Friday, February 26, 2010

My Handmade Wardrobe

I recently got to thinking, much of my wardrobe have I made over the years? It didn't seem like it would be very much. I mean, I maybe eek out one knitted sweater a year, a handful of hats. I'm constantly sewing ill-fitting dresses and tops for myself, but I really didn't expect the handmade portion of my wardrobe to make up a very big percentage. And then I started pulling things out of drawers and off of hangers. What I wound up with was a big steaming pile of handmade. Here's a little tour of a few of the items in this pile. (Mostly the knitting, by the way, because it's too cold to model any sewn sundresses! That will be a follow up post for spring.)

At the bottom of the stack you'll find the sweaters. There are 4 in total. The first (at the very bottom of the stack) is fuzzy and ugly and looks a little bit like the bedraggled one-eyed cat, PeeWee, my family had growing up, matted fur and all. Let's face it, it will never be worn. But it will also never be thrown out or unraveled and knitted into something else. It will sit in my drawer as a celebration of too short sweaters with sloppy seams from around the world. But these two...the gray one and the blue one above...these are my all-time favorites. These are what I like to call winners. The blue sweater is Ingenue from Wendy Bernard's Custom Knits, a book that I edited. The gray sweater is Klaralund from the Noro Corenlia Tuttle Hamilton Collection Book 2. I first saw Klaralund when I worked at Noe Knit in San Francisco (R.I.P., sweet store) in 2006 and thought, someday I will make that sweater, gosh darn it! And someday I did. Instead of a colorful Noro colorway, however, I opted for simple gray Alpaca, which, as Robb says, makes it look a bit like armor. (Thanks, Robb.)

The brown stripey cheery sweater above is another one of my favorites--made using the Classic Bottom-Up Round-Yoke Sweater Formula from Custom Knits. This is where you take your measurements and design your own sweater following 9 easy steps. When Wendy first sent me this "pattern," I thought it was about the coolest thing I'd ever seen. Melanie (of STC Crafts/Melanie Falick Books, of course) questioned it at first--it requires actual math, like division and maybe even algebra--and she wondered if knitters would find that aspect overwhelming. But I assured her nerdy knitters everywhere would eat it up. Soon after I made this declaration, however, I got to wondering if the formula would actually work and felt I better put my yarn where my mouth was. So I whipped up this sweater. The answer? Yup, it works. And because you get to design the sweater yourself, you wind up with things like stripes and wacky red crocheted edges.

In addition to sweaters and such, I have made no less than 2 million hats in my day. They're probably my favorite thing in the world to knit. They take approximately 5 minutes to make (ok, more like 5 hours), they can be kooky or sleek or cozy or whimsical or au francais, and it doesn't matter if you mess up a hat because it was just a tiny bit of time and yarn, so who cares? Here are two of my wintry favorites: they gray one I designed--originally made WAY too big, I felted it down to a proper human head size; the brown hat is the Sunflower Tam from Knitting Nature. Yum.

Now, I feel compelled to confess that there have also been some misses over the years...and yet they stay in the wardrobe. The knitted bikini shown above was, believe it or not, one of my first projects ever. And yes, I've worn water. (Note to all future knitted bikini wearers: chlorine WILL dull dark colored yarn, and knitted stretch-cotton, when submerged in water, feels an awful lot like wearing a full diaper. I'm just sayin.) Let's call the above footwear "experimental." The pink pair were my first ever knitted socks, and the lighter pink toe on one of the socks was not intentional. It's what happens to new knitters when you start a sock and don't consider how much yarn you actually have before you begin. The leg warmers next to them, well, those were the result of me wondering what leg warmers would look like with an 80s retro gym sock design. The answer? They look like 80s retro gym socks, and consequently, they don't get worn very much. Go figure!

Someday, I'll admit, it is my goal to create an entirely handmade wardrobe. I know that this is weird. And most likely improbable. But until then, I'm going to look into learning how to make pants as that is the one clothing style that I do not have in this stack. Anyone know where I can find a good pattern for short pants? Any chance culottes are coming back?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Center Stage Bingo

As it happens, I am occasionally not the only mad crafty genius amongst my group of friends. Last night, in fact, I attended a Center Stage viewing party (thanks, Nicole), whereupon me and six awesome girls alternately watched and yelled at the amazingly awful ballet dance movie that is Center Stage. But what really took the movie viewing to the next level were the Center Stage Bingo cards that Julie created in preparation for the event. She created a different card for each person, though each one has a close-up of Peter Gallagher's eyebrows as the "free" square in the center. I particularly love that Julie refuses to call Peter Gallagher by his real name, and instead exclusively refers to him on the game card as Sandy Cohen (of The O.C. fame). Each card was filled with different quotes (like "bitch academy!") and references (like "Maureen vomits" or "Dancer smokes a cigarette"), and, you know, the first one to cross off all their squares wins.

At the end of the night, I scooped up the remaining Bingo cards and fell in love with how everyone chose to fill them out. I find the angry "x's" on the card at the top of this post fascinating. Like look at how many times this person crossed out "A parent MEDDLES." Could this be a cry for help? I also love the two boxes that were left un-crossed: "Sandy Cohen is pompous" and "Someone is 'dancing for me.'" For the record, I agree with this person in that I don't believe Sandy Cohen was ever pompous in the movie, so I also did not check this box on my card. (It's a matter of principal.) As for the "Someone is 'dancing for me,'" that definitely did happen, so this girl was either bored or asleep by the time that happened.

This Center Stage viewing party attendee chose to use festive circles to mark her Bingo card, which I find aesthetically darling. My favorite part? You guessed it: that she chose to forgoe a black-out Bingo card "win" based on the fact that she didn't feel that any of the gay dancers ever acted SUPER GAY. (She felt they only acted regular gay, and that was not enough to check off the box.)

This last Bingo card might be my favorite as it is lovingly adorned with sweet little stars. Plus this person was a true black-out winner! But doesn't it make you a little bit crazy that she didn't put a star in the "free" Sandy Cohen's eyebrows box? My guess is that she just didn't have the heart to cover up such eyebrow perfection. And really, I don't blame her.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Inspiration

About , I don't know, five years ago my cousin got married in a small farm town near Chico, California. It was, in short, a hoot. On the day of their wedding, killing time, me and my sister and our wedding dates followed hand-written signs off the main drag to a house. Two old ladies sat in lawn chairs out front amidst piles of what can only be described as "crap"--in their retirement, it seemed, they had started a business from their home that resembled a 7-day-a-week yard sale. Clearly we had struck junkyard gold.

The piles of crap continued inside of their house, the living room arranged much like an antiquey boutique with bits of random for-sale memorabilia crammed into every corner. In a wicker basket I found a stack of slender, well-loved magazines. Knitting magazines from the 1960s. And oh my God I have never seen anything weirder, groovier, or more amazing in my life. The colors! The hair! The styling! The eyelashes! (Did you know women applied mascara as thickly on their bottom lashes as on the top? Is it possible they were wearing FALSE bottom eyelashes?) It was absolutely incredible.

I had, at that point, just taught myself to knit a few months earlier. But I didn't know anyone else who knit, so I was making things in this strange sort of isolation, fascinating onlookers (i.e., anyone who came to my house) with my weirdness and the wonkiness of my early attempts at scarves, hats, and knitted bikinis. I think it was upon finding these magazines that I realized what a legacy I was joining. It dawned on me that the Stitch-and-Bitch generation--which, given the timing of my interest in knitting, I had apparently joined--were not the first to think of the handmade as high fashion. And also, were not the first to think of knitting as more than just a way to make clothes.

My favorite magazine from the stack was titled Knit Yourself Pretty. The cover then continued in a litany of other things that you could knit yoursef: happy, color, lovely, dainty, chic, poise, charm. It suddenly became clear to me that knitting could produce results beyond the aesthetic. Knitting could change my mood. It could change my outlook. It could change the way I look at myself, the way that I feel when I'm standing in a crowded room. Knitting, I realized, is some powerful shit.

In the years since, I have ventured further and further into the world of handmade: sewing, printing, gardening, cooking. Sometimes just stringing a bunch of pine cones on a piece of yarn and hanging it on a wall. It doesn't matter--it's handmade! And it absolutely impacts the way I feel, be it pretty, happy, colorful, lovely, dainty, chic, poised, or charming. I've since added a few other adjectives of my own, such as annoyed, superior, smug, elated, frustrated, and the-best-damned-crafter-ever--depending, of course, on the outcome of what I'm making. This blog is a way to explore all of those adjectives. And to write--which, really, is my first handmade love. I hope you enjoy. And I hope I make you feel your own range of adjectives as you read.

And, because I can't help myself, I had to post some other scans of these amazing vintage knitting magazines here. I especially love the one of this girl in the purple sweater, with her blunt-cut pony tail (possible wig?) and her many variations of doing the monkey (or some other extremely groovy dance).