Because, I've been doing a lot of it lately - costume for stage productions. Many costumes get 'broken down' - when a character is poor, or is in the middle of a big adventure / war / is fleeing from a monster ... it would be rather strange if they looked like a fashion plate in beautiful, brand new clothes. When a costume is sewn specifically for a production it is made beautifully and then handed to the 'art finisher' who, depending on the look desired, sprays or paints dye into it (for sweat, blood, dirt ...) chops into it with scissors & things, scruffs if up with graters, wire brushes etc etc ... all of which sometimes causes the costume makers to join the costumes in being distressed!
Some Very Distressed & emotionally disturbed sewing.
With hand-knitting some dyeing processes are OK but you cannot chop into knitting or attack it with wire brushes - unless you go to a lot of trouble stitching around the area first ... which is done, mostly with shop-bought machine knitted garments, but it is not really satisfactory and is rather obvious - at least to all the knitters in the audience :-)
So, when a costume designer wants hand-knitting to look old and tatty it is done as the item is knitted. Sounds easy enough but you need the garments to be stable - those holes & ladders should be the same for the 101st performance as they were on opening night - and the tattyness should be visible to people sitting up the back.
The first piece of Distressed Knitting I made was a shawl for the Bird Lady in Mary Poppins the musical - soon to open in Sydney (I blogged about the shawl here) and here is Debra Byrne wearing it.
The designer wanted that shawl to resemble one made from machine knit fabric that had been extremely laddered.
The more recent Distressed Knits are all for Opera Australia's new production of La Boheme - designs by the wonderful Julie Lynch (BTW if you go to "folio" there you'll see, amongst all those fabulous costumes, some other knittings that I've made for the stage - in 'Little Women' including the red & black bonnet :-) and the black & silver cardigan in 'Mary Stuart') The major characters in La Bo are impoverished artists and students and this new production is set in 1930's Berlin.
As this post is getting quite lengthy I'll just talk about the scarves and keep the other knittings for part 2. I've knitted 7 scarves, all bar one (for the LandLord so he has money!) have varying degrees of Distress. These are not very distressed - merely sobbing gently in the corner -
a wide scarf - more about the stripes and slipped stitch rib pattern than the tattyness. Those colours make me think of chocolate cake with cream :->
This one is long - and mostly about the contrast 'splodges' which make it look dirty & stained.
These 2 are on medication ... (but aren't the colours fabulous - the yarns were chosen by Julie Lynch. The red is for an artist, the other is for the Plum Seller - perfect colours!)
And these are for street urchins and they are extremely distressed, poor things.
Well, that last one didn't get many holes etc - the mottled thick&thin yarn looked like it was in a bad way all by itself and my added tattyness was mostly wasted.
Now a scarf is merely an accessory - hard for me (as the knitter of them) to keep that perspective but the performers will be wearing more than just the scarves (I hope!) However, as all scarf wearers know, a scarf can say a lot and of course I wanted to do the best job possible and deliver what Julie Lynch required ... SO quite a lot of thought & planning went into those apparently simple bits of knitting:
- With the tight time-scale and the need for 'squishyness' I decided to use larger-than-normal needles for loose and (relatively) quick knits
- The yarns were chosen by Julie Lynch and were mostly quite chunky but some were much thinner - in most cases I used the thin ones held double
- All except the "choc cake & cream" scarf are completely reversible - various forms of ribbing and 'blanket' or 'basket' stitch. With the choc&cream scarf Julie needed me to reproduce the stripe pattern from a photo of a vintage scarf
- Most of these scarves have stripes - the cutting and joining of new yarn is usually a problem as all the ends have to be secured and sewn in invisibly. With these distressed knits the ends are all secured but the sewing is not always invisible, however, most are. If I'd left all the tails sticking out these scarves would've looked like hairy caterpillars
- The splodged scarf was the most difficult. The white yarn is thick soft alpaca, the beige yarn is an extreme thick&thin, the dark yarn is thinner and tightly spun - how to achieve the look Julie needed with the right percentages of those yarns and not have an unmanageable amount of joining&ends?
- A ladder often starts from a hole and doesn't always go all the way to the edge
- Holes are seldom perfectly symmetrical
- Knitting often gets caught on things which results in a pulled thread
- If knitting gets unravelled there will be loose yarn
- If a scarf were caught in a door or a machine (being very imaginative here!) and it was torn on the fringed end ... well the fringe would be torn and missing there too.