Friday, April 20, 2007

Breaking down the Broken Brocade

WARNING!!! Knitting jabbering ahead. Not only is it knitting jabbering but it's geeky knitting jabbering. Proceed with extreme caution!!!!

I finally finished my Broken Brocade sweater!!!Yippee!!. The last leg of seaming and blocking was a much larger task than I had anticipated but then again, seaming and blocking are always hard for me.

The Broken Brocade sweater is my attempt at being clever. First and foremost, I wanted a lighter sweater for the spring. Of course, I'm not just going to knit a sweater simply for the sake of knitting a sweater. Heavens no. That would be just to logical. If I just wanted a sweater, I could just pop over to Value Village and pick up a sweater, But quite frankly, I don't really need a sweater. I needed an outlet for my fashionista id.

So began the journey now known as the Broken Brocade sweater. The Broken Brocade is my Contradiction Chic twist on historical fashion. It's inspired by Elizabethan styles and, of course, my secret love for brocade. I however don't own a stitch of it for clothing or decorating. When I do get a chance to try on something with brocade, I end up looking, well, stuffy and I feel like Mozart in drag. So that's how Broken Brocade began.

With a simple idea to design and knit a brocade sweater. I plotted out a couple different brocade patterns in the next couple of days. All was well until one night, I was smacked with a bad case of insomnia. My brain just wouldn't shut off and next thing you know, my simply brocade sweater became a sardonic commentary on Elizabethan sumpturary laws.

Somewhere between 3 am and dawn, my sleep hungry brain figured I needed to make a statement about the Elizabethan fashion. Queen Elizabeth I in 1576 decreed a series of laws that stated what colours, fabrics and even embellishments people of different titles and classes were allowed to wear. Similar laws were passed in other times and places. These laws were used as a way to control social behaviour and to reinforce class structures. Breaking these laws could mean facing a steep fine, loss of property or title or even execution. Pretty freaking severe, IMHO. Could you imagine losing your head over a slip of silk?

I have a fascination with clothing and identity and how fashion is used to shape a society in present day society as well as historically. The clothing laws are a fascination, ok, occasional obsession of mine. Nowadays, the idea of being punished for wearing a certain colour or fabric is unimaginable which is what makes these laws so interesting. Supposedly women even pushed their husbands to pursue higher social rankings just so they could wear tinselled satin.
So firstly, I had to design a sweater silhouette that would carry a whift of Elizabethan fashion. The silhouettes of that era were very geometrical with emphasis on a tiny little waist. I mimiced the triangular silhouette with a some shaping and ribbing and a wide, open collar.

One word about the collar, I had initially knitted a off the shoulder collar with a linen stitch border but upon trying the finished torso, I found it a bit too sloppy for what I had intended. Unfortunately, I had knitting the torso from the top down and so instead of painstakingly picking away at stitches, I simply threw in a lifeline and cut off the top band of the collar. I threw it back onto my needles and knitted up a new collar. Actually I knitted up 5 incarnations of collars before I was happy with it. I wanted something that would echo the drama of the collars at that time. I wanted a bit of height to the collar but I didn't want ruffles. I think the final collar carries a nice balance of drama and whimsy. It also echoes the poised and drama of Elizabethan gowns. Ack, so much stuffed into a collar! Oy!

My main tool of subverting Elizabethan sumptuary laws was with material choice and colours. I wanted to bring together royalty, upper and and lower classes into one. Firstly, I chose wool since it was one of the few materials lower class women were allowed to wear. I choose Louet Gems superfine merino wool, a superwash fingerling weight yarn and Lorna Laces sportweight yarn.

For the main colour, I chose the closest I could find to a Tyrian purple. Tyrian purple is a purple-red dye that orginiates from the city of Tyre and is madeby squishing up a bunch of sea snails. However, only one drop of dye comes from each snail, making for a very costly and stinky endevour. The resulting dye was a rich, deep colour that didn't fade, making it the darling of the upper class fashionistas. Queen Elizabeth I made it law that only royalty would be allowed to wear purple.

The secondary colour I chose was white, partly because it would provide a nice background for the purple. However it also was subject to Elizabeth's laws. White was a difficult colour to get and one that suggested that you had servants to do you work for you so you wouldn't get your white's dirty. I brought in a blues, greens and browns into the background to break up the white. These colours were of assigned to a range of class standings below nobility and royalty and are a metaphor for the lower classes breaking through the upper standings. (I'm such a geeky proletariat)

With a lower class material, colours of royalty, upper and lower class all mingling together in one garment, what would Queen Lizzy say?

Anyways, here's my fashion spread for the Broken Brocade sweater. I'm going to get a glass of wine. A really big glass of wine ;)


Rachel said...

Wow, quite a bit of thought went into that sweater, obviously! Well, I would think it was beautiful even if I didn't know the whole Elizabethan story behind it. Even more impressive to think of all the effort you put in.

sarai. said...

Wow, that really turned out gorgeous! Great job. I enjoyed the story behind it too.

Knittypants said...

Wow! Your sweater is beautiful, and how it came about is fascinating!

anna said...

Jen, that's AMAZING!! What a beautiful sweater. You rock.

Iris G said...

I just have to say it again: love your sweater! Brocade is always IN, and purple, too.

OfTroy said...

beautiful sweater!

I knew about the purple dye, and i knew sumptuary laws existed, but not all the detail you do!

should you have used stripes?(especially horizontal stripes?!) these were for criminals and the crazy. (Jews, and other minority groups too) and gave rise to the idiom/expression "people of every stripe could be found there" (say a fair) (i know this bit about sumptuary laws from my interest in LANGUAGE--and how idioms remain long after inital cause
cartoon characters still wear stripes, (not the orange or other brightly colored jumpsuits they nowdays wear in reality!)and we all still undertand that visual idiom! (not that your stripes make your sweater look like prison garb!)

Well i suppose, flouting every law as you are, stripes are not inapropriate! I love the thouhgt process behind designs.. especailly very personal designs!

Gina said...

This is beyond gorgeous. You really need to think about becoming a knitting designer.

Diana said...

I ditto Gina's comment. You might get in touch with Eunny Jang and now that she is employed by Interweave you might have the possibility to get paid doing what you love!!! Really!!!!