Manifesto: The early years

Before I began knitting, the interior of my brain was wallpapered in words, generally purple prose, having been a math phobe with literary pretensions. My brain was stuffed to the gills with clever ways to evoke the angst of my early adulthood. Even I thought I was tedious. I needed something better to put into my head.

I began knitting in 1982 during a time of underemployment, and I took to it from the moment I first picked up needles. That in itself was a revelation: nothing had ever come naturally for me before. What I loved about knitting was that it was my own world and I was its deity. If I knitted something I didn’t like, it was just yarn, which is free of fast-moving machinery or explosive or corrosive chemicals, and the worst that could happen could be solved by a yank on the yarn and starting over again, after some analysis of how and why the result differed from the intention. The only impenetrable difficulty was understanding what other people’s patterns were trying to tell me to do. And also the very fact that they were trying to tell me to do something in the first place. When it comes to my knitting, no one tells me what to do.

I was working part-time in a bookstore and used my employee discount to buy the books that enabled me to take control of the design and fit of my knitted garments from the first weeks of my knitting career. The books were Barbara Walker’s Knitting from the Top and A Treasury of Knitting Patterns, and I still have and use them.

Here is my first sweater. I started it in my first month of knitting.


What the Barbara Walker books taught me to do was to think holistically and logically about the geometry of the human body and how to cover it in knitting. It didn’t require any experience or math skills (math phobe, if you recall) beyond the ability to measure the number of stitches needed to obtain an inch of fabric and multiply that gauge by the measurements needed to create the desired size and shape of the garment. It’s not an occult art.

The next big thing that changed my knitting was Kaffe Fassett’s Glorious Knits. It uncorked a torrent of color experimentation, maybe more accurately color hallucination, that I previously had never suspected was lying latent in me. No, experimentation is a very accurate word, because I felt that I needed to try things that conventional wisdom said shouldn’t work to see if I could make them work, and that would answer some question that I couldn’t articulate about the sensory world. Hallucination is a pretty apt word too, because the intensity of the color compositions I envisioned was pretty trippy. I have often thought that it would be interesting to hook me up to some brain imaging equipment when I come up with a combination that tells me something I didn’t know before or evokes a sensory memory, because I feel vibrations and hear humming. My medical student daughter, who is considering neurology as her specialization, might be interested to know that about her mother.

There are other related thoughts I want to expand on pertaining to knitting inspirations and my approach to problem solving, but these are big topics and I’m still hatching the words to express my ideas. I will leave this maiden post with some pictures of projects from my Kaffe phase.

Sister sweaters
I made these for my daughters during my Fassett years. They wore them as coats when they were five years old, and grew into them over the next five years.

Fassett-style intarsia
Intarsia was a frequent feature of Kaffe’s style, and this vest was one of my experiments with the technique. I decided I really don’t like the way these tiny bits of intarsia distort the stitches and make the knitting look tortured. I was working on this project when I met Kaffe at a local yarn store in the early 90’s. I told him I wished I could do neutrals he way he could, and he told me I did colors better than he did. True story.

Above is my best example of the excesses of the early 90’s, complete with gold metallic and eyelash yarns. Be honest, who among us who knitted at that time didn’t have at least one skein of eyelash yarn in the stash?  I was all set to apologize for the fabulous hideousness of these massive works, and then I tried them on for the first time since 1991 to find to my shock that they actually look kind of good on. I guess I’ve lived long enough for my old stuff to be interesting again. I will say that I created some very good gradients and color blending. I might someday revisit the coat in different yarn than the bargain bin cotton yarn I used way back then.


11 thoughts on “Manifesto: The early years

  1. What a wonderful first blog entry! It is fun seeing the early years, so to speak, and to notice your amazing eye for color has always been there. You’re totally my knitting hero.


  2. Kaffe said that! OMG!

    Judith Mackenzie told me that my semi-worsted was beautiful. I totally want that on my tombstone.

    Please post often. This is a wonderful idea and sorely needed. A guided tour of your FO’s would be educational
    and entertaining.


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