Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Review - The Ohio Knitting Mills Knitting Book

I grew up in the greater Cleveland-Akron area in the 50's and 60's.  If you had asked me what this part of the country was known for, I would have promptly answered heavy manufacturing for the automobile industry - oil, steel, rubber, and a host of related products all in support of the production of cars for a car-crazy nation.

Imagine my surprise when I read The Ohio Knitting Mills Knitting Book. It seems that Cleveland was also home to a thriving garment industry catering to the needs and wants of an increasingly affluent middle class.  While Cleveland was hardly known as a couture capital in the league of New York City or Paris or Milan, it provided  affordable and fashion conscious clothing for many national brands and stores.  All this time, I had lived in ignorance of this wonderful segment of Cleveland history.

A friend of mine had knitted several of the models for the book and I was anxious to look at the pictures of her garments.  But, I learned alot more about the place of my early childhood than I thought I would.  Author Steven Tatar, a sculptor, happened upon a huge archive  of original knitwear while searching for materials for his artwork in the abandoned factory of the Ohio Knitting Mills.  He bought the collection, numbering about 5000 garments and began selling the vintage garments online and in New York City.  He also worked with knitters and designers to document the originals with photographs and pattern instructions to reproduce the sweaters with one eye on the vintage part and one eye on current fashion colors and fibers.

By decade, he reviews the history of the Ohio Knitting Mills(OKM)  and the history of  what he terms "All-American fashion."  There are many wonderful photographs showing the workers at OKM, the complex knitting machines, and the original garments themselves. An interesting sidenote is that  Ohio Knitting Mills  supplied Mr. Rogers with some of his sweaters after his mother, who had knit so many of his earlier zip-up cardigans, passed away.  There are 26 garments featured with pattern instructions to reproduce the garments, updated for today's yarns and hues.  I like the "Winter Wonderland",  a ski sweater from the 1940's  the 1950's Suburban Sci-Fi pullover.  The 1965 "Mondrian Skyline", color-block dress, and the Poor Boy sweater, produced by OKM since the 1920's are right in step current fashion trends.(click here for link to Cleveland Plain Dealer Style section)

As I read this book, I couldn't help but feel a little disoriented.  Its always surprising to see how others describe you or the era in which you grew up.  The observations of each decade could be generalizations or mere caricatures of a more complex situation, but it is fun to look back and realize that what goes around comes around again, and again, and again.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is officially the day when we in the U.S. remember those who have served our country in the armed forces..  Not only do I remember the service of my father and my maternal grandfather and now, my son, but I also associate the day with many other special things.  May 30 is my birthday and when it was the official holiday (not the Monday nearest the 30th), there were parades to attend or to march in as a Girl Scout.  It was and also remains the official start of summer in terms of swimming pools opening and newscasts, despite the calendar start of the season later in June.

When I was just 6, I spent a week in the early summer with my paternal grandparents Schultz on the farm of Grandma's mother, Great-Grandma Clausing, in St. Mary's Ohio.  Grandma and Grandpa were taking care of her.  She must have been around 90 at the time.

This was my first ever vacation without my parents.  I took to journalling for the first time ever then as well.
We drove into the town of St. Mary's and I bought a paper-bound, 5-year diary at the local dimestore (maybe it was Woolworth's).  I still have that diary and my young attempts at recording the days of my life.
It was also the first time I ever drank coffee.  We had run out of milk and Grandpa wryly suggested that I could have some coffee.  At the time, it was a terribly disappointing drink, bitter and all that.  But, I claim that this was the start of my coffee addiction.  I have a cup or two every morning (my children would say that I have much, much more).

There was a huge tulip tree in the yard of my great-grandma's house. Grandpa introduced me to the that tree and I really, really wanted to have one of the blooms; however, this was a very tall tree and the flowers were totally out of reach.  That may be my fist experience with covetting.  I never did get my own tulip tree blossom. 

Fifty years later, I found this tulip tree blossom on my morning run this week.  It had fallen on the path through the woods that is a part of my favorite running route in town.  I picked it up and carried it lightly between my fingers the two miles to home. My grandpa died around Memorial Day in 1975, shortly before I graduated from college.  Could this be my memorial of him?  Thank you, Grandpa.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bits and pieces

I've frogged the flounce on my Olympic Cormorant. The sweater had a tendency to hang open. I decided that the flounce needed to begin closer to the buttonhole so that the right front would overlap the left a bit more.
See the dorky picture to the right for the telltale gap. Note to self - take time to assess your work as you go. It is far easier to be quite analytical and critical at each step in knitting a garment than it is to rework the entire 7" of flounce!

On a more positive note, I wore the Einstein coat yesterday to work and then to shopping and my hair appointment. In the cute cooking store in town, the sales person admired my coat and asked if I made it. When I answered "yes", she responded that it was too bad that the yarn shop in town closed. I think told her that I had worked there and that yes, it really was too bad. I confessed that I'd like to have my own yarn shop in town, minus the huge lease that accompanied the old shop.

Today, I read that my former co-worker at said yarn shop has begun working at another yarn shop in the area. She loved it! I can't help green feelings of envy. I am happy for her though.

To add to my yarn shop envy, I finally read The Friday Night Knitting Club. Why did I wait so long to read a book that my friends and customers had long recommended? I woke up at 4 am this morning to finish the book. One of the comments on the jacket described the story as "Steel Magnolias" in Manhattan. Now, my daughter watches Steel Magnolias whenever she feels like a good cry. I found myself crying in bed as I finished the book, so the comparison holds water, so to speak.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Einstein Completed

I finished the Einstein coat! This was such a delight to work, just as Sally Melville describes it in "The Knit Stitch". On top of that, we actually had sun in northeast Ohio by which to photograph the finished object! Really,
the artificial light that I used to photograph the work in progress did not capture the true color of the Lopi that I used. These photos are pretty close to the actual shade of green.

A few comments about my coat. The set-in sleeves eliminated some but not all of the underarm bulk. At this point, I might even go back to the drop sleeve design because Dolman sleeves are reappearing on the scene. The only problem with this is the sheer bulk of the Lopi yarn.

When I made my buttonholes, I first followed the directions in the book and knit into the back of the yarnover. Sally Melville says this is to tighten them. Mine were so tight that I could barely find them. So, I knit into the front of the yarnover instead, which produced a nice round buttonhole, visible to the naked eye.

When seaming the sleeves, definitely consider the yarn to use. The Lopi tended to tear apart as I pulled the seam together. Although I was able to carefully complete the seams with Lopi, an easier choice would be a more tightly spun yarn in a suitable color.

A group of us are meeting at the library in town, working on their Einstein coats. My coat provides a visual for them and inspiration to knit on!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympics Cormorant

Cormorant, a cardigan from Nora Gaughan's Volume 5, was my choice for the Ravelympics. However, I didn't sign up in time (I can't believe they actually have deadlines!), so I made my own petulant Ravelympics project.

In the same spirit of independence, I modified the pattern to knit the body in the round. To have any hope of completing this by closing ceremonies, I had to streamline this. I do love Ultra Alpaca. The yarn is soft and nice and drapey at this gauge. The body is done and the sleeves are about 9" long thus far. I'd have more done but I get sleepy and can never stay through
the entire NBC broadcast.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I just love this photo, taken in Dartmouth, as we waited in line to cross the river by ferry. I am convinced that this box and these flowers were put there just for photo ops! In fact, all of Dartmouth seemed like one big photo op with colorful buildings, boats, blue sky. Gorgeous!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Einstein in Boston

I'm stranded in Boston. Intending to stay two nights on a quick trip with my husband, the east coast storm caught me. My return flight was cancelled yesterday. Then, the snow never really
accumulated here in Boston. So I have one whole day before I return home. What to do?

Keep on with Einstein. The second sleeve is well under way. Now, my only concern is whether or not I'll have enough yarn. Frankly, I'm pretty sure that I can complete the sleeve, but I had wanted to add a collar. It looks like I'll be trolling for more Lopi to make the collar. Dye lot shouldn't be a problem as long as it is only the collar for which I need extra yarn.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

2/10/ 2010 Einstein Taking Shape

There's alot to tell since my last post about the Einstein Coat. When I first picked up the back body section, as seen to the left, I absolutely forgot that I was doing semi-set-in sleeves and so I proceeded straight up the back without an inch's worth of decreases at either armhole. Nor did I discover this mistake until I had completed the entire back section. RIP. While not difficult, the rework requires time.

On to the sleeves. With Sally's design, I simply picked up around the armhole edges, one stitch per one ridge and then I picked up the bound-off stitches under the arm and then on up the other side of the armhole. Even though I've modified to pattern so that it is less bulky, I hardly need to figure how many stitches to pick up, I just read my fabric and use the one stitch to one ridge "formula". I haven't calculated how narrow to make the sleeve, but will "try it on" as I go, ending where I think it will look good.

The thing is actually beginning to look like a coat!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Kathy's Knitting Group

I had the pleasure of knitting with Kathy's Knitting Group, meeting at the Hudson Library and Historical Society. We met in the beautiful corner community room, which, if it isn't round, certainly feels like it. I'll have to double check next time I'm there. Nevertheless, we pulled our chairs into a circle and spent a happy two hours sharing our knitting. Kathy showed us a sampling of the beautiful knitwear that Ewe and I Originals will have on display at the Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Show.

Kathy and Dianne (aka Ewe and I Originals) produce patterns at an alarming rate. They also knit and crochet with the same speed. My experience with their patterns is that they are quite reliable.
If you are planning to attend the Pittsburgh K and C Show, seek out their booth. Not only will you enjoy their product, but you will most likely enjoy meeting these two warm and generous women.

I did enjoy the time I spent with group. I took Greg's vest with me to work on - although a small gauge, I'm still in the ribbed band at the bottom, so no great mental gymnastics required. However, I still managed to knit what would have to be ripped. I'm doing the vest in the round and I knit several hundred stitches in the opposite direction! I discovered my error and began ripping quietly while still with the group. I decided not to shout out my mistake. This morning, I finished the ripping, place a marker on the right side of the work, and took up where I begun last night. When will I ever be able to knit with a group without making a mistake?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pick up and knit the upper body

I've completed the lower body section of the Einstein Coat, with modification. The bottom part is 14" long and the upper body will be 18", almost the reverse of Sally's design. I picked up all 137 stitches along the slip-stitch edge and will knit the full width of the garment until the under-arm portions are bound off. Then, I'll work the upper left front, upper right front, and back separately.

Because of these changes, I put only one buttonhole in the lower body portion, 2" from the pickup edge. The remaining 5 buttons will be in the upper body.
My gamble in all of this is that there will be enough yarn. I bought 8 skeins when I was doing the child's large size. If I end up short, I'll find more and use them for the sleeves and the collar.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dilemma - to knit for a man or not to knit

On the one hand, I want to show the man in my life how much I love him by knitting him a unique, hand-crafted garment. On the other hand, I want people to actually wear the things that I make for them!

What better testimony to love that to spend hours knitting vest for said man. Hand-made says caring in so many ways. It is counter-cultural to create something that takes hours and hours by hand that could be produced by machine in a mere fraction of the time.

However, my man has high standards for the clothing that he will wear - subdued color, fine gauge, minimal patterning, and exacting craftsmanship. I can handle the subdued color. While I enjoy working finer gauge projects, I cannot imitate the super-fine gauge of machine-made garments. As far as craftsmanship goes, I may think that I'm being quite meticulous but in the end, there always seems to be some flaw that escapes me or that I have decided to accept. Believe me, that flaw will stick out like a sore thumb to my husband's eyes.

We were discussing this vest just the other day. I asked him to look at a couple of diamond brocade patterns, just to create a bit more interest for the knitter, if not the wearer. He said, "I probably won't wear it anyway. Maybe you shouldn't make it."

Now, what do I do? I have this Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino in a beautiful cornflower blue - perfect for him. Who else can wear this color? It is not for me, but I have a daughter and a son who would both look great in this. Giving up, am I saying I really don't love him this much or am I merely accepting the reality that I can't satisfy his sartorial standards? If I rip, I have the pleasure of finding another pattern and starting a new project! If I don't rip, I can continue on, enjoy the creating process, perhaps work that diamond brocade pattern even though he won't wear it. I would just have to accept the possibility of his never ever wearing it!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Janet is not a genius

I sure hope that no one sees this current project and its name and thinks that I'm tooting my own horn. For sure, I'm no genius. But, I am modifying Sally Melville's Einstein Coat heavily, both to fit me and to take into account current styles.

For starters, I chose the child's large size. I lengthened the skirt of the coat from 12" to 14". Now I'm happily knitting away until the bottom piece has a width of 38-40". I'd like the fit to be on the small side of standard, which is 4" ease. We'll see, once I hold it up to me.

My gauge is 3.5 sts per inch rather than the 3 st per inch. I cast on 50 sts for the bottom. I also plan to lengthen the top from the underarm to the bottom piece so that the bottom begins somewhere around the hip. The other modification is to change the sleeves from drop to semi-set-in. I've seen the finished Einstein and there is alot of bulk under the arms.

Now that I will be working only 3.5 hours per day, I guess that means more time to knit and to document and to design and to teach? I'm in a spot that I hadn't exactly wanted - true part-time employment. But, I'm going to explore it more fully before I get out there and look for something with more hours.