Introspective and perspective

I’ve been reading other people’s blogs lately and this being the time of year when people assess their goals from last year and make new goals for this year, it’s gotten me thinking a lot about my own plans and hopes.  I suppose this could be considered a State of the Craft or something of the sort.

I had a fairly productive knitting year in 2008, though not a terribly organized one.  All told, there were between forty and fifty finished objects, and a plethora of unfinished or frogged objects.  At the end of 2008, however, I had a real break through in terms of designing.  I discovered some sense of order, which, for a naturally scatterbrained person, is quite a victory, and I got a better sense of what I want from myself in terms of design.

2009, thus far, has been a combination of tying up loose ends and getting started in earnest on some new designs.  I’ve been sketching a lot and swatching a lot and drawing new cables and imagining new lace, and it’s all felt very good.  I feel like I’m coming in to my own style and learning what that is as well as studying the styles of other people with great interest.

I haven’t had much in the way of a higher purpose, though, that I have actually sat down and assessed.  Not that one needs a higher purpose in order to knit well and love it, but it’s nice to think about the whys and wherefores every so often and to understand ourselves better.  Kate at Needled set out, in 2008, to get through a year without buying clothes, and her writing on the goal itself, as well as what she learned from the success, set me thinking about my own goals and journey with the sticks and the string.

Part of my original reason for knitting was to make clothing for my family.  It was a naive goal, not because of any impossibility, but because it was founded on the mistaken belief that making clothing would save money.  Now, in a sense, making clothing does save money – on comparable clothing.  Were I buying handmade couture clothing, then yes, the money spent on materials and time would be a savings.  However, the materials alone are usually more money that I would grant to a store-bought item.  So, clearly, my intent of saving money by creating clothing from scratch was very far off base.

But, as Kate pointed out in her thoughtful essay, making clothes makes you appreciate the true value of clothes and realize that the cheap, disposable clothing we usually deal with is not, in fact, a good deal.  I had some small experience with this before I turned to hand crafting.  When my first baby was born, I found all these cute little boy clothes at Target.  They were very, very inexpensive, and they looked adorable.  I was not particularly well endowed with cash, so they seemed ideal for my purpose.  But the clothing I bought at Target wore out almost instantly.  Trips through the washing machine pilled and destroyed the fabric.  The material stained, no matter how fast I washed it after a spill or spit up.  The money I had saved was no longer a savings when I realized that I had to buy new clothing almost the moment after I bought the first set.  Our culture has not taken a great deal of time to assess the difference between cost and value.

Value is something I’ve learned from my knitting and from my small attempts at sewing.  I’m most certainly not saving money when I knit myself a sweater.  However, in the end, I have something with far greater value than the store-bought item.  I have something in the color and material I want, in the style I want, with the fit I want, something that will last, because I have an investment in it.  When one of my handknits tears, I take the time to mend it.  I have mended store-bought clothing, but never with great will, and I don’t put the same care into it as when I mend something that I made myself.  The end result is that the handknits, better made, better loved, better cared for, live longer lives than the comparable store-bought items.

So value is something I’m trying to consciously consider in my new designs.  You won’t save money in making a hat or a sweater or a scarf, but I think there are a good many yarns out there that offer good value for your money.  Not everyone can spend to get the fanciest materials, but there are many excellent yarns available that are not exorbitant.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about style.  I was a bit of a tomboy when I was a child, and even now, I’m a low maintenance kind of person.  I don’t like to spend a lot of time dressing or applying make up or doing my hair.  I have, however, acquired a very feminine sensibility when it comes to clothes.  I like puffed sleeves, the occasional ruffle, lace, figure flattering garments…basically, I’m a great big girl.  I want something I can pull on easily that will make me feel pretty and well dressed, and that is suitable to a variety of situations and occasions.  I like classic styles that don’t ever go out of fashion, even if they’re never wholly in, either.

So style is something else I’m trying to examine and think about.  A garment is inherently practical, in that it is something designed for use, but it’s also decorative, and finding the balance between utility and aesthetic is the challenge of design.  While not every garment I make is designed specifically for me, I don’t want to design something that I wouldn’t wear.  Perhaps, if I had known how much of myself I was going to commit to this enterprise, I might not have picked the name Knitting Kninja so blithely when I was setting out, as it doesn’t really fit with the aesthetic I’ve described.  But perhaps that contrast is what best describes my personality.  I mean, I still get a kick out of the very idea of ninjas – dude, NINJAS!

The last component of design that’s been occupying me lately is the idea of a unique garment.  Now, truly, no garment is unique.  All of them are variants on the theme of clothing the human body, and as human bodies share a basic blueprint, most clothing has some sort of commonality.  But the variations on the theme can be endlessly nuanced, and when one takes the time to make a garment by hand, it hardly seems worthwhile to make something that doesn’t reflect some little unique aspect of taste or personality.  The most wearable garments are the most basic, but even basic can offer opportunity for self expression, whether in color, detail, or construction.

This year is about design for me.  I don’t know how much time I’ll really have, but I want to learn to use whatever time I have more efficiently, to become more capable, and to offer a wider, more professional range of patterns.  I think we’re going to have fun, too!

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4 Responses to “Introspective and perspective”

  1. Marcy Says:

    What a thoughtful post!
    Very true about the cheap clothing. I think people get away with cheap clothing because they buy so much of it. When a person is forced to live frugally and not own 20 pairs of pants, they learn quickly that cheap clothes don’t hold up. If one can scrimp and save for a few decent pieces of clothing, the value is apparent.

    Designing for myself I have found I was able to add femininity without sacrificing simplicity. I like to put an almost invisible bit of lace or color on an otherwise plain sweater. Those little touches are what make the garments for me. Otherwise they would just be Gap sweaters. I will look forward to seeing what you make this year.

  2. the Lady Says:

    What a nice post!

    Ick, I know what you mean about “cheap” clothing. I never actually had a problem with it, clothes seemed to still hold up where I shopped, and then I worked at Rave (a random chain clothing store) and experienced the most craptacular garments ever – shrinking shirts galore. Then I was safe for a little while, bought my clothes elsewhere – and then I moved down here and was seduced by Forever 21! Eek – pilling, low-quality knit shirts that would get holes from touching the air, no longer any good after a season. Yuck.

    Sounds like a nice time to be evaluating and dreaming for the coming year, I will be interested to see what you make!

  3. merp Says:

    Very thoughtful, and I very much agree. I’m looking forward to what your year of design will bring!

  4. whitney Says:

    I really appreciated both this post, and the post that you linked to from needled. I have been trying very hard to think about both value and style as I slowly replace my wardrobe with clothing that will suit me as a professor instead of a student. It’s difficult to do on a student budget (those cheap clothes seem to tempting, until you realize they’re just going to fall apart, and the good clothes are just so out of reach unless you can find a clearance sale), but very worth thinking about.

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