Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Once upon a time, I didn’t know anything about needlework of any kind. 

So I researched it.  It was 1966; there was no internet.  Therefore, I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, jumped a rope when nobody was looking, and lifted the edge of a medieval tapestry to see how it was made.  I didn’t learn much before I was discovered and thrown out.  The second time I tried that, while enduring a Bum’s Rush to the exit, I protested.  “But I want to learn!”  “Get a book!” was the prompt suggestion.

So I did.  The closest I could come to “How To Make a Medieval Tapestry” was a McCall’s publication, “How To Do Needlepoint”.  It was (and still is) very simple – get a canvas, put the needle down in here, bring it up there.  OK. 

Off to the local five-and-dime, the only store in town that carried yarns, notions, and fabrics.  The tapestry needle and wool (not specifically “tapestry yarn”) were no problem to find.  But the clerks didn’t know what needlepoint canvas was.  They showed me the available canvas fabrics.  Well, it didn’t look like the mesh canvas in the book, but I wanted to get stitching, so I bought a half-yard.

I drew a picture on the canvas and counted the threads of the weave to achieve decent-looking stitches – two threads to the right and three threads up.  Of course, it isn’t real needlepoint; it’s counted thread embroidery and very wobbly since the fabric was definitely not an even-weave.  But I finished it because I wanted to hang it above my first son’s crib.  When my mother-in-law (an exquisite needle-worker) saw it, she first laughed and then educated me about the characteristics of a proper needlepoint canvas, proper tapestry yarns, and where, properly, to get them.  My second piece was much more correct.

But not more appealing.  This, my first piece, shows heart, determination and ingenuity.  Stitching it taught me many things, not the least of which is the beauty and efficacy of impropriety.

Don’t worry about doing it "right" – just get it done.

Stitch in Peace!  Karlin    (© 2012)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Good Wool

Our smallish group was all seated, chatting, waiting for only two more members to arrive before the Bible study could begin.  We ranged in age of 30-something to 93.  The late-comers were our oldest member and her ride.  Soon they arrived and amid greetings, we shuffled to begin the study.  Carolyn approached her seat slowly, but smiling as at a huge joke.  She got to her chair, but remained standing behind it until all of us settled down and were looking at her questioningly.

“How many of you remember World War One?”  she beamed.

Sheesh!  Most of us didn’t remember WWII and some of us were babies during Vietnam! 

But our 84-year-old said, “Well, I remember the end of it.  I was a very little girl, but I remember there was a big celebration, a picnic at one of the neighboring farms.  My family all rode over there in the buckboard.”

“Well,” said Carolyn, “ I was born in 1904, so I remember it very well.  See this scarf?” and she lifted the end of the simple, light brown piece of needlework draped around her neck, “I made this scarf when I was 12 years old.  My mother taught my sister and I how to knit, and we made scarves for the soldiers.  She let us each keep one.  My sister lost hers, but I’ve held on to mine because I made it and it reminds me of my mother.  I’ve been wearing it for over 60 years!  And look how well it’s held up!  No holes or worn spots!  And the color’s still good too!” 

We looked – it was!

“Now, “ said Carolyn, “do you know why it’s held up so good?”  And we waited for her answer without offering any interruptive guesses.

“Because,” she said impressively, “it’s made of good wool.  Let that be a lesson to you.”

True story.

Knit in Peace!  Karlin (© 2012)

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Right Stuff

Anyone can learn to knit.  Anyone can teach him or herself to knit.  Anyone can achieve good results with good tools.  The better the tools, the better the results.  So start, right from the beginning, with good yarn, good needles and good instruction.

For the yarn, choose an all-natural fiber, either cotton or wool.  My personal favorite for beginners is Tahki’s Cotton Classic, a cabled cord, or Lily’s Sugar & Cream, an inexpensive yarn that makes great dishcloths.  In wool, Brown Sheep’s Lamb’s Pride worsted, a one-ply yarn, works well.  All of these yarns do not split easily and render a nice even stitch.  You’ll like the look of it.  DO NOT use acrylic yarn to start with!  I know it’s cheap, but it splits and the stitches warp -- and your efforts will end up looking cheap, too.  Acrylic yarn is very discouraging stuff.

The needles should fit the task.  Since the task is learning and practicing, a 10” length in size 6, 7, or 8 will do (don’t worry; you’ll use them again for scarves and small projects).  Longer needles get caught in the upholstery, and big chunky needles are unwieldy for beginners.  Whether you use wood or metal needles is up to you.  Bamboo gives a little surface tension so the stitches don’t slide off as easily; metal needles are slicker.  Choose whichever is most comfortable and esthetically pleasing to you.  I would not recommend interchangeable needles to start with because the tips and cables can loosen slightly and catch the yarn.

Good instruction can be found in books or videos.  Coat’s & Clark publishes the Learn How booklet covering knitting, crochet and tatting.  It’s good for the basics (and has been around for decades).  Another reference book to eventually have on your shelf is The Knitter’s Companion by Vicki Square, which briefly but comprehensively describes and depicts all the basic knitting functions.  For accurate and simple video demonstrations, I recommend  Brittany goes slow, repeats operations and has the loveliest mellow teaching voice I’ve ever heard – it calmly lulls you into confidence!

Knit in Peace!  Karlin (© 2012)