Recently an opportunity to give back with my knitting cropped up to me. The Spring to New Life fundraiser was being organized at Northlea United Church to support an incoming Syrian Refugee family in Toronto. People were organizing an evening show and silent auction to raise funds for their sponsorship and other needs the family would encounter.
I’d offered a custom knit baby sweater at another fundraiser the previous year, but this year decided to knit the actual sweater and have it at the fundraiser on offer. There was a huge skein of a variegated blue, green and white yarn in my stash, courtesy of my Mum’s volunteer work. It was a sport weight, superwash Merino, soft, but very much machine washable when a little cherub inevitably well, you know . . .
I found a pattern that I liked, Drops Design McDreamy, I guessed at the best size and went with the 6 mos size. The pattern is knit in the round, from the bottom up, to the underarms. Then, you cast on the sleeves, similarly from the bottom. When the sleeves are finished, you knit the sleeves on to the same needle as the body and continue the shoulder and neck shaping to the collar, where you stop knitting in the round.
The pattern yields a lovely result, but there was quite a bit of cursing during my knitting. I think part of it might be the translation, but I found many parts of this pattern confusing!
Looking through the Holiday 2014 issue of Vogue Knitting, I was totally struck by the Chevron Hat pattern included in their story on burgundy knits. (I won’t get into my pet peeve of naming knitting stories or patterns after the colour of yarn they’re made in here). I had also discovered a yarn from Sandnes a few weeks earlier, the Soft Alpakka, a fluffy, and soft yarn that was a puffy ball of fluff. I wanted to mix the yarn with something sturdier and more traditional, so I grabbed some Rowan Pure Wool to serve as a stabilizing background for this. Following the Classic Watch Cap pattern, with the chart from the Chevron Hat, I knit stranded colourwork to create a zig-zaggy hat.
It’s cute, right? It’s totally solid and the inside is cozy with the fluffy Soft Alpakka, making a hat that’s sure to block the cold Montréal wind, come winter. I blocked the top over a plate to really flatten out the crown decreases, but it wasn’t tremendously successful.
I knit this while streaming Welcome to Sweden, one of my new favourite TV series! I couldn’t help but feel that the stranded colourwork goes well with a show about Scandinavia.
Okay, now the weather is hot? Horribly unbearable?
Everyone wants to feel summery in summer. Looking summery is easy now, more than ever, because of all those blousy, chiffon tops in stores. Below are a few ideas for rocking the flowy top tre- oh wait, *needle scratch* right. This isn’t that type of blog. If you scroll down you will not find a list of links to clothing store websites, nor recommendations of cute garments.
Let’s say you do succumb to the appeal of the flowy top in summer idea. You’re rocking your tangerine top with a bandeau bra at a music festival. But wait, why do you feel so sweaty, and stinky? Is it making you feel *gasp* warmer?
The answer to that is, probably. Fibres made of man-made materials like spandex, acrylic or polyester are all not known for keeping you cool. They’re not able to breathe like natural materials, and so there’s no ventilation, which keeps you warmer!
Natural fibres like linen, silk and cotton will keep you much cooler than something synthetic. We’ve talked about this before but in the opposite sense. Hmm, I’m noticing a natural fibres theme here.
The next time you’re shopping, check the labels of the garments. The fabric content should be listed, the best stuff will be 100% cotton, or other natural fibre. We’ve already talked about the taxonomy of natural fibres, but the taxonomy of synthetic or semi-synthetic fibes is a bit woolier (pardon the pun). Fibres like spandex, polyester, acrylic etc. are synthetic, while fibres like nylon, viscose, or acetate are semi-synthetic, and all won’t breathe, or keep you cool too well.
Man-made fibres are also much more difficult to dye. Natural fabrics take dye better than synthetics, because the fibres are naturally porous. Dyes that are used to colour synthetic and semi-synthetic garments have to be stronger, and use more toxic, harmful chemicals. Disperse dyes are the most common methods of dyeing man made fibres, which are also the most common substance to which people develop a sensitivity.
Moreover, synthetic fabrics are not like natural materials when they break down. Cotton, linen, and other natural fibres will decompose over time in landfill, just imagine a facian tissue, which is made of the same type of substance. They’ll return to the earth much faster than a garment made from synthetics. Polyester and spandex are also made of petroleum products, which have to be extracted from the earth in destructive ways. Others like viscose, which is semi-synthetic, is from a wood pulp that has to be treated with harmful chemicals and then turned into a thin filament that makes the thread.
Linen is a luscious fibre made from flax that breathes, and can have a beautiful drape. The most common concern with linen is that it wrinkles quickly. New developments are being made with linen to transform it to a more polished fabric. Try some linen in the summer, and see how cool they make you feel, don’t worry about the wrinkling- it’s part of the look.
Take a look at this delightful short film that shows the process of turning flax to linen in France. It’s called Be Linen, from Good Ideas
“Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life, so you
bought some sweatpants.” Karl Lagerfeld, Vogue Magazine, August
Similar to regular stitching, which keeps the seams or edges of clothing together to construct a garment, simple and more complex stitches can be used in a way to add interest to a piece of cloth. Embroidery has been used throughout history as a way to pattern cloth, and patterns can be in repeat, like a pattern of points or shapes repeated over and over, or more freeform motifs like birds or flowers on a piece of cloth. Embroidery can also incorporate beads, sequins, and other small decorative objects to add sparkle or texture.
Similar to cross stitch, embroidery is a more free form way of stitching cloth. As one of my fibres teachers put it, “It’s a way of painting with thread.” Also, check out my handiwork on the left! Embroidery is completed where a piece of fabric is stretched over a wood hoop, and held in place with a second hoop that has a tightening mechanism. This establishes tension over the fabric, making it much simpler to stitch. Simple stitches like a running stitch or back and forth stitch can be used to create more complex motifs, and others like a chain stitch, add visual interest. Because of its labour intensive process, embroidery was usually worn by the wealthier classes throughout history. Embroidery has a history across the world. Many cultures figured out that a simple needle and thread could create stunning patterns on plain fabric. The earliest examples of decorative stitching date to the 3rd and 5th century BC in China. In China and Japan, silk robes were embroidered with real gold thread for royalty, and embroidery has been used to decorate saree fabric. (pictured)
Examples of embroidery also come from the Medieval Islamic world, examples from the Ottoman Empire, Iran and Mongolia, are well documented. In most societies, embroidered clothing was a sign of wealth, across Islamic states flags, garments, religious objects were embroidered, as objects could be ornamented without disobeying the law of images. In England, work by guilds and professional embroiderers was called Opus Anglicanum, and became famous across Europe. (pictured) This work decorated lots of religious objects, and garments for priests.
Embroidery is usually made on fabric in a contrasting colour, so the pattern stands out more easily. It can also be done in an eye-straining white on white, which emphasizes the texture and pattern. Interestingly, it is one of the few crafts which technology has not altered significantly: It is a striking fact that in the development of embroidery … there are no changes of materials or techniques which can be felt or interpreted as advances from a primitive to a later, more refined stage. On the other hand, we often find in early works a technical accomplishment and high standard of craftsmanship rarely attained in later times.¹ Historical hand embroidery is as fine as it is today, and arguable even finer, as the difference in the way labour is done today and historically has changed significantly. Contrast that with the developments in something like Stonemasonry, where the combustion engine simplified the more difficult tasks of stonemasons, the embroidery needle is the same as it ever was, barring any minor details.²
Embroidery today is made by machines. The art of embroidery was one of the crafts altered by the Industrial Revolution, and embroidery machines today can make complex designs very quickly. If you have an embroidered garment it’s 99% likely done on a machine. Designs can be made with multiple threads, on delicate fabric, and at a scope thousands of times greater than historically.
Some galleries to click through:
White work explined by the Royal School of Needlework here
The woman who designed and stitched patterns of embroidery for the TV show Game of Thrones has displayed her work online. Gorgeous motifs of birds, lions, dragons, etc. See her work here
English embroidery in the Late Tudor era at the Metropolitan Museum here.
A Noh costume with crests- super interesting!
The reason for this is because until the early 1700’s English spelling wasn’t standardized. Multiple dictionaries published at that time would show the spelling conventions on more of a regional level in the States and across the British Empire. Two works, Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, from 1755 and Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language from 1828 are the basis for English and American spelling, respectively. Back then, Webster was even a proponent of Spelling Reform, which worked to ensure spelling in the English language was more consistent and phonetic.
Today, Americans use the American standards for spelling, color, labor, modeling, center, liter (even though they don’t use that either) neighbor, and fiber, and the Brits and other countries that were formerly members of the British Empire, Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, etc, use the British form*. Officially, Canada uses the British standards, but pockets of Canadians don’t bother with adhering to those conventions. Not that it bothers me, or anything. Institutions like the government, media networks, publishing houses, and official bodies will use the British standards, but it’s not like there’s a language police who can monitor whether people are putting u’s in the right places. Oh, wait, there is. Well, those police don’t really concern themselves with the u’s in English.
Many words in English which end with -re, originate in the French, Latin, or Greek languages. Fibre is derived from the Latin fibra, meaning filament, or entrail (ew) and was incorporated into English from Middle French around the 16th century. When English became more common, the American standards changed the -re suffix to -er. Words like lustre, sombre, theatre are luster, somber, and theater in American English. The e before the r is kept in place in American-derived forms of nouns and verbs, like the noun fiber.
Though the spelling is different, both words mean textile fibre as well as dietary fibre in their respective spelling standards. There is not two spellings for two definitions. Remember that in Milwaukee, asking someone if they’re getting enough fibre means the same thing as in Manchester.
*colour, labour, modelling, centre, litre, neighbour, and fibre, in case you weren’t paying attention in English classes.