Showing posts with label movie depictions of knitting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movie depictions of knitting. Show all posts

Friday, 5 December 2014

Outlandish Knits

So I finally got around to watching the time travel adventure/romance Starz series Outlander. I'd been reluctant to watch it because I've read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (though only as far as a Breath of Snow and Ashes, as I found every book less compelling than the last and the whole "Jamie and Claire are both irresistibly attractive to every other character in the book and are having mind-blowing sex for the 3,348nd time on the nearest reasonably flat surface" thing was getting really old). I also don't usually care for filmed versions of books I've read. I'd rather watch something new than a simplified rehash of something I've already read. But then I ended up deciding I should watch the series in order to write about it for this blog because I saw so many online references to the knitwear.

I must say I enjoyed the show on the whole. It's been a long time since I read the books so the discrepancies didn't bother me too much. (A friend of mine who is an obsessive fan of the books says she can't watch the series at all though she has tried numerous times.) The show is beautifully produced and quite well cast and well acted on the whole. And then there is oh-so-much knitwear, which was fun to see, if not period accurate. In the show, time-travelling Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser, played by Catriona Balfe, sports a series of elegant dresses topped with knitted cowls, shrugs, shawls, and armwarmers, all in wools of natural hues and mostly knitted out of bulky weight yarn on large gauge needles. I know practically nothing of eighteenth century textiles and fashions but I had my suspicions about the authenticity of the costume design and especially of its knitted elements. I thought it quite astonishing that Castle Leoch should have a (for that time) very extensive and perfectly fitted wardrobe on hand for their unusually tall guest, and I thought it unlikely that big needle knit cowls and shrugs were a style seen at all at the time. It turns out that I was correct in this, and there were many more inaccuracies that I hadn't the knowledge to pick up on.

There is much internet conversation on this topic (such as this Ravelry thread), in which fashion history buffs are getting their replica stays in a twist over all the anachronisms in the Outlander costumes. Eighteenth-century knitting was usually done to a very fine gauge, unless it was an item that was to be felted. And not only are cowls and shrugs quite a recent style innovation, it's possible that even the knitted shawl, as we know it, did not exist at the time. Also, it seems not all yarn was undyed in the eighteenth century as natural dyes were commonly used to achieve such colours as glaring yellows, vivid reds, and denim-like blues, so not all of Claire's knitted accessories would have been dun-coloured. However, the costume designer for Outlander, Terry Dresbach, is not a fashion historian and, according to Buzzfeed writer Alanna Okun, she had approximately seven weeks to prepare all the costumes for the show. Given those limitations it's to her credit that she met her deadline with attractive costumes that are even as accurate as they are. I've heard it said that in the movie business (as in many arenas) when it comes to having things done fast, inexpensively, and well, you'll have to pick two attributes, as you cannot have all three.

At any rate, to get down to discussing possible Outlander-themed knitting that knitting watchers of the show can do, there are always two directions for a knitter to take when making items inspired by a TV show or movie: one can replicate the specific patterns worn by the onscreen characters, or one can draw inspiration from the show in a more abstract sense and design something completely new. I'm not seeing much of the latter kind of Outlander-inspired design, at least not yet, though I am in hopes that we'll get a magazine or book of Outlander-inspired patterns at some point. Meanwhile, it's entirely possible to knit oneself replicas of the knitwear worn in the series. The upside of dressing Claire Randall Fraser in twenty-first century knits is that her accessories are quite wearable for today. Despite the historical inaccuracies there has been a lot of online clamour about the Outlander knits, with knitters demanding patterns for the items Claire and the other Outlander characters wore. And since most of the knits worn in the shoes are simple, big gauge patterns, some knitters have obligingly providing unofficial replica patterns for those who want them.

You can make a simple striped garter shawl like the one Claire is wearing in the top photo with the When In Scotland pattern depicted below,
designed by Rilana Riley-Munson. It's a free pattern.

The Outlander Pattern for Claire's Cowl, written by Shelli Westcott, is a very close match to the one worn by Claire, and will actually look much better worn with contemporary clothing because it won't be jarringly anachronistic as it is onscreen. It's a free pattern.

I don't personally find the Outlander knits to be inspiring, as those dead easy chunky knits are very much not my preferred style of knitting, either to make or wear, but Geillis Duncan's cape, as seen above, came closest to arousing my interest. Unfortunately the show never gave us a better look at it than this.

If you fancy the little capelet Claire wears in the photo above, this Outlander inspired Rose Coloured Capelet, designed by Ravelry user Furlaine, is a very good replica of it. This pattern is available for C$4.00(CAD).

The cabled armwarmers Claire is wearing in the top photo are a close match to the Outlander Cabled Wristers, designed by Jenifer Spock-Rank. This pattern is available for $1.99(USD).

The cowl Claire is wearing is especially hilariously out of synch in terms of the kind of spun yarn that would have been available in 1743. At this distance, it looks almost like a fur neckpiece, but it is indeed knitted from yarn, which I've seen identified online as Louisa Harding's Luzia. But then perhaps Castle Leoch housekeeper Mrs. Fitzgibbons has a stash of Luzia put away in the garret. As Claire said herself, Mrs. Fitz is a wonder.

ETA: It appears this cowl was actually knitted out mink yarn. I'm trying to do a little research on this because it seems there weren't minks in Scotland in the eighteenth century. There was fur trade, but what I am trying to find out is how likely was it that anyone was spinning yarn from what would have been very expensive imported minks at that time? Wouldn't they have been used as skins? And again... cowls didn't exist back then.

I had to include this even though I don't like knitted dishcloths. This Outlander Je Suis Prest Thistle Cloth pattern, designed by Alli Barrett, and available for $2.00(USD), features the Fraser clan motto "Je Suis Prest" (in English, "I am ready"). As an aside, it's interesting how many Scottish clan mottos declare readiness or preparedness. My own surname, Rae, is Scottish, and the Rae family motto is "In Omnia Promptus", or "Ready for Everything". It's probably understandable given that these mottos were originally war cries. These days, at least for those of us fortunate enough to be living in area that isn't war-torn, they can be a way to motivate yourself to do the dishes.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Midwifery and Needlecraft

A few months ago I zipped through the first three seasons of the BBC-produced show Call the Midwife. I'd put off watching it for awhile even though I heard many good things about it because I didn't think I'd like it, but then I gave it a chance and was hooked from the first episode. Those involving storylines! The sociopolitical depth of the issues involved! The frequent hilarity! The period detail! And, not least among the many rewards of watching Call the Midwife, is that it features a lot of needlework and knitwear. Midwife Chummy is a highly skilled seamstress (out of self-defense, I am sure, because as a 6'1" woman in the 1950s, almost none of the readymade garments then available would have fit her), the nuns of Nonatus House have a daily needlecraft hour during which they make items for charity, the mothers of Poplar are frequently seen knitting, and the entire cast, from the midwives to the mothers to the random extras to the babies, regularly sport delightful vintage style knitwear.

However, for a show that does usually nail all its period details, Call the Midwife did demonstrate an absurd disregard for accuracy in episode eight of season two. In the screencap above, Midwives Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) and Trixie Franklin (Helen George) are shown knitting. And they really are knitting, not just pretending to, which is great. But what's Trixie holding in her lap? Granny squares. Crocheted granny squares, against which she measures the size of her knitting to be sure they match. Is the blanket they are working on to be composed of knitted and crocheted squares?

No, it isn't. Here, Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt), is shown "knitting" a granny square. No wonder she looks confused. Also, Sister Monica Joan is supposed to be a good knitter who can "knit in her sleep", as Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) comments, but it's all too clear that Judy Parfitt cannot knit at all.

And here we see the women of Nonatus House working together to assemble their "knitted" blanket while they anxiously await the news regarding the fate of their friend and comrade in midwifery Chummy, who suffered a hemorrhage when giving birth to her son and is undergoing surgery. This is something the show got right, as such work would be calming and very much in character with what these sensible, energetic, practical women would do, and this is a beautiful scene.

The finished afghan is lovingly laid over Chummy as she lies unconscious in her hospital bed after surgery. Happily, she rouses when her son is placed beside her, and all is well.

But I can't help being exasperated by the whole knitting/crocheting mix-up. For one thing, there is just no way those who worked on this episode didn't know they were making a mistake. Some members of the case are knitters in real life; Jessica Raine has said that they knit in the break room on set. Whomever made the decision to stage this plot point this way plainly didn't think it mattered. But it does matter, just as it would matter if a show were to confuse rugby with soccer. Conflating knitting with crocheting isn't some esoteric detail that only an initiated few will catch, but a silly mistake that will irritate every crafter in the audience as well as those who may not knit or crochet themselves but who recognize the difference, and there are not some insignificant number of us. More movie and TV directors need to understand this, and they also need to be careful about representing a character as an excellent knitter when the actor playing the character can't knit, or is only a beginning knitter. There are workarounds, such as showing an actor working on finishing details rather than the actual knitting (it is much, much easier to learn finishing skills), or showing the character merely sitting with the knitting in his or her lap rather than actually working on it.

That said, let's move on from the whole knitting/crochet kerfuffle in media topic and get to an aspect of Call the Midwife-related knitting that I'm sure we'd all much rather focus on: Call the Midwife-inspired knitting projects!

This pattern is for the real Call the Midwife fetishist, and it's an excellent rendition of the pillbox hats Jenny and the other midwives sport while cycling off to bring another new life into the world. This is the Midwife Calling Felted Pillbox Hat, designed by Kylene Moss Grell. It's available for $1.99(USD), and as a bonus it includes a pattern sized for an 18" American Girl Doll.

If you'd like a midwife-style burgundy cardigan, that should be easy to replicate, as it's a basic v-necked cardigan with five buttons. Your best bet is to use a vintage pattern from the 50s. The Yangtze Cardigan, designed by Courtney Kelley and published in Vintage Modern Knits: Contemporary Designs Using Classic Techniques might be a good choice if you nix the texture and pockets and scale the number of buttons back to five.

This Chummy doll, from the blog Amy's Gurumis, is crocheted, but is just too adorable not to include, and it's a free pattern. I did find a knitted Chummy doll, but it didn't look nearly as good as this one. Crocheting is the better option for amigurumi. I think if I were making this, I'd knit Chummy's sweater, though.

There's no pattern yet available for this Sister Bernadette/Shelagh Turner doll, which is again from the gifted Amy of the blog Amy's Gurumis, but I just had to show it to you anyway. This doll can be transformed from nun to civilian/doctor's wife because her hair's removable.

Perhaps, though, you don't care to make either a replica midwife uniform or a doll and instead want a Call the Midwife-inspired piece that you can actually wear. This would be my approach too — I've never been able to get into costume making because one can only wear the costume a few times, and I'm certainly well past my doll play years, so let's look at some Call the Midwife knitwear.

Of all the characters' wardrobes on Call the Midwife, Trixie Franklin's is your best bet for cute knits to replicate. The flirtatious, outgoing, fashion-forward Trixie wears detailed, eye-catching, tricksy little numbers (was ever a character better suited to her name?). We see her in this short-sleeved top several times, and the 1950s twinset pattern displayed above (which is available for free) could be made to be nearly identical with some changes to the stripe pattern in the yoke.

I don't have pattern suggestions for these three sweaters but include them for your possible inspiration. If any of you do track down a readily available similar pattern and care to share it with the rest of us, please email me the link and I'll add it to the post. Some of you will have the skills to write your own patterns using a picture as your guide (and if you don't now, you may someday!). I love the checked sweater at the bottom especially and am mentally playing with it to see how I could make it work for me.

Prim and reserved Jenny Lee wears simple, classic clothes (and a lot of yellow), but although she also looks lovely her clothes seems less worthwhile to copy than Trixie's, because they are so very plain, and there's not much point in putting all that work into such a plain item. (There are loads of articles on the net telling people how to get the Call the Midwife look by matching the characters' outfits up with similar and readily available current clothes.) Moreover I suspect a large part of the reason Jenny Lee's clothes look so appealing is because Jessica Raine is in them, which is an advantage the rest of us won't have. Raine seems born to wear 1950s fashions and hairstyles, which suit her so perfectly that she tends to look better in them than she does in contemporary styles. She even manages to look good in the hilarious hospital nursing uniforms, which the head nurse assures her are "practically couture" but which feature enormous puffed sleeves which look like they pose a possible hazard to the patients. I for one wouldn't want to get whacked in the nose by one of those starched sleeves.

I do have this one pattern to offer. The bottom picture is the Lady's Evening Jumper, designed by Susan Crawford. It appeared in A Stitch in Time: Vintage Knitting Patterns, 1930-1959, Volume 2, and it seems to have been the very same pattern used to make Jenny Lee's short-sleeved version. Which is yellow, of course.

Nothing else is popping up on my image Google searches that really seems worthy of mention. The other regular characters tend to wear frumpier looking knitwear, as Cynthia Miller does, or little knitwear, as in the case of Shelagh Turner, who usually sticks to beautifully tailored classic wool suits. One-episode characters and extras do tend to wear some nice knitwear, but we don't often get a good look at the designs.

But let's not forget the little guest stars of Call the Midwife, who regularly sport lovingly handknitted items. Styles such as these babies wear are readily found in vintage baby clothing knitting booklets and will look as cute as these when put on a baby. Babies are even better at looking cute than Jessica Raine.

We do have a Christmas 2014 special and a 2015 season to look forward to, so I may do a follow-up post on more possible Call the Midwife projects.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Garment Construction Man

In the 1993 film Demolition Man, Sylvester Stallone suddenly discovers he has an affinity for needlework. Please be warned this clip from the movie contains coarse language and (very brief) nudity.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Cary Grant Knits for Victory

Here's a not-to-be missed clip from Cary Grant's 1943 movie, Mr. Lucky. I don't know what I love more about it: the way the women in the movie effortlessly strong-arm a rude and blustering Cary Grant into learning to knit, or the way he almost immediately learns to like it. As Lyn Zwerling says of the male prisoners she's teaching to knit in a Maryland men's prison, "They want to knit. They just don't know they want to knit."

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Meek's Knit-Off

A week or so ago I watched the 2010 movie Meek's Cutoff, which is the story of three couples and a small boy trying to survive a westward trek on the Oregon Trail with their uncertain guide. The movie featured a scene in which the three female characters in the movie were all sitting around knitting. I had to give actresses Michelle Williams, Zoe Kazan, and Shirley Henderson an A for effort, because I bet they all learned to knit for their roles in the movie and they didn't do badly at looking competent and relaxed. However, to an experienced knitter who knows a little about women's needlework in Victorian times, it was a less than historically accurate scene. All three women were knitting quite slowly and had bad form, and all three were knitting what looked suspiciously like a garter stitch scarf, or some other shapeless beginner project.

Most nineteenth century American women knew how to knit well. Among any three given pioneer women, at least one or two would have been highly skilled, fast knitters, and they would all have been working on more technically demanding, recognizable, practical projects: socks or stockings being most likely, or mittens, or perhaps a shawl. The pregnant character would almost certainly have been knitting something for her baby. And why are all three women working on what looks like the same project with the same yarn? It wouldn't have been hard to make up three different, more period-accurate projects and give them to the actresses to work on for the scene, or to just give them mending or other sewing to do, and I don't understand why it wasn't done, especially when this was such a realistic movie in every other way. But then Hollywood doesn't tend to depict knitting in the most convincing way, probably because relatively few actors and directors have any real knitting skills or knowledge. I wonder if there's a need for movie knitting consultants, and if so, how one could become one?