What to Wear for a Season of Resistance

Ingrid Bergman on the set of Joan of Arc (1948)

Hello. Here we are in 2017. A very bittersweet 2017.

It’s hard to see beyond the bitter—many people are anxious, afraid, unsure, and exhausted. I am all of those things.

But there’s a sweetness to this time, too—many people are showing love, care, support, and commitment. I am trying to do those things.

Plus, the turning over of a new year, even a dreaded year, brings with it the relief of a fresh start and the energy of an untold story.

Here at the Fiber Archive, I’ve got some 2016 catching up to do (mainly finishing this guy!), but I’m also hatching plans for my first major project of 2017. I’m imagining a garment that encapsulates this weird year’s dual vibe: energy and exhaustion, anxiety and care, fear and commitment, protection and action. I need a garment that both comforts me and readies me for battle. I need a sweater vest.

That may seem like a strange, even wimpy, choice. We don’t think of the sweater vest as particularly tough these days. (Maybe because of this. Or this.) But the sweater vest is part of a long history of protecting one’s core with knitted or woven material. In a way, it was born to do battle.

The sweater vest is a distant relative of the gambeson, a quilted tunic worn underneath (or sometimes as) armor in the medieval era. The gambeson was “a thick woollen waistcoat, worn under steel armour, to make it sit easy on the body.”* Its name derives from the Old German word wamba, meaning “belly.”** This makes sense, as the garment’s purpose was to protect the body’s fleshy—and essential—middle from bruising or penetration by weaponry.

Even before the gambeson, there was the Greek linothorax. Made from layers of linen, fused and laminated with animal glue, the linothorax transformed a soft, woven fabric into a hardened vest that rivaled metal armor from the era.

Fast forward to nineteenth-century dandies and further forward to twentieth-century golfers and cricketers, and we see the sleeveless garment get pared down to become more mobile and versatile. And of course, we see it migrate into women’s fashion with the rise of feminine workwear in the second half of the twentieth century. The practical is interwoven with the aesthetic, as the sweater vest continues to meld inward warmth and protection with outward polish and display.

So yes, a sweater vest will be my armor of choice heading into this season of resistance. I’ve got the perfect yarn—undyed wool from the villsau (“wild sheep”) of Norway, purchased on my visit to Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk last August. So not only will my vest be harking back to some of the earliest and most innovative forms of armor, but it will also have a bit of Viking spirit.

Get ready, 2017: my wamba and I will be warm, protected, and prepared for battle in the name of all those who find themselves vulnerable in these bittersweet times.

xoxo to infinity,

*Blount, Thomas. Tenures of Land & Customs of Manors: Originally Collected by Thomas Blount and Republished with Large Additions and Improvements in 1784 and 1815, Volume 1. London: Reeves and Turner, 1874. 427.
**Notably, the word wamba is also related to “womb” and to “wamus.” The latter refers to a variety of early American vest-like garments and is still used to describe some types of jacket.

A belated note…


Hi. It’s been a while.

I’m sorry for leaving this blog hanging for a bit. For three months, in fact. I can explain:

  1. Something happened that took me away—I lost a family member.
  2. Then something happened that is continuing to keep me away—I got a new job.

So there’s been a lot of bad and a decent amount of good. I just wanted to check in here and say that I’m still out here but can’t be the Fiber Archivist that I want to be at the moment.

I’ll be posting here sporadically over the next couple of months. Then, hopefully, I’ll be back more regularly in 2017.

Thanks for reading. Keep on crafting.



MAKING IT, OURSELVES: Waves of Work / Waves of Pleasure

Waves of Work / Waves of Pleasure Sewing Machine Art

This installment of Making It, Ourselves feels very different from the last one (about my Bellows cardigan). The Bellows post came at the end of a 2-month-long process. Today’s is the result of just an afternoon of labor. Partly, that’s the difference between knitting and sewing. But also it’s the difference between a garment that I hope to wear for ages and a piece of quiet art that doesn’t need to fit any particular dimensions; it just needs to serve as a little reminder, a little tribute to the 19th-century seamstresses whose bodies were exploited and exhausted—and sometimes excited by the immoral rhythms of their sewing machines. (<– See last month’s History Project for more on that.) So, what I’ve made is not a perfect example of master sewing (not even close!), but it’ll hang on my wall and send out a reminding wave whenever I pass by.

When I thought about what might constitute a fitting homage to the excited seamstresses, I knew that it would have to be created using my sewing machine (obvs) and that its design would be based on rhythm and repetition. A wave motif seemed appropriate, as it satisfied the rhythmic-and-repetitive requirement and also could capture the back-and-forth surges of the act of sewing (especially as it would have been strenuously enacted on those first sewing machines). Additionally, I had the metaphorical meanings of a wave in mind—the experience of “waves” of pain or “waves” of pleasure. With these ideas in mind, I gathered my materials and set to work. Continue reading MAKING IT, OURSELVES: Waves of Work / Waves of Pleasure

POP FIBER: Mariah Carey’s Heartbreaker Crop Top

Mariah Carey Pink Crochet Crop Top Heartbreaker

We may be on our way to the first woman president, but events this week have shown that patriarchy is still the law of the land. So let today’s post stand as a hair flip of sorts towards the legal system that commands an assault victim to answer questions like, “What were you wearing?”

Inspired by the current 90s revival and the recent flourishing of crop top patterns, I want to take a moment to honor a memorable moment of babedom—and crochet!—in pop culture: Mariah Carey’s pink crop top in the 1999 video for her song “Heartbreaker.” Continue reading POP FIBER: Mariah Carey’s Heartbreaker Crop Top

MAKING IT, NEW: Basketball, Net Works, and Hazel Meyer

Hazel Meyer Basketball Net Knot Close-Up

Hey, fiber folks—let’s talk about… sports?

I know that’s kind of coming out of left field (<–sports!) but much of the country is focused on the NBA Finals, which kicked off (<–sports!) last night, and that got me thinking about the intersection between basketball and textiles. From ancient fishermen’s nets to groovy macramé wall hangings, the craft of knotting—with cord, thread, or wire—to make a mesh design has been an invaluable technology in all areas of life, including sports. Exhibit A: the basketball net.

Athletics and fiber arts are stereotypically gendered in opposite ways: boys are taught to push themselves to their athletic limits, while girls (or the “girlish”) stay inside with their needlework¹. But the two worlds—Sport and Craft—actually intertwine in some important ways, both symbolic and material. And some of the people who have allowed me to see that intertwining are the subject of this installment of Making It, New. They are the feminist-craftivist collective called NCAA (New Craft Artists in Action) in Boston, MA, as well as the Canadian mixed-media artist Hazel Meyer. Continue reading MAKING IT, NEW: Basketball, Net Works, and Hazel Meyer

MAKING IT, OURSELVES: Bellows Cardigan

Bellows Cardigan FO Front Brooklyn Tweed

I wish there were a font to convey my smile as I type this edition of Making It, Ourselves—you know how you can hear if the person on the other end of the phone is smiling? Well, I can’t help but grin from ear to ear when I talk about my Bellows Cardigan.

It’s been done for a few days, and I’ve worn it in public a couple of times so far. I’d like to say that I take a demure “oh, this old thing?” attitude when people compliment my sweater, but it’s more like, “HEY EVERYONE CHECK OUT MY SWEATER I MADE IT AHHHH!” Sorry, everyone—I’m pretty excited. There’s nothing quite like seeing something through, from the first glimmer to the final product. Continue reading MAKING IT, OURSELVES: Bellows Cardigan

WIP CHECK: Bellows Cardigan (SOS!) + Sewing Waves of Pleasure/Work

The last few posts have glanced backwards, toward the historical: Cary Grant and WWII, sheep in the White House’s early days, the arousing side effects of the 19th-century sewing machine. But behind the scenes I’ve been stitching away and planning summer projects, so it’s time for a little DIY check-in—and a cry for help. Continue reading WIP CHECK: Bellows Cardigan (SOS!) + Sewing Waves of Pleasure/Work