Monday, August 07, 2006

Trends in books and hobbies

Sandra's post of a few weeks ago has been bouncing around in my mind. She wrote a passionate piece about that miraculous feeling of clarity and wonder that happens when the vision you see in your head suddenly flows through your fingers and takes life. It could be words on a page or stitches on a pair of Lantern Moons--doesn't much matter. That feeling of walking-on-air delight is exactly the same.

In her post Sandra mentioned needlepoint which got me thinking about trends in both needlework and writing.

When I was a kid knitting was fairly popular but so was crochet. Oh, the wonders of the granny square afghan! I have a few of them dating way back into the mists of time and love them more than I can say. My mother made them from scraps of yarn leftover from other projects. The only new yarns she ever bought for a granny square afghan was the yarn used to make the borders. Sometimes it was a bright sunny yellow. Sometimes a cheerful cherry red. Occasionally a drop-dead gorgeous dramatic black. We also did cross-stitch, but not the more sophisticated counted cross stitch done today (which, by the way, just the merest thought of makes my head explode -- I can't can't CAN'T follow the charts!) but the stamped pattern on cheap fabric kind. My friend Teresa Garcia made one for me when I was eleven: Make New Friends, Keep the Old -- One Is Silver, The Other Is Gold. (I still have it.)

(Family Circle offer from June 1970 - Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Crewel Kit)

(At least our needlework managed true

Crochet remained very popular in the late 60s and into the early 70s. Crocheted bikinis, vests, scarves, slippers--I made them all. Crochet in 1970 was all about big hooks and triple strands of Red Heart or Aunt Lydia's Rug Yarn. Crewel was very popular around 1972. I worshipped at the altar of Erica Wilson and Elsa Williams, the queens of traditional (and non-traditional) embroidery.

(You're looking at my four-way bargello attempt c. 1982 which was really going quite well until I lost interest. Why did I lose interest? I haven't a clue.)

The mid- to late 70s, as I remember, were needlepoint. "Rich girl stuff" one of my Long Island friends said at the time because who could afford hand-painted canvases and pricey Paternayan Persian wool? A needlepoint shop moved into my working class neighborhood a month after we bought our first house in North Babylon and my truly exciting birthday present was Beginner Lessons. I'm telling you it was so thrilling that selling my first book had to struggle to match the joy I felt.

And then suddenly needlework seemed to vanish from the radar. Oh, I know men and women were still stitching and knitting out there but you didn't hear all that much about it. I switched over to sewing for a few years, a craft where my talent fell far short of my enthusiasm. (Would you believe I actually made my father a blue velvet caftan? What in the name of all that's decent was I thinking? I mean, the poor man wasn't a drag queen!)

Knitting popped back onto the radar in the mid-80s and in my opinion we have Bill Cosby to thank for it. Remember The Cosby Show? Cliff Huxtable wore the most gorgeous, elaborate handknit sweaters on the planet and I think seeing them every week revived interest in the craft. Sweaters were big and poufy in fluffy yarns with intarsia-like designs knitted in.

And then knitting vanished again.

See where I'm going with this? (And boy it's taken me long enough to get there.) Reading trends in romantic fiction follow the same interest curve. We're in a paranormal trend right now (I'm waiting for the first knitting vampire) -- a Martian looking at the romance section in a local book store would think we were a country of vampires, werewolves, and demons with the occasional kick-ass superheroine tossed in for good measure. A year or two ago we were all single working girls with cartoon covers. And not too long ago we were nursing mothers in lowcut gowns about to be ravished by hunky pirates. Or nightgown-clad damsels fleeing a spooky castle at midnight. And does anyone remember when cowboys and stalwart Apache and Cherokee and Sioux braves were #1 in the hearts of romance readers (and writers) everywhere? (Why were there no Chippewa heroes? I'm part Chippewa and that always annoyed me.)

Tastes change and that's a good thing. Life would be unbearably boring if they didn't. The trick, in knitting and in writing and in life, is learning how to change with them.

Which isn't always quite as easy as it sounds.



Blogger LauraP said...

I've been thinking a lot about change myself, probably because I spent the weekend helping my father move into a new home, and then moving the extra furniture to my kids' college town house. How much change is good? How much is too much? How much of the familiar do we need to keep for comfort, and at what point does comfort turn into boring? Books, needlecrafts,'s all about change, isn't it?

1:15 PM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

You bring up some good points, Laura. I don't mind changing tastes in needlework and reading habits, but I've reached the age where some fo the life and family changes resonate a bit too deeply for my comfort. There's an insurance commercial on around here that always makes me teary-eyed: a woman in her late 60s pops a quarter in a parking meter while her grandchildren dance around, urging her to hurry up and join them. She looks into the camera and says, "Don't you wish you could keep putting quarters in and stay with your family forever?" Well, tear my heart out why don't you. I have to flip the channel when that comm'l comes on. Maybe it isn't so much about change as it is about control . . .

1:34 PM  
Blogger Fran Baker said...

LOL about the blue velvet caftan, Barbara. I decided to sew at one point myself. In 1972, as I recall. I bought some expensive jersey material and made myself a top and a skirt.

Things progressed quite well. Or so I thought. I put on the top when I was finished and discovered that by moving the darts, I'd not only ruined the line of it but also made myself look like I'd bound my breasts before putting it on.

And the skirt wasn't much better. Too loose in the waist and too tight at the hem. You guessed it. I'd put the hem in the waist and the waist in the hem.

And don't even ask me about the matching orange Nehru shirts I made my sons!

2:49 PM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

Ah, the pale blue velvet caftan. I'd say that was definitely in the same what-the-hell-was-I-thinking category as your orange Nehru shirts. I just now asked my husband why I ever thought my father would wear a pale blue caftan and (after he stopped laughing at the memory)(he's lucky he didn't get one in pink) he reminded me that my father was deep in Male Menopause at the time (this was around 1975) and had started wearing plaid pants and white patent leather shoes and we didn't live in FL, we lived in QUEENS and he worked near HELL'S KITCHEN! (Daddy also grew a moustache and mutton chops around that time. My mother pretended she didn't know him in public.)

But fathers of daughters are amazing and he actually wore that caftan on Christmas Day. (Yes, he was verbally abused mercilessly by family and friends.) I wish I could find the picture.

One day I'll tell you about the shirt with the 5-foot collar I made for my poor husband when he was in Vietnam. As if he didn't have troubles enough . . .

2:59 PM  
Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

Barbara, I want to see the crocheted bikini. Do you have a photo, preferably with you modeling it? LOL.

I cry at television commercials too. There's the one of the Olympic torch being carried down a long empty country road. Two tough old farmers watch the runner go past and then start to clap. Why exactly that chokes me up, I don't know. GE commercials used to really get to me as well.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

Very funny, Ms. Herkness!! Actually I have the copy of McCall's Needlework & Crafts that has the pattern: white cotton bikini which (we were still teenagers, pretty much newlyweds, Air Force, dead broke) crocheted in mercerized cotton from W. T. Grant's. (Where I worked, incidentally, dusting buttons.) Now I was young and skinny then but quite frankly couldn't imagine parading around in public in a bikini but the pattern was so pretty. Except there was one problem: I didn't read the pattern closely enough. It required a lining. I didn't make a lining. Oops. I'll bring the magazine down from my scary storage room tomorrow and scan it. What a great magazine McCall's Needlework & Crafts was -- oversized, filled with wonderful stuff to dream over. (I think this was the Spring 1970 issue.) BTW give Max a hug from me.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Jenny G said...

Well, I don't know about a knitting vampire, but I have seen a crocheting vampire (very excited about that since I am a crocheter that has not yet spanned the gap to include knitting in her skill set). Check out MaryJanice Davidson's "Queen Betsy" series and keep a look out for George the crocheting vampire (last I heard he had just learned his first stitch other than chaining).

Great blog, BTW!

1:53 PM  

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