Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dress Journal #3: Loud Socks

I like hand knit socks. I started knitting socks a few years ago and discovered with the first pair--knit of Patons Classic Merino--that hand knit socks are basically little sweaters for feet. As I have perennially cold extremities (hence the affectionate nickname "Popsicle Toes"), hand knit wool socks are a luxury.

Because I make my own socks, I get to choose my own yarns. I began with some basic, moderately subdued colors, but quickly moved on to the more "interesting" colorways. Opal, Blue Moon, Flat Feet, Red Heart--I like them all, as long as they're moderately to very bright and bold. I knit my socks toes up, one at a time, from a "figure 8" cast-on to an "afterthought" heel: only the leg changes, as I get bored with just plain ribs (the sock above has a spiral rib leg).

KnitPicks, that online emporium of nearly all things knitting, has a wonderful line of specialty sock yarns: Felici. A blend of 75% very soft Merino and 25% nylon for strength, KnitPicks dyes this butter-soft sock yarn in series of limited-edition colorways. This time around, they drew inspiration from the popular British childrens' TV show Doctor Who, and created the Time Traveler colorway for fans that wanted socks similar to the scarf worn by the good Doctor in the 1970s. The scarf is amazing, both for its length (at its longest, about 15 feet) and its colors: the original scarf was created from a bunch of mismatched yarns, but the random colors work well as a whole. It is somewhat a rite of passage for Doctor Who fans to, at some point, knit their own version of the famous Scarf. I crocheted one out of horrid acrylic yarn during my college years--it has long since disappeared (probably raveled and crocheted into an afghan), with no one the wiser until now.

I ordered a couple skeins of the yarn, and was impressed by how similar they are to the scarf colors--the photo at the right is the skein, sitting on a portion of my new Scarf, currently underway. The only missing color was the olive green, so I ordered a skein of KnitPicks Essentials in the Sarge colorway to add in some green.

The plan is to knit this pair of stockings as a 4x1 rib. As I knit socks from the toe up, I started with the Sarge Essentials and knit the toe, then switched to the Felici Time Traveler. At round 65, I knit half of the round with a bit of waste yarn--I will go back later and knit an "afterthought" heel in the Sarge colorway--then continued on up the leg in the 4x1 rib. When I get the leg long enough to reach my knee, I'll switch back to the Sarge and knit a turn-over cuff before starting on the second stocking.

This pair of stockings is fun to knit--the yarns a buttery soft, and the pattern is just complex enough to keep my interest. At the end, I'll have another pair of very loud knee socks to wear with some of my outfits.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dress Journal #2: Brain Dump

The first step in costuming does not involve fabric, pins, a sewing machine, or an iron. It does involve, in my case, paper, pencils (both regular and colored), an eraser, india ink, and a moderate amount of swearing. This is a brain dump, where my ideas are taken out of my head and captured on paper. For me, it's an important step because without it, I'm relying on an overly full memory to keep track of all the details of an outfit. Putting it down on paper solidifies the idea and makes it a bit more real; I also can start to think about what materials I will need to turn the drawing into reality.

Some time this past weekend was devoted to a brain dumping session. I need several new outfits, along with new underpinnings. There's too much--about 25 pieces--to just work from a list, so some sketches are necessary. I also want to try out some trim details before committing to one specific idea, and sketches are the least expensive route.

So, what am I considering? Nothing short of a nearly complete wardrobe for a lady archaeologist/cultural xenologist in 1905. No big puffy sleeves and giant hats full of dead birds: these are practical clothes that can take me from the field to the lecture hall in style and comfort. The list:

2 chemises, both trimmed with hand-crocheted lace (more on that later)
2 prs. French drawers
1 petticoat
1 Equipoise basque (basically an unboned corset)
2 prs. loud handknitted stockings
1 pr. black lace handknitted stockings

Field dress:
1 white shirtwaist
1 split skirt
1 Norfolk jacket
1 topee with veiling
1 pr. stout walking boots
1 tie

Lecture/Meeting dress:
1 white shirtwaist (see above)
1 gray tweed vest
1 navy Eton jacket with white braid trim
1 navy walking skirt
1 straw boater,
1 pr. sensible shoes
1 tie (see above)

Cycling outfit:
1 sky blue shirtwaist
1 gray tweed vest (see above)
1 pr. navy bloomers
1 gray tweed Norfolk or Reefer jacket
1 straw boater (see above)
1 pr. black gaiters
1 pr. low-heeled boots
1 tie (see above)

It's a lot of cutting and sewing, but I really need to build a lot of new clothes; it's been 15 years since I last built a wardrobe for this time period, and my figure has changed somewhat in the intervening years. One piece at a time, I will build a new wardrobe.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dress Journal #1: Steampunk. Steampunk? Steampunk.

After an extended hiatus, I'm preparing to drag the sewing machine out and build myself some new clothes. Not clothes that I would normally wear to work--clothes that I wear to play, since my idea of "play" still includes a good amount of "dress up." This summer I am doing some serious costume-building.

If one were to diagram my friends and my play, it would be a Venn diagram with three very overlapping circles. Some of my fiber friends are also fans of the British TV show Doctor Who; others are in the historical reenacting and fiber circles; a few are in all three. Now there's a fourth circle: steampunk.

Steampunk--as a literary form--is a subgenre of science fiction extrapolating the idea that Charles Babbage's Difference Engine (now considered to be the world's first computer) was built and the design improved upon in the 19th Century. It's a world populated with technology that operates with steam and gears, and a rather Victorian sense of geopolitics: the United States is split into several different countries, depending on the author, and the sun has not set on the British empire. An excellent description of the origins of steampunk can be found in Jess Nevin's essay, "The 19th Century Roots of Steampunk," in Steampunk. Steampunk has taken the historical costuming world by storm.

Steampunk as a venue for costuming is fun, because it draws heavily on 19th and early 20th Century clothing (approximately 1850-1910). It gives me a reason to revamp my wardrobe after a long break from this period, with clothes I can wear for action-shooting, historical reenactments, the odd science fiction convention, and of course steampunk events. As an early 20th Century technical exposition--The Great Pan-kinetic Exposition--is tentatively scheduled to be held sometime in 2011, I have no excuse to not start building clothes appropriate for it and other events.

So this is the start of an actual dress journal. Stay tuned, and follow how I go about refurbishing my wardrobe.