Wednesday, June 14, 2006

TNNA Report (pt. 1)

Well, I'm back.

I'll spare you the charming anecdotes of my flight-averse travelling companions, and the hyperbolic descriptions of the yarns we saw, and a jealousy-provoking photo of the swag I brought home (hint: it included 6 skeins of Regia sock yarn), and starstruck recaps of the knitting celebrities I met (hint: the three of us were alone for conversations with Debbie Bliss, Louisa Harding, Pam Allen, Jo Sharp, Norah Gaughan, and Veronik Avery).

At least, I'll spare you for now. I reserve the right to return to some of these topics.

For now, though, I want to consider one of the really broad issues that the show raised: what, exactly, is the function of handknitting today?

I have a relative who gets concerned whenever s/he comes into the shop and I or my colleagues are looking, um, not all that soigne. The argument this person makes is that I'm "selling style," and that customers must implicitly evaluate the shop and my personal judgement based on what we're all wearing.

If that were true, most of the shops run by people I saw this weekend would long since have gone under.

Or, to be less absolute about it, let’s say that what constitutes “style” must vary hugely from one place to another.

I’m trying to avoid specific criticisms, though there were many, many people whose aesthetic judgement I questioned. (I can’t resist one example: I’m all in favor of comfortable shoes; the show involves many hours of standing and walking on concrete floors. But not that many attendees seem to have gotten the memo that good walking shoes no longer have to look like orthopedic sneakers.)

And there were people whose common sense I questioned. (If you were going to an event attended entirely by your industry peers—shopowners, designers, sales reps—why would you choose to wear a garter-stitch poncho made out of mass-produced multicolor ribbon yarn? It required neither skill, nor time, nor taste, and you’ve worn it to the one place on earth where every single person is guaranteed to know that.)

But the issue is more than what the attendees were wearing. There was a fashion show on Friday night, featuring garments from the new Fall lines. Each exhibiting company was permitted to enter up to two items of their choice, for a total of 80-some entries. (Not every company chooses to participate.)

While some things were clearly shown for effect rather than with the expectation that many people would actually knit them (hey, check out that purple ballgown made of Kid Silk Haze!), I still saw very few things that I thought anyone in the audience would wear. There wasn’t all that much that I thought you or I would knit or wear, either.

Don’t worry—I’m not saying we’re going to have trouble finding exciting patterns next season. The fashion show was deceptive in that regard: it showed only two garments each from Rowan and Vogue Knitting, where we’ll expect to find quite a bit of good design; and it showed very few accessories (just a couple bags), even though that’s where much of the exciting work is happening.

But I had to ask myself: if we’re (by and large) not knitting to make ourselves look like we just stepped out of Women’s Wear Daily, why are we knitting?

I’d like to avoid the usual list of stock answers—a sense of community, creativity, connection to the past, etc. But I’d appreciate it if all those of you who knit wearables for yourselves would take a minute to consider what designs you choose, and why. Do you think of your knitted garments as making you part of the contemporary fashion scene, or as things that set you apart from it? As you expand your knitting skills, do you want to make things that more closely approximate custom tailoring, or things that offer more challenge in traditional knitting techniques?

I know many people are going to answer “Some of each” or “Sometimes one, sometimes the other”; and I know everyone’s answer is going to be different. But I’d like to hear some of your thoughts. It would help me clarify my own ideas about the craft, and it might help me look for pattern sources that would appeal to Rosie’s customer base at large.



jody said...

Great post.

First and foremost, I knit because I enjoy it. I enjoy touching the yarn, considering the implications of one increase over another, and simply the pleasure of watching my knitting grow.

What I choose to knit has evolved. I started out knitting larger-gauged projects because there was no way I was going to knit THAT MUCH just to have one measly sweater. Now I'm fine with a longer commitment.

Occasionally I'll be pulled into knitting something because I think it's beautiful -- in a knitting-as-art sort of way. For example, a highly cabled Starmore. I have never bought a sweater like this, but yet there are at least 2 arans that I want to knit. Lace shawls generally go in this category too. I will continue to knit lace, and will definitely tackle those Arans. I'm comfortable with the fact that they'll get very little wear.

Over time though, I become more drawn to knit pieces that are highly wearable and classic, with a great fit and a quality yarn -- something worthy of the time and money I'm investing, and something proper to show for all that effort.

krista said...

As I am still working on my first sweater, I don't know how qualified I am to answer this. I don't knit anything for fashion (this does not, however, mean that I do not knit to please my own aesthetic). But when I look at patterns that I like, inevitably, I am drawn to them because they are not something I would find in a shop. There's never as much attention to well-placed, well-thought detail in mass-produced knitwear. And on the off chance that I find a design I like, it's either in an unflattering color or in a material I loathe.

Additionally, I have a great deal more control over what I knit than I do over what I buy (in terms of how it will ultimately look on me). If I want, I can alter the pattern, but most important to me, as I can only shop for clothes at a few stores (being a plus sized woman), I feel extremely limited by the whims of fashion. I can't just walk into a store and find a simple, classic cardigan if I want one--inevitably, Lane Bryant has deemed such a piece dull enough to require a garish flower or some sort of horrid applique or fringe. I can't stand that!

Since I have knit so little, I think that ultimately, aside from pleasing whatever demon causes my frenzied yarn-love, I want to knit garments that say to the fashion industry, I have better taste than you think I do--I may be fat, but I do have eyes.

Beth said...

What an interesting question...

I knit becuase I love the way the yarn feels and looks as I knit with it, how the knitted fabric transforms the appearance of a hand-painted yarn. I knit garments that I could not buy commercially but enjoy wearing - like lace shawls. I like my completed garments to say "I am a knitter and I made this," in the best way possible, of course.

I keep multiple projects on the needles at all times because they each serve a purpose. I always have a felted bag or stockinette sock going because they are good meeting projects - no need to think. I usually have a lace project (but only one at a time - learned that the hard way!) becuase that is my favorite thing to knit and wear. In addition, I usually have one or two other things going - a baby or holiday gift or a sweater or something. I like to have one "learning" project where I am trying my hand at a new technique.

I am also a spinner, and approach spinning in much the dame way. It is all very sensual - how things feel and look. The process is all about producing the final product.

Daphne said...

I knit for pleasure and as a stress release during my lunch hour. What I knit has to be wearable and stylish. I don't want to wear the same sweater that was sold in a department store nationwide. Also, now that I think about it, if my sister knits a sweater, I will not use the same pattern. I pick designs that will not go out of style quickly and use a yarn that gives me pleasure when I knit.

I have knit sweaters, bags, blankets, lace shawls, socks and even bowls. If it looks interesting I'll try it, especially if I can learn something new.

Regarding the styles of patterns, I wish the designers would drop the idea of a cropped sweater. As a 40 year old professional I cannot show my midrift at the office.

Laurie said...

Arrgh. Lost my post. So here goes again. This question is an interesting one. My answer comes in two parts.

First some of my knitting does not participate in the "style" issue because the pieces are afghans or lap blankets. I choose patterns for those based on the ways they might work well with my handspun yarns or how they might fit the style of the recipient. I will confess to a tendency to prefer intriguing reversibility -- as in the reversibly cabled afghan. I experiment with my own variations from time to time.

In terms of sweaters and garments, I am most drawn to sweaters or shawls/shrugs that are designed in interesting ways and that I feel reasonably sure I will wear. In terms of the designs themselves, I occasionally work out my own modular designs, as in my stained glass sweater (posted on a friend’s blog), but modular work in not for everyone. I also favor well-designed and shaped professional patterns like Rowan's Audrey, the Eris sweaters, and Meg Swansen's spiral yoked sweaters and their offspring. However, I often adjust these patterns, sometimes to accommodate my handspun and handdyed yarns, as in my version with the yoke of handdyed yarn (still stunned here).

Since I will wear my sweaters for as long as I have them, I guess I am looking for "classic" styles that will still interest me as a knitter/spinner. My latest inspirational book acquisition is Norah Gauguin's Knitting from Nature. As usual I will probably change things -- I am certainly going to use the pentagonal yoke and hexagon designs in unusual ways -- but the combination of intriguing shapes and (mostly) effective shaping works best for me!

Since I will wear my sweaters for as long as I have them, I guess I am looking for "classic" styles that will still interest me as a knitter/spinner. My latest inspirational book acquisition is Norah Gauguin's Knitting from Nature. As usual I will probably change things -- I am certainly going to use the pentagonal yoke and hexagon designs in unusual ways -- but the combination of intriguing shapes and (mostly) effective shaping works best for me!

Anonymous said...

All of the above, and...more than anything, it's that NOTHING off the rack fits me, either for shape (not that mine's that weird), nor shade. Handknitting allows me the exact garment I want, with a small but welcome element of adventure.-Marianne

Bridget said...

I knit because yes, I like the feel of the yarn, and yes, I like to feel like I'm carrying on a tradition, but I also am still amazed when I take yarn and needles, and it actually does turn into something!

I follow fashion, though I'm not usually one to wear the latest trends. My clothes are an investment, so anything trendy that I have was likely *really* on sale, or occasionally a gift. But I have family members who are completely obsessed with whatever the latest thing is, and if I want to make them something, I'd like to think it's something that they will actually use/wear after I've put time and money into it!

Kelly said...

I knit because it is a great way to fill up empty spaces of time during the day. It is to the point where I don't even watch TV anymore because knitting is simply more interesting. I also like the colors and textures of many of the yarns I come in contact with.

Even though whenever I go shopping with friends I find a good amount of inpiration from machine knits in stores, most of my handknits do not follow current trends. My motto is if I don't like it, I won't wear it. I apply this same attitude to my knittting. If it's something small like a hat or scarf or bag, it's easier and less costly to keep up with the trends. However, things like sweaters and cardigans require more time and money and trends that only last for a second aren't things I want to invest precious knitting time on.

Anonymous said...

Why do I choose the designs I knit? I am primarily looking for classic items that will not go out of style. I don't want anything trendy or silly. I want the colours and styles I choose, not the colours and styles that have been chosen for me. I want well-made garments made from natural fibres. I want garments that fit my body, not the body I "should" have. I try to completely ignore the "contemporary fashion scene".

Bev said...

Well, I won't reiterate your list of stock answers because knitting does do all those things for me.

I choose designs to knit because they appeal to my sense of who I want to portray. You make the point clearly in your post that what people wore at the convention, from their shoes to their knits, said a lot about them. I think people consciously or unconsciously choose clothes that portray who they think they are or want to be. It also means people choose clasic and timeless knit projects or more trendy things like the current shrug craze depending on whether they want to say, "I am/like/feel good in classic/timeless" or "I am/like/feel good in trendy," or whatever.

In my case it means that I think of my knitted garments as apart from the fashion scene, because I generaly feel fashion is for people with a different body than the one I have.

As for your question about knitting skills, I am not sure I would make the distinction you do. I think as knittings skills grow the knitter naturally learns both custom tailoring and challenging traditional techniques. What I mean is to make a really beautiful fair isle sweater, one eventually learns the difference between different sleeve types, or collar types, leading them on to proper seaming and measuring, leading them on to more complicated stitch styles. I think design techniques reinforce knitting techniques and vice versa.

One last thing, I know you were pointing it out for effect, but maybe you were a little hard on the women in comfortable shoes. I know more than a few women who'd choose crappy looking keds over more lovely, but generally more expensive shoes in order to buy that next sweater full of yarn. Everybody makes choices.

Great, thoughtful post.

eyeknit said...

I want to knit garments which are interesting/detailed enough to hold my knitting attention, expand my skills and will be wearable for as long as possible. Trendy designs may be okay for bulky, quick knits, but if I'm going to spend months on a sweater, it better be classic and look nice on me. It's a bonus if other knitters can recognize it as particularly evenly-knitted and finished perfectly.

Anonymous said...

I don't follow fashion - waste of time. the classics stand the test of time.

I make up my own sweaters/vests as I go along. yes, I have a set of measurements written down and a sample gauge swatch for the person for whom I am knitting.

I choose colors that compliment said person's existing wardrobe/skin tones.

I like choosing to knit with certain yarns over others (e.g., merino wool).

I like exploring stitch design books, mosaic knitting charts, and architecture for ideas.

for me, knitting should be a pleasure, a joy, something I look forward to doing on my lunch hour/after work/free time.

PS - whoever invented "fun fur" anything should be shunned!

anne marie in philly

BigAlice said...

I am late to the party on this.

I also knit because I enjoy color and texture and intricate well-made things. Also because I've still got a hangup about I "being useful" and knitting allows me to use my time and create something tangible and (hopefully) beautiful. It's probably because I work with computers all day that makes we want to produce something.

I started knitting because, like some others who've commented above, I have a very difficult time finding any clothing that fits and is flattering. I'm not a plus size, but I'm also not a size 6. I am thoroughly tired of spending hours shopping for clothes that don't fit and come in colors I don't like. My fiance is also similarly clothing-challenged; he likes a very spare style. He almost never can find sweaters he likes.

As for patterns for clothing items, I usually make my own, relying heavily on Ann Budd's sweater design book and Maggie Righetti's sweater design book. I'm interested in making things that flatter my body shape, in colors I prefer. Being large-breasted, most patterns I see don't offer enough ease in the chest and it is difficult for me to adjust the design well enough to add ease - especially if it's something intricate such as cables or fair isle. Many of the Rowan patterns don't even go up to my bust size, as lovely as they are. I love love Maggie Righetti's book since she actually recommends collars, arms, tailoring, and so forth based on body shapes - since I have never ever found anything tailored that I actually fit into, I have NO CLUE what looks good on my body.

Definitely my knitted items aren't fashionable, but I aim for classic and stylish - and complementary to me. And I'd rather own something unique than what everyone else has.