Friday, December 14, 2018

A Little Mixed Media - "Believe"

 Hello my creative maker friends, we are almost at the middle of December! It is dark here in the Pacific Northwest, so I wanted to counteract that with some additional art. Since I have been really itching to create some mixed media, the More Than Words December Challenge has provided the perfect inspiration. Additionally, I wanted to create some original art for my newsletter subscribers, of which a final 2018 edition went out yesterday.

For those who may be unfamiliar with More Than Words (MTW), they are a team of mixed media artists and admins that host a monthly main + mini design challenge, arranged around a theme or technique. I have been lurking at the site for many months now (as well as follow their Instagram feed). While I may have a more painterly aesthetic than some on the site (for lack of a better descriptive term), I nevertheless find the challenges, as well as the resulting artwork, inspiring. Of course, I am a huge mixed media fan, so I was thrilled with the opportunity to create some using one of my favorite techniques, stamping.

In part, the raw materials.
December, 2018
9" x 12"
mixed media on watercolor paper
While my inspiration is fairly obvious (well, ok, at least to me): believe in the light of the season, it of course has a deeper personal meaning. Belief in oneself is an iffy proposition on the best of days (especially if one works in design/art/creative pursuits), so a little reminder to myself is always a good thing. 

Here is how it appeared at the top of my subscriber newsletter.

And here is how it looks on my holiday "mantle."

I will eventually frame it in a clear, floating frame, and I expect it will be displayed each year with all the rest of my holiday decorations and art.

Thanks so much, MTW, for this fun and timely challenge!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Ending the Year With Another New Design

It is December, everyone - and gifts are abundant. I am on the receiving end of a lovely publishing gift - as a new hat design (yes, you read that correctly, a hat design!) has just been published in Interweave Crochet's Winter 2019 edition! (The electronic version is available right now for download; it hits newsstands December 11th, although some LYSs already have it in stock).
Vanilla and Spice Hat, Interweave Crochet
Winter 2019 edition; photo courtesy of
Interweave/Harper Point Photography

I am not normally a hat-design kind of person. While I have published a few hat designs, I really don't wear hats (too warm for this polar bear), so they are not usually at my design ready. However, at the beginning of this year, the magazine's submission call (containing requests for designs with puff, bobble, and/or popcorn stitches) combined with all of my South Korean Olympic games-watching to create a perfect design storm for the Vanilla and Spice Hat to be created for release into the crafty wild.

While I will have more to say on the hat's design genesis in a subsequent post, I want to focus on the elements of Interweave Crochet's Winter 2019 edition, which is truly chock-full of crochet goodness. Can't you already tell????

Included with the Vanilla and Spice Hat are an additional 19 projects, many of which incorporate the awesome bobble, popcorn, or puff. Along those lines, I am all in with the Wintertide Sweater, the Snow Day Sweater, the Solstice Cardigan, the Cinnamon Cowl, and the Cedar Mittens. There is also a quick tutorial from Sara Dudek, the editor, on constructing each of these soft, textural stitches (and more on stitch construction a little farther below).

There are other designs in this edition that strike all of my favorite internal design bells and whistles: the Granny Hexagon Bag and the Nordic Tapestry Pouch both hit me in my bag-loving heart; and for those of us who love and appreciate history, Dora Ohrenstein has a streamlined crochet history article, coupled with projects from across the Interweave magazine library that underscore several crochet technique/tool firsts (and a shout out to Piecework Magazine as an excellent repository of crochet and fiber arts' history). 

As I mentioned above, cluster textural stitches like the puff, bobble, and popcorn, have not only shown up in my designs, but have been previous writing fodder for me. I wrote an article on the differences between them in an early edition of Below I provide a slightly reworked version of that article, complete with a visual tutorial of all three stitches (in case you cannot wait for your copy of the IC Winter 2019 edition to reach your mailbox). 

Bobble, Popcorn or Puff?
(originally published August, 2014 by

I use test crocheters frequently. All of my testers are well-seasoned crocheters and are invaluable to me. So recently, when two of my testers had questions concerning the bobbles and puffs I had in a few of my patterns, a green light went off – this was something I needed to investigate further.

As you can see from the makeshift bookmarks,
I consult these books frequently
Whenever I want to research a subject, the first thing I turn to is a book (oh, those humanities and literature majors!), and in this instance, crochet books from my own library that are relevant to the topic. While certainly not exhaustive (cause I’m a city gal and have limited space), you’ll see I consulted books written by industry professionals, all heavyweights and extremely knowledgeable. I admire all of these authors, and these books have been and continue to be incredibly helpful to me. But it wasn’t until I actually started to research this subject that I realized the extent of the inconsistency in the published material. Of these six books, only three directly address the bobble, popcorn and puff. Of those three, two are consistent in their approach and instruction; the third, while receiving an honorable mention was, shall we say, less than consistent (and no, I will not identify the publications). The other books either have different approaches to one or several of the stitches, or just didn’t cover them.

Please hear me: I am not knocking these designers/authors or publishers! I note that the authors who didn’t touch upon these stitches may have felt a discussion of them was beyond what they were attempting to accomplish with their respective material. Additionally, there is, unlike knitting, no cohesive crochet language. Stitches on one side of the Atlantic have a different interpretation on the other side of the pond. Season the above liberally with copyright issues every author faces when writing instructions, and the heat level surrounding all of this just went up by at least one chili pepper.

There are professional organizations one might turn to – the Crochet Guild of America, The National Needle Arts Association, and the Craft Yarn Council of America – and while all provide excellent training, there is no consensus for definitive answers (and this takes nothing away from the good work these organizations do every day for crocheters). Finally, while crochet symbols are universal, they are incomplete (although for my purposes here, well established), and not all crocheters feel comfortable with them. So, in the face of all this wishy-wash, what’s a hooker to do?

Focus on the stitches themselves, of course.

One of the ways to create crochet fabric is to work clusters of stitches. Clusters come in two basic flavors:


Clusters worked                     Clusters worked
over several stitches               into just one stitch

Close-up of the Vanilla and Spice Hat;
note puff stitches on brim of the hat.
Photo: Voie de Vie
Bobbles, popcorns and puffs fall within the category on the right – they each are worked in just one stitch. That’s the first main element to note: if the instructions say to work over several stitches, then it isn’t a bobble, popcorn or puff.

Next, the generally accepted symbol for each of these respective crochet stitches is instructive in showing the second main element – how each stitch is closed at the top. The symbol for bobbles and puffs have a short, straight line at the top. This indicates that for each, a number of incomplete stitches are held on the hook and closed at the top with a yarn over through the multiple loops on the hook. Popcorns are different – the stitch symbol is acorn-like because the stitches are completed and not held on the hook; as will be shown below, popcorns are closed at the top by removing the hook from the last stitch worked, inserting it into the first stitch of the popcorn cluster and pulling the last live stitch loop through the first stitch.

There is a difference in the size and texture of each stitch – popcorns are the largest and provide bold, textural interest. Bobbles and puffs are generally smaller, yet still pack an excellent textural punch This leads to the other main stitch element – while bobble and popcorns can be made with multiple types of stitches – double crochet, treble, double treble – puffs are usually made with half double crochet stitches. Of course I say usually, because there are exceptions to every rule, and exceptions to the exceptions.

Here is a quick visual tutorial of how to construct each stitch:

1. The bobble:
Work a partial double crochet into the designated stitch: yarn over,
insert hook, pull up a loop, yarn over and through two loops on the
hook. Two loops will remain on the hook.
Repeat the above instruction for as many double crochets
as is called for in the pattern instructions (in this instance,
I am making a three double crochet bobble).
Once you have completed the requisite number of
incomplete double crochets, yarn over and pull through
all remaining loops on the hook.

2. T
he popcorn:

Work a complete double crochet in the stitch indicated.

Repeat the above instruction for as many double
crochets as is called for in the pattern instructions
(in this instance, I am making a five double crochet popcorn).
Note they are all in the same stitch.
After the last double crochet is complete, remove
the hook from the live loop and place your hook through
the top of the first double crochet in the popcorn.

Now place the hook back into the live loop of the last
double crochet and pull it through the first double crochet.

After being pulled through the first double crochet.
Notice how the completed popcorn is raised up
from the crochet fabric. 
3. The puff:

Work a partial half double crochet in the stitch indicated: 
yarn over, insert hook into designated stitch, yarn over 
and pull up a loop. You will have three loops on the hook.
At this point, you will place yarn over hook and 
pull through all 7 loops. The partial half double crochet loops 
should be even and just slightly loose, so the hook will slide 
easily through all 7 loops. 
Here is the completed puff. It is shorter in hight than
either the bobble or popcorn, but it is cushiony soft.

These stitches provide loads of texture to any project, as well as enjoyment for the maker. Just remember to focus on the elements of each: all are worked in only stitch; popcorns are clusters of completed stitches that are closed at the top by removing the hook from the last live stitch and putting the hook through the first stitch and pulling the last live stitch through; bobbles and puffs are clusters of incomplete stitches that are closed at the top by pulling a loop through several stitches held on the hook; popcorns and bobbles are usually comprised of double crochet or larger stitches; and, finally, puffs are usually worked with half double crochet stitches.  Knowing the elements of each will allow you to easily identify the correct cluster used in any pattern.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The 2018 Indie Designer Gift-a-long - Some Opening Thoughts

Yes, everyone, it is that time of year again – the 2018 Indie Designer Gift-a-long rang the opening bell on Friday, November 23rd, at 8:00 pm EST. This year’s version features a whopping 349 designers, including yours truly.

As usual, we are in the midst of this year’s GAL kick-off sale – each of those 349 designers has designated up to 20 items eligible for a nifty 25% off at checkout (with the giftalong2018 code entered) – and I am not immune to a good sale. No, no siree Bob. Each year I purchase patterns from my fellow designers, and I have (so far, I may or may not be done) picked up three designs that I just may work up during the next six weeks: the Cacophony Shawl from upstart designer Margo Bauman, Annie Modesitt’s awesome Pembroke Jacket, and the Urban Frieze cowl from one of my favorite Italy-based indie designers, Paola Albergamo. These designs figure (to a greater or lesser degree) into my own gift-making plans this season, and I’ll be posting project progress and photos to my Instagram feed (with all appropriate hashtags), so I’d suggest following there for all the good and (goofing!) details.

A sampling from my design sale bundle
As is also my yearly wont, I once again have put together a 2018 GAL Pinterest board of a sampling of totally rockin’ designs from virtually all 349 of my fellow designers. Yup, I spent two days and more mugs of coffee than I can count digging through each designer’s respective sale bundle (which we each designate beforehand), as well as looking through some non-sale items in certain instances, and taking a peek at a seemingly never-ending stream of photos to put together one of the most colorful, eye-catching displays of indie crochet and knit designs, like, ever. And, yes, my entire sale bundle of designs is interspersed in the board (containing almost 800 pins!!!), but that is not why I have, and continue to, engage in this design-pinning marathon.

Designing exclusively in a fiber medium (specifically crochet and knit garments and accessories for both self and home) is, at its most basic, a reflection of self and what animates each of us. My fellow indie designers and I put our hearts and souls and sweat and tears and talent into each and every design we publish.  We put ourselves out there every day in ways big and small. It is all guts and a very teeny, tiny, eensy, weensy amount of glory. This yearly gift-making celebration was conceived as a way to celebrate indie designers and their designs. Curating a Pinterest board every year is my way of contributing to that celebration. It is geared to showing off my fellow designers’ respective designs, and there is an additional happy and long-lasting by-product.

As I think most devotees of Pinterest know, pinners receive various Pinterest emails each week pushing pins and boards. I also receive (along with most other pinners with businesses) a weekly recap of one’s top three pins. For every week during the last oh, at least, two months, one of my most popular pins is one I pinned to my 2015 curated Gift-a-along board. Yes, a pin from 2015 is still getting all kinds of exposure for its designer.  That is one helluva designy half-life, and one I am more than pleased and happy to report and help create.

So, please, I hope everyone will join me in celebrating our yearly tribute to indie design, indie designers who give so much all the time, and makers who embrace the best of the season and make gifts like there’s no tomorrow. ‘Tis the season for it all, people. I raise my coffee mug to that.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

On Veteran's Day ... and Baroness Raymonde de Laroche, Part 2

Jacqueline Cochran, in uniform, 1943. Photo:
We here in the U.S. are set to celebrate Veteran's Day tomorrow, October 11th. Of course, we are not the only country paying tribute to war veterans, as France is currently marking the centenary of the end of WWI.

I thought this might be a fitting time to post the second part of my article on the Baroness Raymonde de Laroche, who was a veteran of WWI: she settled for driving an ambulance on the front, after the French government turned down her request to fly for France. The Baroness gave so much to that particular war effort, and of course she was not alone, although I am uncertain whether France formally recognizes the sacrifice of the women who served in non-traditional capacities.

Of course, this non-recognition of female war contributions continued (at least in the U.S.) through WWII. Notably, Jacqueline Cochran, the head of the WASP - Women's Air Force Service Pilots - which trained many women to fly during WWII, fought hard to get female pilots the official federal government recognition their service and sacrifice so richly deserved. Unfortunately, Cochran was unsuccessful in that attempt, and other attempts since then have also failed. 

So, to honor all veterans' service - both official and non-official - here is the second and final part of the amazing story of the first woman of flight, Baroness Raymonde de Laroche. (If you missed the first part, feel free to access it here.)

Raymonde de Laroche, the Baroness of Flight

The Baroness Raymond de Laroche. Photo
from Airbus.
When we last left the Baroness, she had just successfully competed with male pilots in the first five days at the second Grande Semaine d’Aviation in July, 1910 in Reims, France. On the sixth day, however, she suffered an incredible accident that saw her almost die on the competitive field.

Elise remained grounded for six months after the Reims accident as she recuperated, returning to the airfield on crutches in January 1911. Throughout 1911, she resumed flying and successively traded up to better planes until she was piloting a Farman biplane. By this point, she and Charles were living together. Voisin had left the family plane business to manage a group of the best pilots of the day, including Roland Garros (for whom the French Open tennis match was named).

In the same year, dangerous machines caused another tragedy for de LaRoche even when her feet remained squarely planted on the ground. She and Charles were driving near Lyons when they collided with another car. Charles died at the scene, and Elise sustained serious injuries.

The Baroness turning to flying (in new-to-her plane manufacturers) for solace, and it played an eventful role for her in 1912. Although de Laroche had been working her way through a series of different planes other than Voisins prior to Charles’ death, there was no more relationship with either the Voisin brothers or their planes since Gabriel, Charles’ surviving brother, blamed her for the accident.  Additionally, a French company, Office d’Aviation, was supposed to provide her with a plane as well as secure her flying engagements, which it did not do. As a result, she brought a breach of contract claim against the company, and after initially losing in a lower tribunal, won a 10,000 francs court judgment in the Fourth Chamber.

Then, in 1913, the year in which one of her Belgian contemporaries, Hélène Dutrieu, announced her retirement from flying, the Baroness won the coveted European Femina Cup—and the hefty prize money that came with it—for setting a flight record by a female pilot. She also seemed to fully recover from her loss of Charles Voisin and married Jacques Vial in the same year. Had it not been for the outbreak of WWI, when all non-military flight came to a halt, she would have continued, unabated, to fly.

However, when WWI broke out in 1914, civilian flying – including that of the Baroness - came to a complete stop. Elise actually wanted to fly for France, but had to settle for driving an automobile instead. She survived the war, but these years greatly impacted the rest of her life: the government requisitioned her plane to fight the war, her husband Vial died on the battlefield, and the Spanish flu killed her son.

In the summer of 1919, after setting (for a brief time) a women’s altitude record, de Laroche visited the airfield at Le Crotoy Somme, where she was offered a ride in a new Caudron airplane. Elise was in the process of reimagining a new “first” role for herself- that of test pilot. No other woman had, to that point, qualified for that type of pilot work. At just 33 years old, however, Elise died on that flight, along with the pilot. Flight’s obituary notice on July 24, 1919, approvingly documented her many achievements and closed with a nod to one of many controversies at the time: “A few weeks ago she took a machine up to a height of 4,900 metres (16,170 ft.) but the French Club refused to recognize ‘women’s records,’ a decision which has caused some discussion across the Channel.” Local flying clubs had forbid women to compete with men, but since the FAI was the official international record-keeping body, Elise and all other women had used it as a way to crack the gender flight ceiling.

It is clear that de Laroche loved flying and remained dedicated to it despite the obvious and the all-to-often fatal risks involved in early aviation. The Baroness, in her own words, hauntingly alluded to both her dedication and the associated risk, when she spoke to reporters after she earned her pilot’s license in 1910: “Most of us spread the perils of a lifetime over a number of years. Others may pack them into a matter of only a few hours. In any case, whatever is to happen will happen. It may well be that I shall tempt fate once too often. Who knows? But it is to the air that I have dedicated myself, and I fly always without the slightest fear.”

Further Reading:

Gibson, Karen Bush. Women Aviators: 26 Stories of Pioneer Flights, Daring Missions, and Record-Setting Journeys. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2013
Lavoie, Denise. Leather, Lace, Grit & Grace: Crochet and Knit Designs Inspired by the Early Females of Flight Including Bessie Coleman and Harriet Quimby. Seattle: Tough as Lace Publishing, 2015.
Lebow, Eileen F. Before Amelia. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's Inc., 2002.
Lieberg, Owen S. The First Air Race: The International Competition at Reims, 1909. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1974.
Marck, Bernard. Women Aviators: From Amelia Earhart to Sally Ride, Making History in Air and Space. Paris: Flammariion, 2009.
Pawlak, Debra Ann. “The Baroness of Flight,” Aviation History (July 1, 2008).
Villard, Henry Serrano, and William M. Allen, Jr. Looping the Loop: Posters of Flight. Carlsbad, California: Kales Press, 2000.
Voisin, Gabriel. Men, Women, and 10,000 Kites. London: Putnam, 1963

Magazine articles:
Air Trails, July, 1953 – “The Brave Baroness – First Licensed Ladybird,” Harry Harper, pp. 19-21, 56, 58.
Flying, March, 1957 – “The Intrepid First Lade of Flight,” Harry Harper, pp. 34, 84-85.
Icare, Revue de l’Aviation, edited by SNPL France ALPA (Association des Pilotes de Ligne), December 2012, vol.
            no. 223 – Courses et Meetings Aeriens de la Belle Epoque (1909-1914) – Vol. 2: 1910, pp 12-12, 18, 86-
            88, 95 (a French language publication).
Knitting Traditions, Fall, 2017 - "Aviation's Baroness: Elise Raymonde de Laroche," Denise Lavoie, pp. 22-27.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year ... Almost

Ok, my fellow makers - November is here!!!!! My absolute favorite month of the year, because we now can focus on all things U.S. Thanksgiving ... and Indie Gift-a-long making. 

Oh yes, my maker friends, we are just weeks away from that gifty-making-marathon known as the Indie Gift-a-long. While I will not be a forum moderator this year, I do intend on being a participating designer, and I am getting all of my design-y administrative ducks in a row in time for the designer sign-up period, which starts November 14. 

Of course, I am still completing projects in my hosted make-a-long for Slow Fashion October, featuring the designs from Five(ish) Easy Pieces, as well as finishing up the test for The Lost Tee. Nevertheless, I am still super excited that soon we'll all be a-GALing: celebrating another great year of indie design, making gifts, and eating turkey sandwiches. 

To help get things kicked off, I am now making available to the general public the thank you holiday design I gave to my newsletter subscribers and Ravelry group members last November - the Rustic and Jeweled Winter Snowflake. This one-skein project (compliments of Malabrigo Rasta) works up in an afternoon. If you decide, like me, to hand-bead it after blocking ... well ... then it will take just a leeeeetle bit longer to complete. 

Nevertheless, it looked rather dramatic last year decorating my front door, and I am looking forward to dressing up my space again this year in its holiday finery very soon.

But only after my other projects are completed. Head down, and bloggy update on those very soon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Celebrating Slow Fashion October With My Autumn Capsule Collection

Slow Fashion October has become my clothing and wardrobe touchstone: it is the one month of the year that I take a really hard look at what I wear and the how concerning where I want to go from a clothing perspective.  The fact Fringe Association has gotten me into this mindset every year for the last four years is a testament in and of itself.

Of course, designing knit and crochet clothing and home fashions also has aided me in this total wardrobe transformation. There is nothing liking consistently creating fabric to not only hone one's skill in terms of fabric, but also what personally works ... and doesn't. What type of sleeve do I like best? V-neck or scoop? Dropped shoulder or set-in? How much, if any, ease? How many inches above the knee do I feel comfortable working this skirt hem? Back walking vent - yes or no? Do I keep a traditional line, or go for something more trendy? And, finally, how much effort do I actually want (or can afford to) expend on this one item? In a designing and making life, time is a much-fleeting yet ever important commodity (and I really do love sleep). I have, consistently over the last few years, continued to ask myself where and on what do I really want to spend my time? Of course, those last questions are, ultimately, questions of freedom, but on that digression I will remain silent.

So for this year's Slow Fashion October, I have finally timed it right to release a capsule collection - Five(ish) Easy Pieces. Two garments and four accessories all designed and created with elements I love in yarns that I can feel good about using. I wish to emphasize that not all of the yarn is from small, indie dyers. In fact, the bulk of them are from larger yarn manufacturers, because if my time and resources are limited, then I expect so too are they for many of the makers out there. Sometimes ease in sourcing materials and on one's budget are valid considerations - again, spending quality time and all that. I have never been a yarn snob and am not about to go that direction now. I do want to use the best fiber I can at all price points, so virtually all of the yarns (save one I believe) are all natural fibers. 

These designs will be introduced over my social media throughout the remainder of this week, as well as get put into the Ravelry database and listed in my various online sales platforms - Ravelry, LoveKnitting/Crochet, and (hopefully) Swatch Warriors, but that last one will take some time. I already have a few of these designs in the creation stage for my own wardrobe, which brings me all kinds of joy. It is exactly how I want to spend my time. So, without further ado, here is the look book for Five(ish) Easy Pieces:

Monday, October 15, 2018

We Interrupt Slow Fashion October to Bring You A New Pattern Site!

I am so excited to finally be able to announce a project that has been in the works for several months - a brand spanking new pattern site!!!!! And - get this - it originates from the southern hemisphere, in South Africa no less!

The brainchild of Yurika Kotze (a designer publishing patterns under the Fiber Quest name), she put out a call in early summer on Ravelry to designers to gauge interest in a potentially new curated pattern site. Enough of us (myself included) said yes, and here we are at today's Swatch Warriors site launch.

This is a deeply curated collection - and therefore something very different from Ravelry, which is first, and foremost, an all-inclusive database. Swatch Warriors sets itself apart with Yurika's curation - she has taken her designer's eye and aesthetic sensibility and applied it to each designer's collection, teasing out what she finds to be new and fresh in crochet (her fiber medium of choice) as well as knit. So, for instance, I have several of my cowls listed on the site, but by no means all of them, and this is by design. In the site's own words, it aims to be ". . . a niche go-to site for all the best contemporary designs. Modern and beautiful, the site boasts designs by forward-thinking pioneers in the fiber arts." Ahem, thank you for the compliment, Yurika!

Swatch Warriors is very easy to navigate: it is sorted by tools used (needles or hooks) and then by categories. On the home page you will find a spotlight pattern of the week (which, of course, I do hope a few of mine will make it there!), and all patterns are available for immediate download upon purchase. The site's curation is ongoing, so look for new patterns to hit each week, and, since I have a new autumn collection rolling out, like, in mere minutes (!), hopefully more of my designs will make their way onto the site. 

Most importantly (at least for me), I am thrilled that a traditionally underserved area of our fiber community is finally getting a well-deserved spotlight. South Africa is a place close to my heart, not only because I lived there for a summer during graduate school, but because most of the world's mohair (one of my favorite fibers) is produced there. It has a rich culture of fiber (and many other) arts, so I look forward to Swatch Warriors potentially filling this fiber arts' gap. I hope everyone will visit the site and view designs from a new perspective and (hopefully) a fresh eye.

One of my favorite photos snapped in South Africa of the awesome
Table Mountain on an early August day.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

It’s Slow Fashion October!

So close to being done ... for
such a long time!
Hurrah – something to feel good about – it is once again Slow Fashion October.  While I will be writing more about slow fashion in my upcoming newsletter (which will go out a little later this week, so feel free to subscribe to it if you want to read my thoughts, which won’t be published elsewhere), as well as for the weekly Slotober prompts, I wanted to kick off the month with a wee announcement as well as an article.

Initially, the announcement: one of my goals during this year’s slow fashion month is to finish up a few WIPs I have lying around, begging to be completed, and since I so very much want to wear these projects, it fits in nicely with this year’s Slotober overarching theme. They are two sweaters (a pullover and a cardigan), and I am committed to seeing them completed. I am going to be hosting a MAL between October 8th and mid-November in my Ravelry group, and anyone with a WIP of one of my designs is highly encouraged to join me, so we can commiserate together and get the darn projects completed.

Additionally, since one of the WIPs I want to complete is my version of the Aviatrix Pullover, I thought I would start the month off by publishing – in two parts – a reworked and slightly expanded version of my article published in last year’s Knitting Traditions magazine that accompanied the Aviatrix Pullover design. Baroness Raymonde de La Roche, the first woman to receive a pilot’s license at the turn of the 20th century, is an amazing shero who has inspired a few of my designs. Equal parts moxie and determination, she is included in Leather, Lace, Grit & Grace and has an included crochet design dedicated to her glass ceiling-shattering life.  Without further ado, I hope you enjoy her story (and maybe she'll inspire you and your wardrobe choices):

Raymonde de LaRoche, the Baroness of Flight

Original portrait of Elise Deroche,
mixed media, created for Leather, Lace,
Grit & Grace.
By the turn of the 20th century, in the wake of the height of the Industrial Revolution, European and American inventors began focusing on air travel, while at the same time certain women found themselves able to escape traditional Victorian roles for females. Baroness Raymonde de Laroche, born Elise Deroche in Paris in 1886, embodied these two social phenomena in her dramatic aviation career.

A plumber’s daughter, Elise initially trained as a sculptor and artist and made a name for herself in French theater. She also gave birth to a son in 1903; the father is unknown. The theater, however, was not what captured Elise’s imagination and sense of adventure. She embraced the velocipede (the forerunner of modern bicycles, popular in France and elsewhere since the late 1860s) and then turned to hot-air balloons. Loving the feeling of flying above the ground, she became an accomplished balloonist at a time when female balloonists were a rarity.

Elise’s first exposure to winged flight came in 1908 when Wilbur Wright gave some flight demonstrations in Paris. These presentations clearly planted a seed: a year later, famed aviator and airplane designer Charles Voisin suggested during a dinner date that she take flight lessons. Harry Harper, one of the earliest aviation journalists, overheard that portion of the dinner conversation, which went something like this:

Baroness Laroche: “I’ve painted portraits, done sculptures, been on stage, driven racing cars, and made flights in balloons. What more can a girl do?”

Charles Voisin: “How would you like to do something no woman has done before?”

Baroness Laroche:” Nothing would appeal more, my dear Charles. What is it?”

Charles Voisin: “Why not be the first woman in the world to learn to fly an aeroplane?”

A few days later, after toasting to her new ambition during the dinner date, de Laroche drove her own car to the Voisin brothers’ airfield at Chalons and instructed Charles to “Get out one of those Voisins of yours.” She talked down his objection (“It’s no use you’re having second thoughts. You promised.”)

Elise’s license from the 
Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, 
flying sweater. It was the jumping off point
for my Aviatrix Pullover design. 
Voisin's plane, like others of that era, was a fragile single-seat affair made with little more than wooden slats, wire, and canvas. Voisin, as flight instructor, stood outside of the plane when Elise took the driver's seat. At one point in their lessons, Charles told Elise to taxi down the airfield, which she did perfectly; a waiting mechanic turned the plane around and she taxied back. Voisin then instructed her to do it again, but not to leave the ground. Elise paid no attention. She opened the throttle and rose about 15 feet in the air, flying a distance of 300 meters. She was airborne - Elise said yes to the lessons, to flying, and to the love affair that developed between her and Charles. On March 8, 1910, less than two years after getting her first taste of flight during that Wilbur Wright demonstration, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) awarded Droche license number 36, calling her "Mme. de Laroche" - the first aviator's license earned by a woman.

The Baroness in the cockpit. Photo: National Air &
Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
While France seemed relatively friendly to women pilots when compared to attitudes and conditions in other countries, Elise also had two advantages in her quest to fly—her lover Voisin offered flying lessons, and some French flight schools permitted female students. European society generally (as well as other societies) frowned upon female pilots and few male instructors were willing to teach women, making Elise’s advantages all the more important. Additionally, those women who were accepted as students still faced obstacles in France: notably that some schools would only accept women after the female student signed a document waiving all instructor liability in case of accident or death. Once accepted, some women then traveled long distances (in certain instances, many miles on foot) to and from out-of-the-way venues for their lessons. Although Flight’s October 1909 news story complimented Elise’s ability, it opened with a complaint that perfectly captured these attitudes: “Yet another sphere which some had thought man would, for some time, at any rate, retain for his own has been invaded by the gentler sex.”

Despite the prevailing cultural attitudes of the time, many women traveled to France at the turn of the century, taking flying lessons and earning the all-important FAI license (the FAI still issues licenses today). Their American numbers included Bessie Coleman, the first African American of either sex to earn a pilot's license.

Cracked Glass Cowl from Leather,
Lace, Grit & Grace.
France also took the lead in promoting aviation generally. In 1909 (just as Elise was learning to fly), aviators gathered for the first-ever international public flying event, the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne in Reims. For a week in the sweltering French August heat, nearly all the prominent male pilots of the time competed in various distance and time events before crowds totaling half a million people. Corporate sponsors included several local champagne makers; they offered prize money totally more than 175,000 francs (more than $750,000) for the winners of these events. The excellent attendance numbers and enthusiastic sponsorship made it clear that aviation was becoming a popular spectator sport. Additionally, since these meets also became the venue in which male pilots, mechanics, designers, and builders tested their aircraft in a spirit of camaraderie, it also became an excellent testing ground and established the viability of flight as future potential transport.

Just four months after Elise received her FAI license (and competed pre-licensure in the Heliopolis meet in Cairo in February, 1910, in which she was one of three pilots - and the only woman in the entire field of participants - to win prize money flying a Voisin Antoinette 50 ch.), the second Grande Semaine d’Aviation took place in July, 1910, again in Reims, France. Of course the Baroness flew a Voisin biplane in several events. Prize monies had increased to 250,000 francs, and the number of participating pilots had doubled.

My modern take on Elise's flying
pullover, worked up in bulky weight
superwash wool. Nothing she wore
would have spared her injury during
the second Grand Semaine meet in
Reims in 1910.
At this meet, pilots made gains in distances and heights flown, yet it was marred by tragedy. On opening day, a male pilot was killed when the wings of his plane collapsed during a steep nosedive. On day six, de Laroche’s plane crashed after hitting the turbulence of the plane in front of her, and she was seriously injured. She was knocked unconscious, with eighteen fractures in hands, wrists, legs, and pelvis, plus wounds to her face. Her injuries were so severe, the Los Angeles Herald ran an erroneous story of her death on July 9, 1910, noting it was the “second fatal accident at [the Reims] meet.” Fortunately journalist Harry Harper attended the event to set the record straight.  He reported that de Laroche regained consciousness for a few brief minutes at the aerodrome’s hospital, enough time for her to relate to medical officials that she believed one of her fellow male competitors flew too close to her and caused the accident. Despite the extent of her injuries, the Baroness still managed to win 5,000 francs.

Critics of the event, as you may expect, publicly argued that flying was no place for women who could not handle the emergencies they could potentially face in the cockpit. Only men were capable of handling airplanes; it was unladylike for women to fly, and so on (despite the fact that the only fatality during the second Grande Semaine d’Aviation involved a male pilot). While her comments immediately after the crash led to one of her competitors being investigated and eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, not for a minute did de Laroche question her own competence as a pilot.

Stay tuned for the second part of the article to see just how it all worked out for the Baroness.