Thursday, May 22, 2014

Handicraft House

That's where you live, right? I do as well, but the official name of my residence is Knitting, Chamber Music and Pet Fur House. As I write this, clouds of Molly's, Kramer's, Alfie's and Foxy's naturally discarded fluff tumbleweed across the floors, patiently awaiting their final resting place in the bowels of Electrolux.

Well, I was reading the Providence Journal earlier this week and came upon an article about the Handicraft Club, an institution on College Hill founded by Ladies Who Lunch in 1904, now lurching into the twenty-first century. They were having an open house, so I went, interested to see the place--a glorious nineteenth-century edifice surrounded by lovely gardens--diagonally across the street from Rhode Island Superior Court.  And across from the Athenaeum.  And RISD. And down the street from both the Hope Club and the University Club. So there you have it--justice, handicrafts, literature, art, polite society--beacons of civilization, only a stone's throw apart.

I was most curious about the knitting exhibits, which were, alas, somewhat lean. The Handicrafters are big on decorated metal trays, découpage, needlepoint, figurative paintings, basket-weaving, cloth-weaving, and other genteel hobbies....And the elegant setting is conducive to these pursuits. I was quite taken by the wrinkly couture wallpaper, a copy of a nineteenth-century French mural, depicting tiger hunts in India or some such vestigial practice of empire.

Knitting, Exhibit A.

Knitting, Exhibit B.  This is perhaps a Christmas stocking? It was on the large side, somewhat truncated, and had no mate.
Another view of the exhibition hall.

The Secret Garden (behind the house).

Street-side shade garden.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Knits of yore...

My friend Aeromum, who lives in Grafton, MA, sent me a photo of a cape she began knitting approximately forty-five years ago, then abandoned. She visited her mother this past Mother's Day, and mother kindly returned the project to its rightful owner.

Pretty nice work for a teenager, I'd say. My sense is the yarn will be recycled....

The venerable cape got me to thinking about things I'd knitted in past decades. Not only were there a cursed boyfriend sweater and scarf, there were two pullovers (one ribbed, one cabled) I gave to girl friends who are long lost to me, and many exquisite sweaters for Don Giovanni, a.k.a. Husband the First, a toxic quasi-human about whom the less said the better. I'm sure if all that beautiful handiwork wasn't burned or otherwise destroyed, it was given to Sally Ann or Good Will (but somehow I doubt its fate was so benign).

This is the part of knitting that upsets me, much more than frogging a labor-intensive project, or having knitting come out totally wrong. It's the putting of one's heart into a knitted garment that ends up being trashed. If I were more rational, I'd accept that once a handmade gift is given, there's no control and no guarantees--just like life.   AAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!

This melancholy meditation led me to the cedar chest in the upstairs storage room. There I retrieved two of the many sweaters I knitted for my sons in the 1980s. One sweater had reparable moth damage--an entire cable twist neatly eaten out, but nothing else (thanks, cedar chest!); the other was intact.

The intact one was immediately claimed by Molly, who found it an agreeable bed.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Opportunity knocks...

The swift growth of knitting retreats, nationwide and worldwide, is a recent phenomenon, and New England's been a big part of that boom. Next week, in fact, from May 13-18, Manchester, New Hampshire hosts The Interweave Knitting Lab, sponsored by Interweave Knits Magazine.  Amazing and wonderful to contemplate that for six days total immersion in knitting--through workshops, classes, community, commerce, camaraderie, and all the other good things inherent in such an event--is delightfully possible. 

Interweave facilitated an interview with designer and teaching luminary, Shirley Paden, whose work I've admired for years. Her designs combine elegance with beautiful fit and timeless style. If you knit something she designs, it will look stunning for decades--and let's face it, if you're going to knit a sweater whose materials are high quality, and if you're going to knit to the best of your ability, you want to be able to wear that sweater for a long time. So here's the good news:  Shirley Paden will be teaching a two-day Design Basics Masterclass at the Knitting Lab!  And after that, a one-day design class on skirts and dresses!  There's still space left. What are you waiting for?

SMW:   Your designs are classic and elegant.  What draws you to this look, and do you see, over the course of your career, an evolving or changing design perspective, either in your work or in hand knitwear generally?  If the latter, how do you relate to the rest of the field?

SP:  Thank you for the kind words. I grew up sewing.  My best friend's mother was a professional seamstress who worked for a well known designer who's pieces were classic and elegant.   She had a professional sewing machine at home and spent lots of time working with us and teaching us professional techniques.  She was kind, loving and generous and I owe her a debt of gratitude.  This early exposure to the world of couture clothing design gave me a lifelong appreciation for finely tailored and finished garments.  I try to bring this attention to detail to my designs.  

I like the classic concept because many hours of work and concentration are needed to knit and finish a garment.  Therefore, at the end of the construction journey I want the final product to be something that the knitter feels is really special.  I also want it to be something that can be worn for many occasions over many years.  

As designers we are all artists.  Therefore, we are stimulated by creating in different ways.  For me, working under the dual themes of "classics" and  "quiet elegance", my design direction remains unchanged.  However, although always working within the boundaries of those two broad themes, experimentation is never ending.    

As with any group of artists I think every hand knitwear designer brings their unique approach to the craft.  There is a broad knitting audience and a need for a broad range of design ideas.   We make cloth stitch-by-stitch and there are so many things that can be done as it is constructed.  I am fascinated by the range of creativity that is in the market.  We all have our places.  International conferences like Knitting Lab are living testimonials to this.  Also, we are lucky enough to live at this very unique historical moment with the internet.  It was to the 20th century what Gutenberg's printing press was to the 15th.   As knitwear artists It has given us a wonderful worldwide sharing of ideas on a level that was unthinkable even 20 years ago.  It is a wonderful rising tide and every boat is being lifted.     


Gentle knitters, I ask you:  How can you not love a designer who thinks like this?