Thinking nautical thoughts

Working for a jewelry company, I frequently encounter charming, beautiful things that I’d love to own and will probably never be able to afford.

Like this 1930s bracelet I came across last year that uses nautical flags to spell out “I LOVE YOU.” Lacking a spare $14,000 for this one, however many thousand a Cartier “DEAREST” would cost, or even the several hundred dollars that contemporary charm versions run, I had temporarily disregarded my vision of a nautical bracelet spelling out my name.

For a lark, I read The Official Preppy Handbook by Lisa Birnbach today. I was feeling a little homesick for the super preppy town where I grew up, and on a rainy Smarch day, I could all but taste salt water and feel the sun on my face while sailing.

One of the recurring references was to needlepoint belts and accessories, which I had all but forgotten from my childhood. There was also a cute quip about how the only acceptable “monogramming” of one’s car was perhaps to put small nautical flag decals of initials under the driver’s side door handle.

It all came together in my mind. Nautical flags totally lend themselves to grids! I charted out my full name and more commonly used nickname.



VICTORIA


VICKI

(Definitely prefer the way “Victoria” looks.)

And then I remembered the symmetry of my first, middle, and last names, with 8, 4, and 8 characters respectively. I compiled a 20-flag grid and voilà, an afghan pattern has all but written itself:

I thought surely someone would have already written a nautical flag afghan pattern, but a quick trip through Ravelry only brought up a crochet pattern. I am confident that with some graph paper and/or knitPro, I can come up with what I want and make myself a super-preppy afghan.

As for the bracelet, I have a few ideas I want to try, maybe including an entirely new craft. I’m psyched.

The most beautiful embroidery I’ve ever seen

I recently stopped by the beloved Metropolitan Museum of Art (from which I now live a mere three subway stops away!) to catch the gorgeous exhibit Kimono: A Modern History before it closed. What an incredible treat!

I was stricken by a bit of wall text describing the word kimono as basically “a thing to wear,” and how that has changed from the Japanese equivalent of a t-shirt or sweater into the beautiful, intricately-detailed historical costume that more typically comes to mind in the West. The exhibit was wonderfully presented, starting with traditional Edo Period kimonos, incorporating the kimono into contemporary fashion of the 1920s and 30s, and eventually presenting playful printed cotton under-kimonos that reminded me so much of men’s boxer shorts today.

I was truly dazzled by the embroidery and details, and though I apologize for the iPhone-quality photos, I hope you’ll be able to see what was so enchanting about these pieces.

Edo or Meiji period Over Robe (uchikake), mid-19th century, satin embroidered wit silk and gold thread, couched gold thread

Edo period Uchikake

Gorgeous floral embroidery

Detail view of bird and botanical embroidery

Detail of an Unlined Summer Kimono (Hito-e) with Crickets, Grasshoppers, Cricket Cages, and Pampas Grass, Meiji period, early 20th century, Paste-resist dyed (yuzen) and painted silk gauze with embroidery

I was so charmed by the dyeing technique and gorgeous design of a plain cotton kimono.

Kimono-Shaped Coverlet (Yogi) with Lobster and Crest, Meiji period, mid-19th century, Plain-weave cotton, resist-dyed and painted with dyes and pigments (tsutsugaki)

I loved a section that discussed how the kimono and details were blended with and incorporated into Western fashions for export.

Dressing gown (Yokohama robe), Meiji period, 1879, Plain-weave silk with silk embroidery

And it just plain blows my mind that such a beautiful garment would be available in a department store as a souvenir.

Iida & Co., Takashimaya Department Store Evening Robe, Meiji period, c. 1910, plain-weave silk with silk embroidery

Obi with Thistle, Meiji period, second half of 19th century, brocaded silk with metallic thread

(I adore this thistle pattern.)

Court Lady’s Garment (Kosode) with Swallows and Bells on Blossoming Cherry Tree, Edo or Meiji period, mid-19th century, silk crepe (chirimen) with silk embroidery and couched gold thread

The way these birds and flowers were embroidered is just exquisite.

Whenever I spend any time with Japanese art or culture, I wish I knew more about Japan’s history and aesthetics. I was so enthralled with the different types and styles of embroidery and textile treatment that my mind is still spinning. In addition to adding fuel to the fire of my wish to learn embroidery and to do more with textiles, it made me intensely curious to learn more about Japan and the art of the kimono.

If you are like me, I’d recommend the exhibition catalogue by Terry Satsuki Milhaupt (currently sold out on the Met’s site) or watching the wonderful Sunday at the Met – Kimono: A Modern History lecture online.

Summer break, so I’m knitting and thinking about clothes

I did something today that was simultaneously unusual and utterly in keeping with my most ingrained habits and tendencies.

I cast on for a new project.

I’ve been at my job just over a year now, and I truly love it. I recently got a very nice promotion, so apart from the few weeks where I rarely left the office before 8pm, it’s going swimmingly. The downside is that its demands plus my still very long commute leave me with little time or energy to do the crafty things I used to enjoy so frequently at home. My company is closed for the next two weeks, so I am trying to take advantage of the time off to get my home life back in order.

While ordering Roman shades for my bedroom (I’ve been living with the vinyl blinds my landlord provided when I first moved in back in 2010… which I’ve since broken) I also did a little bit of online clothes shopping for some summer pick-me-ups. I’m pretty picky about the value of clothing, especially after working in retail and coming to really understand the vast difference between fabrication, wholesale, and retail pricing.

I bought two more pencil skirts just like the dozens in my closet, and while they were seriously marked down, I kept thinking, “These things have three, maybe four seams and a zipper. Why do I routinely spend so much money on something I could so easily make?!” I have owned a sewing machine for years (it may or may not still be in working order). Back in 2007, I bought two patterns and fabric (which has all since been lost or wrecked) with the sincerest intentions to learn to sew skirts and dresses. But I never sealed the deal, and I have no idea why not.

Another thing that occasionally troubles me when buying clothes (especially at such discounted prices) is that I can’t really know if they were produced in ethical labor conditions. I try to shop only from companies with solid reputations, but unless you are making the clothes yourself, you can’t actually be sure that no one was exploited or mistreated for your super cute new sundress (not that this qualm has stopped me from buying anything lately – but it does hover in the back of my mind). It is my hope that I can learn to sew basics like skirts and dresses, maybe even blouses, and that in addition to benefitting from custom sizing and choosing the fabrics of my dreams, I will no longer have a closet full of morally ambiguous textiles.

But I’m getting quite a bit ahead of myself. That aqua-blue yarn you see above? It’s cheerily on its way to becoming this:

The Viennese Shrug, from Interweave Knits Summer 2005. I’ve been wanting to make this lacy shrug since 2007 (I had a lot of good ideas back then) and just like my intended sewing projects, somehow never quite got around to it.

But that good-intentions-poor-follow-through habit is precisely the one I plan to break, starting now.

The allure of a perfect kit

Before I learned to knit, my first love was cross-stitch. I started with bookmarks and Christmas ornament kits, and I moved on to buying little counted cross-stitch booklets and larger projects (mostly uncompleted, big surprise).

Lately, I’ve gotten back into needlework, and not surprisingly it was through the allure of some great kits. I’m not sure what it is about kits, maybe just the ease of having everything needed in the right quantities, all in one place, a whole project prepared and ready to go. But I do love a good kit. My current fixation is a cross-stitch kit I picked up in Iceland.

Man, I am obsessed. This kit is so perfect because it uses Icelandic wool yarn in place of embroidery floss, making it tremendously speedy, with a satisfying heft. The design is called Skaftafellsrós (if you’re not up on your Icelandic, that means “The Rose of Skaftafell”), and it has a brilliantly clever and elegant geometry to it.

I picked the kit up at a history museum gift shop, as it cost something like $12 and seemed cool. Now I wish I had bought dozens of these kits because I am fanatically in love with it. In this one project, I have a connection with my personal history, remembering the windy and cold winter days I spent stitching as a little girl, as well as a connection with centuries of Icelandic crafting and needlework in general. I can’t even begin to express how deeply, immensely satisfying it is, but I’m sure this material nostalgia contributes to my utter delight.

The stitching is meant to be a uniquely Icelandic form, long arm cross-stitch. It gives a lovely texture and directionality to the stitches, but I gave up on it after a few sections – it just wasn’t enjoyable for me. Instead, I am doing regular counted cross-stich. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll frame this project or sew it as the face of a pillow, though I am leaning toward the latter.

Meanwhile, my kit and I will be bonding, huddled up with a wool blanket and a gray kitty.

New look, new resolve

I hope you will find the new blog design and layout cleaner and more inviting to read. I certainly feel encouraged to come over here and write more.

I’ve noticed, as I’m sure you have, a large number of year-end summary posts detailing the various accomplishments and industry of other knitters and crafters. “I should make one of those,” I thought briefly, before I was discouraged by a sorry lack of productivity to show for myself.

The funny thing is that, while I have excuses aplenty (full-time school, overwhelming personal life stuff, busying myself with NYC) it’s not that I haven’t been knitting. I actually knit quite often, but I am not finishing anything. Or if I do, I’ll leave out some tiny but super-important step, like weaving ends in a scarf or hat, or sewing buttons on a sweater.

I don’t want to do that anymore. It’s lazy and silly of me, and I’d like to finish these projects and put them to use. So the good news is, very soon I’ll have a pile of imminent FOs to show you. The bad news is, you’ll probably have to wait until 2012. But since that’s right around the corner, I’m calling it all good.

Coincident with turning over a new crafting leaf (since really, you would not believe how important crafts are to maintaining my sanity), I’m drumming up a new set of Crafting Resolutions. (You’ll note I said Crafting, not just Knitting, wink wink.)

2012 Crafting Resolutions

  • Gather together all nearly-finished projects and block, sew on buttons, weave in ends, or perform any finishing tasks to transform them to FOs.
  • Finish at least one project each month (including photographing it and posting it here).
  • Make long overdue gifts for my family: Cobblestone Pullover for my father, Cable-Down Raglan for my mother, Oiled Wool Hat and matching gloves for my brother.
  • Knit a sweater using the yarn I bought in Iceland (related: tell the internet all about my trip to Iceland).
  • Make at least one pillow from the number of pillow kits I obsessively accumulate.
  • Learn to use my sewing machine, and sew at least four projects.
  • Branch out with needlepoint, cross-stitch, crewel work, etc.
  • Do not buy any more yarn or crafting supplies until marked progress has been made on finishing some major projects.

These resolutions probably look pretty familiar to those of years past, and alas, they may be my perpetual crafting goals. This year, however, I have a plan, and I hope you will enjoy watching it unfold.