While we were in Philadelphia over Mother’s Day weekend, we had a lovely brunch at Muriel’s and then spent some of the afternoon in her apartment. Lisa, Karen and I went into the den. Lisa and Karen had helped Muriel move into her apartment so they knew Muriel had a collection of her mother’s recipe cards in a little box in the closet. Bob has fond memories of his mother making cream cheese dough cookies, rugala, plum cake and sour cherry pie. As we read through the recipes, we had to ask about certain references. One was “make snow”. Muriel explained that it meant to whip egg whites until the replicate the look of soft piles of snow. We certainly don’t have such lovely romantic references in our modern cookbooks.
When we got back home in to Washington, I was still thinking about those cards and the scene of a third generation of women considering the instructions for making food a source for continuing happy family memories. I don’t have a tradition of comfort food in my family but I am certainly beginning traditions of handknit memories. If another generation of knitters wanted to continue those tradition how would they know what to do?
The answer is that I need to make up a set of knitting recipe cards. Cards that are dog-eared and worn and full of notes along the margins. Or, maybe get a couple of small, blank books and put the patterns in them. The criteria for making it into my recipe books will be patterns that I use frequently. Patterns that are familiar, comforting and have been given to friends and family.
The very first pattern would actually be a diagram. Elizabeth Zimmermann’s diagram of her percentage system for making a raglan sweater. I can reference The Opinionated Knitter. I would put in extra notes about how to work in yoke color patterns as you work the raglan decreases. Sort of a recipe for a pie crust with explanations on how to prepare different fillings.
I would also include Elizabeth’s diagram for a drop-shoulder sweater also in The Opinionated Knitter. Here I would talk about steeking for the sleeves and even up the front in case the knitter of the future wants to make a cardigan.
I’d like to think that my lace shawls will become family heirlooms and that they will inspire new knitters. The Pi Are Square shawl instructions and diagram from Knitting Around would go in my recipe book complete with photos of all the shawls I made.
Next, I would note the Pi Shawl variations in The Knitter’s Almanac. Here I would be sure to explain the concept of the mathematical theory of increasing the diameter and the resulting increase of the circumference. I would also need to explain how to plan panels of lace in each of the segments in between the regular increases. And, I would put in notes on different borders I had chosen to use over the years. Extra spices to be added to the soup, so to speak.
The Stonington Shawl from Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitting Workshop is such a classic design. And, so easy for a beginning knitter. A basic, sugar cookie sort of recipe. A good place to explain the beauty of quality yarn, simply knit with an elegant border for the ending.
I am hoping that none of the Moderne Baby Blankets I knit from Mason Dixon Knitting survive to the next generation. They are meant to be worn to shreds and only exist in memory. But, those memories will be quite strong because those blankets would have been used at teddy bear picnics, first camping trips, bouts of colds and the chicken pox, made secret caves under a couple of over-turned chairs and finally a comforting cover after a very busy day. The next set of knitters will want their children to have equally fond memories so the Moderne Baby Blanket will definitely be in my little recipe book. Complete with the diagram to help the knitter not get all turned around as I tend to do when I’m not paying attention while starting a new color block.
It's been several years since Sally Melville's first book in the Knitting Experience series - The Knit Stitch - was published. I remember how thrilled we were with the projects Sally had designed using only the garter stitch. I made one Shape It Scarf and every time I wear it I receive compliments all day. I would like to make a few more so I'm going to add the pattern to my "recipe box". It is not only a good way to use up odd bits of yarn but you can also indulge in some luxury yarn for a very special treat.
Let’s not forget socks! Definitely items that will achieve the status of family favorites. Tina has devised a toe-up sock pattern, called Two at a Time, Toe Up, Magic Loop Socks. It has become my absolute favorite. It should be up on our web-site late next week. I much prefer toe-up socks because it makes it easy to make well-fitting socks. But, a nicely shaped, gusseted heel flap is a bit difficult to manage with that design. Tina has worked out a design that not only allows me to make a heel flap with gussets but the padding stitch of the heel flap continues underneath the heel for a nice cushion. Extra notes will remind the knitter of the future that it is the knitter’s choice in terms of dressing up the socks on the foot or the leg. Cables, colorwork and textured stitches, for example. Assuming that many dozens of socks will be knit in the future, I think I will also include a little chart giving a broad template for different sizes of socks.
I would say that the Kimonos from the first Mason Dixon Knitting book must be in the recipe book. I have to say first since we are all anxiously awaiting their second book! In this case, my secret ingredient will be adding an i-Cord border with a built in buttonhole.
I’m not so sure about the Baby Surprise Jacket. Elizabeth's original instructions are in The Opinionated Knitter but I was never successful until Meg Swansen made her new DVD walking me through every single step. I think I need to knit a few more and then re-phrase the instructions in my own, plodding manner. I will be sure to make the point that this project is particularly well designed for using up bits of yarn. Even just a couple of rows of an odd color can brighten up the entire sweater. Sort of what I call clean-the-refrigerator soup. Every couple of weeks, I go through the refrigerator and collect anything that is still edible and try to add as much as possible to a basic soup stock. The only draw-back is that no soup is every reproduceable but it certainly makes me feel like a frugal homemaker. Making a baby sweater with leftover yarns makes me feel even more economical.
One more project hasn’t actually been knit up for anyone but me, but given how much I love hot water bottles, I need to find a pattern that I can make into an heirloom. There’s a good chance that this recipe will cause the same sort of confusion and amusement as the “snow” reference in Muriel’s recipe cards. I like to think that some things will never become obsolete and that hot water bottles will always be available. I’ve seen several patterns in books but haven’t actually looked at any of them very closely. The key is strategic placement of buttoned openings so that the cover can easily be slipped over the bottle. I do have a pattern of my own that I could add to the recipe file. The bottom is buttoned closed so the bottle can be pulled through the widest point. Umm, you know, that really is a good pattern. I want to improve the shaping at the neck of the bottle but that’s about it. The one I knit originally has been completely worn out so I need to make one for myself and that would give me a good opportunity to improve the instructions.
Over the years, I’m sure other projects will qualify for my recipe file box or book. I kind of like the idea of judging projects by their potential to become stuff of family legend.