for a variety of reasons. But I'm not complaining about the experience!

We did get out and do a bit of historical sight-seeing. My mom grew up in Kailua, and it was great to see the houses she lived in as a kid, and her elementary, intermediate, and high schools. Her old neighborhood, as you'd expect, has changed a lot since she left in 1969, and it was fun to have her re-create for us the un-fenced, middle-class, islandy neighborhood vibe. I could superimpose the image she created over the current complex of concrete-block walls and BMWs. We visited the graves of Jessie Lambdin and Charles Victor Morine, which was surprisingly powerful for me:


I'm normally not much of one for visiting graves, preferring to see, instead, the places that were important to people during their lives. But something about seeing the names of my great-grandparents set down solidly in metal, after having just done so much work "getting to know" them via research and word-of-mouth, was quite touching.

Across the street from the newer cemetery where Jessie and Charles are buried is an older plot, and we wandered over to look at the gorgeous, weathered old stones. I love cemetery photography, and the light could not have been more beautiful. The textures, colors and patinas of the old stones are always so inspiring to me.


Some, like this gorgeous cross, are obviously suggestive of cabled knitting:


We also explored areas full of life, human and otherwise: David, it turns out, is a maniac for snorkeling, and jumped in the water in mask and snorkel almost every day. I had never been out before, so he coached me a bit and by the end of the trip we were all able to spend an afternoon snorkeling at the gorgeous Hanauma Bay Preserve, where we saw a wide variety of beautiful tropical fish (including several beaked parrotfish, and some bearded goatfish - I am irrationally amused by names of fish that incorporate the name of another animal). I don't take easily to the water, but I'm so glad I made an exception, because snorkeling at Hanauma was truly special.

We also had lunch at the Wai'oli Tea Room, a place my mother remembers visiting with her mother, back when it was run by the Salvation Army for the benefit of the orphanage and "home for unwed mothers" that also operated on the premises. Perched on a hill and surrounded by lush greenery, the tea room has the kind of weathered charm that always pulls me in and captures my imagination. And lunch was delicious into the bargain.


We also went up the Pali highway, where lush green peaks were swathed dramatically in heavy mists, like something out of a Japanese print. It's not hard to imagine the epic battle that took place here in 1795, when Kamehameha I's troops cornered those of Kalanikupule on this sheer cliff, forcing them to choose between being speared or jumping to their deaths.


A bit of the old Pali road is preserved below the lookout, and my mom remembers when it was the only way over the pass. She also has a hilarious early-childhood memory of throwing her pacifier out of the car window as they went over the Pali, which was the end of pacifiers for her. Later, we visited Honolulu's Chinatown, and communed with several shop cats while admiring the tropical produce.


My grandmother had a favored lei-maker in this area when her kids were growing up, and when guests were flying in she would always make an early-morning visit to pick up a lei or two. When my folks got married in Portland in 1975, they flew in flowers from the same lei-maker.

Overall, it was a delightful experience. I am still sorting through the hundreds of Charles Victor shots, which will get their own entry. For now, I'll leave you with this panoramic shot of Hanauma bay, which David had the foresight to snap as we were leaving. (As with all the photos, click for a larger view.)