Monday, January 14, 2008

The Importance of Being Earnest

What about the Knitting Pattern-a-Day calendar -- what's inside?

Well, it's got a totally different personality. It is just what it says. It really is essentially a pattern every day, six days a week (since Saturday and Sunday are combined). That's a lot of patterns. This calendar is earnest and hardworking.

Deducting for the combined weekend entries, and a few that continue over more than one day, that's something close to 300 patterns. What a staggering job it must be to put all that together. When there are so many to compile, you aren't going to get there by commissioning new patterns from top designers. Instead, they issue an invitation each year to all and sundry to submit patterns for consideration. And all and sundry respond.

As far as I can tell, they hear mostly from three categories of submitters: yarn companies providing pattern support to sell more yarn, designers and bloggers trying to establish or expand a following, and just everyday ordinary folks saying, hey look at me, I've got my pattern in the calendar!

So the patterns run the gamut. Some are extremely simple, obvious, even. Lots of scarf/baby blanket/shell patterns in this yarn or that, or in a generic weight. Sometimes they're in a nice stitch pattern, or in an interesting colorway. Sometimes they're just as plain as can be but have a lovely warm thought from the submitter to accompany them. There are afghans and accessories, dishcloths and spa mitts, toys and strange things, like knitted lace bookmarks and decorative sleeves for votive candleholders. Some days it's just the stitch pattern itself. Then there are plenty of sweaters, hats, mittens, you name it. Some are attractive, and some unfortunate, some stodgy, and some really stylish.

Sometimes there's something interesting and authentic. A traditional Norwegian sweater from Arnhild Knitting Studio. A sock adapted from Dutch fisherman's style sweaters by Joanna Daneman.

Sometimes there's something arrestingly original, like the gansey-styled sock (whose designer I'm sorry I can't remember off the top of my head), that translates the gansey's traditional underarm gusset to serve as a heel.

And once in a while, there's something gorgeous. An elegant sweater by Annie Modesitt. A sock by Cat Bordhi. A domino knitting project by Vivian Hoxbro. A beautiful mosaic pattern. A chevron-patterned capelet in handspun alpaca.

The quality is patchy, from amateurish to great. Some days the pattern is a groaner, the photo muddy and hard to make out, the project laid out lumpily or modeled by a loved one feeling awkward in front of the camera. Other days, the pattern shows a real eye for style. Maybe this unevenness is what has me pulling for it. It's like a child getting the hang of riding a bicycle, with someone running along behind, pushing and steadying it, just on the verge of wobbling off on its own with its training wheels.

This year, I notice they've changed editors. We'll have to see if the new editor helps with smoothing out the bumps without losing the nice parts. Signs so far are mixed. The photography seems clearer and more consistent. Some of the patterns continue to be strange. Maybe stranger than ever. A shoulder car-seat-belt cozy. String bikinis for your hands. (Really. Narrow bands around the wrist and each finger, all connected by strings.) Oh, and dear new editor, one request is to avoid continuing multi-day patterns onto that combined Saturday/Sunday entry. It just makes for yet one more day without a new surprise.

It's the daily uncertainty that makes it exciting. People who complain that there aren't many patterns they'd like to make are missing the point. If you want to know what you're getting or have a particular style in mind, this is not the place to look.

But if you love the jelly-beans-all-sorts chanciness of never knowing what's next, it's interesting, maddening, pleasing, disappointing, and utterly... wonderful.

1 comment:

Mary said...

...and that's the calendar I got last year, and you described it just as perfectly as yesterday's subject. I'm not a rip-off-a-calendar-page-a-day kind of person, so they're really not for me, and it drives me especially crazy when they're loose pages. (Don't they know how I live, and that my two cats would have those 300 pages scattered all over the house in about seven minutes???)