Guest series :: Something From Something

by Admin on 16/07/2012

in Guest series 2012, knitting+crochet+yarn

Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Kay Gardiner is co-author, with Ann Shayne, of Mason-Dixon Knitting: The Curious Knitters’ Guide and Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines. Kay and Ann can be found blogging at masondixonknitting, which has been going since 2003 and shows no signs of stopping. Kay knits and chats on Ravelry and Twitter when she is not writing songs.

I started free-range knitting –making things without patterns — almost 10 years ago, when I saw a quilt by Loretta Pettway on the wall of a museum and felt sadness, anger, solidarity, and an overpowering urge to make that beautiful thing myself. But I was a knitter, not a quilter (then). Like the man with a hammer (to whom everything looks like a nail), I wanted to knit Loretta Pettway’s powerful log cabin. In translating the quilt from pieced strips to a continuous series of interlocking loops, and from workclothes fabric remnants to cotton yarn, there were many changes, but the knitted blanket was recognizably rooted in that specific quilt, which was itself steeped in the long tradition of the log cabin quilt pattern.

I called the blanket Courthouse Steps and included instructions for making it in the first book Ann Shayne and I wrote together, Mason-Dixon Knitting: The Curious Knitters’ Guide (Potter Craft). A meander through the pattern’s project page on Ravelry shows that in the years since then, knitters have made this blanket hundreds of times. Sometimes they replicated my version to the letter, but often they changed yarn, colors, the layout of the strips, or the relative proportions of the elements, changing it into something fresh that answered to their own impulses (or their stashes). They made something from something, just as I had. Now it was something else.

I believe that’s how all art, and all craft, is made: something comes, transformed. From something that preceded it, or from a combination of somethings. Thousands of years ago in Southern France, an early human was bored after dinner in a smoky cave, and noticed a natural formation on the rock wall that, by firelight, looked like an animal. This ancient marked on the wall with charcoal, changing it a little, and then moved to another spot on the wall–because once you start seeing animals on the wall, the wall is full of possible animals– and did it a little differently the next time. This process has continued over the ages, to the point that today, Damien Hirst sticks a whole animal in a glass cube so we can look at it. (I’m not comparing my knitted blankets to the work Damian Hirst, but I know which I’d rather have on the living room sofa.)

Loretta Pettway’s quilt started me on a path — nearly 10 years long, now — of finding ways to translate traditional patchwork methods from quilting to knitting. While it’s hard for me to define it, I have strong opinions about what feels right to me when knitting a quilt. Although clearly a knitter can use the intarsia technique to create, visually, the blocks, strips, and sashing of patchwork, I don’t do it that way. To me, that would feel like using “cheater cloth” (fabric with a preprinted patchwork design); when an intarsia blanket is done, it is, essentially, a whole-cloth quilt, or a tapestry. It’s one piece instead of many pieces joined together. (Hey! I love cheater cloth, by the way. But I wouldn’t try to pass it off as patchwork.)

Placing the intarsia technique off-limits yields big payoffs in fun and puzzlement, because it forces invention. What happens when I don’t want to design with ever-lengthening strips, as in log cabin? If my knitted strips leave square or rectangular holes at the corners, how do I fill them in? Should I just knit a separate piece to fit the hole, and sew it in? You can make a good argument for doing it that way; patchworks are, after all, sewn. But I’m knitting this quilt, so I want to use a knitter’s methods. If there is one valid generalization about knitters, it’s this: knitters don’t like to sew! My preferred solution: pick up stitches along the edges of any square or rectangular space that needs to be filled, and knit a miter into that space. A miter precisely fits the space, stitch-for-stitch; to me, that’s elegant. Best of all, I don’t have to sew.

Two other “rules” I’ve made, over many knitted quilts (mind you these are rules that can be broken, in quilting and in knitting quilts):

Whenever possible, join blocks, and strips of blocks, without sewing. Again with the knitter’s aversion to sewing, but this time for the additional reason that a knitted seam, using a technique such as a 3-needle bindoff, will have the same tension as the knitted pieces you are joining. A knitted seam will be strong and flexible instead of taut and subject to snapping when stretched in use. It also looks a lot prettier, so that the concept of a “wrong side” nearly disappears. I have been known to do my seaming on the “right side” of the patchwork, so that this structural element becomes a visual feature, like the mortise-and-tenon joinery of a Gustav Stickley chair.

As every quilt needs a binding, so every knitted blanket needs an applied i-cord edging. I don’t care if the blanket is in a stitch pattern (such as garter stitch) that lies flat and makes its own tidy edge–it needs i-cord, and I’m going to judge you if you don’t put that i-cord on it. Sometimes the i-cord is in a contrasting color so that it makes a visual frame. Sometimes it’s invisible from 10 feet away because the color blends in, but when a knitter sees a loved one wrapped in a blanket, she notices the refinement of that edging and feels pride of workmanship. It doesn’t hurt that applied i-cord looks exactly like the double-fold binding of a quilt.

Under the influence of the Internet and under the spell of quilts, I eventually took up “real” quilting. Now I sometimes make a fabric quilt, and then knit it. Or I switch my somethings around, and start with a knitted patchwork blanket, and then make a fabric version. But something always comes from something.

Photo credits:

Images #1, #2 & #3 are a Noro log cabin blanket with odd strips. There is a green patch of intarsia, where I broke my anti-intarsia rule to get a pop of contrast to make a strip appear “pieced”.

Image #4 is a knitted linen blanket I have in progress, based on a combination of at least two sources of inspiration: the large Conran Habitat cushion (which clearly itself draws inspiration from the Gee’s Bend improvisational quiilts), and the paintings of Sean Scully.

Image # 5 is my version of Denyse Schmidt’s quilt What a Bunch of Squares, and my knitted improvisation on that quilt, which I called Buncha Squares; it’s also a pattern on Ravelry and others have made amazing versions of it.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Lisa July 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I don’t knit (but I do quilt) and I love the look!


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