I had lunch with an old friend yesterday – we talked about our younger days as you do, but we managed to avoid murky nostalgia in favour of a clearer path, instead discussing ways to reflect on the past and incorporate it into the present. Having worked intensively on a vintage knit project for the last six months or so, I’ve been thinking along similar lines about knitting recently. I’ve completely immersed myself in the world of vintage patterns, which as habitats go is a pretty marvellous place to be, but along the way I confirmed a theory I’ve been batting around. At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, here it is (in usual lengthy verbose form).
You might have noticed that I’m an avid collector of vintage patterns, yarn and related paraphernalia (there’s no fooling you). I’m a staunch fan of the importance of re-visiting and curating the past, studying the original historical artifacts, reminding ourselves of the outstanding elements and learning from them, but I have my reservations … if we’re slavish to our history we run the risk of leaving it exactly where we found it. The temptation to remember knitted designs wholesale means locking them in a time-capsule, forever intrinsically linked to the era which produced them.
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Yarn Forward Vintage Knitting article
There’s a nice short article in this month’s Yarn Forward magazine about Vintage Knitting by Susan Crawford (popular this month). She highlights the joy and pain of knitting from vintage patterns, but makes a great point which isn’t always obvious … not only are we drawn to the fantastic, flattering designs and images, but also to “the women who knitted from them, who despite everything created beautiful clothes for themselves and their families using very limited resources and even less cash.” Well said.
I think some of us tend to have a secret heroine (or two) in our heads against whom we constantly compare ourselves – sometimes we live up to the fantasy, sometimes we fall short. Despite our best attempts we’re human and just can’t emulate them in every single way … but if you’ve got a plucky, elegant 1940s heroine perched on a pedestal in your psyche, knitting brings you that bit closer to her. She embodies the ‘stiff upper lip’ bravery which we associate with that era and yet still manages to look great during the most difficult of times. Knitters of the 1940s, we salute you!
The last Craft magazine
So goodbye then, Craft magazine, I shall miss you plopping onto my doormat every quarter. True you’ll continue through articles in the associate magazine Made, but Made always seems to focus on the mechanical, time-consuming and ‘need a bit of know-how’ projects. Your great website Craftzine will continue, but it’s not the same as having a good old flick and dog-earing the pages of an interesting article while you’re in the bath (something about laptops and water …)
I’m not quite sure why we can’t do a good old modern craft magazine in this country – they’re either of the Woman’s Own knitting variety or bordering on the high-brow like the Craft Council’s Crafts magazine (which, incidentally, is very good but does articles about the high-end crafts exhibition community rather than making you feel a part of an exciting at-home movement which is doing it for themselves). I’ve always felt there’s still a snobbery about craft in this country which hasn’t caught up with the current wave – it’s perceived either as strange warty women smelling of cat wee and crocheting tasteless tat, or cutting edge new-wave Hoxton dwellers incorporating a bit of ironic craft into their highly priced art pieces.
Anyway, I digress as ever. My point was originally going to be something about web vs. print – I remember when I first started out as a web designer and my graphic design friends were so snotty about it as the virtual web couldn’t convey the sensory experience, the texture, colour and depth (or even smell) of an actual piece. I felt dashed about it at the time and thought they were being snobs, but I find myself agreeing now … although all things webwise have levelled out and it certainly holds an important place in our lives, you can’t do without a good old piece of print. Your world can’t exist in a 1024 x 768 pixel format, nothing beats the joy of discovering an old craft book in a second-hand shop and smelling that damp paper smell and gloating over the vintage fonts and adverts, or discovering a well crafted, well thought-out publication.
So it’s sad, you’ll be missed here at least, but at least you went out on a bang – Amy Sedaris’ piece was hysterical. Oh well, still got Selvedge to look forward to.
I knew there was a connection between web & craft! The New York Times recently published an article called ‘Handmade 2.0′ about the new-wave DIY culture, taking the snobbery and commerciality out of design and putting it back into the hands of individual crafters. They start by quoting the statement of intent from buyhandmade.org website, saying that it echoes “the idealistic language of a tree-hugger activist group” but then goes onto say that its most prominent member is the virtual craft fair Etsy – a very much for-profit organisation.
The full article’s a bit lengthy so you can read a precis of it on Mike Press’ blog. Mike sums it up: “The article argues that the new handmade movement is an explicitly ideological movement that has profound implications for consumerism, and seeks to develop sustainable economies based on craft production.”
The Denver Post published a shorter, less analytical article last year called ‘Crafting Political Messages‘. Hey, there must be something in the air!
I saw a programme about John Ruskin the other night and bells started ringing here … I haven’t read too much of his theory, but he was writing at the time of the industrial revolution, when the creativity was being taken out of the hands of the craftsman and given to the corporations commissioning the art/architecture. His solution (along with other Victorian neo-gothic supporters such as William Morris, George Edmund Street, Pugin etc) was go to take elements of medieval architecture and give the power back to the individual craftsman.
The world has recently undergone another revolution, technical and commercial, and individuals are once again fighting the corporates to get control of the environment they live in, clothes they wear, gifts they give, furniture they sit on etc. This is a pretty stealthy revolution, but it feels like it’s gaining momentum. It doesn’t have the dire threat and warnings of the green movement but it comes from the heart.
For a couple of good examples of politicised craftspeople, try Lisa Anne Auerbach’s site StealThisSweater.com, Craftivism and Microrevolt.
Long live the craft revolution!
So I’ll start this blog with my current obsession … upholstering my chair.
Prompted by the good Mr W, I had a good look at what I wanted to do with myself earlier this year, post-baby ‘n’all, and I came up with the over-ambitious idea that I wanted to do a textiles degree, maybe go into restoration for museums and stately homes (ahem). Coming back down to earth and realising I needed to keep bringing in the bacon (plus keep some FOCUS in my life), I figured a more realistic aim would be an evening class of some sort.
Upholstery just fulfills a need for me … it somehow fits in quite neatly with my web coding head need for step by step mind numbing detail. Although it can be creative, it’s not wildly artistic and there are a set number of steps you need to go through to achieve an end result. I love working with the frame of the chair, all the effort (by someone else!) that went into carving it, bringing it back to life. The creative part sneaks into the construction – how do you want to shape it? What fabric to use? Do you use buttons? How are you going to finish the wood?
Dark wood furniture is out of fashion at the moment so you can pick things up relatively cheaply – criminal really, considering the amount of thought and work that went into these things in the first place. I picked up a couple of Edwardian chairs at the local auction house for £70 (including commission) and sold the smaller one for £25 to another upholstery newbie. It had some badly tacked-on pink velour covers (see above – nice huh?) over the original, green, incredibly faded chintzy fabric (see left). But it had a faded grandeur and a dignity about it that I loved.
I got all artsy and analytical about it at first, the fact that it was made pre-WW1 at a time when the Empire was fading but there was still a bit of time and money left to put some effort into things, before ideals got blown to bits along with a generation. I loved the carved back, the idea that this was, at the end of the day, a fairly common chair made out of cheap wood (as I found out pulling the tacks out and another splintered shard fell off), but a good deal of craftsmanship had gone into it.
Now I just love it as a good old chair that I’m bringing back to life … I’ll keep posting my progress, it’ll be fun to look back on when it’s finished!