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.