Oh, HGTV, I love you

Summer always seems to bring on some mild insomnia for me. For teachers, I think there is something very disconcerting about having to keep your brain and your theatrical performance gears going non-stop for nine months, and then — somewhere in the middle of May — the vast expanse of summer.

I don’t know about you other teachers out there, but for me, this opening up of space in my head lets all those neglected worries and future plans rush to the forefront. I find that for about three weeks after the semester ends, I almost completely useless. I need time to let all of those neglected thoughts percolate.

Time to knit. Time to spin. Time to check back in with HGTV.

Ever since I was on family leave with my constantly nursing baby boy, I have had a soft spot in my heart and a glint in my eye for the Home and Garden Television channel. Some of it is absolutely terrible, especially the real estate shows. (Come watch this dimwitted, privileged couple whine about how they can’t fit into their 3,500 square foot house because they have TWO children now. All that and more coming up on “Twits on Parade!”)

But I love the design shows. As someone who is just learning to design knitwear, it is especially interesting to see the designers translate the homeowners’ personalities and vaguely expressed desires into actual things arranged in space.

Color Splash is the best of these shows. The designer, David Bromstad, knows just how to noodge people a bit too far past their comfort zones and love it anyway. And he and his crew do an excellent job of explaining their thought process. They take such joy and humor out of their work, too.

The show has encouraged me to think differently about my own designing. The yarn company Sanguine Gryphon, who make a luscious yarn, put out a call recently for steampunk designs. I set myself the challenge of designing a sweater for men, which is a challenge for a number of reasons:

  1. Most steampunk fashion — like most fashion in general — is for women.
  2. Sweaters weren’t high style in the Victorian period, so I can’t directly mimick a vintage style.
  3. Any design is probably going to have to appeal to a wider range of men than those who want to dress steampunk.

So, like the Color Splash crew, I needed to take some abstract inspirations and translate them into a concrete object. I can’t show you the design I’ve developed because it’s still under consideration, but here are a couple of my inspiration images:

I have always relied on the kindness of strangers

Success! After ripping out the sleeve more times than I can count on this western shirt I’m designing, I finally have one that looks like a winner. I still think it looks slightly odd around the armpit, but only when it’s folded flat. When you put the sweater into its 3D shape (as if a little body were in it), it looks great.

This victory comes courtesy of Priscilla Gibson-Roberts and Deborah Robson’s Knitting in the Old Way, which has fabulous, clear instructions about how to make a top-down, set-in sleeve on pp. 114-15. Brilliant.

I’m actually perversely glad that I tried and failed to do this on my own so many times – I think it was about 12 failed attempts. Short of taking a whole slew of design courses (which I just can’t do at the moment), I think that the only way I’ll learn is through some combination of books and trial-and-error.

books I love

Speaking of fabulous books, I checked out the exhibit catalog for “Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting” that was at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC last year. (It’s now at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.) I don’t use the word “inspirational” a lot, because I am a little short on the effusive scale, but this is truly inspirational stuff.

The piece that really took my breath away was actually not in the exhibition itself, but made by one of the artists who contributed other pieces to the exhibit. It’s Janet Echelman’s enormous knitted net that hovers over a traffic circle in Porto, Portugal (which you can see in a great, short video here).