Monday, February 22, 2010

Go Go Kimono

Once upon a time (January 2008) a knitter (me) put the finishing touches (three embroidered dragonflies) on the baby kimono from Thoroughly Exceptional Babies and the Men Who Knit for Them by Debbie Bliss.

Kimono Front

I wrote in this entry that I'd begun working the 9–12 months version when it seemed impossible that the exceptional baby in question–Abigail, my niece–could ever be so large as to fill it out. Each flat piece was a square acre of stockinette; Abigail could have fit into a shoebox. Not that we tried it, but she could have.

But she did grow. She grew at such an alarming rate that I accused my sister of feeding her on a diet of breast milk and

Alice Large

small cakes inscribed EAT ME.

I finished the kimono in what I figured was the nick of time, so that Abby could cuddle up in it for a month or two before it would be relegated to the chest of outgrown knits. It fit her like a mid-length spa robe (simple, but chic) and became a go-to woolen garment for chilly weather.

Kimono 01

A year later, when the frost returned to the pumpkins, it still fit. But it had become a short jacket.

Kimono 02

Kimono 03

A year after that (two days ago, in fact), a freak spell of mild weather in southern Maine caused my sister to reach for it again. It is now a little shirt with three-quarter sleeves.

Kimono 04

For those of you who knit, crochet, sew or otherwise fashion handmade clothing for children, I need not explain to you why this series of photographs fills me with matchless gratification.

For those who do not, let me walk you through it:

  • I made it for her to wear, and she wore it.

  • Her mother made sure I got to see her wearing it.

  • There's honorable evidence of heavy use (note the pilling on the sleeves) but also of proper care (and it isn't machine-washable).

You make a baby garment hoping it'll fit for an entire season. Three seasons? A small miracle. And sometimes I think the small ones are the best.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Then Again, Let's Not

For Your Special Day

Confession time.

There are moments when I feel ungentlemanly for shooting peas at these old magazines. Part of it has to do with being a budding designer myself, and wondering which things I'm putting out there will some day make the Hit Parade of a "You Knit What?" as yet unborn.

The other part stems from an honest-to-goodness feeling of gratitude for publications like Workbasket. That plucky little thing toodled along for sixty years–a magnificent run for a periodical by anyone's standards–even though by the mid-1970s knitting and crochet were both on life support. Granted, Workbasket was heavy with flights of fancy that should have been grounded on the tarmac. Toward the end, fiber arts content was heavily supplemented with forays into tuna cookery and making your own beef jerky. But the editors kept putting it out there, month after month, long after more mainstream mags like Woman's Day and Family Circle had given up on any craft that required mastery of an actual skill.

On the other hand, just when I'm in danger of smudging the faded ink with tears of thankfulness, I turn the page and run into something like this.

Lady Knob

In case they don't have doors where you come from, this is a doorknob cover. In case they don't have doorknob covers where you come from, you may be wondering why a doorknob needs a cover.

Me too.

I have encountered doorknob covers in real life–including several sisters, cousins and aunts of the Scary Clown variation shown below. They were to be found on various knobs around my paternal grandmother's house when I was a little boy, and I hated them.

Clown Knob

When you are five years old, and small for your age at that, a doorknob cover is less a piece of handmade whimsy than a torture device. The doorknobs on the heavy old doors in grandma's house were either metal or china. They were slippery when nude. Tricked out in equally slippery acrylic, they became almost entirely impossible to turn, even with both hands.

And there was one on the bathroom door.

Place yourself, if you will, in the tiny shoes and underpants of a newly housebroken child who has had three glasses of Kool Aid and has just felt the alarming and unmistakeable call of nature. He heads for the commode, but finds the way barred by the immovable head of a smirking clown. He struggles, he bangs, he cries a little bit.

Finally, in desperation, he goes against everything Grandma and Sunday School have taught him rather than face the shame of admitting to the grown-ups that there's been an accident.

Grandma, if you're reading this, I used one of your good tablespoons to bury the doorknob cover over by where the plum tree used to be. I'm sorry. The tree is long gone; but since the clown face was made out of Red Heart, it's probably still there. At least you didn't have to mop the hallway.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Stroke of Genius

After the Fall Men’s Knitting Retreat back in September, I staggered home under the weight of one of the most voluptuous goodie bags ever to be seen outside of an Academy Awards gifting suite. Somewhere in the middle, between a handsome book by Brandon Mably and a typically gorgeous skein hand-dyed by the inimitable Rabbitch was a small bundle wrapped in tissue paper.

Inside was a quantity of this:

Supreme Possum Merino

It’s a blend of merino, silk...and possum. Yes, possum. I couldn’t quite believe it, either. In fact, I recoiled, as this

Knit This, Bitch.

is not an image that makes me feel all kinds of cuddly.

The yarn–which is called Supreme Possum Merino–comes from New Zealand and was a gift to the retreat from the guy who replaced Kiri Te Kanawa as my favorite Kiwi. (Sorry, Kiri.) James is the proprietor of the Joy of Yarn Sock Wool Boutique in Greytown, New Zealand, and no slouch when it comes to picking out great fibers.


But as my dear grandmother once said to me regarding pickled beets, and as I once said to a Marine Corps lieutenant regarding nevermind, how can you know you don’t like it until you try it?

A short swatch later, I was typing a frantic e-mail to James asking about the immediate availability of more, more, more. This stuff, dear kiddies, is like a kiss on the forehead. Buttersoft, cloudlight, gently haloed. Not quite cashmere, not quite qiviut, but also not quite the same cost per ball as a spa vacation. You have got to try it. (And yes, James sells online.)

I got a second color, an ineffable mauve through which the natural shade of the possum still glimmers. And I decided that the original fuchsia and the mauve would, together, make a fantastic pair of striped socks.

Then I got to thinking, which never bodes well for me.

I started thinking about how boring I was about socks when I first started knitting. I wanted them in blue or brown, I wanted them without patterns, and I wanted them to match.

Gradually, the hoodoo of sock knitting jangled my brain, and I started to imagine what fun it would be to make colorful socks, so I made a pair in lime green. Then I thought a pair of colorful, mismatched socks would be just the ticket, so I knit a pair from a self-striping ball.

And the suckers matched perfectly.

I tried it again. Different self-striping yarn, different pattern, advised by an expert to start the second pair in a different part of the color repeat.

And again, the socks matched perfectly, except for the heels. Heels don’t count.

Here, with two yarns, I could at last control the color changes with an iron fist and force the socks to mismatch. In fact, why not make them mirror images of each other? And call them–Lewis Carroll dork that I am–Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum?

And in what book do the frères Tweedle appear? Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

And what is the central motif of Through the Looking Glass? A chess game.

And how many colors in a chess board? Two!

And how many colors of yarn had I to work with? Two!!


Chess board socks!!!! With the colors reversed!!!!!


If you are not quite so confirmed a dingbat as I, you have already spotted the flaw in this vision. If you are, pray allow me to offer this demonstration.




I'm striping them. It's only been two months, and I'm almost three inches past the cuff on sock number one. Hooray for me.


I recently had the great pleasure of talking with Lara over at Crafty Living and the Math4Knitters Podcast, and the episode (number five) is now up if you’d care to have a listen. I promise she’s not nearly so frightening as you would expect someone to be who has put the word “Math” in the name of her Podcast.

In the Shop

Newly in stock: gift enclosure cards and signed prints. New designs are in the pipeline, too. Many thanks for all the positive feedback!

Knittin' to the Oldies

I've just had a curious snowdrift of messages asking whether I'm finished posting about that little stack of vintage patterns that came my way. Heavens, no. But after the parade of toilet dollies I thought we might all need a wee breather, and perhaps a drink.