…Which officially began a few months ago in these climes, has been eluding us. Even today in Manhattan, I saw a teenager in shorts and flip flops as I marched by in tall boots, sweater, scarf and raincoat. Despite being dressed for the rainy grey day, I wouldn’t call it cold or even chilly. My sweaters are ready to go, but on many days they feel too heavy and uncomfortably warm. Here’s hoping temperatures will drop, so I can bundle up properly.
My sweater stack is a tidy group of mostly shopped pieces. As a Floridian, I wasn’t in the habit of acquiring sweaters. Since moving to New York, I’m happy to boast a few Indigenous cotton sweaters ethically made in Peru and a charcoal grey alpaca sweater by Zady that I’m getting a lot of mileage out of. But the sweater that has the most history with me is a hand-knitted pumpkin spice sweater that keeps me cozy warm. It came into my life in 2005 on a return trip to Argentina. As I’ve mentioned before, Argentina is a great place for yarns and knitting. My friend, Silvia, was working away on this sweater. She said it was for herself but when finished, she realized that it was way too big for her small figure and gave it to me as a gift. I thought it was too big for me as well, but didn’t want to refuse it. I made room in my suitcase somehow- this thing is really bulky! And it lived in clothes storage for many years before I moved North. I think the oversized slouchiness really works now, although the color isn’t my favorite and I prefer natural fibers. On the coldest days, this sweater has found itself stuffed inside my down fill coat. A tight fit, but no complaint of chill. And I can always use a scarf to offset the color. This sweater has become a lounge staple. Best of all, I love that it is handmade by a friend…
I don’t have the winter blues, thank goodness. Rather, I love the color Blue, and have come to love Winter in the north (it took me about 3 winters to be able to say so). I imagine January as a blue month: I see blue shadows on the snow, the pale blue of a cold dawn, or glimpses of brilliant blue sky between bare brown trees and racing clouds. Not surprisingly, I have a remarkable number of blue clothing and accessories. Here are my faves that are keeping me warm this winter:
- My most recently acquired accessory: this Nepalese handmade wool blanket scarf was given to me by a sweet friend who is so encouraging of my clothing design ambitions. I first wore this to the airport in December. It is so soft and cozy, and I noticed the vibrant blues turned a lot of heads my way.
2. Before I moved to NYC, I picked this plaid flannel shirt out of a crowded swap meet pile back in Florida. I had a lovely group of herbalist/permaculturist friends at the time who did things like swap clothes, and share food and music on the front porch. I was able to find my path and begin my journey on it, thanks to their influence. This shirt is one I like to wear to draw in; a studio shirt, if you will. I did have it on once when helping a short-term boyfriend paint his apartment. There are still paint smudges on the front pocket to mark that event. I need to do more drawings and make more memories in this shirt.
3. For my birthday in 1995 (yeah, 21 birthdays ago), I bought myself these Kickers in Cordoba, Argentina. They were worn by every adolescent on the street there, and I fell in love with them. I have worn them off and on throughout the years, and I’m happy to note they are still kicking. I recently dusted them off and began to wear them again. On the first outing, the subway car I got onto was full of Argentine men on vacation. I watched them look at my shoes and whisper to each other. I tried not to grin, but I felt coy and very cool. I love these shoes, and find that other people do, too.
Back in Argentina, 2005. I wanted to explore Buenos Aires for the first time, and revisit my beloved Córdoba and friends there. It was a mild, but rainy winter that July. The city intimidated me. I watched the elegantly urban women pass by. I wandered around in my geeky red walking shoes, blue jeans and turtlenecks- nothing I felt good in, as in beautiful. I think ‘quirky-oblivious’ was the running theme of my style (still trying to shake that look).
The Americans in my hotel thought I was Argentine. They would ask me questions, testing out their Spanish. I was flattered, and determined not to blow my cover. The porteños (Buenos Aires natives) were on to me, though. Not feeling totally Argentine (‘cause I’m not) and not feeling very American, topped with an acute shyness left me rather lonely in that city. But when I got to Córdoba, and began recognizing places, and meeting people, I felt very much myself- a lone woman adventurer. Córdoba is much more manageable and endearing to me than Buenos Aires, simply because it was home for nearly two years. I quickly learned where to jump on and off the colectivo (city bus) again.
I revisited the downtown where I had poked in for yarn ten years earlier. Street performers, musicians, mothers and daughters shopping together, elderly folks feeding pigeons from the park bench, toy vendors, empanadas and alfajores! This is where I first encountered sycamore and eucalyptus trees- both have bark patterns which enthrall me.
One of the best parts of my visit was going to the street fair downtown. Every kind of artisanal craft available: jewelry from seeds, horn and Argentinian stones, gourds carved into mates and sugar bowls, hand-stamped leather wallets and belts, glass lanterns wrapped in leaf prints. The twilight was magical with the lights and smells and flow of people. I overloaded myself with gifts for friends back home and thank-you trinkets for my hosts. And of course, something for myself- a woven hand bag in grey, blue and orange lines- that I still use ten years later. It is worse for wear, but I have to note how well it was made to have lasted this long.
I passed through the city center once more before flying home. I popped into a shop that turned out to be another artisanal craft space. I saw a mannequin dressed in a rich blue top unlike anything I had ever seen. After trying it on I had to buy it; it’s one of those pieces I would regret not having. I believe I paid around $24, and the woman who made it said that I could come the next day and learn how to make the top using bias woven yarns. I do regret missing that class… I hope to replicate this top one day. It is my official Bohemian treasure- something I have only felt cool wearing, if for no other reason than for being such a unique piece. And Brooklyn is the perfect place to go Bohemian.
Story N˚1: Argentinian wool + Polish handicraft
In 1995, I served a mission for my church in Argentina. I was so happy to be sent overseas. Not only did I start to break down my U.S. ethnocentrism, I fell deeply in love with the Argentines and their culture.
As vast and diverse as it is geographically, the area of the central sierras and south along the Andes to Patagonia relies on warm knitted handicrafts. Sheep and wool production are thriving industries there. I saw many women taking their knitting projects wherever they went, often making an income on their skills and products. Many men are skilled knitters as well. I saw my first knitting machine run by a man proud of his own sweaters. I was amazed to learn that most of the sweaters and baby clothes my friends had were handmade by someone.
The town centers always have at least one major yarn shop. In downtown Córdoba, I remember a shop with floor to ceiling colorful skeins. I wasn’t a knitter then, but I couldn’t help going into every yarn shop I passed. I was mesmerized by the textures and colors. I ended up buying several skeins of a heathered mauve wool. I must have bought it promising myself to learn knitting, although I can’t remember what I thought I would make, perhaps baby clothes…
Back in the U.S., I packed those skeins around for roughly a decade, moving them from place to place through college and beyond. I made a few half-hearted attempts to learn to knit, but the skeins remained stashed in my ever growing pile of some-day projects.
Finally, I met a Polish woman, Eugenia, at work who is a crochet master. She was continuously creating adorable clothing for her granddaughters. I mentioned the yarn I was hoarding, and she jumped at the chance to turn it into whatever I wanted. I couldn’t believe my luck. I asked for a cap with ear triangles, a sleeveless sweater top and a scarf- I had that much yarn and then some. The resulting pieces weren’t as I imagined them, despite my notes and illustrations. The cap was a puffy beret with a strange ruffle and, yes, ear triangles. The crocheted top was also ruffling in an unflattering way. Polish crochet master and I clearly didn’t share the same vision. But the scarf, which was actually more like a shawl, turned out beautifully, and I still have a large skein of yarn left to adorn my stash. I didn’t appreciate Eugenia’s work until I moved to New York. Now the shawl is my cuddly wrap on cold nights. The merino wool is so warming and comforting, and I’m proud of its Argentinian origins and Polish crafts(wo)manship.