Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Homefront meets battlefront

I've been chugging away on my Firefly yarn colourways - Book is almost done and Kaylee is presoaking downstairs. I found the secret to brown dye, by the way. I was thinking ice tea mix, but unlike Kool-Aid that already has the sugar mixed in and I didn't want sticky yarn. Somewhere - probably Craftster - someone mentioned coffee or tea. So I've been using up all the weird teas we'll never drink.

I figured I'd take this opportunity, now that I've finally remembered how to log in to Blogger (hush, you) to talk about that mysterious school project I mentioned a while back. Warning: a lot of rambling follows, which you will likely find dead boring if you are not interested in various ways of telling one story, or World War I. Skip to the pictures if you just want the knitty bits.

As I think most of you know, I'm studying history at university. I've just finished my second year, which was probably the crappiest scholastic year of my life, but for two bright spots: Canadian Cinema class, which had a huge impact on me as shown by my blathering in this here blog about movies no one's ever seen, and Historian's Craft, which is a required class where we learned about different ways of portraying history. For instance, in one section we read a biography of Frida Kahlo, watched Frida and a documentary, and saw a one-woman play about her. That way we learned about benefits and disadvantages of different media, etc. It was a lot more interesting than it sounds. Anyway, for the final project, we had two choices: critique a movie or documentary or something based in history, or create a representation of history in "the new media", which essentially described non-book representations. This was why we were looking at the internet and museums and such in that section.

The possibility of creating something new was really really interesting - not to mention the fact that I had a bunch of essays due at the end of the semester and wasn't looking forward to researching the many intricate details of 300 or Schindler's List. This idea popped into my head, I got it approved by my prof (who was, to my view of things, ridiculously excited by it), and I promptly . . . panicked.

See, for the first project in Historian's Craft that year, we had to transcribe and explain an old hand-written document. I'd found a letter written by a soldier in 1917. I could go on for ages why I find WWI more interesting than WWII, but let's leave that for another day. I'd explained the letter in the context of propaganda, because it contained details I was surprised to find in a letter home, speaking of the horrors of war in cowboys-and-Indians terms. Ack, I'm moving into my paper-writing voice! Anyway, the point was that propaganda's bloodlust didn't just hit people back home - it also affected soldiers. I found this really interesting because even though discussions of homefronts are relatively recent, rarely is it strongly linked to the battlefront. This was a direct connection.

The other genesis of the project was knitting, duh. I've only recently gotten back into doing Craftster swaps after lying dormant for nearly a year (see above re: crappy school year). And they teach you to use your skills in new ways, to adapt what you know into the format of, say, BlackAdder or renfair or a 5" by 5" square. So I knew if I had the opportunity to do something creative I wanted to knit it. I've got other crafty skills but knitting is far and away the medium I'm most comfortable in.

And what's the connection between knitting and history? Well, a lot of historical knitting references are rooted in war. There's those old "knit socks for the troops!" posters and such that are scattered through books like Nancy Bush's.

So, because I was interested in the connection between homefront and battlefront, and because I know how to knit, I made a project that depicted the battlefront in homefront terms. And that's why it's called Homefront Meets Battlefront. And hence ends (most) of the ramblings.

This is what the outside looks like. It's got hinges on the sides and the latch really works. The doors don't lie completely flat though - they bulge out slightly because of the stuff inside. The wood's just some plain wood my aunt's boyfriend had around. We tried particle board first, because I love the way particle board feels (so smooth!) and it was a decent price and going to be painted anyway. But because it's just sawdust and glue it was really hard to cut decently, so in came the real wood. I like it better in the end, I think. It's more noticeable, certainly, but in a way that works. The paint's just some incredibly cheap stuff I picked up at Michaels that worked surprisingly well. So you can get a size of scale, it's roughly 14" wide by 26" tall.

And here's what it looks like inside!

Behold the completely non-religious-message-bearing triptych! I'm really proud of this project, looking at it again. Let's dissect it, shall we?

Central panel first, because it's what grabs everyone's attention:

This is the basis for the whole dealie, the first part I thought of, the hardest section, and the part I'm most proud of. It was knit for the bottom up, all in one piece.
The first part is supposed to be the - well, I guess they're the Allied trenches. They're one side's trenches, anyway. It's all one long strip that gets mitered at certain points and then you sew it together and it fits like magic! I got the pattern - well, "pattern" - it's more like a recipe or guideline - from Debbie New's fantasmo book Unexpected Knitting. It was surprisingly easy, too - it probably only took me three hours or so, from creating the pattern to binding off.
I made a second labyrinth too. It was meant to be joined to the left side of the first one, and had more "unique" colours. It was, in a word, shite. But it literally took no time at all - I designed and knitted and finished it completely while watching The Graduate.

The next section is probably familiar to anyone who's ever looked with longing at Lizard Ridge. I wanted to have some sort of sense of perspective in this thing, which meant I couldn't really do another labyrinth to represent the other trenches. I tried a couple ways with freeform knitting, which failed miserably. (I originally wanted the whole thing to be freeform. Ha! I say, ha!) It was just ugly and didn't have any sort of cohesive picture. So I decided to go for short rows. I don't remember know how many repeats I did lengthwise; I think it was 2. It was way more than I thought I could squeeze in, anyway.

I picked up stitches from the top of the seamed labyrinth, and did two repeats lengthwise of Lizard Ridge in brown variegated Lopi. This is the original Lopi, the thick stuff. Then I knit three rows of Fair Isle, alternating one stitch brown Lopi, one stitch green variegated Lopi. I didn't actually line the colours up. They're really in a checkerboard pattern. But the variegation fools the eye and lined up the palest shades of each yarn on top of each other. The green in meant to represent far-off rolling fields, by the way. I did one repeat of Lizard Ridge in the green. This section probably took the longest to come together for me. But once it did, it only took me about half of Elizabeth, the miniseries with Helen Mirren. (This is how I remember how long it took for me to do projects.)

Oh, and those of you who see a face in there? That was by accident. I was a very, very grumpy Sarah when I saw that, and bit off the heads of anyone who mentioned it. Sorry, guys!

Finally we get near the top. The four large chunks are freeform knitting and meant to represent the far-off landscape. The grey is lite Lopi in seed stitch, the brown is variegated green alpaca and brown Paton's Classic Merino, the black is cotton and the brown unfortunately nipple-like part is the thick Lopi from below. Don't ask me how I remember the details of this section so well, it frankly baffles me. These parts are weird combos of short-rowing, decreasing, picking up stitches willy-nilly and forgetting how I did it all. I liked doing it though - it was probably the most relaxing section. The sky above was picked up from across the freeform sections and short-rowed in a vague attempt to get a smooth line at the top, which clearly failed. But I like it like this and only wanted a very small section of sky, so this works.

The last part I did was the guy. He was pretty simple, really. I ripped him out repeatedly because I had tons of trouble getting his proportions right, but in the end it's pretty much what I envisioned. I knit him top-down in the round with peach, green and brown Jawoll sock yarn. His severed leg was knit separately, but was still technically attached. See, when I bound off his thigh I cast on the rest of his leg without breaking the yarn. Underneath the embroidered blood (Lorna's Laces in "Flames", and no I did not buy it just for that) the thigh and leg are still attached by one thin green thread.

When I finished knitting him, he had roughly 1,289 ends hanging off him. Instead of weaving them in, he's sewn into the trenches with them. I love that part. No weaving, no hiding seams! And then the blood and his hair were embroidered on. I just wish I'd remembered to embroider him a belt. I think there were very few soldiers wearing jumpsuits in the trenches.

Left panel:

A sock in progress. This was supposed to be an example of the kind of socks the women back home would knit for soldiers. I left it unfinished on purpose. I swear. It's part of the effect. *rolls eyes, whistles innocently* I told my prof this was an example of the socks of the time because there's a purled "seam stitch" down the back of the leg. I think it's because of Nancy Bush that I feel this isn't as authentic as it could be, and am feeling slightly guilty now. But on the other hand, the ability to knit socks itself off the top of your head is really a sort of antique ability nowadays. It's not completely perfect, but it's good enough.

Right panel:

This is a juxtaposition of old "knit for the boys!" posters I found online and the letter that sparked my interest in this idea. It's a sort of illustration of homefront (propaganda) and battlefront (letters). The two side section don't really stand on their own - they were meant to complement the centre section.

So that's "Homefront Meets Battlefront." It was completely different than anything I've done in university so far, and I loved it. At the same time, it sometimes felt wrong, like I was bending the rules to get to do something I liked so much. I think that was more of a reaction to the fact that I was actually enjoying a school project, and it felt so weird I had to explain myself.

At any rate, I like this thing a lot, undoubtedly quite a bit because I did well on it. I was worried when we were doing show & tell of the creative projects in class, because other people had done things like design museum exhibitions. Duh, museum exhibitions! The very thing we'd been talking about for the last month! How could I have screwed up so royally? But my prof's initial reaction was apparently not so misguided because I got an A+ on it! It was surprising to see non-knitters so into a very different, niche kind of knitting, a reaction I didn't predict at all.


At 6:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I first started reading, I could conconceive of what your project would be. Great job!

At 3:24 PM, Blogger Webbo said...

That's extraordinary. What a brilliant use of your skills to connect with history. Your knitted soldier is a marvel, jumpsuit and all!

At 3:47 PM, Blogger Deana said...

Great project! What a great use of your interest to a class project! Engineering school didn't allow for such kinds of creative projects. Excellent Job!

At 4:14 PM, Blogger Amber said...

That is awesome!

I wish we lived closer together, because we might be great friends...judging from the shaxophile and "Abandon all hope ye who enter here"...oh, I miss english lit classes...

At 5:20 PM, Blogger Waleah Blais said...

Sarah, your project turned out AWESOME!!! Your mom was sharing with me when you were working on it and wanted me to see your finished product....outstanding and very creative! Kudos to you.

Hope you have a good summer.
ps: We are off to Ireland in October to Team Diabetes this year.

At 12:57 PM, Blogger Bridget said...

That's wonderful! What a unique way to connect to history! Great job!

At 5:57 PM, Anonymous Mom said...

OK, I know I'm biased, but I think that is amazing. Wow. And it looks like others think so too. So there!

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Spinny Bunt said...

What a fab project! Good going!

At 10:47 AM, Blogger kelli ann said...

sarah, kudos for your project: great idea, well-documented. i gush. i love it!! i'm going to show your post to my boys!!

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing project! Unforgettable imagery. Thank you so much for sharing your thought process -- and your techniques with us. I recognized lizard ridge immediately, and smiled at your mention of Debbie New's labyrinth. I am sure she will love your interpretation.

Conshohocken, PA

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Redheadskydiver said...

Came over from yarnival, neat project.

At 5:38 PM, Blogger Dr. B. said...

Found you through Yarnival...

What a brilliant project! When you mentioned worrying that it was just an excuse to do something you like, I thought about the importance of women's history and the importance of including work that women have done for centuries -- and how much better off we are including it in our tellings of what has come before us. This is such a good example of that.

All that is to say, again, your project is brilliant.

At 1:26 AM, Anonymous Cindy said...

Sarah, that's absolutely astounding. When you told me what you were doing I couldn't believe how incredibly creative it was. And it turned out beautifully! cindy (from YF Thursday knitting group)


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