Friday, October 17, 2014

Taking to the Roads, Halls and Guillotines: Exploring the Reasons Behind and the History of Knitting in Public (Part III)

Now for the final part of this mini-series. Hope you enjoyed it! 
Missed Parts I and II? Find them here and here, respectively. 

“Then she glanced in a casual manner
round the wine-shop, took up her knitting
with great apparent calmness and repose of spirit,
and became absorbed in it” (Dickens).

One of the most notorious women to ever take knitting out of the domestic sphere and use it in the public sphere for political purposes was Madame Defarge, of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Madame Defarge first appears in the novel knitting in her husband’s wine-shop, but the knitting takes on a more morbid purpose. An ardent revolutionary, she encodes the names of the Evrèmonde family into her work as part of her revenge for crimes committed against her family years before. 

Madame Defarge is a fictional representation of the tricoteuse, the ‘knitter’ who would knit while listening along to the Assembly debates (Godineau, XIX). Tricoteuses, while considered violent, was an example of how women pushed boundaries and attempted to find their own place in the public sphere. Knitting was often a domestic chore and women were often relegated to the home; during the Revolution, many women found themselves outside their homes and taking part in debates, be it by their presence alone. And the knitting came with them. 


‘“As I had no stockings and my boots were not a perfect

fit, my feet became very sore”’ (Macdonald, 97). 


During the American Civil War (1861-1865), soldiers wrote home requesting vast amounts of socks and other handknit items. The North responded by organizing various Aid Society meetings, which also served as a space for promoting some sense of normalcy during this time (Macdonald, 100-101). These meetings were publicised in the local papers and helped promote the goal of the workers by word of mouth. 

Today, many knitting groups get together and knit for a charity; with the creation of sites such as ravelry and Twitter, the word about the charity knitting spreads faster and has wider outreach.

Thanks to social networking and modern technology, knitters and crafters are able to coordinate events for WWKIP all over the world. After the events of WWKIP end, they continue knitting in public by coordinating future meetings. WWKIP may have helped many knitters who never tried knitting in public do so for the first time and embrace it enthusiastically in a positive and encouraging way.

Knitting in public, and its reasons for doing so owes its debt to not just those mentioned above, but to other instances beyond the scope of this article that paved the way for today’s generation of knitters. WWKIP grew initially from just 25 locations in 2005 to over 751 by 2009, demonstrating that knitting in public is gaining in popularity, which is in part thanks to the volunteers that enthusiastically encourage and organize these events. 

Over time, the reasons for knitting in public have stayed the same but also have changed. During the Civil War, knitters in the South were praised for their work and memorialised; today, many knitters state that we knit in public so that we can break stereotypes. 

Knitting, while at times can be solitary and help pass the time be it in the covered wagon or the subway platform, is still a social activity which helps people get together and form close bonds and help promote a cause and a purpose.

Works Cited

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. Project Gutenberg eBook. 2012. Web.

Godineau, Dominique. The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution. Trans. Katherine

Streip. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Macdonald, Anne L. No Idle Hands: A Social History of American Knitting. New York:

Ballantine Books, 1988.

World Wide Knit in Public Day. 2011. Web.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

French Inspired: Playing Interior Designer with Chairish

Desks and chairs are on the brain as of late for a few reasons: one, I am turning 30 in December and I am thinking of getting myself a super special present of either a desk from West Elm as my first real piece of "grown up furniture" or to walk into Tiffany and Co. on 5th Avenue after work and get myself a piece of jewelry. 
Danish Teak

Both make a statement, which pretty much boils down to that as I am turning 30, I am at a point in my life where yes, I can go and walk into one of these stores and get it. For myself. Kinda like how Beyoncé sang "Independent Women" when Destiny's Child was still around. 

Secondly, I am leaning more towards the desk, as the lovely people over at Chairishan exclusive curator approved, online marketplace for vintage furniture, sent over some photos of accent chairs to take a look at and design a storyboard around it.

I was so torn between the Butterfly Wingback, Danish Teak Lounge and Coco Chanel chair! 

Both of the chairs above would look great in a corner of my living room, but just a corner on its own. 
Butterfly Wingback

In the end I went with the Coco Chanel - the name certainly helped, and much like the other time I talked about interior design, I still need to consider a few things such as living in a New York City apartment and having pieces that are great to look at, but also have a lot of functionality.

Since I am a teacher, I do spend a lot of time at a desk. And I want my "office" space to be inspiring, motivating and also reflects who I am as a person. 

Currently, I am looking for a desk that looks sleek and takes up minimal space, but also has storage. This is why I love the desks at West Elm - they definitely fulfill my needs and are also designed with smaller spaces in mind.

The Coco Chanel chair is a feminine chair, and has a lot of flourishes that make it a standout piece; the hot pink velvet really amps up the wow factor. This is why I went with the Parsons Desk since it is simple and sleek and allows the chair to be the focal point of the office space. 
Clockwise from Top Left:
Marie Antoinette Print - Rifle Paper Co. * Monogram Mug - Anthropologie * Lucite Tray - Pencil Shavings Studio (similar) *  Shelf: IKEA                         Parsons Desk - West Elm * Lamp - West Elm * Agenda - Kate Spade

I cannot work anywhere without several desktop essentials: my 2015 Kate Spade agenda is my one-stop place for work related events (IEP meetings, after school events, field trips, tests) and also serves as my social calendar (Lorde concert!). 

The lucite tray helps catch the odds and ends like paper clips and post it notes - I love the ones that are from Pencil Shavings Studio. A monogramed mug, like this one from Anthropologie keeps my pens and pencils in order. 

For a bit of fun and whimsy, I selected the Marie Antoinette print from Rifle Paper Co. - the flowers in the print coordinate with the peonies in the glass vase, which would be placed on the right side of the desk, with the mug and lucite tray on the left. 

When I saw that print, I immediately thought it would go perfect with the chair and be a bit tongue-in-cheek: who else could be better paired with Coco Chanel than an equally fashionable French lady? 

Underneath the print is one of my favorite, yet so simple and unassuming pieces of furniture: IKEA Ribba shelves. They are simple photo shelves so that you can put frames on, or some small random knicknacks, like my collection of Japanese omikuji figurines. 

Which chair would you choose: Butterfly Velvet, Danish teak, or the Coco Chanel? Where would you see these chairs in your home? Also - West Elm desk, or Tiffany bracelet (or earrings)?  Can't decide! 
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A New York Love Story: Anniversary Brunch at the Rainbow Room

A (not so) long time ago, and in a place (not) very far away, a newly engaged couple had a small pipe dream: to have their wedding at the Rainbow Room.
You see, the couple worked together in the Diamond District during college, and as the Diamond District is rightnextdoor to Rockefeller Center, they longed to be one of those glamorous couples heading up into the sky to dance the night away at a New York landmark.  
 Alas, due to not only the Rainbow Room being way out of budget (as was the Vera Wang dream dress), but also the Rainbow Room closed during the years of their engagement. 

A different venue, a different dress, several job changes, two promotions and five years later, the boy was able to pull a few strings and get the girl reservations for a classic New York Sunday brunch on top of the world, just 4 days after the Rainbow Room reopened.
The boy originally planned it to be a surprise. She was able to learn about it from him and completely panicked - what DOES one wear to the Rainbow Room on a Sunday morning? Nothing in the closet worked! Off to online shop.

Five dresses, multiple online stores, two brick and mortar stores and a huge online order later, she found the dress. 
The food was delicious and varied, and the live music was excellent. Definitely fit the description of a classic New York City brunch, and one to be remembered for a long time. 
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Taking to the Roads, Halls and Guillotines: Exploring the Reasons Behind and the History of Knitting in Public (Part II)

Part I can be found here
‘“Dusty days were knit into those socks,
and long drowsy days on the train trailing west,
ever west, to meet the sea”’ (Macdonald, 70).

During the period of westward expansion and pioneering in the United States (first half of the nineteenth century), pioneer women were still expected to fulfill their domestic roles on the trail, which in their eyes included knitting. Wagons that were filled with only “absolutely essential” supplies almost always included a favorite knitting or rocking chair, to be used when stopping for a break in the evenings (Macdonald, 73). 

Women were a minority on the trail; they carried their handwork with them as they walked, and went between each other’s wagons to socialise as they searched for companionship on the trail similar to that of what they left behind at their old homes. In essence, these women created impromptu knitting circles on the move.

Not only companionship drove these women to knit, but also as a means to pass the time and to save time. Today, many people state how they knit while commuting to work on the bus or the subway, or at the doctor’s office when waiting for an appointment. While a solitary activity during that particular moment, it does count as knitting in public. 

Pioneer women would knit after the chores of the day were completed and there was a lull between chores and bedtime. Others would knit while riding in the wagon and not visiting their friends, since ‘the slow gait of the oxen made this possible’ (Macdonald, 77). Here, we have the prototype of knitting while riding in the passenger seat of a car while on a long road trip.

‘“Let the Knitting Needle be your Delight
and Wheels and Needles be the Fair
One’s Theme!”’ (Macdonald, 29).

Gathering together and knitting in public also served various political purposes during times of need. During the American Colonial period, Britain decreed that the American colonies would only purchase their textiles and cloth from England. 

Colonists responded with a resounding cry, which was demonstrated through enthusiastic “spinning bees” that also involved knitting (Macdonald, 28). These bees became so widespread that they became enthusiastic competitions.

 Here, knitting in public is used as a means to knit for a cause, which was the promotion of American homespun and textiles, and protest against British colonial policy. Furthermore, spinning and knitting in public at these bees in response to the policy gave women a voice in politics, albeit in a domestic context.

To be continued...
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Monday, October 13, 2014

Popping Up in Brooklyn: Gauge X Tension by Michelle Wang

This last weekend was the annual New York City Yarn Crawl (hope you found my Brooklyn guide useful!) and while I did not have any time in my schedule to make it to any of the LYS', I was able to check out the Gauge X Tension pop-up in Greenpoint last weekend when it opened it's doors. 

I met up with Lisa from Indie Untangled (psst...trunk show this Friday to kick off Rhinebeck) and we had a lovely afternoon chatting with Michelle Wang, the brains behind the pop up (and behind so many amazing patterns - ALMOST done with Slade) and checking out the yarn. 

When I go into a yarn shop for the first time, especially when I am traveling I always ask about what is either new to the shop, or local to the area. 

GxT has an AMAZING selection of yarn, some of which I knew about and coveted from afar, and some I never even heard of: Sleep Season, Western Sky Knits, Tanis Fiber Arts, Julie Asselin, to name a few. I want to dive head first into the yarn that GxT carries.

Given that Rhinebeck was coming up and I knew I could go back to the pop-up at the very end, I held back. 

A bit. 

For me, it was something totally new that totally caught my senses: Jones and Vandermeer 100% Baby Camel Yarn in the colorway Poppy. I tried on the Galeo sample, and immediately fell in love. I had to buy the yarn, AND the pattern. 
After exploring the J&V website a bit, I feel like when it comes to yarn and travel we share the same ideas: "We're globetrotters on the hunt for curious handknitting yarns, fabrics, notions and other crafting materials.  And sometimes, we come across something that doesn't fit any of those categories but really is worth writing home about, or in our case, stuffing into our suitcase. It makes us say, “how curious!” all over again." 
This was definitely the case when I was in Greece this past summer - of course I was on the lookout for yarn, but came home with things I never would have imagined: vintage scarf from Uzbekistan, coral and gold bracelet handmade in Santorini (I'm wearing it in the photo above with my watch), and an antique style brass coffee grinder, for example. 

With that kind of ethos, I want to go on an adventure trip with the people behind Jones & Vandermeer. 

Lisa and I had lunch at Five Leaves (worth the wait!) and ice cream at Van Leeuwen (Earl Grey Ice Cream!) and before I knew it, Kristin from Yarngasm/Voolenvine Yarns came by Van Leeuwen to meet with me and walk back to GxT; we had a launch party to go to! 
There was much prosecco and cheese to be had. Kim from Craftstash came along  later, and then we had a late dinner at the Manhattan Inn, which had a live piano player. But first, we came across some kilts. Needless to say, it was definitely #kiltmeNOT.  
I really hope that GxT is something that happens again in the future or even becomes a permanent fixture on the NYC LYS scene; I could definitely see  GxT filling in the void of LYS' in Northwest Brooklyn/Western Queens.  I'm already looking forward to going back again before it closes. 
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Friday, October 10, 2014

Taking to the Roads, Halls and Guillotines: Exploring the Reasons Behind and the History of Knitting in Public (Part I)

I was going through some old files on my computer (long story short: I'm plotting), and came across an unpublished article submitted to a sadly, now long-gone knitting magazine. 

I wasn't sure where to publish it, or even if it's material worthy for submission to a knitting publication, so the best alternative is to publish here, in three parts. Any feedback is greatly appreciated! I also would love to continue the discussion in the comments below or on Ravelry. 


The thermometer on my digital clock informed me that the internal temperature of my tiny apartment in Kyoto, Japan was 37 degrees Fahrenheit. I groaned, begrudgingly got out of bed and readied my things.  

That winter of 2007 was one of the coldest for me that I remember; because my apartment had difficulty retaining heat and school was closed for two weeks, I decided to find places in my neighborhood that were warm, and conducive to me hanging out there all day. I had a bag ready to go with the essentials: my laptop, a book and most importantly, my knitting.

I only had begun to knit several months before, but from the beginning I was always knitting in public. My first knitting lesson was at a local café in Astoria, NY; on that cold day in December 2007, my destination was the Starbucks on Sanjo Street.

With my green-tea latte and some podcasts keeping me company, I settled myself on the lower level. I already knew that I would look a little odd because of my physical appearance; the knitting only heightened that fact. Nevertheless, I wanted to be somewhere warm and comfortable.

Five years ago, I was knitting in public out of necessity, which can be also said for the small knitting circle I was a part of. While I was lucky to have my own place, several of my friends were in home stays, which made getting together to hang out and knit in a private space a bit difficult. 

What Japan lacked in private space, made up for it in public space: restaurants, cafes, malls were the places where we knitted. Knitting in public was always a conversation starter, and more often than not, Japanese women would come up to us and chat a bit about what we were doing, and would share not only about knitting, but the other crafts that they partook.

But why do we knit, or even craft, in public at all? Is knitting (or crocheting, spinning, weaving, but for the purposes of this article, I will just use knitting) in public part of the resurgence in popularity that knitting has experienced over the past decade? Where can we find the roots of World Wide Knit in Public Day (WWKIP), and how have those roots evolved, or not, over time?

The brainchild of Danielle Landes, World Wide Knit in Public Day began in 2005 as a single day in which knitters and crafters get together in a public space of their choice and as a way to “get all the closeted knitters out into fresh air.” Although knitting was gaining in popularity, it seemed that many knitters and other crafters were doing so in a solely solitary fashion. WWKIP day wanted to encourage those to get together and get to know others who enjoy the craft.

One of the most pervasive stereotypes of the knitter is that of the elderly grandmother sitting by the fire (or perhaps, a television) working on some itchy sweater or afghan. Today’s knitter comes from almost any age group, any demographic, is tech-savvy and not afraid to share his or her craft with the public, if only to prove to those who believe in the aforementioned stereotype otherwise.

Jessica Peled of Knitting Brooklyn  said, “I relish in the fact that I can change the public view of who a knitter 'should' be...I am proud of the fact that - dare I say it - I am a fiber artist. By knitting in public, I share an integral part of myself with the world.” 

While the intent of WWKIP day was to get people out and learn who else in their neighborhood knits and share a day with each other’s craft, peoples’ reasons for knitting in public have evolved over the past seven years.

Nevertheless, the presence of many knitting groups also demonstrates that knitting is also a social activity. These groups provide a space for people to meet others after moving to a new town or a respite from the weekly routine; much like the weekly hangout for drinks at happy hour after a long week of work, with a dash of knitting added as well. 

This is not an entirely new phenomenon that came with the resurgence of knitting’s popularity over the past decade. For centuries, people have come together in a knitting, sewing or craft circle to foster a sense of community and camaraderie.

To be continued...
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