Knitting as a subculture

Karie Westermann fills her blog with the sort of thoughtful writing that is rarely seen on knitting blogs, and her most recent post has given me more than usual to chew on. Enough to actually bring my own blog out of hibernation and write my own thoughts in response.
I’d recommend reading the original post in full, because it’s good, but in short: she expresses concern that the indie craft world is becoming a commercialised, ‘aspirational’ and therefore exclusionary lifestyle; a precisely marketed consumer product masquerading as values; a shabby-chic wasteland devoid of diversity and creativity. (These are my words, not hers!)
Well, it’s not an unreasonable concern, especially for someone like Karie, who makes a living from that world. I don’t, by the way. I just do things for attention.
Personally I’m inclined to see knitting as a subculture, and subcultures always tend towards monetisation and caricature with each successive wave of adopters. That sounds terribly cynical of me doesn’t it? Bear with me, I get worse.
Meta-analysis of subcultures is a tricky thing to pin down, but if we limit it to modern aesthetic movements, then very roughly speaking they rise and fall in similar ways to fashion trends, only over a slightly longer period of time. Mea culpa, I cannot remember where I read this, but it lodged in my brain nonetheless.
There are 4 waves of a ‘successful’ subculture:
1. Innovators. A loosely connected group of people start doing something original and new. They are underground, indie, and explicitly removing themselves from popular culture as they see it. They may not even see themselves as starting a subculture.
2. Establishment. People are attracted by the ideas of the first wave, take the ball and really run with it. They get creative within the original framework, build opportunities and gain power in numbers. A style and look, and even values, become associated with the subculture, and it starts to attract public attention.
3. Sell-outs. The next wave of adopters are attracted to the public perception i.e. the look of the subculture. They are sufficiently disconnected from the first wave to be a ripe marketing opportunity. With increasing publicity comes increasing monetisation, and why not? The larger a subculture the harder it becomes for an individual to get noticed, but larger companies can still profit.
4. Assimilation. The subculture becomes large enough to count as popular culture. Assimilation is not a given; plenty of subcultures just fade away. Either way, it’s no longer a place for individualists, who splinter off and begin another subculture.

So we’ve had the scrappy revolutionaries of Stitch ‘n’ Bitch and Knitty et al. Ravelry has grown to over 3 million members and spawned many self-made successes. Does that mean we’re past the age of creativity for indie knitting and into the third wave? Will the scene collapse under its own weight? Are we succumbing to entropy?
If this bothers you then congratulations, you’re probably part of the knitting subculture.
I don’t want to be a harbinger of doom, but I am trying to get to a point. If this post has emotional weight for you, then I do think it’s worth putting consideration into what you bring to this subculture. Even if you think of yourself as tiny, just someone lurking on Ravelry and buying two patterns a year, you are still determining what sells, and who gets to build their modest little hobbies into a business. You don’t think you’re noticed? Just read Bristol Ivy’s Ravelry trend breakdowns. You are noticed.
In turn, you have a role in who else gets noticed, whose blogs get popular enough to attract sponsors and build sales. And this is definitely where the privilege Karie discusses starts to rear its head.

You live in a capitalist society which has determined some demographics to be more profitable and superior to others. Are you blindly reinforcing that? Now that’s an idea that gets some people upset.
“Jesus, I’m just trying to have a hobby here! What is this! Now I have to feel bad because I’m not retweeting enough LGBT knitters? Because my Pinterest boards aren’t ethnically diverse??”
Well maybe you should feel bad! I don’t know! But you are getting the subculture you are responding to.
Maybe in the coming years the indie knitting scene won’t be sustainable. Maybe it will fracture and new non-conformists will go off in unexpected ways and we will have to start all over again. And maybe I’m wrong, because I’m not a fortune-teller. But it is a culture of sorts, and culture is only the sum of individuals like you.
Where do you think we’re going? What changes do you want to see & do you think you can be part of those changes?


Filed under Ramblings

Building better trousers with SCIENCE

I’m still very much in sewing mode rather than knitting mode these days. I’ve decided I need new work trousers and the only way forward is to sew them myself.

Unfortunately making trousers that fit well is a high-level challenge. All those intersecting topographies at the crotch! Once you’ve got that bit right the rest will follow. I’ve not found a satisfactory crotch-seam drafting tutorial on the internet and I’ve watched my own mum have limited success with the Palmer & Alto tissue-fitting method. Frankly, everyone seems to be relying on standard crotch seam templates and blind trial and error, which just isn’t good enough for a professional woman of science such as myself.

The best advice I ever got as a Physics undergraduate was this: YOU CAN SOLVE ANYTHING WITH LASERS


This is the Bosch PLR15 Laser Measure. It can measure distances to an accuracy of ±3 mm, which is the highest acceptable accuracy I was willing to pay for.

So what I did this weekend was measure the profile of my crotch to an accuracy of ±3 mm. Yes, I genuinely believe the findings are worth a blog post on their own! Let me detail the method: I marked up the centre of an A3 piece of paper with 1cm increments, and stood in my knickers with my feet either side of the paper, whilst my incredibly good-humoured boyfriend moved the laser measure along the marks, noting the distance measured. He also noted the ideal inseam placement.

So we ended up with a piece of paper like this:


Which I translated into the following x-z plot. Not well, mind you, I had to redraw a few points.


There’s some variation here, which we will have to chalk up to measurement uncertainties and also any movements I made whilst standing. Nonetheless I think it shows a fairly clear profile. Two things immediately jump out: the lowest part of the crotch is slightly behind the inseam, making it almost dead centre of the profile, and the front crotch is very long.


I then added error bars and a generously deep line of best fit. I had to think about that line. How closely should a crotch fit before it starts to highlight the er, “topography” a bit too well? I then cut the curve out of the paper and holding it against myself, the backside seemed to fit absolutely fine, but I had been skittish about the front and the resulting curve had too much depth. The overall length of the crotch profile was fairly spot on.

Compare the seams though, against the Palmer/Pleutsch trouser pattern, McCalls 6361.


The curve of my backside starts later, and is shallower than any of the suggested sewing lines the pattern has helpfully marked out. You can see my inseam marking through the paper here. It’s clear I really need to move the inseam if I’m going to make this pattern. The front crotch on the other hand…


Completely different to the pattern! Even moving the card back to compensate for hypothetical inseam movement, I can see that I need a very long front crotch. It explains a lot though. In shops, I always find trousers pull at the front crotch (the Palmer book calls them ‘smile lines’), or I get that oh-so-flattering camel toe, or both. At the back, I occasionally find some odd folding under the butt-cheeks but not very often. Incidentally I really hate shopping for trousers.

Redrafting the crotch seam to the extent I need it will take some doing, but hopefully my scientific hubris will pay off. At any rate, I feel like I’ve figured out an awful lot of trouser problems without doing any actual sewing.

Updates to follow when I have something wearable!


This post is dedicated to the lovely man in my life, and any other S.O. that, on hearing the question “Can you point this laser up my butt?”, says yes first, asks why second, and starts worrying about centering methods third.


Filed under Ramblings

Sewing on schedule!

Haha! My Anna dress is totally on schedule! It’s a Christmas miracle! Unfortunately that schedule clashes with the time of year where I absolutely cannot get my camera to behave, so just a quick ‘WIP’ look will have to do.

Anna Dress 1

It looks almost finished, but there’s actually a bright yellow lining in there that is currently only held in place at the neck. Over the holiday I will be doing leisurely handstitching to fix it to the zip and sleeves, and then we’re ready to roll.

You  may also be wondering what is going on with that skirt. Well you see, the original pattern suggests you may like to add a thigh high split to your design. I have taken the road less travelled and added…


A box pleat that goes alllll the way up and only shows itself during movement. It’s worked out really nicely actually. What good ideas I have! Best of all, it’s all fitting really nicely. I can still see room for improvement cos I’m picky –  there’s just a tiny bit of gaping in both the front and back neck, and I reckon I could take an entire inch of ease out of the waist and still have it fit nicely.

Hopefully I shall be able to bring you some better photos next year!


Filed under Projects, WIPs

More and more sewing…

My sewing rampage continues. Now I’ve decided to make a dress for New Year’s Eve. Success is hinged solely what I am able to achieve over the Christmas holidays. What am I doing?? This is madness.

The lucky pattern for NYE is the By Hand London Anna dress. It’s relatively simple and seems to have a high success rate if the internet is anything to go by. Load up Google Image search and look at that parade of knockouts! So far I’ve made two mock-ups of the bodice just to be sure I’m going to get it right. The UK Size 18 fit me pretty well straight off the bat, but I still ended up doing a whole load of tweaks in a quest for perfection:

  • Narrowed the neckline by 1 1/4” to ensure bra straps don’t show.
  • Raised the back shoulder seams only by 5/8” as the seam was off-centre and the front rode up a little.
  • Deepened the front neckline by ¾”, which I suppose is equivalent to 1 1/4 “ when you take the shoulders into account.
  • Let out the front outer pleats by ½” at base, 3/8” at the top, then added that ½” to the back darts. This sort of compensates for a slightly full bust and swayback at the same time.
  • Lowered bust pleats by ¾” because my boobs don’t go there.
  • Added pockets. Remember the ABAP rule of successful sewing: Always Be Adding Pockets.

And finally, to really put the pressure on, I shall be cutting into this expensive and no longer available printed Liberty Tana Lawn I bought years ago.

liberty lawn

Gosh it’s so nice though. It folds like paper under an iron and has the dull shine of sateen. Will it all be worth it? Will I stick to the rudimentary timeline of tasks I wrote down to ensure my success? Will I end up going out on the town in a dress I bought last minute from Warehouse? Only Future Ellen knows the answer to these things, and she’s selfishly refused to master time travel to give me an answer.

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Filed under Projects, WIPs

Oh hi there

Wow I really broke my blogging habit huh? Let it not be said my procrastination is half-arsed. Undisplayable secret knitting aside, I haven’t really had many successful knitting episodes to talk about. I finished my Hetty cardigan and it turned out slightly too small. Not because my gauge was off, but because I was being overly optimistic with how much negative ease a cardigan can withstand and still button up. Whoooops. I am still throwing it over things though, because it was too lovely to ignore.

Mostly, I’ve been sewing*.
It seems to take me longer, or at least more effort, but I am actually managing to finish things along the way. Behold! A fashionable t-shirt that is literally just a t-shape. Bless the 90s revival for lowering everyone’s expectations of fit.


This is made in a relatively stiff pointe roma jersey, which was a delight to sew. I tried making a second version out much floppier material and it looked terrible. I then decided that maybe I’m not quite at the level of draft my own sewing patterns from scratch just yet and resolved to actually buy some in the future. So just this weekend I finished View A of Simplicity 1321. It’s so fresh I haven’t even ironed the hem yet, excuse me.


This took far longer than it should have because I insisted on vertically aligning the fabric pattern at all points. It’s a 6 panel skirt and I only got one seam right first time. Never mind, I didn’t get to where I am in life by looking at things that don’t quite line up and saying “that’s fine”.


It’s very odd fabric actually. My grandma gave me 4m of the stuff, and it looks great but it has no stretch. Despite being incredibly thin, slippery knitted jersey fabric. Makes no sense! I ended up underlining most of it with cheap gabardine which made it a lot easier to handle. However I suspect it’s gone the other way and is now slightly too thick for it’s purpose. I still have plenty of the check jesery left and now I’m thinking a bomber jacket would be a great idea, as long I cover the whole lot in interfacing first. One day I’ll get the hang of using the right fabric thickness…one day.

*and playing doge 2048


Filed under Finished Objects

Bristol Wool Fair

The very first Bristol Wool Fair was last weekend on the Clifton Downs. Finally, a wool fair on my doorstep! It’s so much more agreeable to just wander up late afternoon, no big deal, just checkin out some wool. The Bristol Wool Fair (BWF?) is much more open air than any other I’ve to so far. The weather was perfect too, so it was kind of like a big picnic, plus wool, plus farm animals.


Above are some show sheep being sheared in a demonstration. I have never seen such chilled out sheep before. I was convinced they were models until I got up close. All previous sheep I have encountered have been fussy little cranks that want attention the moment you stop giving them any. Clearly that guy is some kind of sheep whisperer.

There were also alpacas! Amiably milling about going “wehhhh!” now and then. Bless their spongy heads.


The surrounding marqees were full of stalls demonstrating just about everything you can do with animal fibre; knit and crocheted garmets, yarn, spinning, weaving, felting, hats, rugs, needlepoint, tapestries, I’ve definitely forgotten at least 3 more.It was a well balanced spread. In a horrifying shock twist I didn’t buy anything, but I did think very hard about walking past these pretty yarn bowls.


There was also this century old sock-making machine being demonstrated.


Turn the crank, a sock comes out below! According to the original manual, which was nearby on the stall, even those febrile lady knitters can do it. Incidentally Kate Davies has recently written a comprehensive post about the history of socks, and I’m inclined to guess this particular machine came in when no-one was very excited about mass production anymore, hence the manual’s tone of “cute little hobby to keep the lady-brains occupied”.

wool2There were some crochet flower workshops, the results of which all got painstakingly stuck to this giant sheep! I believe said sheep is now in the window of Paper Village, blinding the eyes of anyone walking past.

Before I left there was a sheepdog demonstration. With ducks instead of sheep! Probably the highlight of the fair if I’m honest! Believe me, I tried to get a good picture I really did, but this dog was mental, like literally every border collie ever.wool1


I think this was a pretty good start for a wool fair, so here’s hoping it comes back next year bigger, better and with more cute animals.


Filed under Ramblings

Some rejected knitting ideas

A beanie hat that looks like spaghetti and meatballs.
Reason for rejection: No designing on an empty stomach.

A jumper in multiple shades of blue, which represents the human genome somehow.
Reason for rejection: Human genome too vast, complex, contains multitudes etc.

A reproduction of a jersey dress worn by Christina Hendricks in Mad Men.
Reason for rejection: Too much effort for something that won’t actually make me look like Christina Hendricks.

Having accidentally worked hair into knitting before, how would it work as sock heel reinforcement?
Reason for rejection: Idea shelved until risk of voodoo curses has been thoroughly evaluated.

Something that would get attention on Ravelry, like…a giant wang wearing a moustache.
Reason for rejection: I could never live with myself if it actually worked.


Filed under Ramblings