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NICE TO MEET YOU
And so it began again ...
I was taught to do basic knitting by my mother as a child. In, round, through, up; in, round, through, up. "You said threw up, Mummy," I remember replying. The temptation to find the humor in everything was prevalent even then. I liked knitting; it was a nice, comforting, girly thing to do.
Back then my Mum and her friends would get together for weekly "coffee mornings," and one of the ladies I called Auntie Irene would knit at an incredible speed. Her gray metal needles clicked away at 1960s acrylic yarn, making it into bobble hats and matinee jackets. It was also a big decade for the cigarette, and Irene was adept at smoking, gossiping, and knitting, all at the same time. Ash would tumble down her moss-stitch booties as she told the group of Shirley's affair with the golf pro and Pamela's dependence on Valium.
I continued to knit scarves and simple squares for years, never finding out how to increase and decrease. How I longed to follow a pattern, but it seemed as unattainable as learning shorthand or speaking Italian. And heaven forbid I should walk into a wool supply shop in England at the time and ask the stern old spinster behind the counter how to ssk or psso. "Hasn't your mother taught you, young lady?" she would have exclaimed in horror.
I remember at the age of twelve, from economic necessity, unraveling an old wheat-colored cardigan I found in a thrift shop in order to reuse the yarn for a new project. I knitted two big squares for the front and back and two long rectangles for the sleeves and sewed them together. I thought it would make a wonderfully simple, arty-looking sweater. It didn't. It looked like something Fred Flintstone would wear in his cave during a cold snap. And so my inability to ssk, psso, and decrease every 7th row, ending with the WS, continued.
The years went by, and my secret went undiscovered. Then, in the fall of 2003, I took a job in Baltimore, acting in a John Waters movie called A Dirty Shame (NC 17 ... beware).
I found myself living next to a wonderful, colonial, English-looking area called Fells Point down by the port. I loved to wander around on my days off with my cavalier King Charles spaniel Frankie, looking into the stores and the old 18th-century red brick houses and talking to the locals.
Opposite my favorite espresso bar was a charming little shop whose windows were filled with a collage of warm autumnal colors, which on closer inspection I realized was yarn. Not the tightly wound, bottle green acrylic type of my youth, but fluffy bundles nestled in rattan baskets with bamboo needles. This yarn looked positively edible! I wanted to go in, but hesitated as I saw a group of rosy-cheeked women sitting around a wooden table. They were talking and creating beautiful shawls, sweaters, and bags. The SSK, PSSO crowd—confident, informed girls who knew their stuff. What would they make of an English scarf enthusiast in her forties? Would they look at me with pity or, even worse, scream with sarcastic laughter?
I was about to jog home, carrying the tubby Frankie, who had ground to a halt, when I saw a sign in the corner of the window that said KNITTING CLASSES. Blimey, I thought. Classes, they let people in on this secret?
Plucking up my courage, I entered the store. A tinkly bell announced my arrival, and a friendly woman named Laraine Guidet, who turned out to be the owner, greeted me. Before I knew it, she was showing me how to knit a bag on bamboo circular needles that I would eventually put into a washing machine and shrink -- intentionally! I took a variety of gorgeous yarns home with me and so it began.
Knitting again felt wonderful. It was so calming and timeless. While finishing the movie, I spent many hours waiting in my trailer making bags, scarves, and eventually a sweater. I had finally unlocked the mystery of following a pattern. I learned that if you can knit with an even tension and are able to add and subtract, you can create anything. I'd broken the barrier and now there was no stopping me.
On my return to Los Angeles, I looked up yarn stores near my home and found Wildfiber. There was a picture of the owner, Mel Clark, on the website, and when I saw it, I had a strange feeling that we would become well acquainted.
I literally rushed over to get new supplies, and was met with the same friendly enthusiasm I had discovered in Baltimore. In Mel's beautiful, light, airy Santa Monica store, there was a communal wooden table, and an even larger selection of the edible yarn. Knitting was enjoying a renaissance and Mel's shop made it obvious why.
My confidence increased in leaps and bounds and six weeks after knitting my felted bag, I was attempting a blackberry stitch jacket designed by Debbie Bliss! I was wielding a cable hook and saying things to my husband like "Sshh, I'm counting increases!"
I must admit, I did throw myself into the knitting bug with a little too much zeal. I stopped reading and cuddling my spaniels. I was putting the needles down at midnight beside my bed, then waking up at six and reaching for them before my first cup of tea. I dreamt of knitting, my hands ached, and I developed a pain in my right shoulder. I have since learnt to walk around a little, stretch, and listen to books on tape.
As I continued to knit I began to notice that, although some great books were available, I preferred the items on display in Mel's shop that she had designed herself. It occurred to me to ask her whether she had thought of publishing her own book and sharing her designs. I have done many things in my career --acting, singing, dancing, dressing up as a Middle Eastern man. I never thought I would want to coproduce a book on knitting, but the subject now intrigued me. So we sat down with a pot of tea and began to make a plan.
I grew up in New Zealand, a land with many more sheep than people.
No wonder, then, that I developed a love of wool at an early age. I remember being about eight years old and my mother sitting me down and teaching me to knit. It immediately became my passion. I loved the puzzle-solving aspect of it, like a crossword or a jigsaw.
Around that time my favorite teacher, Miss McQuilkin, asked the class if anyone had room at home for an abandoned, blind lamb she had brought back from the high country. No sooner had my hand shot up than I found myself being driven home in the back of the teacher's car with "Bunty" on my lap, worried about what my mother would say when she got home from work. Thankfully, my new baby was allowed to stay, and I bottle-fed her in the kitchen until "he" sprouted horns and my parents relegated him to the backyard, where he did a nice job fertilizing the lawn.
I continued to knit all the way through my teens, spending my lunch breaks during high school sitting outside on the tennis courts, working on my latest project while tanning my legs. None of my friends knitted, but that didn't stop me. I was obsessed! A good source of patterns at the time was an English magazine called Woman's Weekly. I remember knitting a very complicated Aran skirt and sweater from it. It took me ages, and when I finished it, I realized that it didn't look as good on me as it did on the famous model, Jean Shrimpton. So I sold the sweater to my best friend's mother and turned the skirt into a pillow. Knitting that suit was a milestone for me. I had never knitted cables before, so it taught me that I could tackle any knitting pattern as long as I was willing to read the instructions and learn the techniques.
In the early 1980s, after I had married and had my son, my husband's job took us away from New Zealand to different countries for long periods of time. I found myself in places like London, Tahiti, and North Carolina, always looking for a yarn shop. While I was living in London I discovered Patricia Roberts's innovative knitting shop in Covent Garden, one of the most exciting stores I had ever been in—light and airy and jam-packed with color—and I thought her designs were fantastic. My favorite was a traditional argyle pattern in hot-colored silks and angoras, embellished with cables. Being around those amazing yarns inspired me to go home and start creating my own designs. My first efforts were little multicolored cardigans for my two-year-old son, knitted during his afternoon naps.
Eventually, my family and I settled in California, and I decided to start a cottage industry designing sweaters that were handknitted in New Zealand. My first designs proved to be popular, and I began selling them to boutiques across the United States. At one point I had more than a hundred knitters following my complicated graphs and doing exquisite work—women of all ages, in towns and on remote farms, and one man who was a widower with six children and needed the extra income. I also supplied LL Bean with exclusive sweater designs during the 1990s.
I wasn't knitting much during this time, but I was brought back to it when a costume designer commissioned me to make a vest for the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Although she had used my designs before in other movies, I had never actually knitted them myself. I sat and knitted for three days straight to make a striped, ribbed biker vest, and this experience reminded me how much I loved to knit and how much I missed the company of other knitters.
To rectify the situation, I decided to teach knitting classes in my home studio and at a local fiber arts store called Wildfiber. Soon after starting at Wildfiber I found out the owner wanted to sell the business and I decided to buy it and turn it exclusively into a yarn shop, which was scary to me since the knitting resurgence had not yet begun. But I felt like I had to follow my dream. In the beginning I wondered if there would be enough people in sunny southern California who would want to make sweaters, but I quickly realized that a lot of people do want to make sweaters here and also that yarns these days are so varied you can knit anything you want, from sweaters to handbags, curtains, and pillows. Even old-fashioned doilies are fun.
For me, it's exciting that so many people have now discovered this wonderful, comforting craft that I have loved my whole life. I continue to be a passionate knitter, and designing new patterns is always a thrill. I never know if an idea is going to work out just the way I imagined it, but it's always fun, and the excitement of finishing a new project and realizing that I love it can still keep me awake at night.
When I met Tracey I realized that she wanted to make things that weren't available in books. She had very quickly become an intrepid knitter, my favorite kind, and it was hard to keep up with her.
So when she asked me if I wanted to sit down with a pot of tea and talk about doing a book of our own, I agreed. It was time.
Golden Rules for Knitting
MEL'S GOLDEN RULES
Take a risk. It's not dangerous.
It's supposed to be fun, so don't let it make you crazy.
Be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them.
TRACEY'S GOLDEN RULES
Tell anyone who says knitting makes you look grannyish to get lost.
In my opinion, holiday sweaters shouldn't be worn at ANY time of year.
If you're on a plane and get horribly stuck on a pattern, you can always ask the captain to make the announcement, "Is there a knitter on board?"CHAPTER 2
WHAT WE LIKE TO KNIT (Mel's Patterns)
Baby Baseball Tee with Mittens
Muriwai Bath Mat
Tahiti-Style Photo Frames
South Seas Table Runner
Sea Anemone Messenger Bag
Luxe Neck Warmer
Gym Slip Dress
Mel's Mouse Family
Daphne's Baby Cape
New School Tie
Santa Cruz Hoodie
Tutu Tea Cozy
Tropical Garden Vest
Lady Detective Hat
Pea Pod Cardigan
Knit 2 Together Sweater
BABY BASEBALL TEE WITH MITTENS
This raglan pullover is one of the first projects I teach in my beginner classes. The simple inset center pocket delights everyone and can be used to hold the matching mittens. For a great parent-child set, make this sweater for your baby and then a Santa Cruz Hoodie (see page 88) in a coordinating color for yourself.TRACEY WARNS:Do this before your kids turn into teenagers and find you an enormous embarrassment.
To fit Infant (3 months)
18 ½" (47 cm) chest
Rowan Wool Cotton (50% merino
wool / 50% cotton; 123 yards
(112 meters) / 50 grams): 2 balls
#901 citron (A), 1 ball #941 clear (B)
One pair straight needles size US 5
One pair straight needles size US 3
One pair double-pointed needles
(dpn) size US 2 (3 mm) for Mittens
Change needle size if necessary to
obtain correct gauge
Row markers; stitch holders; stitch
markers; two 3/8" buttons
22 sts and 31 rows = 4" (10 cm) in
Stockinette st (St st) using largest needles
Using size US 3 needles and A, cast on 51 sts; begin Garter st. Work even for 4 rows.
Change to larger needles.
Row 1 (WS): K3, purl to last 3 sts, k3.
Row 2: Knit.
Repeat Rows 1-2 twice. Repeat Row 1. Place row marker at beginning and end of row for side seams.
(RS) Change to St st, beginning with a knit row, and work even until piece measures 7" from the beginning, ending with a WS row.
Shape Raglan Armhole: (RS) Bind off 2 sts at beginning of next 2 rows.
Decrease 1 st each side every other row 14 times, as follows: K1, ssk, work to last 3 sts, k2tog, k1—19 sts remain.
(WS) Change to size US 3 needles and Garter st. Work even for 3 rows.
Bind off all sts loosely knitwise.
Using larger needle and B, cast on 17 sts. (RS) Work even in St st, beginning with a knit row, for 21 rows.
Break yarn, leaving a 20" tail. Place stitches on a holder for Pocket.
Work as for Back until piece measures 4" from the beginning, ending with a RS row.
Setup Row 1: (WS) P17, k17, p17.
Row 2: Knit.
Row 3: Repeat Row 1.
Row 4: K17, bind off center 17 sts, knit to end.
Row 5: P17, slip sts from Pocket Lining holder onto left-hand needle with WS of Pocket Lining facing, purl to end.
Continue in St st, beginning with a knit row, until piece measures 7" from the beginning, ending with a WS row. Complete as for Back.
SLEEVES (make 2)
Using size US 3 needles and B, cast on 29 sts; begin Garter st. Work even for 4 rows.
(WS) Change to larger needles and St st, beginning with a purl row. Work even for 3 rows.
Shape Sleeve: (RS) Increase 1 st each side this row, then every 4 rows 5 times—41 sts. Work even until piece measures 5" from the beginning, ending with a WS row.
Shape Raglan: (RS) Bind off 2 sts at beginning of next 2 rows—37 sts remain.
Decrease 1 st each side every other row 14 times, as follows: K1, ssk, work to last 3 sts, k2tog, k1—9 sts remain.
(WS) Change to size US 3 needles and Garter st. Work even for 3 rows. Bind off all sts knitwise.
Sew left raglan seams. Sew right back raglan seam.
Buttonhole Placket: RS of Front facing, using size US 3 needles and B, pick up and knit 23 sts from neck to underarm, stopping before bound-off sts at underarm.
Make Buttonholes: (WS) K11, yo, k2tog, k6, yo, k2tog, k2.
Knit 2 rows. Bind off all sts knitwise.
Button Placket: RS of right Sleeve facing, using size US 3 needles and B, pick up and knit 23 sts from beginning of raglan shaping to neck.
Knit 1 row. Bind off all sts knitwise.
Sew Sleeve seams. Sew underarm seams. Sew side seams from underarm to row markers, leaving last 11 rows open for side slit.
Stitch end of Buttonhole Placket to Sleeve at armhole. Sew buttons opposite buttonholes.
Block Pocket Lining. Pin to WS of Front. Using B, sew Lining to Front, being careful not to let sts show on RS.
MITTENS (make 2)
Using size US 3 needles and A, cast on 22 sts; begin Garter st. Work even for 4 rows.
(WS) Change to largest needles and St st, beginning with a purl row. Work even for 3 rows.
Eyelet Row (RS): K1, *yo, k2tog, k1; repeat from * to end.
Work even in St st for 3 rows, beginning with a purl row.
Row 1 (RS): K10, place marker (pm), [kfb] twice, pm, k10—24 sts.
Rows 2, 4, and 6: Purl.
Row 3: K10, slip marker (sm), kfb, k2, kfb, sm, k10—26 sts.
Row 5: K10, sm, kfb, k4, kfb, sm, k10—28 sts.
Row 7: K10, sm, kfb, k6, kfb, sm, k10—30 sts.
Row 8: P10, sm, p10, place remaining 10 sts on a holder for Fingers, turn.
Row 9: K10, place remaining 10 sts on a holder for Fingers.
Next Row (WS): Working on center 10 sts only, work even in St st for 3 rows, beginning with a purl row.
Next Row (RS): *K2tog; repeat from * to end—5 sts remain.
Break yarn and thread through remaining sts. Pull tight and fasten off. Sew Thumb seam.
Excerpted from Knit 2 Together by Mel Clark, Tracey Ullman, ERIC AZENE, Melanie Falick. Copyright © 2006 Tracey Ullman and Mel Clark. Excerpted by permission of ABRAMS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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