Friday, December 19, 2014

And One Final Published Design in 2014

Happy Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday everyone! I've been so consumed with the Leather, Lace, Grit & Grace design previews, I am finally getting around to announcing my final design published by others this year - the To Be Named Cowl, a cowl designed for Yarnbox. In case you aren't familiar with it, Yarnbox is a subscription-based yarn club where members receive yummy yarn shipments based on their self-disclosed preferences. In addition, they also receive a knit as well as a crochet design each month using the yarn in their boxes. Yarnbox members get exclusive access to my cowl design through January 25th (my birthday!) of next year; I'll then have it for individual sale in my Ravelry design store.

In the meantime, I love this cowl pattern! A simple one-row lace pattern, worked flat in Baa Ram Ewe's Titus in the Aire colorway (I blogged about receiving the yarn back at the end of September), it gets a fun edging treatment after being blocked and seamed. I designed it in two lengths in case people wanted a cowl that sat a little lower (it's shown in the shorter length, doubled). This wool/alpaca blend bloomed so well during blocking - the lace took on a soft (and dare I say airy?) quality, yet it's super warm.

I would encourage you to visit this very busy Ravelry group (I've linked to the December box recipients thread) where you can read about this yarn as well as the other December yarn choice (there's usually two options) and the designs included in the boxes. There's also a wee poll asking the members to name the cowl, but I think Yarnbox stuffed the (ballot) box as it were by sending out the pattern with one of the name choices already printed on it. Oh well, so much for impartiality. 

I hope each of you is ready for next week and have come through the bulk of the holiday season with your style and good humor still in tact.

Happy holidays, everyone! It's been quite a year (but more on that in a few weeks).

Monday, December 8, 2014

How About a Little History This Melange Monday?

Hello everyone! Since it's (just another) melange Monday, and I'm discussing history while introducing some of the designs in Leather, Lace, Grit & Grace, I thought a republishing here of an article I wrote for CrochetInsider.com back in 2010 might be of interest. (Note: I didn't link to Dora Ohrenstein's site because it's been down for maintenance for a bit and didn't want to send you on a wild link chase. When it comes back up, I'll re-establish the link.).

So, without further ado, here's the first of two articles on the U.S. history of crochet:


RECLAIMING CROCHET - AND FINDING ITS AMERICAN HISTORY


The real history of crochet has yet to be discovered. In the United States, there is virtually no written history of crochet. Of the few books providing historical treatment of crochet, only one had a portion dedicated to American crochet history.

The Progressive Era, one of the most dramatic periods of American societal change, is particularly worthy of study. The beginning of the 20th century was a significant time of social upheaval. Women were questioning and redefining their roles at home and in the workplace. This, in turn, placed the needle arts in a new perspective.

The Historical Background – The Progressive “Impulse”

Even before the 20th century began, many in the United States believed in the need to deal with the problems – political, social, and moral – associated with the rise of urbanization and industrialization. This “impulse” toward reform took firm root during, roughly, 1900 – 1915, in what historians have termed the “Progressive Era.” No corner of American life was left untouched – from the way we processed beef, to the way we treated immigrants, to the number of hours in a workday, to the arrangement of domestic life.

The Colored Women’s League of 
Washington (D.C.) 1894
(Manuscript Division, Library of Congress)
The Progressive Era incited the birth of the women's movement. A mere century ago, women in most states did not have the right to vote, could not own property, were not welcomed in most professions (except those deemed traditionally “female”, such as teaching and social work) and held an extremely low profile in the public sphere. Women were thought to belong, virtually exclusively, in the domestic domain.

The changing social landscape, brought on my rapid industrialization, made many women question their public, as well as domestic, roles. The push for female suffrage dominated this period. Attempts were made to join the ranks of the professions – engineering, law, and medicine – and some were successful, others not. A critical percentage of women remained single (around 10% at the turn of the 20th century), and for the majority of those that did marry, mechanization of many household chores, along with longer school hours for children, freed up much of their time. Finally, divorce was on the rise – by the end of 1915, approximately one in nine marriages (up from one in every twenty-one in the last decades of the 19th century) ended in divorce.

All of this led to women taking a more public role in society – whether in clubs (cultural organizations where middle- and upper-class women gathered for intellectual pursuits), as activists, in settlement houses, or within government. 

Crochet in the US at the Turn of the 20th Century

Most American needlecraft had declined dramatically during the middle of the 19th century. There was, quite simply, a drastically reduced need to spin yarn and create fabric in such a time-consuming manner. At the turn of the 20th century, crochet was not receiving much American public attention (although it had made inroads on the Paris fashion runway). As one example illustrates – the “crochet” entries in the Reader’s Guide to Periodic Literature between 1900 and 1904 – there were only five articles devoted solely to crochet during that entire period! Additionally, given crochet’s deep English roots and the fact that lace had all but been banned as an export to England during America’s founding, this country’s need to put distance between itself and the perceptions associated with English royalty may also have played a part in the lack of crochet’s 19th century American presence.

This hat, published in The Delineator in 
January, 1912, included instructions on how 
to crochet the Venetian lace adornment.
However, as a new wave of immigrants came ashore via Ellis Island, they brought with them the “stuff” of their home countries – and needle arts were a part of that rich, immigrant experience. As women were in the midst of redefining their public and private roles, the ability to choose to create crocheted garments, accessories and home fashions played an ever-expanding role. It helped that materials were easier to obtain (the Sears Roebuck catalogue was an excellent source of wool for many), and the manufacture of crochet cotton was well underway by companies such as Coat’s and Clark Thread Company and Columbia Cottons. Additionally, continued American westward expansion not only was tailor-made for (at the time) crochet’s sturdier and more practical fabric, but aided in its popularity as an American art either to be engaged in during leisure time, or for additional income. Women no longer needed to be exclusively dependent on a husband’s income.

There was also a rise in the use of crochet (and knitting) for social change. Needlecraft programs were developed in many settlement houses as a way to provide an outlet for immigrant expression, and for middle-class women to come into contact with that expression. Home economics courses were developed and adopted as college doctrinal requirements. Many school girls took afternoon classes in knitting and crochet, with the hope that they would be able to earn a living through these skills. As in the 19th century, crocheted items were used to support charitable works of all kinds through church- or community-sponsored events.   

The Designers

An example of design by Antonie Ehrlich. Published, 
with commentary, in Ladies’ Home Journal, July, 1912.
Very little attention, unfortunately, has been paid to early 20th century crochet designers, although they were known in their time for their art, and many gained a loyal following.  Women such as Anne Champe Orr, Mary Card, Anna Wuerfle Brown, Antonie Ehrlich, Sophie T. La Croix, Helen Marvin, and Anna Valeire are only some of the designers who helped pave the crochet design path during the Progressive Era. These designers were proficient in many crochet techniques brought from other countries – Irish crochet, Australian crochet techniques, Venetian and French lace crochet – as well as other needle arts.

Antonie Ehrlich had many crochet designs published in magazines in the latter portion of the Progressive Era. In certain instances, since only written instruction was included in magazines (and, in many instances, it was incomplete) women needed to send money for complete instructions directly to Ehrlich.

Anne Champe Orr’s career began at Coat’s and Clark Thread Company; she eventually went on to publish her design pamphlets through her own publishing company, and charted patterns became one of her areas of expertise. She was a trailblazer not only as a designer, but also for her ability to provide employment for many others. She was also heavily involved in her Tennessee community in many charitable works.

A Mary Card design, published in Ladies’ Home 
Journal, October, 1911, under the heading 
“The New Australian Crochet.”
Another designer, Mary Card, has a particularly compelling story. Although not born in the United States but in Australia, Mary Card turned to designing and teaching crochet when she experienced deafness in adulthood. She published many designs in America, and devised a method of charting her crochet designs. Charting became a great Card teaching tool; it allowed her to not only pursue a career in which her disability would not be a hindrance, but to also reach a far greater student audience - she eventually made her charts larger to accommodate those with poor eyesight. Many who have crocheted a Mary Card design say they are some of the best examples of craftsmanship from the period.

Patterns and Sources

A Helen Marvin original design,
published in the March, 1913 Women's
Home Companion. It was suggested as
a good “Easter bazaar contribution.”
Crocheted dress collars, baby garments, hats, slippers and sweaters made up a large portion of the patterns for adults and children being designed during this period. Of some note were crocheted golf sweaters for women - as their involvement in the sport increased, so did the desire for patterns. Additionally, bedspreads, lace edgings for curtains, tablecloths, doilies and other home fashions were also very popular, as well as gorgeous crocheted handbags. In many instances, the genesis of today’s patterns for crocheted bags can be seen in the designs originating during the Progressive Era.

For many, magazines were a great source for crocheted patterns. The Delineator, Ladies’ Home Journal, Womens Home Companion, The Modern Priscilla, and  Harper’s Bazar were some of the many nationally published magazines that were great sources from which middle-class women gained not only current crochet trends and patterns, but also general information on personal and home fashion trends. Antonie Ehrlich was published in Ladies’ Home Journal; Helen Marvin was a frequent contributor to Women’s Home Companion.

Additionally, many of these publications produced and distributed individual designers’ pamphlets. Many of the designers mentioned above had individual publications devoted exclusively to their designs.

The lasting legacy of the Progressive Era is debated still by historians, including the legacy of women’s activism during the period. I keep coming back to some words from Kim Werker in one of the essays from Crochet Me, her 2007 book regarding why crochet, now:

            “My pet theory, though, is … the post-feminist theory of our lovely crafty
 revolution is that fiber arts are popular these days because we're reclaiming
 the “women’s work” from which our mothers fought so hard to break free.”

Given all that women had to fight for, and against, during the Progressive Era, I am convinced that many women back then would agree with Werker’s current statement. The history of crochet in America, as a choice, was one of the art’s hallmarks during the beginning of the 20th Century. Reclaim on. 


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Another Gift-a-long Interview This Fee-Fi(ber)-F.O. Friday

Happy Friday, everyone! While I am working on projects a-plenty at the moment (and they are all in various stages of finishing), I thought I'd share another designer interview this Friday with someone I've seen really grow as a designer, Mindy Wilkes. When I helped moderate this Ravelry shawl lovers' group (which was big when I left my mod duties two years ago, it now has over a whopping 6,300 members!), Mindy was one of the group's sponsors. I watched her create shawls pretty much before the group's respective eyes. Her shawls are very popular, and Mindy is an exceptional individual, so it is with great pleasure that I bring you:

The Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire
With Knit Designer Mindy Wilkes


Mindy (on right) with her sister Tracy
at Rhinebeck this year.


Can you tell us a little bit about your background before you started to design knit accessories? 

I was a microbiologist for a consumer product testing company for several years.  I have a degree in Biology and went to graduate school for Microbiology. After my son was born, I went back to work part-time for a few months then made the decision to be a stay at home mom full-time.

When was the moment you knew you wanted to become a knit designer? 

After finishing and releasing my first design (which came about only because I couldn't find an existing pattern for what I wanted to make), I was completely hooked on designing.

Please describe your personal knit design philosophy? 

I don't design things I wouldn't like to knit. It's why I haven't done any sweater designs. I'm just not much of a sweater knitter; I like small projects.

What is your greatest knit (or design) memory? 

I think it would be when I received my first acceptance from a magazine. I'm pretty sure I embarrassed the hell out of my husband when I read that e-mail. We were eating lunch out, and when I saw my acceptance e-mail, I was really excited and I may have done a little dance. Maybe. (insert happy face)

If you could have dinner with any three designers, dead or alive, who would they be, and why?

I'm going to cheat and pick 4 designers. My dinner dates would be Heather Zoppetti, Corrina Ferguson, Katherine Vaughan (who is also my tech editor), and Barbara Benson. We're all friends in real life, and I don't get to see them very often, although I did see Heather and Corrina at Rhinebeck back in October.  I'm guessing our next dinner will be at TNNA this coming summer.

Throw or pick? 

Throw.

It’s your last object to design (or make). What is it, and what fiber do you use? 

A big, epic, extremely difficult lace shawl in a lace weight wool, cashmere, silk blend.

What trait do you most admire in designers? 

The ability to think outside the box. You know when you see a new design and you think it's the cleverest thing out there because the designer did something totally interesting with the construction or with the stitch pattern but it's not at all difficult? That.

Wilkes' latest shawl design, Brunswick, a sister design
to her popular Holden shawl
What trait do you most detest in designers? 

I don't know if detest is the right word, but I have a pet peeve or two. One of my biggest pet peeves is not using a tech editor for whatever reason. I work at a yarn store and I have seen some patterns that have very clearly not been tech edited, and it's so very, very frustrating to try to convince a customer that not all patterns are as confusing, incorrect, etc. It's hard to hear that a customer will never buy a pattern again because of one bad experience with a pattern. 

You are recommending a design gift in response to a friend’s inquiry. Other than your own designs (which, as everyone knows, are quite beautiful – especially your moon shawls collection!), what would you recommend? 

Right now, I'm really enamored with Hilary Smith Callis' shawl-cowl hybrids: Starshower, Luna Viridis, and Adama. I also really like a lot of Melissa Thomson's patterns. It's so hard to choose. There are so many really awesome patterns out there!


I am so thrilled Mindy agreed to answer my questionnaire. I pinned her participating designs in the gift-a-long Pinterest boards, and pinning them was like catching up with old friends.

Do get on over to Andrea's at Wisdom Begins in Wonder to see all the goings on at the farm. 

And, hey - deck those halls people! Preferably with DIY decorations for that unique touch.