Question everything and knit on stage

Question everything and knit on stage

Barton Cottage Shrug designed by Kristi Schueler for the 2011 issue of Jane Austen Knits. 

A few weeks ago, I attended the world premiere of Sense and Sensibility: The Musical at the Denver Center of Performing Arts. For this Jane Austen fan, it was a thrilling experience. The musical was beautiful—both true to the novel and its own unique expression. And there was knitting.on.stage. In addition to attending the premiere, I signed up for a back stage tour and a mini-conference in conjunction with the opening of the musical through my regional chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA). On the tour we visited the rooms where the crew designed and made the sets, sewed the costumes, and worked on all aspects of the performance. Everything was cleaned up and put away (it was opening night after all—we did see a rack of freshly steamed empire-waist dresses on their way to the dressing rooms). But, to me, it seemed as if the walls were still buzzing with the creativity that must have filled the spaces in the months, weeks, and days before all the work is complete. It did remind me, in a small way, of the work that goes into making a magazine. Our production is in no way as elaborate, nor does it involve as many people, but it does involve the creativity of many people coming together to express a cohesive message, each contributing their talent to the end product. 

During the mini-conference, we had the pleasure of listening to a number of Jane Austen scholars talk about various aspects of her work in addition to listening to a panel discussion with many of the creative forces behind the production. I knitted on my handspun version of the Barton Cottage Shrug (Jane Austen Knits, 2011) during the conference, completing a sleeve and starting on the second one. Each time I pick it up—I'm reminded of some of the ideas that were shared during the conference. I'm attracted to the quiet, contemplative life Jane Austen's novels illustrate. And yet, what I find most appealing about Jane Austen's work is that within the seemingly humble stories about the pursuit of individual happiness, Jane Austen portrays a larger story of class, gender, economics, and culture. She does this with such a subtle hand that unless you're well versed in the history, politics, socio-economic forces of the late 1700s, early 1800s, it is easy to miss. Of course, her contemporary readers would have picked up on the cues. Today we love these stories as romances, and as we delve deeper, we discover that Jane Austen astutely questioned everything and that her questions still resonate today. No wonder we're still celebrating her work two hundred years later.

Amy's version Barton Cottage Shrug designed by Kristi Schueler knitted in handspun and still on the needles

As I write this, we're receiving the finished garments from the designers for the Fall 2013 issue of Jane Austen Knits and planning the photo shoot. The issue will be out the end of October. Last year we made two issues of Jane Austen Knits but this year we're making another literature-inspired knitting magazine—The Unofficial Harry Potter Knits (which will be out in early August). At the same time, our colleagues in the PieceWork office are making The Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits. It has been fun to see the assortment of linens, wands, and cricket bats parade through the office as we work to create our interpretations of the different stories and characters.

Happy spinning (and knitting),

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