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.