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Two years ago I wrote a piece called The Scourge of Upside Down Knitting in which I raged unto the heavens against picture books where the artists put little work into bothering to figure out if knitting needles should be held up or down. Well, it’s time for me to apologize to those illustrators. If depicting knitting needles with the ends to the sky is irresistible to you, you’re in good company. Seems that every picture book illustrator of the past put you on the wrong path early.
Today, we rank the great illustrators history and see how precisely they’ve chosen to portray knitters. As a refresher, here is how you hold knitting needles:
The method of holding them with the ends up is not unheard of, but it is rare. For example, I tried to find a Google Image of that particular style for the piece and failed utterly.
From Worst to Best: Knitting in Children’s Literature
To be fair, I know very little about the fibers of Truffula Trees. It is possible that one has to . . . um . . . Okay, I’m not entirely certain what the Onceler’s family is doing here. They appear to be stabbing the fibers in a downward manner with their needles, miraculously producing thneeds. This exact image isn’t exactly from the book (I think it’s wallpaper) but it’s an accurate depiction of what Seuss drew. Whatever floats your boats, guys. Just don’t call it knitting.
Et tu, Eastman? I was merrily reading Robert the Rose Horse when I saw this image. I may have to give Eastman points for the inherent humor of it, though. Knitting without digits. Think about it for a moment.
I’m with you, kitten. Shocked SHOCKED that the great Garth Williams failed to get this right.
No word on whether or not Moominmamma . . . oh, wait.
Darn it. No pun intended.
Wait! This just in! I believe this is an image from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. If so, then this cat isn’t knitting but tatting. And if she is tatting then it’s possible the needles go up, right? So let’s just find an image of someone tatting.
So much for that.
I think we may have a winner. Yes, it looks like it. Granted, she’s put the knitting down on her lap to whisper “Hush” to the bunny in the bed, but I think it very likely that the needles were held correctly before then. Shall we give it to him?
Okay. Enough with the deceased. Let’s see how some of our contemporary masters fare in this game.
Didn’t see that one coming.
YES!! And Pinkney for the win! The cat’s needles are down, I REPEAT! The cat’s needles are down!
Paul O. Zelinsky
Considering how much work Paul put into getting the spinning wheel right in Rumpelstiltskin, it’s little wonder he’d get the knitting right in Swamp Angel.
Cheating a bit here. This is from one of Sophie’s Missed Connections pieces and not from a children’s book, but it at least proves that if knitting ever does come up in one of her books, she’ll know what to do about it.
I suspect I would have had a small heart attack if it turned out that Ms. Brett didn’t know knitting. She has, after all, portrayed some of the greatest illustrations of stitching ever seen in a picture book.
Notable missing illustrators aren’t listed here simply because I couldn’t figure out if they ever depicted knitting in their books. Hence the lack of John Steptoe, Maurice Sendak, Trina Schart Hyman, Grace Lin, Tomie de Paola, Yuyi Morales, and others. If you’ve inside knowledge on the matter, have at it. Other contemporary illustrators like Lauren Castillo or Jon Klassen can be found on the previous piece about knitting books in 2014.
Knitting. It shouldn’t be so hard. I say this as the grown daughter of a chronic knitterer (not a word). I grew up neck deep in roving. I know the difference between a gossip wheel and a walking wheel (these are different spinning wheels). I know that if you want a permanent non-toxic dye for wool you use Kool-aid, that wool straight from the sheep is incredibly oily, and that out there are people who have turned the fur of their dogs and cats into sweaters. Yet the simplest act of knitting is lost on a good 50% of the children’s book illustrators out there that year after year can’t even be bothered to figure out which way the knitting needles are supposed to go. Down, people. The ends go down. In 2016 alone we’ve seen books like Maggie McGillicuddy’s Eye for Trouble get it wrong. Fortunately 2016 has also seen correctly positioned needles in Cat Knit, Ned the Knitting Pirate, and the greatest knitting related picture book I’ve seen to date Leave Me Alone! A superb readaloud of unparalleled visual humor, this is a knitting picture book par excellence and a pretty darn good original folktale too, come to think of it. Allowing for the occasional alien, of course.
“Once there was an old woman. She lived in a small village in a small house . . . with a very big family.” And by big family we mean big extended family. One gets the feeling that all her grown kids just sort of dump their own children on her, because there are thirty small grandchildren running amok in her home. Winter is coming soon and the old woman is keen on getting some knitting done for her extended brood. Trouble is, knitting and small children do NOT mix. So she picks up her stuff and goes into the deep, dark forest. That’s where the bear family finds her. So she goes to the mountains. Where the goats find her. Next it’s the moon. Where curious aliens find her. That leaves a wormhole where the void turns out to be her saving. Only problem is, it’s lonely in the void. Once her work is done, she heads back and when she sees her grandkids again, she doesn’t have to say a single word.
Here is the crazy thing about this book: It’s Vera Brosgol’s first picture book. I say that this is crazy because this does not read like a debut. This reads like Brosgol has been churning out picture books for decades, honing her skill, until finally at long last she’s produced a true diamond. But no. Some people get all the talent apparently. This is not, I should not, Ms. Brosgol’s first book in general. Her graphic novel Anya’s Ghost got a fair amount of attention a couple of years ago, and it was good. But nothing about that title prepared me for Leave Me Alone! Here we have a pitch perfect combination of text and image. If you were to read this book to someone without mentioning the creator, I don’t think there’s a soul alive who wouldn’t assume that the author and illustrator are one and the same. This is due largely to the timing. Just open the book to the first page. Examine the old woman on that page. Turn the page. Now look how that same woman has been transposed to a new setting and her expression has changed accordingly. Basically this sold the book to me right from the start.
Funny picture books. For an author, creating a picture book that is funny means doing two things at once. You must appeal to both children and parents with your humor at the same time. Do you know how hard that is? Making something that a five-year-old thinks is funny that is also humorous to their parental unit is such a crazy balancing act that most picture book creators just fall on one side of the equation or the other. Make it funny only to adults and then you may as well just forget about the kids altogether (see: A Child’s First Book of Trump). Opt instead to only make it funny to kids and you doom the grown-ups to reading something they’d rather eat hot nails than read again (see: Walter the Farting Dog). But I honestly believe Brosgol has found the golden mean. Both adults and kids will find moments like the older sister stuffing a yarn ball in her brother’s mouth or the presence of the samovar (even in a wormhole) or the bear tentatively touching its nose after the old woman’s vigorous poke very funny indeed.
And let’s not downplay the writing here. There is serious readaloud potential with this book. I’ll level with you. In a given year you’ll see hundreds and hundreds of picture books published. Of these, a handful make for ideal readalouds. I’m not talking about books a parent can read to a child. I’m talking about books you can read to large groups, whether you’re a teacher, a librarian, or some poor parental schmuck who got roped into reading aloud to a group of fidgeting small fry. Few books are so good that anyone and everyone can enrapture an audience with them when read out loud. But Leave Me Alone! may be one of those rare few. Those beautiful butterflies. Those little jewels. The language mimics that of classic folktales, bandying about phrases like, “deep, dark forest”. And there are so many interactive possibilities. You could teach the kids how to yell out the phrase “Leave me alone!” all together at the same time, for example.
As for the art, it’s perfect. There’s a kind of Kate Beaton feel to it (particularly when babies or goats have full balls of yarn stuffed into their mouths). As I mentioned before, Brosgol knows which way knitting needles are supposed to lie, and better still she knows how to illustrate thirty different, and very realistically rendered sweaters, at the story’s end. There are also some clever moments that you’ll notice on a third or fourth read. For example, the very first time the woman yells, “Leave me alone!” she’s exiting the gates to her home and her children’s homes. The only people who hear her are her grown children, which means we don’t have to worry about small ears hearing such a caustic phrase from their grandma. Smart. And did you see that the twins get identical sweaters at the end of the book? Finally, there are the visual gags. The goats that surreptitiously followed the old woman to the moon, nibbling on a moon man’s scanner, for example.
I’ve seen a fair amount of hand wringing over the years over whether or not a children’s book can contain a protagonist that is not, in fact, a child, an animal, or an inanimate object rendered animate. Which is to say, are children capable of identifying with adults? More precisely, an adult who just wants to be alone for two seconds? The answer is swift and sure. Certainly they can. Particularly if the kid reading this book is an older sibling. The concept of being alone, of craving some time for one’s own self, is both familiar and foreign to a lot of kids. I’m reminded of the Frog & Toad story “Alone” from Days With Frog and Toad where Toad has a dark morning of the soul when he learns that Frog would like to have some alone time. Because of all of this, we see a lot of picture books where a character wants to be alone, has difficulty getting that “me time”, and eventually decides that companionship is the way to go (Octopus Alone, A Visitor for Bear, etc.). A few celebrate the idea (All Alone] by Kevin Henkes) but generally speaking parents use these books to convince their perhaps less than socially adept children that there are benefits to the concept of friendship. And there is a place in the world for such books. Fortunately there is also a place in the world for this book.
Folks sometimes talk to me about current trends in picture books. Sometimes they’re trying to figure out what the “next big thing” might be. But of course, the best picture books are the ones that at their core don’t really resemble anything but themselves. Leave Me Alone! isn’t typical. It reads aloud to big crowds of kids with great ease, lends itself to wonderful expressions, pops off the page, and will make anyone of any age laugh at some point. It’s a great book, and if I have to write another 500 words to convince you of it, I can do so. But why delay you from seeing it any longer? Go. Seek. Find. Read. Savor.
Misc: Cute promotion or THE CUTEST PROMOTION? As you can see from this Bustle interview, Ms. Brosgol knit twenty-five teeny tiny sweaters to promote this book. I steal the image for my own nefarious purposes and show it to you here:
I've been busy making a lot of drawings of knitting lately, for various projects.
People are commissioning me to do custom coloring pages to promote their knitting sites and projects, which has been a lot of fun.
Here are two I did for verypink. They are both free downloadable pdfs on the site, to go with a knitting pattern for the cowl, and the boot cuffs. Staci has a youtube channel with videos for these pages and the projects they were done for. Check it out!
This is a snippet of another custom coloring page I just finished for another client that will be for kids to color.
I'm also working on getting some Christmasy things in my Drawings of Knitting shop on etsy. These are both gift tags, which are downloadable pdfs (or jpgs) that you can just print and cut out yourself. You can make as many as you want! I'm moving at kind of a snail's pace at the moment, just trying to do too many things at once, work-wise, but hope to have these in the shop in the next week or so. I have lots of other ideas for cool holiday crafty things (stockings!), and am working on those too. If you have any ideas or suggestions about things you'd like to see in the shop, please let me know.
I really love doing these drawings, but they do take forever. I'm getting a little faster, and am getting smarter about using Photoshop tools to change the colors of things, or cut and paste. But still, most of it is very fussy and fiddly and s-l-o-w.
I'm still working on the next coloring book that will be fair isle designs, and argyle.
Hand knitting has been around for arguably thousands of years, though in modern times its popularity has waxed and waned. Waldorf schools around the world have long recognized that teaching young children handicrafts helps develop their fine motor and analytical skills. The great thing is, libraries can promote knitting, too! Currently, knitting is very popular and many libraries have started their own knitting circles. Here are several reasons to start a knitting circle for tweens at your library and a step-by-step list on how to get started:
Start a knitting club for adults. My adult knitting group meets in the evenings right near the children’s area, so we’ve garnered a lot of interest from the kids by simply existing. They want to know all about knitting, how we started, what clothes we’ve made, etc. Most kids ultimately ask if I can teach them how to knit. We have a diverse group of men and women in our adult group, and in turn I’ve had both boys and girls show interest in learning. Having a multifaceted group is a great way to highlight that knitting is not just for women.
Find someone who wants to teach kids how to knit. If you are a knitter, it could be you. If not, contact your local knitting guild or meet up group to see if one of their members has an interest in teaching kids how to knit.
Gather your materials! You’ll need yarn, needles, scissors, tapestry needles, and knitting books from your collection to get the kids started once they’ve masted the basics of knit and purl. Ask your adult patrons if they can donate materials or reach out to your library friends group for the funds needed to purchase some knitting paraphernalia.
Pick a date. I find that knitting clubs for adults tend to be the most successful if they occur at the same time and place weekly, so pick a date and time when your tweens will usually be able to attend. We have our summer knitting club on craft day, the same time every week!
Publicize! Spread the word about your knitting club at school visits and outreach, and on library social media and websites. It also helps to reach out to your local knitting guild so they can publicize for you!
Kate Eckert is an artist, knitter, and mother of one. She is also a member of the School Age Programs & Services Committee and is a Children’s Librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia. She tweets @8bitstate and may also be contacted at eckertk AT freelibrary.org.
A lot to say and so little time to say it. Let’s get started!
Today, if you are at all feeling blue, I suggest you read The Toast piece Jaya Catches Up: A Little Princess which is a killer breakdown of what is inarguably a problematic book. The Marie Antoinette portions are particularly choice.
Next, the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen Award Winners were announced. What does that mean for you? It means you should be boning up on your international children’s book knowledge, of course. Commit the names “Rotraut Susanne Berner of Germany” (who won for Illustration) and Cao Wenxuan of China (who won for Writing)” to memory. For more info on the books and the winners, go here.
If you were speaking to the man on the street (or woman, or child, or what have you) and they said, “Boy, those children’s books took the hardest left turn a series ever took”, what series would you assume the person was speaking about? Here is your answer and it’s a heckuva amusing post to boot.
Oh. In a weird way this makes sense. They’re turning The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll, the biography of Dare Wright, creator of the Lonely Doll book series, in to a film with Naomi Watts and Jessica Lange. You know what that means, don’t you? Lonely Doll fever is poised to sweep the nation. Be wary. Be warned. And buy stock in frilly underwear.
Remember when J.K Rowling said she had this “political fairytale” that was going to be her next non-Harry Potter children’s book? Looks like it’s kaputski. Which is to say, about 30 years after Ms. Rowling’s death someone will pull it out of that drawer and publish it anyway. So it goes.
This next one’s roundabout three years old but I only just found it. The mom from the Cat in the Hat finally speaks. Quite frankly, I always found that polka-dotted dress of hers rather fetching (to say nothing of her keen shoes) but that may just be me.
If you had the great good fortune to see the NYPL exhibit The ABC of It then you would have noticed one section was dedicated to a fascinating array of Soviet children’s art. I remember helping curator Leonard Marcus locate these books (of which NYPL owns a goodly number) and he picked and chose the best amongst them. But where did they originate? Having recently finished M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead, I took the little bit of context I’d acquired and applied it to this fabulous piece on tygertale called Revolutionary Russian Children’s Books. Now I’m just beginning to understand. Thanks to Phil Nel (I’m pretty sure) for the link.
Growing up my mom had a machine in the attic that could type out braille. I don’t know why we owned it but I liked it a lot. Braille children’s books available in a mass market context have always been difficult to obtain, though. With this in mind, I’m very pleased to see DK is now releasing a braille board book series. Wow. Way to go, DK!
All right. My four-year-old is upstairs asleep and in her room are all my Harry Potter books. Otherwise I would check this myself. You see, they just released the first look of the new Jim Kay illustrated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. And I am staring and staring at this cover and I need your help. Look at the cover right here:
Am I crazy or is that car chock full of Weaselys? And doesn’t Harry drive to Hogwarts with just Ron? At least that’s what the old British cover told me:
So . . . huh? [Note: Interestingly the Buzzfeed article has plenty of comments but no one is pointing this out so I may just be completely and utterly wrong about everything]
In other news, the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy longlist was just released. Frances Hardinge made the cut!!! Wooty woot woot woot!!
Seriously Wicked, Tina Connolly (Tor Teen) Court of Fives, Kate Elliott (Little, Brown) Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan UK 5/14; Amulet) Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace (Big Mouth House) Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee (Flux) Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older (Levine) Bone Gap, Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray) Nimona, Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen) Updraft, Fran Wilde (Tor)
Oh, I absolutely love this. Children’s art. Not art for children, mind you, but art by children and its ramifications when studying history. Again, I think I have Phil Nel to thank for this one. He finds all the good stuff.
The Make Way for Ducklings statues are nothing new (nor are they the only ducklings as my old post on all the public children’s literature statues in America attests). Nor is it new to put hats on them. That said, this recent yarnbombing goes above and beyond the call of duty. That’s some seriously good knitting!
Maria Had a Little Llama/Maria Tenia Una Llamita and Knit Together author and illustrator Angela Dominguez creates heart-warming tales about family and togetherness. Angela Dominguez is a two-time recipient of the American Library Association’s Pura Belpre Honor (2014 and 2016).
It’s kind of a love letter to my mom.
— Angela Dominguez on “Knit Together”
Angela’s picture books are rooted in the themes of family, tradition, and friendship. Several of her books including Maria Had A Little Llama/Maria Tenia Una Llamita;Let’s Go, Hugo; and Knit Together pull from relationships with family members and artifacts from her childhood. A wind-up toy inspired French bird Hugo. Angela’s memories of wanting to be a skilled knitter like her mother led her to write a book to remind children they can be talented in their own way. An aunt’s interest in indigenous cultures informed the writing of a version of Mary Had a Little Lamb with a Peruvian twist.
Angela’s books aren’t only an option for children growing up bilingual; they are excellent for those who want to expose young readers to the Spanish language and Latino culture.
Aspiring illustrators will enjoy hearing about Angela’s process and seeing what a book looks like from start to finish.
We’re giving away three (3) sets of books from Angela Dominguez. Each set includes signed copies of Maria Had a Little Llama and Knit Together. Enter now!
All entrants must reside in the United States and be at least 13 years old.
ABOUT THE BOOKS
Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers
From an award-winning illustrator comes a sweet story of mothers and daughters, drawing and knitting, and learning to embrace your talents just right for Mother’s Day. Drawing is fun, but knitting is better because you can wear it Knitting isn t easy, though, and can be a little frustrating. Maybe the best thing to do is combine talents. A trip to the beach offers plenty of inspiration. Soon mom and daughter are collaborating on a piece of art they can share together: a special drawing made into a knitted beach blanket. For every mom and daughter, this is an arts-and-crafts ode creative passion and working together.
Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Harry N. Abrams
Dominguez presents a humorous and endearing portrait of a stubborn French bulldog and a determined little boy.
Everyone knows about Mary and her little lamb. But do you know Maria? With gorgeous, Peruvian-inspired illustrations and English and Spanish retellings, Angela Dominguez gives a fresh new twist to the classic rhyme. Maria and her mischievous little llama will steal your heart.
Let’s Go, Hugo! Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers
Hugo is a dapper little bird who adores the Eiffel Tower — or at least his view of it from down here. Hugo, you see, has never left the ground. So when he meets another bird, the determined Lulu, who invites him to fly with her to the top of the tower, Hugo stalls, persuading Lulu to see, on foot, every inch of the park in which he lives instead. Will a nighttime flying lesson from Bernard the Owl, some sweet and sensible encouragement from Lulu, and some extra pluck from Hugo himself finally give this bird the courage he needs to spread his wings and fly?
Marta! Big & Small (August 23, 2016)
Written by Jennifer Arena, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Marta is “una nina,” an ordinary girl . . . with some extraordinary animal friends. As Marta explores the jungle, she knows she’s bigger than a bug, smaller than an elephant, and faster than a turtle. But then she meets the snake, who thinks Marta is “sabrosa” tasty, very tasty But Marta is “ingeniosa,” a very clever girl, and she outsmarts the snake with hilarious results. With simple Spanish and a glossary at the end, this fun read-aloud picture book teaches little ones to identify opposites and animals and learn new words.
Hello “Hola.” Some people speak Spanish. Some people speak English. Although we may not speak the same language, some things, like friendship, are universal. Follow two young giraffes as they meet, celebrate, and become friends. This bilingual tale will have readers eager to meet new friends and “amigos.”
COMING IN 2017 Sing Don’t Cry
Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Henry Holt & Company
Pura Belpre Honor winner, Angela Dominguez, based this musically driven story on her beloved grandfather. Her abuelo always encouraged her to stay positive and carry on.
ABOUT ANGELA DOMINGUEZ
Angela was born in Mexico City, grew up in the great state of Texas, and lived in San Francisco. She’s the author and illustrator of picture books such as Let’s Go, Hugo!, Santiago Stays, Knit Together, and Maria Had A Little Llama, which received the American Library Association Pura Belpré Illustration Honor. When she is not in her studio, Angela teaches at the Academy of Art University, which honored her with their Distinguished Alumni Award in 2013. She also enjoys presenting at different schools and libraries to all sorts of ages. Angela is a proud member of SCBWI, PEN America, and is represented by Wernick and Pratt Literary Agency.
But what happens when he has to choose between his passion and his pals?
Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat by Emily MacKenzie (@emilymackenzie_) is all about the dilemma you face when you have to decide what really matters to you. Stanley is wild about wool, barmy about yarn and just can’t stop the click-clack of his knitting needles. He makes all sorts of lovely jumpers, scarves and more for his friends, but when he runs out of wool just when he needs it most (for a knitting competition) what’s he to do? Will he demand his gifts back, in order to re-use the wool? Will he find a way to follow his dream and yet avoid disappointing his friends?
Emily MacKenzie’s tale of enthusiasm and eccentricity is joyous and upbeat, illustrated with all the energy Stanley puts into his knitting. Funny (knitted elephant trunk tubes, anyone?), vibrant (all the alluring colours you’d find in a wool shop) and feel-good, Stanley’s spirited creativity is infectious and inspiring.
And inspired we were! Taking our lead from Stanley and a hot air balloon he knits we decided to have a go at making our own woolly dirigibles.
Our first balloons were made by gluing lots and lots of strands of different wool onto card (we used PVA glue and card rather than paper so everything held together a little better).
When all the glue was dry we flipped the card over and drew two shapes – a large circle (by drawing around a bowl), and a basket shape – before cutting them out and joining them together with a bit of hot air balloon rope (ie more wool). Finally we drew Stanley so he could fly in our balloons as they floated gently over our kitchen table (suspended from the ceiling with a little bit of thread).
If you don’t feel like drawing your own Stanley, Emily has very kindly created one you can print off and cut out:
Right click to save and the print out!
Our next plan was a little more ambitious.We wanted to create a 3-D hot air balloon and so this time we dipped our wool in PVA glue before draping it over a suspended balloon.
Whilst the gluey wool dried (it took a couple of days – though if it’s summer where you are the process might be a whole lot speedier) we made our basket. I cut vertical lines down the side of a plastic pot and the girls then wove wool strands in and out of the tongues of plastic, gradually covering the entire pot.
We attached the basket to the woolly balloon and then popped the balloon….
It didn’t work out quite how I had hoped, but we were still smiling at the result and hopefully Stanley was too!
Scribbling with exhilaration! The endpages of Stanley the Amazing Knitting Cat are filled with lots of unruly wool, with wild scribbles across the page. Why not let the kids go crazy and see how quickly they can fill a page with loose pieces of “wool”?
Happy New Year to you! I hope yours is starting off nicely.
Mine started off with a bang! a few days in. One evening I had just turned off the computer (early) and was minding my own business, quietly knitting, and bang! something exploded or blew up in the back yard, and the most blinding bright light lit up the back window. I dashed out to see a raging fire in my flower bed by the back fence! and had absolutely no clue as to what was going on. I could tell it was an electrical fire (it was making "zzzzzt" noises and sizzling), but I was baffled (and panicked).
911 was called, firemen came, and we figured out the overhead power line had come down. How or why is still a mystery. The power company turned off the power - to the whole entire neighborhood - for hours, and men with big trucks came and climbed telephone poles to fix it all up.
Long story short, it was put right eventually and no one (or kitties) were hurt. A nice big rose bush is completely fried, as is part of my Japanese Maple. Some paving stones have holes burned into them, and fence boards are blackened, but all in all, we were very lucky. It remains a mystery as to what this was all supposed to accomplish!
In other news - I'm still coloring, and making drawings of knitting, and doing actual knitting.
This is a work in progress in colored pencil of my baboushka kitty. I started her in watercolor, then decided to go back to my pencils. She has a ways to go, but will be a riot of patterns and color when finished. I'm doing a lot of burnishing to get the colors really saturated on this one, as opposed to my softer look I do with other drawings.
Drawings of Knitting is now a shop on etsy and a page on Facebook. I'm still doing all the 'behind the scenes' set up duties and all for the shop, but hope to have some actual listings up in the next few days. I think I'll start with downloadable pdf files of coloring pages from my coloring book, then go from there. I have so many ideas for cool things to make with my drawings! I am in serious need of a clone, because I just can't do everything I have in my head. (I'm still trying to get arCATecture back in gear after its big debut, then sort of fizzle.)
And then there's real knitting. Working with yarn and needles is a nice relaxing 'brain rest' thing to do in between drawing and coloring and computering. One of the things I make are these old-fashioned hand knit cotton dish cloths. People really like them and I've been selling a lot and getting custom orders for them. So lately, if I'm not doing art of some kind, I'm probably knitting a dish cloth.
I'm really glad Downton Abbey is back and look forward to 9:00 Sunday evenings. Its the only night I can manage to be sitting down ready to go on time for a show! I'm always finishing up working or doing 'one more thing' and then finally sit down in time to get the last 5 minutes of Charlie Rose (and always on a night when he's had someone really good on).
Lots of ideas for things for this year, as usual. I should do an inventory of supplies and do a good sorting out of stuff. I will probably do a 'good enough' attempt. Does anyone ever really do that properly? Really?
Well I've prattled on about not much for long enough. Just thought I'd check in and wish you well for the new year. We're having RAIN, real honest to goodness, almost too much now, RAIN, so I think our drought may finally be over. I hope that's a sign of good things to come for us all.
It’s unseasonably warm in my part of the world at the moment, and here at Playing by the book we’re all longing for crisp days, with snow and ice and sparkle and the sort of mint-fresh air which gives you the magical ability to breathe out puffs of microscopic diamonds. Dreaming of a proper winter, we’ve really enjoyed stepping into the world of Icelandic author and illustrator Lani Yamamoto with her new book, Stína.
Stína appears to live alone in a cabin (you can easily imagine she is a good friend of a slightly grown-up Pippi Longstocking). She’s inventive, clever, capable and resourceful, able to solve her every day problems with flair and charm. But as winter sets in, she becomes a prisoner in her own home: Stína really hates the cold and finds it ever harder to leave the warmth of her bed, even though she’s curious about the white landscape and children playing – apparently unperturbed by the bitter cold – she can see through her window.
This is a delightful tale of unexpected friendship and of being brave and imaginative enough to try doing something you couldn’t believe you could do. It’s about being a person not defined either by stereotypes (Stína has her own tool box but also sews and knits) or your own expectations of yourself (Stína is afraid of the cold, but doesn’t let it stifle her curiosity) and it is uplifting, empowering and heart-warming.
Stína is also simply but beautifully produced. A cloth cover and black line drawings enhanced by a restricted, primarily blue and green palette give this stylish book a homespun and yet stylish feel. The positive, can-do attitude of Stína, the way she makes friends and the story’s quiet exploration of the benefits of being open and brave make this a book it’s a real delight to share.
Whilst Stína is very much a story book, one of the reasons it appeals so much to all of us at Playing by the book is that it is also part activity book. There are instructions for finger knitting (an activity Stína teachers her new friends), and a hot chocolate recipe. Taking our lead from our new favourite heroine we set about trying to invent the yummiest hot chocolate ever experienced in the Playing by the Book Household.
We drew up a list of potential ingredients:
Hot Chocolate powder
A vanilla pod
Broken up bars of milk chocolate and dark chocolate
Each person got to create their own recipe using whatever they liked from the list. Rigorous taste testing was then carried out, assessing our hot chocolates, not only for general yumminess but also for interesting ingredients and unusualness.
Essentially this was like a “potions” making activity, but entirely edible (or drinkable) and with lots of lip and finger licking.
My personal favorite turned out to be a recipe using a good dash of cream and a pinch of cinnamon, though J preferred the version she created where the hot chocolate was stirred with a vanilla pod and M liked her version with a tall tower of squirty cream and lots of spices.
A simple but very satisfying after school winter activity! Indulgent and imaginative, I can only encourage you to set up your own hot chocolate testing laboratory!
Whilst empirically researching hot chocolate we listened to:
OK, so its finally Fall. Yay! And it actually rained today. Double Yay!!!
I've been super busy working on this secret project that I'm tired of keeping a secret but have to for a little bit more until I'm finally really done. I thought I'd be done by Oct. 1st, but it looks like I need a couple more weeks. When I'm finally finished you'll be sick of seeing it and hearing about it. But for now, I'm still staying mum.
The drawing of autumn above was a fun little diversion. I wanted it to look like yarn, and did it all digital, start to finish. I've done these yarn drawings before with colored pencils, but what happens is they're hard to clean up after they're scanned because of all the little 'hairs'. Its too hard to try and erase out the paper texture when you have to go around all those fine little bits. So I had a go at it with my digital colored pencil.
Then I did this one. Its a little softer, and fuzzier.
I work in layers in Photoshop with my special colored pencil texture brush, building up the color just as I would if I were using 'real' colored pencils. It takes a bit of fiddling to get the setting just right - opacity, scale, hardness, etc., but in the end it gets there.
Here's the top layer with just the fuzzy bits. Fun, huh?
I've also been doing some knitting, taking custom orders. It feels like knitting weather finally, and I enjoy sitting with my cats and working on a piece with a cup of fresh hot coffee.
The stores are all bursting with pumpkin flavored everything, and its a little overwhelming. I did find a nice pumpkin ginger spice cake at Trader Joe's which is lovely, but I shy away from most of the stuff like pumpkin lattes and potato chips and beer (OK, I don't know about those last two, but I'm sure someone, somewhere has done them). I'm looking forward to a really good pumpkin pie before the season is over. Then we're on to mince meat! But that's another story.
My Poetry Sisters and I have been scribbling down Odes all through the past month. Every month this year we are working on writing different forms of poetry in a group challenge. It's been both fun and frustrating at times! But Odes are pure fun. We agreed to take a light-hearted look at things this month, and some of these are downright funny! Check out my compatriot's Odes at these links:
from Thin Time.... in the Shropshire village of Tong, a bad tempered dog called Fymm, who is many centuries old, makes a mistake and chooses the wrong girl to be Task Bearer. Chased by gargoyles, Alice reaches the Green Lady’s cottage, receives the first of her three gifts, and learns that she must enter the Other World at Thin Time. Her task is to bring back the New Year seeds before midnight and prevent the world from dying. With her small stepbrother Thomas, Ratatosk the squirrel who can’t be trusted, and Fymm by her side, she sets out on her dangerous quest. Using the skipping rhyme password to enter the door into the Tree of Life, she travels into the Other World. With the help of the singing cockerel from Tong’s church tower, and armed only with a stone and a gargoyle’s shield, she must face the three terrible Sisters at the Well of Wyrd and the fury of Nidhogg the Snake-Dragon. But does she possess the one thing that will protect her – a loving heart? For without that, she will never be able to return to her own time, and the treasure, whatever it may be, will never be hers.
Fifteen - Knitting Frog Skins at the Well of Wyrd The three sister’s clothes were twisted layers of dripping pondweed. Long ribbons of frogspawn hung round their wrinkled faces. They were knitting strips of wet frog skin on clacking fish-bone needles. I shuddered because the heaps of skins at their feet were wriggling and trying to crawl away.
‘The Three Sisters of the Well of Wyrd,’ whispered Fymm, settling beside me and pointing at the women sitting on the wall. ‘They are the Guardians of all the knowledge in the world. It is knowledge written in magic symbols on stones at the bottom of the well. Go on, Task Bearer. Speak to the sisters. Ask them to read the runes and to tell you where to find the seeds. Be quick, there can only be an hour or two left before midnight. Thin Time will soon be over.’ ‘You ask them,’ I said angrily. ‘They are horrible. Why must it always be me?’ Fymm growled under his breath and I backed away, trying to keep clear of his snapping teeth, and not looking where I was going, stumbled into the clearing.
The three sisters saw me, stopped knitting, and stared at me through strands of frogspawn hair. Their silvery, fish-scale skins glittered in the moonlight, and on the sides of their necks were gill slits that flapped as they breathed. They looked so alike it was impossible to tell one from another, and I stared at them in horror. There were bubbling watery sounds coming from their throats and they chanted, ‘Go away, go away, GO AWAY!’ Waving their strips of frog skin knitting at me, I saw the leathery skins on their needles lift their heads, their bulging frog throats croaking like kettledrums.
Have I ever mentioned before that I knit? I don’t knit as much as I used to, mostly because I have tendonitis in my wrist and if I am not careful I can very easily make it flare up and give me all kinds of unhappy pain. But I still knit, if only for short periods of time at sometimes widely spaced intervals. In spite of the fact that I don’t knit a lot, I still enjoy reading knitting magazines and collecting patterns for things I will very likely never make. But that doesn’t matter really because I get great pleasure in imagining the whole project.
Recently I was perusing the latest issue of a knitting magazine I borrow electronically from my public library and saw an advertisement for a book called The Best of Jane Austen Knits. Whaaa? Of course I immediately checked to see if my library had it and they do. Yay Hennepin County Library! I love you so very much!
The book has patterns for 27 “regency inspired designs.” That translates to lots of shawls and shrugs. But there are a few cardigans, a couple of bags, some baby clothes, a tea cozy, some elbow-length gloves, some super-cute stockings, and a few other items. I can’t imagine Austen herself wearing any of them, maybe the stockings, or her heroines, but the idea is still fun. There are a few of the shawl designs I like very much from a filmy lace to a solid cute number that is long and designed to wrap over the shoulders and tie behind the waist. And did I mention the stockings? They are just below the knee and have a pretty lace and heart pattern up the side and are held up by a satin ribbon.
There is also a “loyalty and pin ball.” These were popular projects to make and give to friends (so the book says). They have a medallion-like motif on each side. It is stuffed and sewn together and trimmed with a ribbon or twisted rope. It is made with a very fine cotton and calls for size 0000 (1.25mm) needles. I have used size 1 (2.25mm) needles before but nothing that small. It seems like it would be something really fun to try. I promise if I manage one I will take a photo to share.
For all you bookish knitters out there, I recommend you take a look at this book. It’s got some super-fun patterns in it.
Do any of you have some favorite literature-inspired knitting patterns to recommend?
It is warm and cozy and can also be worn as a loose hood to keep my ears warm while not messing up my hair.
It also can cover large portions of my face when the weather requires!
The pattern isn't 100% exact, but if you want to knit one too, here's the general recipe. The actual knitting is pretty easy, but you have to be able to do it while reading. (Knitting while reading is my superpower. It got me through college--the knitting kept me awake while reading boring articles, and if that wasn't enough, I could randomly stab myself with a needle to help me perk up.)
Gather a few colors of yarn in a similar weight. For this scarf, I used a KnitPicks lace sampler that had been sitting in my stash forever. It's a mix of their various lace-weight yarns, a total of 5 colors.
Find a gauge that gives a nice drape, but is tight enough to still be warm For me, that was 5 stitches/inch on a size 3 needle.
Cast on 60 inches worth of stitches So... 300 for me. BUT I did not take into account that, when worn, the weight would stretch it, so it's a lot longer than I intended, so I can loop it 3 times instead of 2.
Join round, being careful not to twist stitches, mark beginning of round I totally twisted my stitches. :(
Knit in the round while reading your first book Yes, you have to read and knit at the same time.
When you finish your book, break yarn, join next color Don't worry about finishing the round. I used a split splice so I wouldn't have to weave in any ends. As you're striping, you can't really tell where the yarns overlap in the finished project.
Purl in the round (reverse stockinette stitch) in the round while reading your next book
Repeat in this way until you've read all your books or are running out of yarn. I ran out of yarn. Some books were read more than once (especially on the short list) so they have multiple stripes.
Finish final round, bind off in pattern
Lightly steam block One of the things that makes it so cozy is that the changing between stockinette and reverse stockinette make it bunch up, so it's even more extra warm!
Here's a close up of my striping pattern:
One stripe is not a full round long. Nonfiction lends itself to this, as the books tend to be a size where they stay open nicely on their own. A stapler across the top of the pages also works well to hold it open. If you're working with longer books, you can also switch every chapter or reading/knitting session. I kinda want to do one that is smaller (so it'll just be a cowl, no looping) in shades of dark gray/black with the stories in one of the City Noir books.
Also, just to brag, here's the vintage WWI poster you can see in the edge of the frame:
Here's another one for the knitters. As I said in my last post, I have been doing some design work for a knitting/wool/yarn centre. This was the finished design for their leaflets, website, promo, etc. I'm really pleased with how it turned out. And, I don't often say that.
The exquisite wools made such a gorgeous subject. The colours were just lush. Plus, I love pattern making which is probably why I enjoyed it so much. You can get your mits on this original, as it's up for sale HERE.
I've been doing a little design work for a wool/knitting/crocheting centre recently. It took a few attempts to come up with a design that both the client and I were happy with and agreed on. This was one of the earlier attempts and the original is up for sale HERE. yes, I really really need a new phone (see last blog post).
What’s a life without love, even if that love is a bit wonky and not quite what you expected?
Madame Chapeau, the latest creation from the finely paired team of Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, does her best to send little flights of joy and love out into the world, by making hats that perfectly match each of her clients. She’s imaginative, attentive and playful with what she creates, and her customers are delighted. However, poor Madame Chapeau lives alone. There clearly once was someone important in her life, but now, on her birthday she is left dining without close company.
What makes it even harder to bear is that her most treasured hat has been lost en route to her solo birthday meal. Passers-by try to help by offering their own hats to Madame Chapeau, and although their kindness is appreciated. nothing is quite right.
But then up steps a secret admirer, who has been watching Madame Chapeau for some time. A young girl, clearly fascinated by the hats Madame Chapeau creates, offers the milliner a little something she has been working on. It’s rather odd, but this gift has been made with much love and turns out to be the best sort of birthday present Mme Chapeau could have wished for. A new friendship is formed and – one suspects – a new hat maker begins her training.
Detail from Happy Birthday, Madam Chapeau. Note the hat that Madame Chapeau is wearing and compare it with the hat in the photo below of David Roberts’ mum.
This is a whimsical and charming book which celebrates creativity, generosity and thoughtfulness from start to finish. Beaty’s rhyming text tells a heart-warming tale, but Roberts’ detailed and exuberant illustrations steal the show. With lots of famous hats to spot (look out for Princess Beatrice’s hat, for example, or Charlie Chaplin’s Derby) and fabulous fashion, food and architectural details to pour over, this book rewards repeated readings. Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau is a joyous, life-affirming read and if that isn’t enough of a reason to seek it out, do read Maria Popova’s commentary on the subtle message this book has about diversity and cultural stereotypes.
Beanie type hats, plus some colourful craft pompoms make for some enjoyably silly headgear – perfect as winter approaches
I wonder what David Roberts would make of our hats? I ask this because it turns out he was himself a milliner before he became an illustrator. From a young age he had an interest in fashion, making clothes for his sister and her dolls, before going on to study fashion design at college. From this, a special love and skill with hats grew – a love and eye that can clearly be seen in his Madame Chapeau illustrations. I asked David if he would share a little about his love of hats, how it developed and what he finds so enjoyable about making hats. Here’s what he had to say:-
One of the first hats David Roberts made – for The Clothes Show competition in 1993.
“As a kid I was fascinated by Mrs Shilling, and the hats her son David made that she wore to Ascot. They were so theatrical that it would make the news! I loved how she wore these amazing and often bizarre creations with such style and elegance – even if the hat was ridiculous she never looked ridiculous in it.”
David Shilling with his mother Gertrude Shilling. Photo: Sidney Harris
“So when I had the option to do a course in millinery while studying for a degree in fashion design at Manchester Polytechnic, I jumped at the chance, and from then on I was hooked.”
David Roberts’ sister in the hat he made her for her wedding day.
“I love the sculptural aspect of millinery; a hat can be so individual, so singular, a one off. It’s so exciting to have all your elements to create a hat, cloth, wire, glue, buckram, feathers, beads, tulle, net and just let something evolve in your hands. It can turn in to anything really – an abstract shape or something natural like a plant or a flower.”
Stephen Jones, surrounded by some of his hat creations, London, circa 1985. Photo: Christopher Pillitz
“I worked for Stephen Jones for 5 years make his couture hats , where I learned so many skills. And although I loved making his imaginative creations, I stared to realise that I wanted to try my hand at illustrating children’s books – the other great passion in my life.”
This hat is one David Roberts made for his partner Chris (modelling it here). Do look out for it in Madame Chapeau’s shop!
“I am glad I made the step in to illustration, but I do still love to get the wire and beads and feathers out to make a hat once in a while. Madame Chapeau came about when the author Andrea Beaty heard that I had once been a milliner: She wrote the text for me and sent it from Chicago in a hat box! I was utterly captivated by it and enjoyed illustrating it and indulging myself once more in the wonderful world of millinery.”
This is the hat David Roberts gave to Madame Chapeau to wear. It is one David made for his mum to wear at his sister’s wedding.
My enormous thanks to David for sharing some of his millinery background with us today. His passion for hats shines through in his gorgeous illustrations for Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau. Don’t take my word for it – go and find a copy to enjoy yourselves!
I was tempted by some more herbs - Bay Leaves and Oregano. So I did drawings of both. I am really enjoying doing these. I like the size (5" x 7"), and the soothing quality of the subject matter. And they smell nice!
Fresh Bay Leaves
I used Polychromo colored pencils on Fabriano Artistico paper for the whole series. I thought it was important to have them all look and feel the same. Prints, and some of the originals, are available in my shop.
I'll be doing notecards too, but have hit a minor snag. The nice card stock I ordered won't go through my Epson printer - boo. I can't figure out why, since I have other card stock that's, to my eye and hand, the exact same weight, which goes through fine. It must be something in the finish. Whatever it is, the printer either refuses to take the paper and flashes lights and has a fit, or just spits it through un-printed, then prints the image on the sheet of cheap bond that's queued up behind it. Baah! So I will now have to make lemonade somehow out of this batch of lemons (250 sheets of it!), which I think may end up being hand made knitted cards or something. I'm sure I'll figure something out. Meanwhile, I have to find more of the paper I already have that the printer does like, which will go with the envelopes . . . oh, the trials and tribulations of being a 'do-it-yourself' art maker and etsy shop owner!
In happier news, I just found out that two of my pieces have been accepted into the UArt Open 2014 art show! Berry Tart, and Molasses Cookie will be going in to be framed tomorrow, so I can meet the final 'deliver the art' deadline. I'm pretty happy. This is a nice regional art show sponsored by University Art. The art will all be on display in their Redwood City store. Both of these pieces were done with colored pencils on paper.
And then, you know (or do you?) that I also do a bit of knitting, and have a little shop on etsy here.
I was excited to learn that someone who bought several pieces last week will be using them in a production of "Annie" in New York! (no, not on Broadway, but still)
These are some of the pieces that will be in the show:
There was a little bit of drama with the post office not getting them there when they were supposed to - I paid extra to get them there overnight, but they didn't, and whoever was in charge of the package didn't think it was important to scan in any tracking info for a whole day, so we were dying a little, wondering where everything went! But then they got there the next day, in time for the show, so phew.
I'm doing some more knitting, trying to get a few more things in the shop for the holidays. Now its actually starting to be real knitting weather (well, actually it was 103 here again this past weekend, but its September at least, and the cool crisp weather will be starting soon - I hope!)
I also have a 'Fall' illustration piece on the board that started out being done with watercolors, which may now be started over with colored pencils. Its funny - I've been doing so much colored pencil work that going back to painting feels awkward to me. I will of course share when its finished, whatever medium it ends up being done with.
I recently finished working with Alana Dakos on her newest book, "Botanical Knits." The patterns are inspired from plants, trees, leaves, etc. I love the designs (as always when looking at Alana's stuff) and once again wish I had the physical dexterity to knit.
...along with images that inspired her to create the patterns. Then essentially said, "here is what I created, now you create something." So I did.
If you have the book you could play a fun "Where's Waldo" trying to find where some of the illustrations ended up. The interesting thing for me is to see what made it into the book (of course not all do) and where.
Alana also asked me to design the title. Always a fun challenge. She wanted something natural, rustic, with tall letters, almost like they are growing. So here are some examples I came up with.
But ultimately this style was the winner (see above cover).
Another interesting request was for the resource page. She knitted little leaves out of the fabric she used for the knits in the book, and used those as reference for where she got the yarn. Photos of the knitted leaves were eventually placed onto an illustration of a tree branch. You can get an idea for it from the color studies. You will have to buy the book to see how it all really comes together. :)
When I was 10 years old, I was diligently knitting away at a mitten when I realized I had made a mistake. Imagine my surprise when my dad sat down beside me, took my knitting and fixed my mistake. Turns out, my dad knew how to knit rather well.*
So, I knew I wanted to read Knit Your Bit the moment I first heard about it. The United States had entered World War I in April 1917, and lots of men rushed to enlist, leaving their families behind. This is true for young Mikey, whose Pop is also a soldier and who has just shipped off to fight overseas in Europe. Mikey is very frustrated that he has to stay home and can't do something big and important to help the war effort, too. Nevertheless, he turns up his nose when his mother asks if he would like to learn to knit for the soldiers along with his sister. Mikey turns the offer down, because, well, boys don't knit!
But when his teacher announces that there will be a three-day Knitting Bee in Central Park to make hats, socks and scarves for US servicemen overseas, Mikey is challenged by a girl to learn to knit and participate - boys against the girls. And so it is settled - the Boys' Knitting Brigade vs. the Purl Girls.
The only problem is - knitting isn't quite as easy as the boys thought it would be. Yet, they soon master knit, and then it is on to purl. Mikey works on socks, friend Nick on a muffler and Dan works mostly on tangling and untangling his yarn.
The first day of the Knitting Bee finally arrives and there are lots of people participating - men, women, girls and, yes, even other boys. And there's also lots of food, a band and before they all know it, it is time to cast on.
As Mikey does his best trying to knit a pair socks, he learns a mighty important lesson from a disabled soldier about what it really means to do something big and important to help the war effort and the brave soldiers overseas. But who wins the challenge? The Boys' Knitting Brigade or the Purl Girls?
Knit Your Bit is based on a three-day knitting bee held in Central Park in August 1918 and sponsored by the Navy League Comforts Committee. It is a heartwarming story that might even bring a tear or two to your eyes. Hopkinson has seamlessly woven in Mikey's story with this event to produce a wonderful story that shows that sometimes what counts it isn't how well you do something, rather what counts is doing something out of your comfort zone, doing your best and doing it in the right spirit. Wonderfully humorous pen, ink and watercolor illustrations by Steven Guarnaccia add much to the enjoyment of Knit Your Bit. The lines are clean and simple, yet delightfully expressive, and I really liked how they reflect the clothing of the period.
Hopeinson has provided lots of back matter including a Red Cross knitting poster from WWI, an Author's Note which you should be sure to read all about the real Knitting Bee and sources for more information.
Though this is a story that all will enjoy, sending gifts to loved ones fighting in a war is long held tradition and for that reason, I think Mikey's story will particularly resonate for readers in today's world, especially those who have or know someone who has a relative deployed overseas.
This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was sent to me by the publisher as part of a Knit Your Bit Blog Tour.
For other stops on the blog tour, be sure to visit Deborah Hopkinson's blog.
And guess what? You can still Knit Your Bit.
All you have to do is visit The National WWII Museum to download patterns and learn how to participate. Your knitted scarves will be sent to veterans all over the country.
The internet is all abuzz about knitting sweaters for penguins. Snopes.com first said it wasn't true, but now they're showing uncertainty. As a children's book illustrator, I can just use the story as a jumping off point for a sketch. Lucky me. What could be cuter than penguins in sweaters?
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Knitting in Vogue by Christina Probert, a collection of vintage knitting patterns from 1932 to 1979, is a keeper for a single reason: I live in hope. In all the years I've owned the book, purchasing it in San Francisco and hauling it from one side of the country to the other more than once, I have only knitted one garment from the entire text. And that was a very easy 1950s ski sweater that didn't even have long sleeves. But I have plans, I tell you, plans.
One day when I'm not writing/painting/cooking/reading/sleeping, I will make:
Thick Tri-colour Windjammer
Diagonal Pattern Shirt Blouse
Twisted Rib Sweater and Scarf (sounds a bit painful)
Shetland Honeycomb Pattern Sweater
And my absolute favorite:
Butterfly and Moss Stitch Jacket
That's just for starters. I've got the book, I've got the needles, now all I need is the time. Anybody got some extra to spare? No, I didn't think so. Oh, well. See you on Monday with the letter "L." Happy weekend!
This class was kind of funny too. I came up with the idea with older kids in mind, but the way it worked out we were a group of 6-9 year old's. I had had great plans of room size fiber installations and free form crochet/knit/weaving projects, but for these smaller people we took it down a notch.
These snakes were knit on an oversized "knitting Nancy". Although a few of the kids grumbled a bit about the time it took to make them, as soon as the eyes and tongues were added they were in love.
The girl faces were embroidered on a hoop, then hand sewn into little pillows and stuffed.
By the end of the week everyone's patience and attention span had magically expanded and they were crocheting fools. (picture of the "magic tree" installation to follow later)
So when Made by Raffi written by Craig Pomranz, illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain (@madgiemadge) appeared in my hands for the first time I sat up and noticed; it’s about a boy who feels he doesn’t quite fit in, for instead of football, his passion is knitting and sewing.
Although he’s a curious and generous kid, he feels sidelined at school. Unlike most of his classmates, he doesn’t like noise and rough play. But thanks to a supportive teacher he discovers a new passion – making his own clothes. When it is time for the school play could this new skill help him gain the respect of his peers? Without giving the game away, the ending is upbeat, but also authentic. This isn’t a sugar-coated story. (For the really interesting background to the story, take a look at this article).
This book deserves to be in every school and read in every family for a whole plethora of reasons. It’s bold, tackling gender issues that many adults might skirt around: I love Pomranz daring to use the word “girly“, and it certainly helped us talk about how being a girl interested in ‘boys’ things’ is often more accepted by society than a boy interested in ‘girls’ things’. It’s big hearted; not just the warm, loving family Raffi is part of, but also his supportive school. It shows all sorts of children playing together, with different skin colours and different physical abilities, as well as different interests. It’s a joyously inclusive book, which tackles big themes gently and playfully.
Margaret Chamberlain’s illustrations are delightful. She uses colour very cleverly to portray moods and to mirror how much more interesting – indeed colourful – the world is for a diverse range of characters; wouldn’t the world be a dull grey place if we all liked only the same things?
A book about loneliness, respect, difference, and learning to trust your instincts even when it means you don’t follow the crowd, Made by Raffi is a vital, delightful and unusual book I urge you to share.
M and J were recently shown how to knit by their Grandma, and reading Made by Raffi offered the ideal opportunity to practice their recently acquired skills. (Here are some Youtube tutorials we found helpful to refresh our memories of what Granny had taught us: Casting on, knit stitch, casting off.
Having a ball of wool with lots of different colours on it was an effective tool in motivating the kids; each child would knit one or two colours and then hand the needles and ball over to the other. It gave them easy targets to aim for, and I’m sure this is partly why they completed a long scarf far more quickly than I was expecting.
Letting the kids embellish their own clothing. I found this the easiest/most satisfying way to let the kids have a go at making something themselves – they chose buttons they liked and sewed them onto a couple of pieces of clothing. Simple sewing but with a relatively big (and ‘real’) result.
Making a cloak as described in the story. Alternatively, if you can find a department store selling off curtain samples (eg in John Lewis or House of Fraser), you can pick up pretty much prepared cloaks – all you need to do is add something (eg a large hook and eye) so you can have the cloak safely stay on your shoulders as you zoom around wearing it.
If in a school or a library setting, making a display with images of clothes designed by men (Galliano, Versace, Gaultier for example, cut out from glossy magazines) and as the centre pieces place Made by Raffi and The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams. Whilst not for primary school kids, I’d also encourage you to read Boys Don’t Knit by T.S.Easton, a hilarious take on a teenage boy who loves to knit. Ben Fletcher and Raffi would definitely like to meet each other!
Other picture /illustrated books which feature knitting include:
When you grow up with a mother who is a knitter, there are certain facts in life that you simply have to accept. Knitting all the time, everywhere, is the norm. A bookshelf full of different kinds of yarn is not weird. Fiber Fests are de rigeur and knowing the difference between a gossip wheel and a walking wheel (when talking spinning wheels) is par for the course. Don’t even get me started on drop spindles and dying wool with Kool-Aid. Not that I ever took to the craft myself. Maybe it was just so prevalent in my home that I never felt the necessity to learn. Also, why learn to knit when my children are amply provided for, not just by my always knitting mama, but by her friends and my knit-worthy co-workers as well (Alison Hendon shout out!)?
My mom, as it happens, is heavily involved in the knitting blogger community as a commenter. I have honest-to-gosh had people say to me, “I saw that someone called Rams commented on your blog. Is that the same Rams as the one on Ravelry?” Mom be famous. And like all knitters, she pays attention to how they are portrayed in children’s literature.
In a recent Harper Collins post the comment section suddenly got very interested in the subject of books in which knitting is accurately represented. The talk started bring up book after book, so that I suddenly had the idea for this post. You see, the portrayal of knitting by illustrators is very touch and go. Artists are not particularly thrilled by the notion of the ends of knitting needles going down, in spite of the fact that that’s how one actually knits. So as often as not you’ll see an image like this with the ends up:
Note the knitting needles to the right.
Rather than this:
Not sure what their fingers are supposed to be doing here, but at least the needles are down.
Here then, are a couple of our favorite artists, answering the “Does the illustrator care how to hold knitting needles?” question. The answers may surprise you.
DOES THE ILLUSTRATOR CARE HOW ONE HOLDS KNITTING NEEDLES?
Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon – YES!
You’ll find that for some of these books I don’t have images of the knitters knitting, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. A penguin is naturally going to have some difficulty knitting since it is without phalanges, but in spite of this impediment Yoon’s flightless waterfowl still knows the proper way to hold its needles.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, ill. Jon Klassen – NO
When the Caldecott committee sat down and considered Barnett and Klassen’s fabulous book for an Honor, did the fact that its heroine didn’t know how to hold knitting needles ever come up? Was there a knitter on the committee? Or did they feel that in light of the lovely art and great storytelling that this wasn’t an issue? It’s surprising, certainly, to find that for all his talent and charms, Mr. Barnett is unaware of how one knits. However, knowing knitters I suspect he has been informed of this misdeed more than once, and shall continue to be told for years to come.
Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs, ill. Paul O. Zelinsky – YES!
Interesting, is it not, that I can find images of people knitting incorrectly but never correctly? What does that say, I wonder, about the state of knitting today? If you know Zelinsky then you know he is meticulous in his research. If someone is, say, spinning straw into gold as in his Rumpelstiltskin, then doggone it he’s going to create the world’s most accurate spinning wheel. And if Swamp Angel is going to knit something gigantic using (as I recall) trees for needles then you can BET Paul will make that image as correct as he can. Other award winning artists take note.
The Hueys in the New Sweater by Oliver Jeffers -NO
Nope. Not even close. Repeated several times over in the same book, too.
Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo – YES!
This one’s not out yet, but when it is you’ll have a chance to see some truly keen knitting on the part of Nana here. Castillo, one suspects, actually knows from whence she draws. Well done!
A rare graphic novel where knitting is not only important but the climax of the book hinges on it. And you can BET that when it came to knitting, Barry studied precisely where the fingers are supposed to go.
This begs the question: Is it possible to knit with the ends of the needles pointed high to the sky? I leave that to the knitters to answer. In the meantime, what are some of your favorite knitting books for the kiddos? How did those needles fare? High to the sky or low and proud?