I belong to a group on Ravelry whose online members, mostly located in the UK, became my real-life friends after my husband and I made a couple of trips from the US for long weekend meet-ups at holiday houses in the English countryside. The son of one of these friends unexpectedly and unaccountably died about six weeks ago, and the rest of us immediately swung into action. Our moderators set up a stealth group from which we began conspiring behind Heidi’s back: flowers, a rose bush, cards, money collection. But it wasn’t enough. We’re a knitting group, so we knit. The majority opinion was that, using Wollmeise fingering weight yarns, we should collectively knit a patchwork blanket made up of garter stitch squares knitted on the bias. I sighed a bit over that choice because garter stitch bores me.
Then Ber, one of the moderators, asked me for color advice, and before I knew it, I had offered to fly to the UK again to arrange the squares into a coherent design, if she was willing to host me. Well, why not? I can afford a plane ticket, I’m capable of travel, and this was the part of the project that stirred my imagination. At this point in my life, I can choose my endeavors. Veronica offered to host me and the assembly operation because she has a well-lit, spacious, and comfortable house centrally located near Cambridge. We set dates for a Friday to Sunday sewing bee. I was to arrive on Thursday in order to prepare a design before everyone arrived and they could approve it or tweak it, then pull out their needles and start sewing. There wasn’t going to be time to waste, since the plan was to lure Heidi to an apparently ordinary monthly meet-up on the Sunday. Michelle, the other moderator, set up a poll to choose the location and we rigged it so that it would be in Veronica’s garden.
Let the knitting commence! Guro, in Norway, set up a spreadsheet to track the number of squares being knitted and in what colorways. We agreed that there would be an emphasis on pinks and red-purple gradients because Heidi is a rose gardener and is fond of those colors, but other colors would be welcomed as well. People started signing up to knit a lot of multi-colored colorways and I started to get anxious. Multis are seductively beautiful on the skein but can be cruel disappointments when knitted, if the knitter isn’t wise or lucky. I worried we could get a chaotic mess if we were too willy-nilly about our multis so I hastened to advise that we focus our multis on the pink-purple range or multis whose components were in the same color family, and that multis outside that range be balanced with coordinating solids. Now that the project is completed, I will admit that that was totally arbitrary advice aimed at limiting the number of outlier elements. Some outliers were needed to move the eye around the composition but too many would weary and annoy the eye.
I had a scheme in mind: weather maps and topographic maps. I envisioned gradations of oranges, pinks, reds, and purples going around in swirls and irregular circles, punctuated by islands of green-blue gradations demarcated by zigzags of contrasting multis. It was a nice idea. Then I started getting the squares from the knitters in the United States and Canada, 30 squares in all, and tried to arrange them according to my weather map scheme. It looked awful. It wasn’t just that I had too few squares for my idea, it was that the squares were too big to blend into their neighbors to create that tromp d’oeil three-dimensionality I had ambitiously hoped for. I didn’t have the right scale for anything but a random, pixelated mess. I was going to have to recalculate.
The night before I traveled, I finished the one square I had committed to knit. When I laid it out to dry for blocking, I decided to see how it would look with the other 29 squares entrusted to me. The light was very dim, and all I could see was light-dark contrast and a little bit of hue. So I arranged the squares based on gray scale values, and it turned out that this very simple criterion gave structure and logic to the arrangement.
Ninety additional squares awaited me in England– maybe I would be able to make this thing not look terrible.
Meanwhile, the logistics of our plans were being shaken up. Our hostess Veronica was called away on a sudden emergency that made it unclear whether she would be able to join us at all during the weekend, and I would be in Ber’s care. Then Heidi cancelled out on the Sunday meet-up where we were planning to surprise her with the blanket. There was a flurry of posts on the stealth group plotting how to address this problem without tipping Heidi off that something was up. We hadn’t really mentioned that I was going to be around, but we decided that I was going to have to make an arrangement with Heidi to show up at Veronica’s house at some point during my stay in England. Heidi told me she could come on the Friday. She didn’t ask me what I was doing there, which made me assume that she had sussed out our conspiracy. I posted, “If Heidi hasn’t smelled a rat or three, she’s not Heidi.”
Fortunately, there were no further upsets to our plans. I arrived on time at the Trumpington Park & Ride to find Ber waiting for me, and we went straight to Veronica’s house, where Veronica’s mother-in-law let us in and plied us with tea and biscuits, her son brought our bags to the guest rooms, and her husband cooked us dinner. We laid out all the squares on the enormous table in the natural light of Veronica’s dining room and began grouping them by color family.
We started off with the 30 squares I’d pinned together while I was still at home, but very quickly I got distracted by the multi-multis. It’s funny that I’d been worried about how to incorporate them logically into the structure, but those squares actually provided the structure for the design. The first bit was these squares:
They came together because of the yellow in the top two and the blue in the bottom two. Then we constructed a gradient around them, building out from the solid yellow squares to the left and arranging a gradient all around the four multi squares.Next we put the greens and blues together, based on the squares I had clipped together at home and filled them out with the squares waiting for me at Veronica’s house.
The blues started blending in with the purples, and we created another multi 4-square to plunk into the middle of the dark blues and purples.
I especially enjoy the arrangement of the dark reds on the left side of the picture below. I’m seeing a little of the topographical texture I had originally aimed for.
Ber and I came up with a satisfactory arrangement for the squares pretty quickly. I wanted to create areas where colors blended smoothly into each other and contrasted sharply with other areas whose colors blended with each other, and have that line of demarcation be somewhat irregular. For the pattern we used, there are some 1500 projects listed, mostly single squares, but there are a few finished blankets. None of them were particularly inspirational to me. Either they were random arrangements of solids and multis or rainbow-hue gradations arranged on the diagonal. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s been done and done some more. I was looking for something different, and was relieved that the members of the group liked our proposed design.
We clipped the squares together and labeled the squares alphanumerically, like a map, on little pieces of paper and clipped the labels to the squares.
Ber and I got up early the next day and immediately started sewing the seams, because Heidi was going to come over and we wanted to have something sewn together to show her. We decided to start by connecting the outside squares together so that the edging could be crocheted while the inside squares were being seamed, without people tripping over each other. Michelle and Allison arrived a couple of hours before Heidi, and Ber and I put them right to work. And we waited for the doorbell to ring.
Finally the doorbell rings. We all squeal. Michelle and Allison scurry off to hide in the kitchen, because Heidi is expecting only Ber and me. Door opens, hugs all around. Then I say, “Good, you’re here, did you bring any needles? We’re putting you to work.” Heidi takes in the scene in the dining room and Michelle and Allison jump out of the kitchen. Here are pictures showing Heidi’s dawning realization that this project is for her.
Who knew… this actually came as a surprise! Here’s what Heidi wrote in the group:
Dear dear dear Sisters, I never ever in a million years twigged what had been organised! Honestly I didn’t have a clue.
No one has ever done such a nice thing for me ever before, I cannot find the words to tell you how deeply you have touched me. I don’t know, you think that just about everything has been taked from you and can’t understand why the sun shines and the garden still looks so lovely but somehow you sort of seem cocooned in misery no matter how much you tell yourself to get a grip and then a card arrives, some flowers and you start to feel warm again for a bit and then………………well there was the most beautiful riot of hued colours on a table and the sun blazing and you know that its going to be OK, different but OK and best of all there are The Sisters, all around the world lovely, wonderful, quirky, talented Sisters and the promise of meeting those who I have not yet met and they have made things look wonderful in the world again for me. I have to tell you all that I never had such good and true friends before, acquaintances and colleagues but no real deep friendships, I am indeed a very fortunate blessed person with a great treasure – MY SISTERS. All I can say is quite simply – thank you.
So now it was all over but the seaming. Oh, so much seaming. All Friday, Saturday, and most of Sunday, Ber and I placed ourselves under voluntary house arrest, with assistance from Michelle, Allison, and Kirsten, sewing, sewing, and sewing some more. I estimate conservatively that we put in at least 52 hours each. There was joking, at least I think it was joking, that I was a stern taskmaster. Yes, I was very determined that the blanket had to be finished before I left on Tuesday, and I did hope that we would be done in time for Ber to take me sight-seeing in Cambridge on Monday. But I swear I never fixed anyone with an icy glare and said “Your lips are moving but your needle is not.” At least I don’t remember doing that…
But bit by bit the number of unconnected squares decreased and the size of the connected pieces grew like a kind of continental drift. And best of all, on Saturday Veronica made her triumphal return to attend her own party! We welcomed her back with jubilation and plenty of seaming, weaving-in of ends, and crocheting the edging around the blanket.
By Sunday afternoon, we had completed the seaming and were getting started on weaving in the ends, which looked gnarly and snarly because many of them were pretty long.
But it wasn’t as bad as it looked. There couldn’t be more than 240 ends and there were three of us, Veronica, Ber, and me, and we would have the evening and a few hours the next morning. So Ber and I decided to play hooky for a couple of hours and attend Evensong at St. John’s Cathedral, since I had never done that before. It was nice: good music, lucid sermon, and getting out of the house felt like a jailbreak. Then we had dinner (delicious, thank you, Cain!) and got back to the blanket. We tucked in ends until bedtime, then got up and did it all over again for a few more hours. And then we were done! We rewarded ourselves by heading for Cambridge and left Veronica, who needed to recover from the week’s interruption from her life, with a quiet house and what remained to be done of the crocheted edging.
Here’s photographic evidence that we actually left the house– pictures of Cambridge:
It was pretty rainy that day! When we got back to Veronica’s house, it was too dark for decent pictures of the finished blanket. There was plenty of light the next morning, the day I traveled back home, and I got this acceptable photo of the finished blanket:
That’s 2,134 g/ 4 lb 10 oz of finished blankie.
There is one more very important thing I have to say, and I’m sorry I couldn’t find a better place to say this than buried at the end: 22 knitters from eight countries and three continents participated in this project. Every single one played a vital part in the project. If someone stitching at the house with us got a little distracted by sociability and didn’t do quite as much stitching for a while, her conversation and company kept the others entertained and motivated. Whether the knitters in the diaspora knitted one square or 20, every single one of those squares was essential. When Ber and I were arranging the squares that Thursday night, we discovered that we were two squares short. We were ready to start knitting the extra squares when we found the missing squares unopened in Veronica’s mail, a find that saved us three hours each on a project that had a hard deadline. In addition to saving us a lot of stress, those three hours each meant that we could get out of the house on Sunday!
I have written exhaustively about my part in the project, but if others hadn’t contributed their skills and talents, there wouldn’t have been a project. Michelle and Ber had the empathy to set up the stealth group and to elicit ideas about how we could comfort Heidi. Michelle is really good at setting up polls! Guro created that invaluable Google spreadsheet, and Ber counted over and over again to make sure we really did have those 120 squares. Veronica graciously hosted us even when she had to be away, and deployed her husband, mother-in-law, and son to be our pit crew while we took over their dining room. The knitters and their countries: Guro, Norway; Kirsten, UK; Gloria, USA; Ingrid, Belgium; Allison, UK; Monica, UK; Ber, UK; Sue, Germany; Kellie, USA; Amy, USA; Betsy, USA; Janette, Australia; Laura, USA; Gwen, UK; Natasa, France; Pippa, UK; Kay, UK; Danielle, Canada; Veronica, UK; Lee, USA; and me (reluctantly), USA. Michelle (UK) crocheted.
Isn’t the internet amazing?