Friday, October 15, 2010
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.