Sunday, September 25, 2005

The New Look

Last September, I found myself at Brimfield, arguably the pre-eminent antique/flea market in the United States. I say I found myself there, but a lot more calculation was involved than this suggests. I’d always wanted to go, preferably with a U-Haul and a whole lotta cash. Instead, I was driving through on my way back to Cleveland, and circumstances required that I restrict my purchases to items both small and preferably cheap. Normally, my flea market strategy involves a quick, intense once-over of the whole market. This way, I’m sure to find anything perfect that might otherwise be snapped up by someone else. If I don’t find anything on this first run-through, I can relax and begin a more leisurely, comprehensive browse, during which a hidden gem may or may not appear. I don’t need to be alone, but I need to be with someone who understands and respects this system [Hello Ingrid!], otherwise I get anxious and my scouting radar gets all out-of-whack. I was lucky at Brimfield. I quickly found a button merchant who gave me a handy map of all the other button and notions stands at the market. You see, Brimfield isn’t just any flea market: it’s a whole town, overrun twice a year by an inter-connected web of individual markets. A once-over of the whole market might take three days: without this kind of time, new strategies are required. The map allowed me to experience a Brimfield within Brimfield, one in which I could wander from field to field, targeting all the button ladies on the way. Certainly, I missed treasures, and regrettably, a migraine quickly developed. But despite the headache and a slight sunburn, I came away with a wonderful haul.

This book started me thinking about a knitting blog along the lines of the Julie/Julia Project. At this time, I was aware of blogging as a phenomenon, but it still took a New York Times article to alert me to Julie’s project. [For the record, one is not cool if, as I have, one discovers a new band/writer/blog by reading about him/her/it in the Times. Or for that matter, one learns about something by hearing about it on NPR (or in Australia, the ABC.) This is, unfortunately, where I make most of my “discoveries.”]

My idea was to blog about the knitting of one of these impossibly complicated dresses. It’s pattern books like these that make you realize how far we’ve regressed as knitters, or craftspeople in general. You couldn’t sell a pattern like this these days: almost no-one would have the time nor the skill to actually complete it. This book is from 1949, and I’m imagining it offered women the chance to whip up something similar to dresses they saw in magazines or on the catwalks of the New Look period. A typical pattern, Manhattan say, takes 32 skeins of yarn, uses No. 2 needles, and begins "Cast on 456 stitches…"

The models pout. They smoke. They are impossibly glamorous.

My thought was, knit one of these, and who knows: in the process, might I discover glamour? Fame? My waist? I decided however, against the plan. Julie’s project took a year; mine, I decided, might take the rest of my life. Years from now, you might log on to Show & Tell to discover that I’m another inch along on the skirt, and might hit the waist before mid-century. And what, if by some miracle, I actually completed a dress, and like many a knitted item before, discovered that the neckline was all wrong, the sleeves too tight and that the pencil skirt sagged in the butt after the first wear? How would I feel after ten straight years of evenings spent in front of the TV knitting stockinette on No. 2 needles? I decided I’d rather not find out.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just discovered your blog and it's GREAT!

When I was a teenager (60s), the lady across the street knitted 2-pc. boucle suits for herself that looked like they had been done on a machine and she cranked them out at the rate of one a month. She was amazing (and about a size 12 which could explain her productivity!) I just loved visiting her and getting knitting tips---she was like a second mom (and impeccably dressed).

Thanks for sharing your vintage knitting books.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Suse said...

You should definitely knit the dress!

And re 'perhaps I've missed the deadline for self portrait tuesday Body Parts month' ... you still have 4 and 1/2 hours. What are you waiting for?

7:35 PM  
Blogger K8 said...

You're right - these days most knitters would be horribly intimidated by those patterns ("cast on how many stitches?!?") I'm completely impressed with what we were once capable of knitting though - those dresses are amazing!

8:20 AM  

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