Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Back to My Leather Roots...

The Textile Arts Center has asked me to teach a new workshop for them in the Spring. Called the North American Footwear Workshop, it should be a grand exploration of traditional leather foot wear designs from Native American culture.

The footwear we call a moccasin has become defined by any footwear by all the Native American tribes of North and Central America. Usually known to be a soft-soled leather shoe, the variety and form of this object is far greater than the open leisure shoe we know and wear during summer months. What works in a tidewater lowland fails miserably on the Plains and would never serve the needs of Artic Circle residents.

We will explore over seventeen different solutions handed down from Native American artisans, each honed over millenia to be the best foot covering for a particular region, climate and geography of North America. In this four-session workshop, participants will choose a style, make their own personal pattern, learn the craft of hand sewing leather, fit a sample, cut their patterns, construct and wear their own hand-made, but not home-made, leather footwear.

Tools and materials will be discussed at the first session, as well as design choices, degree of difficulty and options for the finished footwear. The second session will have patterns for selected styles drawn, transferred to pattern paper, and prepared for individual fitting. Third session will include skills training to cut leather, pierce for stitching, hand stitching and fine-tuning patterns for fit with a felt mock-up. Fourth session will be cutting of leather hides, marking and stitching leather and wearing the finished product. We shall discuss the nature of leather, how to place patterns for best part of a hide and what additional resources are available for the budding leather artisan.
At lunch today, I had the opportunity to talk with a young black hand knitwear designer and artisan. Our discussion centered on the concerns of male knitters, the patterns that get published, and the reasons for such boring and uninspiring fare almost universally available. The theories flew.

  1. Since the majority of knitters are women, they are the ones who have to be attracted to the design. Therefore, they know the type of clothing worn by their significant other...so don't try anything off the well-worn pathway. Women can be so conservative...look at contemporary fashion.
  2. A man should never wear anything more becoming than a cereal box, because the last thing his woman needs is some hussy trollope preening at him and his clothes.
  3. Similarly, if it is a large investment of time and energy, the female knitter will not waste time, budget or stash on a garment her man might not, will not, cannot wear. In other words, NSFW. (Not Safe For Work)
  4. The men who DO knit are all gay, and they'll go for the colorful, well-fitted, striking or unusual knitwear. Why tempt other men to hit on him and possibly have him switch to the other stadium?
  5. The only men who wear colorful, well-fitted, striking or unusual hand knitwear ARE gay. We would endanger the welfare of our unit, destroy camaraderie in the group, unravel the fabric of society...oops, wrong argument and subject. Sorry!
What do you think?

I attended a session at Knitty City in NYC on December 21, 2010 presented by Trisha Malcolm, editorial director of Vogue Knitting.

She had two images of mens hand knitwear, as part of over 60 to 70 of the women’s garments in the current and soon to be released Vogue Knitting.

Sad to report, these two sweaters, while in isolation as examples are fine, compared to the other women’s designs were lifeless, pale and boring.

I know this is the norm, but I grow weary of the banality.

Innovative construction techniques, new Kaffe Facette color collaborations, stitch work that defies the ordinary and new approaches to new ideas were in abundance…but not one example of thought, concern or interest regarding mens hand knitwear.

I opened my mouth, and said so, to the gathered crowd. Not one person there, including the staff of Vogue, could say otherwise. It was embarrassing in it’s blatancy.

Ms. Malcolm also noted the “sales disaster” of the 2002 Vogue Knitting men's issue. I opined in response, “That was then, this is now.”

I suspect that Vogue Knitting Live in January will be bereft of any significant mens hand knitwear. This is sad because the number of men who knit grows continuously.

When Ravelry ever publishes the ratio of male to female knitters registered on the site, given the 1 million now on it as claimed, the math will be easy.

The overwhelming drive for innovation and documentation appears to be the print media. This may be because they are constantly having to uncover the new, reveal the unexpected and be the handmaidens of corporate interest for the manufacturers and distributors of yarn. These folk are, obviously, the majority advertisers and keep the newstand cost low for the magazine.

No problem, there. I applaud capitalism and entrepreneurship, profits and good products.

I just disdain store-bought, store-thought thinking...especially when I know there is a market not being addressed. It's stupid, just plain and simple.