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
Hey, have you heard? It’s election season.
For most of this season, politics is a spectator sport. But here in Indiana it is finally our turn to step in and play a round—the Indiana primary is next week. So in the spirit of all things presidential, we’re doing a special post this week: The Sheep of the White House!
It turns out that sheep have featured in the annals of U.S. presidential history not once but twice—both Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson raised sheep on the White House lawn.
These sheep are part of a larger story about nationalism, industry, austerity, and husbandry, and at the heart are three important rams: E.I. DuPont’s Merino, Jefferson’s Shetland, and Wilson’s Shropshire. So without further ado, let’s meet these guys.* Continue reading FIRST FLOCK: Merino Mania & White House Wool
This week, we’ve been thinking and chatting about the relationship between gender and art/craft and in particular about the spectacle of the male knitter. It’s a big conversation, involving concepts like industrialization, domesticity, capitalism, “women’s work,” high versus low art, homophobia, sexism, ageism, yadda yadda yadda… It’s a conversation we want to keep having but certainly can’t fit into a single post. So today’s post is a little experiment: it’s a short-and-sweet critical essay on a popular instance of cinematic knitting—Mr. Lucky, starring the one and only Cary Grant—just to begin thinking through this question.
The film Mr. Lucky (1943) was based on a story called “Bundles for Freedom” by Milton Holmes, who also wrote the film’s screenplay. It features a classic moment of knitting on film, and captures a moment in American history when knitting was not only popular but almost mandatory in the name of patriotism. Watch this clip for the famous scene of Cary Grant getting lost in his stitches: Continue reading POP FIBER: Mr. Lucky and the Gender of Knitting
I know, I know. There is already SO MUCH out there about Aran sweaters. There is, for example, a fantastic slideshow and timeline of the rise of this famous knitting style. There are articles about its morbid history as an identifier of drowned sailors; articles debunking that history as pure fiction; articles explicating the stitch motifs, like hieroglyphs, according to their folk meanings; articles upholding the sweater as symbolic of both national identity and transnational migration. Regardless of the angle, it is clear in all of these instances that the Aran sweater (also called a fisherman sweater*) is much more than just clothing: it is a legend.
As a scholar, I want to understand this legend. As a knitter, I want to be part of it. This week’s post is my effort to do both. Wading through the myriad definitions, explanations, and myths, it became clear that in order to understand the Aran’s mystique, we need to consider its historical and literary roots. Continue reading HISTORY PROJECT: The Legend of the Aran Sweater
Behold! The first Fiber Archive DIY project is officially finished! Inspired by Alice B. Toklas and Pablo Picasso’s upholstery collaboration in the late 1920s, our new embroidered footstool is a testament to both Toklas’s steadfastness and Picasso’s whimsicality.
As discussed in the Toklas X Picasso HISTORY PROJECT post, our gal Toklas attended to her domestic tasks, many of which involved fiber craft, with the same care and vigor that Picasso or Gertrude Stein, her partner, devoted to their art. (Toklas was even known to stitch Stein’s famous line “Rose is a rose is a rose” onto Stein’s handkerchiefs). This particular collaboration between the artists began with Toklas’s desire to transfer an avant-garde masterpiece—Picasso’s guitar painting—into a petit-point footstool. Clearly viewing her and Stein’s everyday living space as an extension of their artistic life, Toklas transformed a lowly footstool into high art. The stool was soon followed by the even more ambitious Louis XV upholstered chairs, one covered in the playful floral/hand design and the other in bold lines and color blocking. Continue reading MAKING IT, OURSELVES: The Alice Footstool
Happy Friday! Our fingers have been busy over here, and not just with blogging. Half of Fiber Archive’s mission is to showcase inspirational projects from the annals of textile history*, but the OTHER half is to put our own hands to work—to re-make those historical objects into inspired new pieces.
In that spirit, we will follow up many of our History Project entries with DIY projects of our own making—some, from original designs; others, based on existing patterns that we think capture the essence of the historical object. So, with a couple of History Project posts under our belt now, it’s a good time for a check-in of sorts, a little sneak peek at two of the history-inspired projects currently underway. Continue reading WIP CHECK
I admit it: I’ve been wanting an excuse to make Dianna Walla’s Aspen leg warmers since I first saw them on Instagram. I initially schemed about doing a post on the history of long underwear just so I could feel justified in adding the Aspens to my to-knit list. As soon as I started digging, though, the leg warmers became a bonus on top of a fascinating history lesson about a fertile moment in fashion history. Emerging in the early 1880s, the Sanitary Woolen System and the Rational Dress Movement both called for practicality and health in everyday dress. Variously rooted in the vagaries of pseudoscience on the one hand and radical feminism on the other, their joint legacy includes such a seemingly mundane garment as long underwear.
First, the Woolen System. Those of us who are spinners, weavers, knitters, and crocheters are well versed in the wonders of wool. But it was news to me that, more than a century ago, there arose an influential school of thought that wool is not only a practical material but also a supremely healthful one. In 1880, Dr. Gustav Jaeger (sometimes Jäger) published Standardized Apparel For Health Protection on the health benefits of wearing wool, and he followed it up with Health-Culture (<– how great/vague is that title?!) in 1887.
Continue reading HISTORY PROJECT: A Brief History of Long Underwear