Thursday, January 6, 2011

Knitting "In my craft or sullen art"

The moments between scenes on Hollywood soundstages in the studio era captured my attention this week. The blog on TCM discusses the significance of the craft/obsession in movies and on the movie sets. Knit Flicks begins here. You can see a video collection below of some expected and surprising craftswomen (and men):


Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Love the video. I don't think knitting has disappeared entirely among younger women; but it seems to be relegated to the "crafter" set.

I like to knit, but it's been a while. Seems like somebody with a blog that has "skeins" in the title ought to take it up, you betcha.

Moira Finnie said...

Thanks, Jacqueline! I am trying to learn how to make better quality videos technically and aesthetically, so I appreciate the encouragement. I do crochet and love to do needlepoint, but something in my brain doesn't seem to be hard-wired correctly when it comes to knitting.

I'll keep trying.

panavia999 said...

How how little people know or remember about needlework habits of decades ago. Not just knitting for war, but as a practical everyday skill.
All these photos are from days when practically every girl learned how to knit, crochet, hand sew and darn. (My grandmother attended an elite catholic high school in 1916, where she received not only a great education, but took classes in various needle arts. She earned high marks for hand sewing. ) These skills were as practical as cooking. It was very commonplace to carry a work bag with some project. The adage about "idle hands" was taken very seriously. I have patterns in my stash for different kinds of work bags: A woman had a larger work bag for everyday practical items like sweaters and socks, and a smaller fancy workbag for daintier items. In company, she worked on the dainty items, at home or in informal settings - like a film set, she worked on the bigger stuff. But she always had something at hand. Many men men also learned to knit, mend and darn in those days, not for joy of needlework but because it was a useful skill. It used to be common activity for someone to hold a skein of yarn while some one rolled it into a ball. There are many scenes in movies where a man is holding the yarn skein while his sweetheart rolls it up.

There are countless movies where the family is at home and the females are darning, mending, knitting or crocheting. Even when machine made clothing was readily available people made things last with mending and darning. Whether it is on film or between
film shots, they are simply images of what used to be normal activity.

Eleanor Roosevelt was well known for always having her knitting at hand. There is an article in January/February 2009 Piecework magazine about Mrs. Roosevelt: "Never Just Sit: Eleanor Roosevelt and a Life of Knitting" by Mary Ann Colopy. The point of the article is that while Mrs Roosevelt was
particularly well known for this, she was not unusual at all, she was a product of a time when a person always kept occupied. Unfortunately, this Piecework article is not available on the magazine's website.

I crochet lace. I do not like the patterns published in the USA today as they are dumbed down and use large size thread or even yarn. I obtain my patterns via ebay or public domain items on the web. I look for patterns published prior to 1960. I also get patterns from overseas, mostly Japan. There is still a good market for intricate patterns in Europe and Japan, apparently not the USA or UK.

Knitting and crochet is enjoying a renaissance. There is a world of fascinating fibers available. There are some gorgeous patterns for skilled knitters, but the main push is for easy projects with big yarn.

PS: The movie, "The Letter" has a very significant needlework episode. The passage of time is shown by the lace motifs that Leslie (Bette Davis) crochets. At one point she tells her lawyer it helps her to stay calm. In the beginning of the film, s as a little piece and by the end she's talking about using it as a bedspread.

panavia999 said...

Moira, I am self taught with crochet, tatting and embroidery. I could never figure out knitting, partly because I am left handed and there were two needles. Anyway, I finally figured it out by taking a class. The teacher couldn't demonstrate left handed so I learned right handed, then switched to left handed after the "aha, now I've got it!" moment. So keep trying!

Moira Finnie said...

Thanks so much for the encouragement, Panavia. I too think that sewing and needle arts in general are very useful and FUN. I do like the concentration that they foster in me when I become enveloped in this activity.

I can't imagine learning how to knit when all the instrux are for righties! I admire your patience and persistence.

I agree about men learning to knit as well as to sew. While our culture tends to be a bit uptight about it, in the British Isles it was something most men picked up, even if it was just to learn to mend their fishing nets. I have a compilation of images of men knitting that I should post here sometime soon.

Thanks very much for your thoughtful posts.


panavia999 said...

Just to round out the picture of Eleanor Roosevelte, here is a picture of her with a hand gun. She insisted on being able to move about alone, so the Secret Service gave her a hand gun.

Moira Finnie said...

Oh Panavia,
That Eleanor was full of surprises! That image of Mrs. R. made the front page of the New York Times the other day when the paper decided to discuss the carrying of arms by public and private individuals following the tragic events in Tucson recently.

I'm not sure if Eleanor's way with a gun was really relevant to today's discussion, but I do know that in Joseph Lash's bio of the First Lady, he noted that she took a keen interest in the paraphernalia of her State Trooper escorts, beginning in the period when FDR was governor of New York State. (Some rumors hinted at a liaison between the lady and her bodyguard, though I tend to see Eleanor as a more circumspect person than that). She certainly had a wide range of interests and a complex mind and spirit.

Thanks for adding this fillip to the discussion.


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