Saturday, May 08, 2010


I invoke 1984 in a good way.  I moved from the despised suburb* to Berkeley in Fall of 1984.  Hand-knitting was undergoing a resurgence and I could buy nice yarns and patterns in the US.  (I learned to knit in Germany in 1983.)  Don't judge this issue by the cover.  There are dozens of fantastic knit and crochet designs inside, but they put the least attractive one on the cover.
I stopped knitting in my first year of grad school.  I made the mistake of knitting at an evening seminar and garnered more attention than I was comfortable with.  I was one of the few women in that department, and it was scary enough without being marked as FEMALE across my forehead.  So I stopped knitting until that afternoon with my deceased friend.

I had wanted to knit this sweater since 1984, but I didn't get around to it until 2002 or so.
When I resumed knitting, I was using too wool-ease, an acrylic/wool blend readily available at Joann's and Michael's.  It was fine for baby knits that get washed often, but I really wish I had used better quality yarn for adult sweaters.  The cost savings is so small compared to the knitting effort.  Here's my wool-ease rendition.
Back then, I knit in the round as much as possible.  I didn't like to purl, so I knit only the center panel in reverse stockinette.  By knitting in the round, I could smooth out the traveling stitches of the tree branches by moving them one stitch per row (instead of 2 stitches every other row).  But I think the sweater loses something by not being entirely in reverse stockinette.  Actually it loses something by not being in a luscious high-quality wool.

The sweater was recently culled from my closet and sent to Bek, who sends me goodies from Australia that I can't get in LA.  Her blog is not always safe for work, but she has a highly attuned bullshit meter that makes for good reading.  The sweater will keep her warm while she writes her thesis.

Recently, I have been drawn toward patterns and magazines from the 1980s.  I find the fashion magazines from that era more interesting.  It was the era before designer labels became more important than DESIGN.   Brand hadn't become a verb yet.

Vogue editorial pages always contained at least one outfit that you can make yourself with Vogue patterns.  It ran in the regular "More dash than cash" section.  Vogue UK recently revived that section for one issue.  Fehr Trade posted pictures of the feature.

Elle published a monthly knitting pattern.  Vogue Knitting paired their sweaters with pants and skirts made from Vogue Patterns, for complete DIY nirvana.  The models were taller and thinner than the general population, but they weren't as skeletal (or as uniformly pale) as today's models.

There's a scene in the documentary, Paris is Burning, in which an old-timer to the drag ball scene observed that, in the beginning, people made their own costumes.  The ball competitions were about style and workmanship.  By the late 1980s, the competitions were about having expensive labels.  The young males had resorted to shoplifting and prostitution so that they could obtain the designer labels.

I share the horror when I look at today's fashion magazines.  Up to the early 1980s, clothes were still made domestically by middle class union members for middle class consumers. We've off-shored our clothing production so that we can produce 'mass-luxury' in far-away factories, which are surrounded by barbed wire so that the laborers don't run away. 

In Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, Dana Thomas showed how, over the last 20-30 years, the cost to produce a 'mass-luxury' item went from 15% of the retail price to 10%.  Over the same period, the amount spent on advertising went from 6% to 11%.  We've effectively given up production in order to focus on advertising.  Compare the numbers of people employed in clothing manufacturing and marketing/branding over the last thirty years.  How can this be sustainable? 

* With 20/20 hindsight, I realized that a suburb on the water, midway between Silicon Valley and San Francisco is a damn good place to call home. I should have been more grateful to my parents for the financial sacrifice it took to buy a home there.


  1. Hey, it's my vest! Which I've worn twice already (it's only really been cold enough twice to wear it, I'm sure I'm going to wear it a lot over winter, because I really like having my arms not too hot).

    Today I'm in Sydney, looking over the water, and it's 24 C, so way too warm for anything woolen :-)

  2. I've been sorting through all those old 80's magazines and am often impressed by the quality of the design.


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