Fountain Pens · Knitting · Planning

When you’re out of fashion

"Let them have their fad and their fix
Confined by fashion and peer
I love you for your courage
In this frightened atmosphere"

Don McLean: You Have Lived

It doesn’t matter what particular hobbies you indulge in, I’m sure that every single one of them is prone to fads and fashions. I am equally certain that sometimes you find the pendulum has swung too far in one direction, leaving your own tastes decidedly outmoded. It’s sad when that happens, but long experience tells us that tastes will swing back in our direction and, rather than unfashionable, we will turn out to have been ahead of the trend all along. Whilst we don’t have to blindly follow the latest fads, it’s hard to deny that they are intrusive when we crave stimulus and can find nothing to inspire us across the latest publications, blog posts, and videos.

Today I’m going to talk about some trends that I’m far from being on board with in my main hobbies, starting with knitting. When I view social media it appears that every single knitter is knitting a top-down sweater with a round yoke holding one strand of wool together with one strand of mohair. No, actually, if it was that then I could just ignore it; even that combination has its place. The fact is, for the past couple of years no-one seems to have been knitting anything else. Every new knit that is cast on has once again got that strand of mohair in it. Knitters show you their pile of finished objects and they all have the mohair strand. Having a somewhat sensitive nose, the vaguest hint of fuzz in a yarn has me sneezing; mohair, angora, even alpaca all drive me round the bend. It’s time to put down the mohair and walk away for another thirty years, by which time I’ll be beyond knitting and you can do what you want. That top-down yoked construction isn’t going anywhere so I don’t hold out any hope that my preferred construction method of knitting in pieces and seaming will ever again become the standard, but let’s get back to some basic woolly goodness and forget fuzz for a while.

If knitting is faddish, though, it is nothing compared to fountain pens and inks. My word! The pens that enthusiasts show on social media seem to group themselves at the two ends of the size spectrum. On the one hand, the pocket pen is having a party. These small, slender pens usually sport long caps which are designed to post on the back of the short body so when you hold the pen to write it is a pretty standard length which suits most hand sizes. When you are not using it, with the cap in place covering a large portion of the barrel, the pen will slip unobtrusively into a shirt or trouser pocket. It’s a practical design, although not one I am tempted by because I don’t carry pens in pockets. I’ve always loved handbags and rarely head out of the house without one, so pocket-sized notebooks and pens are of little interest to me. The fountain pen fans who do use pocket pens, though, don’t stop at one. The general theme seems to be they buy one, then the next time you check in on them, they have one in every single colour that’s ever been made, including the special editions released only in Belgium (and no, I don’t know why Belgium should have a special edition). If a fan doesn’t sell their soul to the pocket pen, then pound to a penny they will be drawn instead to the majestic sceptre-style enormity of the oversize fountain pen. All I can say is bling! These pens boast swirling resins, filigree overlays in silver and gold, design detail layered over design detail until your head swims. My own taste, as we’ve established, tends towards pretty blue metal pens with a nice finish and the odd, subtle design detail for added interest. Thankfully, these still exist, but they are not the stuff that dreams are made of for the majority of my fellow fountain-pen enthusiasts.

Interestingly, fountain pen inks are displaying a similar polarity. It’s impossible to avoid the sheen and shimmer brigade: traditional-looking inks which show an underlying second colour when the light hits at certain angles, or inks with added gleaming particles often gold or silver, but increasingly other shades. The former can be quite subtle, although some just hit you round the head in an audacious manner, but glitter is glitter however you dress it up. On the whole, the shimmer inks don’t suit fountain pens all that well and you have to commit to regular cleaning and take more time over this than you would for most standard inks. Often the effect of the ink will only show when it is laid very heavily on the paper, thus the associated creep towards nibs which have an unusually heavy flow of ink. The paper, too, needs to allow the ink to pool and dry slowly on the surface rather than being absorbed which is where the likes of Tomoe River Paper and Onion Skin paper come into the picture. I think of these two products as the Izal toilet paper of the modern world, but I am being unfair as I’ve no experience of either of them – although my grandmother was very fond of Izal. As to the other inky pole, that belongs to the very pale inks which, in their way, are even less practical than the sheens and shimmers. In kindly moods I would term the pale inks as “pastels”, but in reality the term that leaps to mind is “wishy-washy”. They have only really taken off in the past couple of years so far as I can recollect, and there are manufacturers who very strongly favour these kind of shades. Ranging from chalky finishes which sit unobtrusively on the page and are just slightly challenging to read, to virtually invisible shades that all-but disappear, these inks seem to have been invented for artists rather than writers. Most inks will fade with time and these mimic this fading to give an instant-ancient look to your pages; I think this is the reason they charm some users. Neither of these poles suit my own taste, and I remain resolutely, unfashionably, stuck in my adoration of nice, bright pops of colour from impeccably-behaved inks.

Funnily enough, the hobby I’ve noticed suffers the most from fads is that of planning. I’m going to stick with ring-bound planners here, because opening it up from there is like finding a wormhole into an alternate universe. To start the ball rolling, there is a constant wave of new small manufacturers which rise like the Balrog in The Lord of the Rings, out of the depths to challenge the mighty brands of Filofax (in the UK) and Franklin Covey (in the USA). Each of these brands in their turn becomes the favourite of the community and you cannot move for glowing testimonials to them until each falls from grace for some perceived flaw or, I am inclined to believe, from simple over-exposure. Even limiting ourselves just to my personal favourite brand, Filofax, we ride upon a merry-go-round of designs which wax and wane in their popularity. The Malden, with its very distinctive leather, is a perennial favourite amongst fans, although I like to think I’m not the only person who finds that particular leather makes them cringe. However, it is the issue of size which provides the never-ending debate in the community and right now the king of the crop is the Mini Filofax. These pretty much disappeared for a while, but they are back now with a vengeance and the world and its wife are trying to prove how wrong we were to deem them impractical. I owned a Mini Filofax many, many years ago and I never found an occasion where it was useful – the paper size is too small and the rings so miniscule that you can only carry a few sheets anyway. I can’t deny that mine was a thing of beauty and in the most perfect shade of blue, but I want to use my possessions, not just look at them. I strongly predict in the next couple of years there will be a glut of Mini Maldens entering the pre-owned Filofax marketplace.

It is human nature to continually strive for something better or, if not that, then something different. Yet humans are also herd animals and what starts as something different all too quickly achieves boring ubiquity. I have no doubt that each of the fads I’ve mentioned will become the best thing ever to a few people and they will spend their entire lives extolling its virtues whilst everyone else moves forward or backward to the next best thing. At some point, each and every one of us will step off the roundabout and leave the ride to others. We will settle upon our favourites and either quit social media – because social media is where fads bloom for a brief moment at the very height of their popularity – or sit quietly in our own little niche with others of our ilk. My favourites on social media are the people who have found their style, their place within the larger community of enthusiasts, and quietly show what they are doing, occasionally nodding towards the latest trends, but generally just getting on with things they know work for them.

So, that’s me done demolishing popular taste and progress in one medium-sized blog post! All that remains is to remind you (and myself) that I am now the person who was the very object of derision circa 1981.

"The devil take your stereo
And your record collection
The way you look you'll qualify
For next year's old age pension."

Adam and the Ants: Stand and Deliver

8 thoughts on “When you’re out of fashion

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I am far from trendy. I see everyone knitting top down cropped sweaters and that makes me cringe. I love knitting raglans, and cardigans that are somewhat modular. I am definitely not inclined to the tailored fitting knits. Ease and flow. That’s me. As for pen and paper? Superfine point blue and smooth paper. I don’t like when the rings on a folio are so big that I can’t comfortably write on the left hand side of the page. Remember when everyone was posting photos of their pedicures while sitting pool side? Yeah, that ain’t me! hahaha!
    Now, about Adam and the Ants…

    1. I’m always particularly amused by people who knit cropped sweaters and make them too short. There’s that priceless moment when they try to convince themselves that it will be fine “once I’ve blocked it”. If you have to stretch your knitting on the rack like a medieval torturer before it will fit you, you haven’t made the right size!
      Speaking of pedicures, that reminds me that a few years back tons of people who hand-knitted socks all swore by a particular brand of shoes and I haven’t seen them mentioned for ages now. Ah, they were called Fluevogs and apparently they are a Canadian brand. I just went over to the website to check and saw a design called Jan Jansen – oh my goodness me… I would definitely wear them to the ball and I’d dance with Adam. Prince Charming……..

  2. This post cracked me up! I don’t do social media much, so don’t know much about the knitting trends, but you are spot on about the fountain pens and inks. I did actually laugh out loud. I like seaming my knits and i like the structure seaming gives. Plus it’s not so heavy on the needles. I do, however, love my extra-long circular needles, both for straight knitting and magic-looping, if needed. I’m baffled by the popularity of pocket pens (since I don’t carry any pens in my pockets). I confess to loving those nib-clogging shimmer inks. I think Benu pens are tacky. I want my fountain pens to write reliably and the ink to be easily readable. My two cents!

    1. Hi, Diane, thanks for your comment and I’m glad my post gave you a good laugh. I’m totally with you about Benu. I think individuals have their little quirks and it’s interesting to see the elements that each person melds into their own personal sphere of taste, but sadly often people posting to social media are less concerned with developing their own taste and more interested in posting content that will “grow their channel” by being exactly like everyone else’s content. I wonder whether in reality the only people adding a strand of mohair to all their knits are the ones posting on Instagram and making YouTube videos.
      If you want to see a truly hideous fountain pen, check out the Montegrappa Chaos – as designed and endorsed by that famous writer Sylvester Stallone – utterly putrid.

  3. oh, i feel this so much, thank you for putting it into words so well. that feeling of disconnectedness when looking at the current discourse in a hobby, and all you see is something that evidences ‘now’ before all else – before whether something is a useful or apt choice, or has any other merits other than being the thing we talk about now. (the fountain pen inks! omg! and the homungous pens!)

    it reminds me a lot of william gibson and how he speaks about ‘atemporality’ – things not advertising when they have been conceived – and what he looks for in fashion – not exclusivity or a ‘gang sign’ signaling that you know what’s what right now, but whether or not it does its job for you, and then not create much extra drag beyond that.

    1. Hi, thanks for reaching out to give me your thoughts on my post. Thinking about it, for those of us who grew up before the internet and social media, unless there was a local club for your hobby it was pretty much completely your individual taste. My sisters and mum (and, indeed grandma) all did knitting and bits of crochet and my dad was a dab hand with the sewing machine so I grew up in a hand-making family, but outside of that it wasn’t an interest that I shared with my friends. As far as I know none of my family write/wrote journals, but I’ve been keeping them on and off since I was 16. I share a love of stationery with one sister which goes back to our childhoods, but again I don’t think I’ve ever had a friend who was similarly struck. So maybe that background makes me find the herd mentality – as you so rightly say “gang sign signalling” – difficult to get my head around. That said, I do think that it’s important to feel passionate about our interests and hobbies and so the idea of only feeling that things are doing a job sounds a bit lacking in soul.
      You’ve added some good stuff for me to look into and think about, so thank you.

  4. that is a very good point about there now being a community at our fingertips for pretty much everything, and its fashions reach the most remote corner as instantly as the largest metropolis.

    regarding passion and function: i believe gibson’s wording here is not just rather specific to fashion, but to what he wants from fashion. someone into punk or any other more confrontational style would most certainly not want their clothes to reduce friction with their surroundings. i read the ‘doing its job’ part more as ‘does it do what i want from it’ – which can be something completely indulgent and passion-fueled. (and its ‘not creating extra drag’ counterpoint as ‘does it not burden me with things i don’t care for’)

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