Sunday, 8 March 2009

Sweaters, sewing and polycraftual leanings

I'll get to the sweater in a bit. This is a long rambly post. You might want to scroll down to the sweater bit, where I explain why I think Elizabeth Zimmermann may have been at the sherry when she wrote up one of her patterns.

First, sewing.

I have known for a long time that I have Issues when it comes to sewing. I never really understood why - I like to think that I am an intelligent woman, I have a degree, I can change the sparkplugs in a Land Rover, make a roux...but sewing? Not so much. This has been bugging me for quite some time. Particularly when I see bloggers making their own fantastic clothes (even underwear!), pledging to not buy any clothes last year (that's a really interesting post by the way, and very thought-provoking if you're of a mind to read) and generally re-fashioning, recycling and making from scratch lovely things. As an aside, where the hell are the charity shops these people are getting these amazing items from? All I ever see is polyester granny-frocks and shirts with suspicious armpit stains. Anyway. I am very aware that my wardrobe, well, hanging rails, are full of a varied selection of the good, the bad, and the downright unwearable, much of it is too big, doesn't suit or I simply am unlikely to wear. My fashion sense (and I use the term very loosely) is changing and much of what I have does not really fit into it any more, if it ever did.

So. What to do? I could go and buy lots of lovely new clothes. However, I'm finding I have a small problem with this. Firstly, my tastes are changing, but I'm not sure they've settled yet. I'm not about to turn into twinset-and-pearls-lady, nor am I 18 any more. Much haute couture leaves me cold, at the moment anyway, and therefore much of the high street too, but I'm tired of slobbing in a fleece and wearing the same old trousers and shirt combo at work. Secondly, I'm starting to get more uncomfortable with excess consumerism, for want of a better term. I'm not about to stop consuming (imagine what would happen to the economy if we all did that!) but I guess I'm starting to consider more what I spend my money on and where. I'm becoming more interested in the quality than the price tag, and whether I really love the item. I'm not even going to go down the ethical route just now, although it's in the back of my mind, as I'd probably never buy clothes ever again :-) however, it's there and I can't deny that it bothers me.

The answer? Well, why not take a leaf out of the books of other bloggers, and whip up my own stuff? Now, believe me, I am fully aware this is not the budget option. Unless I can find that charity shop. Fabric, patterns and notions are Expensive. This is a luxury, but I think a useful one. I would (surely?) be more thoughtful about what I like, about cut and fabric. I would undoubtedly learn some new stuff. I can find the time, I have most if not all of the equipment. However. The aforementioned Issues raise their ugly head at this point, and I have finally twigged why they're there in the first place. School needlework classes. Yes folks, it's all rooted in my childhood (hello, cod-psychology!) My school, looking back, was probably suffering from something of an identity crisis when I was there. It had, for many years, specialised in churning out well-disciplined, well-elocuted Good Catholic Girls with a view to creating eligible young ladies who would make good wives and brood mares. A reasonably broad education was provided to ensure said Young Lady could hold a respectable dinner party conversation with her husband's work colleagues. I sound like I'm taking the piss, and I am to an extent, but it was actually a good school when I was there, and a damn sight better than the local comprehensive (was there ever a more inaccurate use of the term?) where my accent, which was slightly North of where the school was located, would probably have led to me being knifed within a week. That, and being a fat swot wouldn't have helped :-)

Anyway, when I arrived at the school, they had obviously realised that the new generation of Young Ladies were generally not destined to early wifehood or taking the habit. They were more likely to go to Uni and become engineers, TV presenters or climb Everest. This was A Conundrum, and led to some slightly odd lesson combinations. Needlework and cooking were still on the curriculum (and rightly so) but the lessons had suffered terribly from a worldview stuck somewhere in the nineteenth century. We had to sew a skirt. The teacher obviously still believed that we learned needlework at our mothers' knees, and that all of this was actually just practising skills we already had. It was a torment. With virtually no instruction, we had to make what was quite possibly the most ugly-ass skirt in history, with sewing machines that had not been serviced that century. I took it home to my mother, and to my Granny's Singer (the same one I have now.) "Muuuuuuuum! Help!" Together, we sewed up this monstrosity, mainly by utterly ignoring the convoluted pattern and the teacher's instructions to "tailor-tack" everything. WTF is a tailor-tack? Even Granny didn't know, and she had learned proper dressmaking. Mum and I stood back and viewed the creation. Mum had, in fact, made some subtle improvements to the pattern, being pretty handy if somewhat "make-it-up-as-you-go" with a needle, but it was still mind-bogglingly hideous. Imagine a busy black-and-white print, cut into a circle. Hem it. Add a top casing for elastic. Thread elastic, pull up and finish. What resulted was something that even the tall, willowy, elegant girls couldn't make look decent. On me, short, dumpy and bespectacled, it looked like I was wearing a potato sack with a hem, with a cushion shoved up the front. It was truly awful. Even my mum, fount of wonderfulness that she is, couldn't find much positive to say. I was scarred for life. This was even worse than the frilly, Victorian sentimental cross-stitch cushion that I'd been forced to make.

Is it any wonder that I have Sewing Trauma?

My books don't help:

Charmingly retro as they are, they are definitely written for a different generation, who must have received needlework skills along with their breast milk. There's probably tips in here for what to do with all that parachute silk that landed in your back garden after the last bombing raid. It probably doesn't mention what you could get up to with the nice RAF airman attached to it mind. Probably knit him airforce blue socks. They're those kind of books, where it suggests what outfits you should be wearing at different times of day, and how to dye your shoes to match your handbag and gloves. I think I need more of the Dummies' Guide, or possibly a Haynes manual. I shall shortly be perusing the internets for suitable publications, and hang the expense. It's an investment, right?

Ok. Sweater. I'm on with the Noro seamless raglan, and I'd reached the point where the sainted Elizabeth instructed to start neck shaping. "Really?" I thought. "Seems a bit early. Well, she knows a lot better than humble me." So I duly purled back, and put stitches on threads, and faffed a bit more, picked up and ribbed round and then stopped. "This neck looks freaking huge." Stitches onto a thread, upstairs to the big mirror, sweater on. The neck is freaking huge. OK. "Decrease a bit maybe?" Return downstairs, pick up stitches, work some funky decreases and continue. "Hmmm. This still doesn't look quite right. I'll stitch up the armpits then try it on again."

It's hard to tell from this, but this neck is wrong in So Many Ways it is untrue. It starts somewhere around my bra straps. My neck, however, does not. It starts too low in the front. It's just nasty. Elizabeth, maybe your yarn was waaaaaay different to mine, maybe I am misunderstanding your pithy instructions, but WTF?

I have ripped. I am re-knitting. I will keep you posted on this matter. If anyone knows any really good sewing books for Stupid People who do not understand facings and blind hems, let me know will you?


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