Monday, 25 November 2013

"At that time if you were not knitting around Robben Island, you were not fashionable."

Robben Island is an island in Table Bay, off the coast of South Africa, that holds a former maximum security prison, where political prisoners and convicted criminals were incarcerated between 1961 and the 1990s. Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. Kgalema Motlanthe, who also served as President of South Africa, spent 10 years on Robben Island as a political prisoner, as did current president Jacob Zuma. A book called The Lighter Side of Life on Robben Island, which documents the things political prisoners did to deal with the frustrations and boredom of prison life, includes a chapter on knitting.

One of the prisoners, Jerome Maake, had been taught to knit during the days before his arrest in the early eighties, when he couldn't leave the safe house where he lived for fear of police apprehension. His hostess, a professional knitter, taught him to knit to give him something to do. Once imprisoned, he requested wool and needles from the prison authorities, who were reluctant to comply at first but were eventually convinced that Maake wasn't going to knit a bridge to Cape Town, though he had to settle for plastic rather than metal needles. Other prisoners asked to be taught once they saw Maake at work. He taught many of the other inmates the craft. In the evenings the prisoners would visit one another's cells, and take their knitting. “Sometimes there would be four or five of us sitting there knitting,” says Maake. The Lighter Side of Life on Robben Island contains pictures of some of the items the prisoners knitted.

The BBC video reports on Robben Island knitting as well as some of the other activities the Robben Island prisoners used to pass the time during their sentences.

Friday, 22 November 2013

How to Stage a Knit-In

A group of concerned Australian citizens has formed a political protest group called the Knitting Nannas in order to combat exploration and mining of unconventional gas and other non-renewable energy sources. Knitting Nannas Against Gas (KNAG) stages regular knit-ins in front of the offices of politicians or mining companies, at larger rallies, community, and flash mob events, and wherever else they think their presence might be effective. They believe in peaceful, positive, and productive protest, and when staging their protests (or recreating the famous "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" shot as above) they bring not only their knitting, but any other craft, cards, crossword puzzles, or peas to shell, as well as lawn chairs, tea, and ice cream or popsicles to share with everyone on those especially hot days. KNAG is inclusive and no one need be either a nanna or a knitter in order to be eligible to join. It's a great idea given how tense, tedious and protracted political demonstrations can be, and even more importantly it gives the Knitting Nannas protest group a fun and newsworthy angle that will help them get the publicity they need to be effective.

Give in now, politicians and corporations. You won't believe how easily and contentedly a knitter can outlast you. Moreover doing the right thing might just score you a pair of socks or a hat.

In this video, one of the Knitting Nannas read from the Nannafesto ("We sit, knit, plot, have a yarn and a cuppa, and tell it how it is"), and others discuss some of their concerns with coal seam gas mining. The Knitting Nannas have already formed a number of chapters (or, as they call them, Nanna's Loops) in Australia.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Knitter's Magazine Issue 113: A Review

Knitter's Magazine has released the preview for Issue 113. Let's have a look at it.

I'm not normally a friend of asymmetrical design or of zippers in knitwear, but I love the Diagonal Zip design. This jacket's asymmetry is balanced, with the two collars flowing along one line, and the front zipper looks right because it's echoed by the two cuff zippers. The texture and the overall lines are very good. I don't know how good this design will look worn open, but it looks so damn good zipped up, who cares. Excellent work!

We move from a great opener to.... the Chartered Lines design. Which is a cropped-length and top-buttoned style that even the model isn't carrying off, has a textured pattern added to an already very busy tutti frutti-coloured yarn, and is that fringe on the collar? It makes me wonder how the previous sweater got along with this one during the photo shoot, because they don't have much in common. I'm imagining a coolly aloof attitude on the one side and belligerence on the other.

The Shaded Diamonds design one isn't at all anything I would ever wear myself, but it's such a fine piece of design that I can only admire it. The mitred neck detail and the edgings have employed an variegated yarn to wonderful effect, and the lines are so good.

The Incline Wrap. Entrelac is another design element that can be problematic, because it adds such bulk, but again it's been made to work here, in this sleeveless wrap. Using entrelac in a design that's meant to be worn as an outer layer makes the bulkiness much less of a issue (eliminating the sleeves also helped), and this piece is well-shaped. It will work well over both short skirts and relatively fitted trousers.

The pleated waist section and the striped raglan detail in the Iron, Slate & Moss design are competing somewhat, making the pudding more than slightly over egged. I'd go with one of those elements, not both, with the pleating being section being my pick to eliminate as it won't flatter many waistlines. Finishing off the sweater with the dark blue ribbing that's been used at the neckline and cuffs would work well.

This Smoke & Ice design's... okay. It looks like one of those 1990s-era single pattern leaflet patterns that somehow came into your possession and that is too nice to weed out with the hopeless 1980s era leaflets, and yet is not nice enough to make.

This Rainbow Grove vest is a lovely piece of design. Well-endowed wearers and/or those without a waistline they want to emphasize will want to decrease the waistline ribbing to just an inch or two, and feature more of that gorgeous stitchwork.

The Confetti Design. I don't care for the smock-like shape here, which would make most women look dumpy. I'm afraid even to ask how long that back hem is — it continues beyond the limits of the picture. The yarn choice isn't helping. I can't even look at the picture of this sweater for very long before I start wondering if I'm hungover or something — and it's been months since I had a single alcoholic beverage.

The Tangerine Leaves design is quite a pretty little open front cardigan. A woman who owns this piece will get a lot of wear out of it, because it can be worn with many outfits and will always look polished and be warm and comfortable.

The Tilt vest is another attractive, useful, go-anywhere piece.

Not liking the Weather Ready design. It does have some good points, namely its cabled texture and collar, but the overall shape is just so sloppy and unflattering that the model can't even carry it off despite the bravest of smiles.

The Slip-up Mobius hat and scarf. This isn't appealing to me, but I think it's the fault of the yarn choice here, which I personally find more than a little eyeball-searing. If I imagine it sans pom pom and in a yarn colourway I actually like, it's a decent set.

The Garter Epaulettes design is a nice, simple piece, though I find it just a touch too simple. I'd maybe add cuff detailing that echoes the epaulettes to kick up the level of visual interest just a bit.

The Ladies Only cardigan is a good, polished-looking piece of work. The top-buttoned style really works here because it's so organic to the design.

The Unfinished Business design looks like it began life as a simple tank and decided it was born for high fashion, and so added random side draping, regretted it, couldn't figure out how to get back to the simple life that had really suited it much better, gave up on itself, partied too much and ran out of yarn, and is now bound for an ignominious death in some forlorn and filthy rooming house. Seriously, this is one nearly unwearable item that almost no women will be able to get away with wearing, and even then the question is why would they?

The Blues & Berries scarf isn't bad. I actually think it would have looked better with a basic denim jacket than with this "pull out all the stops" styling, but you have to give Knitter's Magazine credit for going the extra mile, even if that extra mile was beyond the finish line.

The Blues & Berries hat and scarf set (the scarf is the same design as the one above done in a second colourway) is really basic but wearable and presentable enough.

The Shifting Bands cardigan is a very competent piece of work. It's got enough interest to make an outfit, and yet not so much that it won't go with anything in a woman's closet or can't be worn often.

I don't even know what the Zigzag in Cables design is. I think it's supposed to be some kind of architecturally structured cowl or scarf, but it looks like a pile of swatches from the design studio have inexplicably gone rogue and are trying to throttle the model.

The Step-up Shawl isn't a bad piece. The choice of mitred squares is an interesting and visually distinctive one for a shawl. My response is rather tepid because of the colour scheme — this one is a little on the muddy side.

This is a second version of the Step-Up Shawl, and it confirms my theory about the colours dampening my enthusiasm for the first one. I love this version.

The Chevron vest isn't a bad piece of design at all, but all I can do is stare at that closing detail and think about how I really don't like it. I'd go with a simple silver clasp there, or at least a better-looking knitted loop.

The Uncharted Lace pullover is another good wearable design. The touch of lace detailing at the raglan seams gives this simple, classic piece distinction.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Knit Simple Winter 2013: A Review

Knit Simple has released the preview for their Winter 2013 issue. Let's have a look at it, shall we?

This bulky knit pullover and cowl isn't bad for a beginner project. It won't be the most flattering item but then that's par for the course with any bulky knit.

This checked cap is really cute. You can leave the pom pom off if it's too juvenile for you.

I quite like this vest, though I am not sure about the extended shoulder line, which works on women but maybe doesn't play as well in menswear. I'd be inclined to turn this vest into a sweater.

Love the colours used here in this cropped vest, but all I can think is how much more flattering it would be even on this model if it were longer.

The men's version of the checked cap above. It works equally well on a man.

I like this hound's-tooth slotted scarf. It's a practical way of getting a scarf to stay in place.

This hound's-tooth muffler is a nice piece too.

I like this striped tam. The stripes have such visual interest and texture.

Can't say I like this scarf. Basketweave textures like this tend to look crude, and the colour scheme, or rather the lack of one, is not helping.

This cowl looks slapped together and doesn't sit well at all.

This scarf is interesting, but it does look rather too large and overpowering a look on this model. If you want to make this design, I'd scale it to the size of the intended wearer.

This crocheted cowl sits better than the last one, but that's not saying a lot.

This striped cowl isn't bad. It could be a nice fun, casual look with the right coat.

This is... a cardigan poncho. At least I think it is. And had you asked me, sight unseen, what I thought of the concept of cardigan ponchos, I am pretty sure my response would have involved some thumbs and perhaps also some toes down, and yet I rather like this. It's a young, fun look that could look pretty fetching on a high school girl over a fitted t-shirt or sweater and jeans.

In the text that precedes this next set of pictures, Knit Simple claims, "Boxy's back! Spice up oversized silhouettes with geometric blocks of color." Don't let them fool you. If boxy's back, and mind you I'm not convinced that it is, it doesn't look any better than it ever did. I rather like this sweater, but I would make it standard fit, unless the wearer intends to spend every minute of wearing time with her arms akimbo like this model's in order to give it a semblance of flattering style.

If you're one of those rare women who not only like the mini-sweater but can wear it successfully, I suppose this isn't a bad example of a mini-sweater.

This one might work if the shape was neatened up considerably, but as is this is just going to look sloppy on most women. It doesn't look too bad here because it's been quite carefully arranged to appear well, but note just how much extra sweater is gathered up around the waist.

This one's passable style-wise for a casual sweater, and would be a good way to use up odds and ends of yarn.

Basic textured pullover.

I rather like this cardigan vest, which has nice lines, and the climbing vine is a nice touch. I do have my concerns about the way it's hanging. Why is the pocket on the right so much higher than the left, and why is the right sleeve extending so much further down on the arm than the left? I hope it's just not sitting right on the model. I also wouldn't make it quite so loose, and I'd leave the button off both pockets instead of putting it on just the left one.

I'm finding that wide ribbed band on these fingerless mitts rather distracting. I would shorten it by an inch or so.

Basic shawl-collared cardigan. It's maybe a little long on the model, but of course you'll just make it to fit the wearer.

Basic striped socks.

Don't care for this one. It's too awkward and bulky looking, and that pocket or whatever that thing is in the front just looks like a mistake. Men may not generally mind it when their shoulders and chests are made to look bigger by their clothing, but even men can't particularly enjoy looking like a cube.

Very cute dog child's sweater.

This dog cushion isn't bad. I see it as an item for a child's room rather than for the living room though — it's cute in a simple, child-like way.

Don't like this backpack. It looks way too crude and slapped together. The non-symmetrical rings around the eyes just look like a mistake. I know real dogs have uneven markings, but this needed to resemble a dog in general before it could get away with mimicking some of the charming imperfections of a dog.

Really cute dog cushion. This is one you might just want to put in the living room, because the fair isle diamonds give it a little more sophistication.

Very handsome set of tartan-themed throw and cushions set.