Make it modular and make it manageable
A note from Kathleen: Lisa Shroyer is here today to talk about her wonderful afghan, knit by her grandmother and mother, and still keeping her warm and cozy. Items like this are so important to many of us. Items like these become cherished items not only because of the beauty of the projects themselves, but because they carry the love and comfort of the people who made them for us.
Tales and Tips for Knitting Afghans
I have always had a textile problem; surely you can sympathize. I have rugs and bedspreads and lace tablecloths and wraps and shawls and embroidered things I might never wear, but I just needed them. Textiles offer us art in the everyday; they make our homes special, cozy, colorful. I geek out over overshot and patchwork and Irish crochet and applique and…I’m sure you know how it is.
So of course, I have several afghans. Some are woven—the gorgeous boiled wool plaid I got in Scotland, oh my!—and some are knitted. Like this one.
This is the uber-cozy cabled afghan my 93-year-old grandmother made for me—it took her years to finish, and she gave me the final piece just a couple short months before she passed away. Once she finished the knitting, the heavy, bulky fabric was too hard on her arthritic hands and wrists, so my mom did the finishing work—seaming the long narrow strips together to make the blanket. It is an absolute miracle to me each time I pull this blanket over myself—years worth of Grammy knitting it, putting it down when her hands hurt too much . . . my mom taking up the cause and seaming the long, lovely pieces side by side . . . the fact that these women introduced me to knitting, and here is a tangible representation of that gift and their love.
If you’re like me, you carry stories in textiles, in projects, in the items that fill your home. I carry the story of my Gram in this afghan. I carry the stories of my travels in the pieces I purchased in distant markets. I carry the memory of friends and experiences in handmade objects strewn about my tabletops. And darnit, this makes it really hard every time I move houses and try to purge!
I have NO advice for you if you’re looking to purge and/or to stop attaching meaning to handmade objects. Good luck with that and tell me your secrets.
If you’re inclined to knitting for the home, I do have some advice for making large knitted pieces in manageable ways. For pattern ideas, check out this awesome book on modern knitted interior design, or the cute home collection in this issue of Knitscene. For technique, I recommend my Gram’s method. As I said, my Gram’s cabled afghan was worked in long narrow pieces. At a chunky gauge, working the whole thing in one panel would have been almost impossible—so big, so bulky, so hard to turn for the next row, filling her whole lap with its voluminous ripples. I can see her shaking her head at me right now, eyes twinkling, some witty remark about to leave her lips. She was a practical sort of knitter, and a smart one.
Besides, what kind of needle would you use to knit a 4’x6’ blanket in one piece? And how could you work on it anywhere besides home, pinned to your couch?
This is all to say, you should knit afghans in modular pieces. It makes the knitting more pleasant, efficient, and manageable. I’ve identified five afghan knitting patterns from our archives that 1) are just awesome modern designs and 2) utilize modular construction to build, block by block. Let’s take a look at the construction of a couple of them and talk about your options therein.
The Tamarix Quilt is worked in mitered squares in an unusual arrangement of four colors that creates a layered look with a lot of depth. You can seam the pieces together as you knit them, which would mean you will gradually have a bigger and bigger piece building in your lap and your project bag. But at the end of the knitting, most of the finishing is done. Or you can knit them all separately and then have an epic finishing session with your friends at movie marathon night and do it all in one sitting.
The Wattle and Daub afghan is worked in triangular pieces that are joined to form squares. You work one triangle, then pick up for the next along its side, and repeat until you have four triangles and a full block. The blocks are then seamed together to make the final blanket. This is a fun project in easy two-row stripes that creates a fantastically-modern textile in the end. I would recommend making all the blocks, then laying them out on the floor in an arrangement you like, and spending a couple hours seaming them together in that pattern.
The other three patterns in this collection use modular construction and differing finishing methods, as well. Check them out, think about color and construction and your home. Think about the loved ones who might cherish an afghan from you. Knitted blankets make great gifts and great handmade elements for the modern home. Find some yarn on sale and go crazy, y’all.
P.S. Do you have a textile story to tell? Leave a comment below and share it with us.