Recently in Charles Victor Morine Tunic Category

Charles Victor is up!

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It's amazingly embarrassing that this has taken so long, but the Charles Victor Morine Tunic pattern and essay are finally up and available for purchase and reading, respectively!

Charles Victor is an unusual pattern, and I don't anticipate it being a huge seller, but I have received the occasional poke from an interested party and I'd like to apologize for the long wait. It's amazing what changing jobs and planning a commitment ceremony will do to a person's schedule!

I also hope that even those not interested in buying the pattern will check out the essay, because it was one of the most interesting thus far to research and write, and I hope that shows in the final product. My great-grandfather lived such an interesting life, over such a long stretch of time, that it really sparked my imagination to think about it. Imagine registering for the draft in 1917 and living to see Hawaiian statehood and the era of super-computers—or learning about Model T engines as a kid in 1910s California, and living to see men walking on the moon and giant satellites taking photos of nebulae. It's pretty amazing.

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Because Del Monte employee Robert Kehlor took it upon himself to write/compile a history of the company in the Hawaiian islands, there is almost a whole book-chapter devoted to Charles Victor's inventions, which is pretty cool. Not that the book is a literary masterpiece or anything, but it was still interesting to get acquainted with a time and place of which I would otherwise have NO knowledge. What was it like farming pineapples in turn-of-the-century Hawaii? The answer was more intense than I realized. I had no idea, for example, that the industry was so young when Charles Victor entered it in 1924, and that the newly-transplanted farmers faced so many obstacles. Piqued your interest? There's lots more over here. For those interested in buying the pattern, it's available on the same page, or through Ravelry, for $6.50 or three pages of your own family story.

Aloha, friends!

Here's Charles Victor!

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

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

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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.

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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:

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On me, by contrast, it hangs straighter:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

A project for Hawaii

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My my my, where does the time go? Since my last post I have had a surpassingly terrible week, followed by a week where I scrambled around to mend the carnage, followed by a whirlwind trip to Washington, DC to see the senior recital of David's cousin Charlie, who is about to graduate from American University. We were only on the east coast for three nights, and I had my doubts about how fun a 60-hour trip sandwiched between two full days of flying could really be, but you know what? It was thoroughly enjoyable. We spent a day cherry-picking Smithsonian exhibits, beginning with a fantastic and highly entertaining insider tour of the Written in Bone exhibit at the Natural History Museum, courtesy of Elspeth over at Wry Punster. It was fascinating, and also hilarious to hear her stories of conservation challenges and mishaps. Thanks, Elspeth! Also on the menu were a pilgrimage to Julia Child's kitchen (David has a deep, abiding love of her and her show) and a lovely meander through the Louise Bourgeois exhibit at the Hirschhorn. I am a huge fan of Bourgeois's work, and it was really exciting to see some of the huge-scale "cell" installations in person. The recital itself, and the family time spent together on Sunday, were also fantastic. All in all, a successful trip. And what with all the plane time, I made some serious progress on my next Family Trunk pattern.

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In three weeks, David and my parents and I are traveling to the island of Oahu, where my mom grew up like her father before her. The person who made the decision to move from the mainland to Hawai'i was my great-grandfather, Charles Victor Morine, and this garment will be my tribute to him. Hopefully, I can get it done in time to take it with me, and photograph it in the pineapple fields where his inventions helped bring in the harvest.

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This design is outside my comfort zone: a drapey, asian-influenced tunic with kimono-style sleeves that are knitted in one piece with the back and front body pieces. It's a much different look than anything I've come up with before, and knitting the sleeves in a single piece with the body presents certain design challenges. They have to be the right length from the beginning, for example, or one is forced to rip out the entire piece back to the underarm. I've also incorporated a bit of short-row shaping across the shoulders, to accommodate the body's curves. Luckily for everyone else, though, once I've sorted this stuff out, knitting the thing from the pattern should be clear sailing.

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The yarn is Louet MerLin, a delightful linen/merino sport-weight with great drape, that softens beautifully upon washing. The two linen plies are separate from the single merino one, so the finished work has a lot of subtle textural interest. I'm especially loving this effect in the basket-stitch sections that border the bottom and cuffs; the finished fabric really brings to mind the early- to mid-century island wear that helped to inspire this tunic.

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These photos are of the finished back; the front will be asymmetrical, and has a few surprises up its drapey and capacious sleeves.

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