Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Crochet and the Obamas

I'm watching televised coverage of the U.S. Presidential Inauguration Day. As the cameras scan the massive crowd, I notice crochet-textured hats and scarves. Occasionally I can identify actual crochet stitches, as in the case of the gentleman who salutes throughout President Obama's inaugural speech: he wears a heathery purple hat crocheted of stacked shells that changes to plain-textured stitches toward the crown. Someone else wears a cream-colored hat with widely-spaced vertical ribs of post stitches.

Like many people I've been enjoying First Lady Michelle Obama's fresh and adventurous fashion style and if today's inaugural dress is a signal, it is exciting for me as a crochet designer.

Mrs. Obama wears a sumptuous sheath dress and matching coat ensemble designed by Isabel Toledo. I thrill to the rich texture of the fabric, which is reminiscent of fine crocheted lace over a silk satin lining. It speaks volumes in subliminal texture-speak.

Crochet designing trains the eye to read textures of fabrics, not just their colors or fiber content or cut and shaping. This is because texture is one of the central defining elements of every crochet stitch; one can either design with it or around it.

I'm seeing more rich textures displayed by the Obamas and their extended family than in the rest of the politicians and audience at large. The lady whom I believe is Mrs. Obama's mother wears a chunky-textured red hat and scarf set that has a handknit or crocheted look. Another possible relative wears a dark red furry scarf that reminds me of a knitting and crochet yarn like Bernat Boa or Sullivan's Sashay. President Obama himself chose a solid red necktie with distinctive texture as its design statement, rather than the matte satin ties I'm used to seeing politicians wear.

Textures like these communicate on an emotional level because they are visually warming and cozy; they look (ideally are, as all crochet is) handmade, which conveys loving care. They reassure because they are visual reminders of traditional and practical basic skills that are used to build something new and real, stitch by well-placed stitch.

So far (the day is still young), comments about the inaugural dress have to my mind been texture-deaf. It is extraordinary that a solid lace dress ensemble was chosen for this day; even more remarkable is what it communicates. In addition to the usual constructive and nurturing messages that texture can signal, Mrs. Obama wears the power lace of queens: an assertive depth of texture and play of light created by the painstaking work of artisans. (See Isabel Toledo's description.)

Taken all together, it manages to empower the wearer, the role, and the country simultaneously.