Sunday, February 22, 2004

Best Quote I Heard All Day
One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.--Will Durant

Remember those hideous Knitter's bios? With a number of dead writers/designers listed? A few weeks ago I mentioned Heinz Kiewe, one of the "designers" who Knitter's is hoping will rise from the dead and write his short bio.

Heinz Edgar Kiewe--Crackpot or Historian?
Well, something of a crackpot, to be honest. Kiewe (1906-1986) was a Prussian-born self-styled "textile journalist" who ran a needlework/yarn shop called Art Needlework Industries Ltd. in Oxford, England from about 1940 until the late '60s. He also published several books about needlework--Charted Peasant Designs from Saxon Transylvania is still available from Dover, I think.

However, Kiewe's dubious place in knitting history may be that of Promulgator of the Great Aran Sweater Myth. Kiewe actually purchased one of the first commercially available Aran sweaters in 1936, loaned it to Mary Thomas for her book, and then proceeded to cook up a fairytale theory about the Irish knitting these sweaters for centuries. Richard Rutt goes into great detail about Kiewe's theory in The History of Hand Knitting:

Heinz Kiewe perceived a connection between Aran knitted designs and ancient Irish art. He never claimed that this was a scholarly theory: he accepted it as an intuitive perception...So he began to describe Aran knitted patterns in terms of the 'white shirt of monotheistic cultures.' Before long, publicists for wool spinners were crediting Aran knitting with thousands of years of history...

Much of this nutsy nonsense comes from a book Kiewe wrote in 1967, The Sacred History of Knitting. In the early '80s, when I was knitting editor for MacKnit, a machine knitting magazine, I spent a good deal of time researching Aran knitting history, to the extent that anyone can research knitting history in this country. I met up with an English machine knitter and historian, Kathleen Kinder, who was the first to challenge the notion that Aran patterns were symbolic and that the Irish had been knitting these sweaters from time immemorial. Kathleen had done an enormous amount of research and I suspect that Richard Rutt used many of Kathleen's theories as a jumping-off point.

I own a autographed copy of this bizarre book, found in a used bookstore 20 years ago. And it is most bizarre. Some of the chapters: Discover of the knitted priestly Ephod on Cyprus; Jerusalem Knitting; Sculpture in Convex Stripes--did it signify knitting?

You get the picture. Here's Kiewe at his looniest, verbatim:

Are the Aran patterns a sign, a witness of the revelations of the Holy Book?

Yes, indeed we confirm them to be ornaments of religion--symbols of the divine "geometrical speculations" of the Near East. What was the importance of the symbol of interlacing? The bond of Man with God and Religion (from re-ligare--to bind "the religious"--person bound by monastic vows, etc.).

The plait? The Holy three stands of hair ribbon or straw, the plaited holy-bread of the Old Testament, they are symbols of a devout family bound up with God.

Do we need now to explain the deep religious meaning of the names of the Aran patterns?

Enough on Kiewe. The book does have some interesting info on Jersey and Guernsey knitting, due to Kiewe's friendship with Gladys Thompson, author of Patterns for Guernseys and Jerseys.

And here's an interesting article I found, if you don't know too much about Aran knitting.

However, I would highly recommend Rutt's book, recently back in print. It's a fascinating read.

Ain't Worth the Paper It's Printed On Department
For crissakes, now the Dweebs are bitching about the new matte paper VK and IK are using?

Better they should bitch about the content therein.

Of course the matte paper is cheaper. I prefer it, myself. No glare.

Do I feel an impending knitting-on-planes thread coming? Or perhaps we haven't had sufficient discussion of copyright issues?


INKnitters Redux
Just want to mention this issue of INKnitters again because of a superlative article I've just finished reading, The Method of Three. Diane Piwko, the editor, has written a coherent, cohesive explanation of how to resize patterns, one that I've always subscribed to but have never seen written about. And she includes a very good sizing chart, one of the best I've ever seen. Worth the price of the magazine for this one.

But more than that is her honest, up-front evaluation of what's wrong with knitting patterns these days. As she says, "It seems most designers do not want to take the trouble of designing a fitted sleeve cap and armhole, the most attractive shape for anyone's body. Instead, the difficulty level of patterns is being 'dumbed down' into dropped, or square set-in sleeve styles, and INKnitters is as guilty as all the other magazines. Acceptable, but the larger the person is, the less need there is for extra fabric puckering out at the underarm...The Method of Three starts with an advanced level--a fully-fitted sleeve/shoulder line, and lets you do any simplifying of the pattern and garment shape from there."

What she say. Frankly, few knitters are seamstresses. I've always felt that the classes I took at Stretch 'n' Sew, a now-defunct chain that sold jersey knit fabrics and patterns for the fabrics, were worth their weight in gold, insofar as I learned how to deal with knitted fabric and how it acts in a garment. If you want to make sweaters that hang well, fit well, and look good, you need to have an understanding of clothing construction as it pertains to knits. I probably sew as well as I knit, although in recent years I have not had the time to do much sewing. But my sewing knowledge has stood me in good stead with my knitting, no doubt about it.

That's it for this entry. I need to attack my spinng wheel and finish off a bobbin of merino/silk/angora. What a mess that is to spin. And pounds of it left to do. I'll be working on redesigning the blog over the next month, so it can go up on And starting DBA courses. And trying to finish the Lavold Ran tunic. And trying to teach Beth to knit. And getting a business trip to Boca Raton the beginning of May.

Shall I whinily request the locations of Boca-area yarn shops from every Yahoo knitting list?

Nah. I'd rather spend my free time poolside being rare and handy.

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