Waifs down a mossy path: Dries Van Noten’s clothes for next spring.

Another Humble Homage

Dear Ann,
I’m in a quilty kind of mood, too. Must be the January weather. And as you know, I’m becoming more and more fond of knitting things that are square or at least rectangular. Things with no pattern, or a pattern that you can memorize or fudge if you forget, that nevertheless turn out reassuringly o.k.
Here’s why I don’t take up quilting: D.I.V.O.R.C.E. (One of my all-time favorite country song lyrics:. “Our D.I.V.O.R.C.E. becomes final toda-ay/Me and little J.O.E. will be going a-wa-ay/ I love you dear, and this will be pure H.E. double-L for me/ I wish that we could stop this D.I.V.O.R.C.E.”). You see, Hubby didn’t sign up for the knitting; I sprung it on him a couple of years into the deal. He’s been real nice about it and all, but if UPS shows up with a used Singer I bought on eBay, I think he’d have the law on his side.
The solution, for Hubby and me, is to do my quilting via knitting. My latest, greatest dream is to knit an interpretation of this stunning 1950s quilt by Jessie T. Pettway:
Bars.jpg
An image of this quilt was used to promote the Gee’s Bend Quilts exhibit at the Whitney Museum last year. In person, it is awe-inspiring. I do not aim to copy its artistry, but simply say grace for it.
I would appreciate input on the design. In contrast to my version of Loretta Pettway’s Courthouse Steps quilt, which was basically trying to be a knitted replica of the original, I’d like to vary this one, without losing its essence. One thing I’m thinking of doing is replacing the solid red bars with — you guessed it — Rowan Denim in the dark indigo shade called Nashville. I’d like to do these strips a bit wider, in a textured stitch that would bring handquilting to mind, zig-zags or garter ridges perhaps. For the strips of pieced triangles, the plan (raw-THER ambitious) is to work short-row triangles using my prized collection of discontinued shades of Rowan Handknit DK Cotton. Making a blanket instead of a garment will mean I can keep an album of these colors forever, without spilling coffee on them or washing them down to nubs, or getting tired of a sweater style. I’d like to use more colors than Jessie T. Pettway did, without sacrificing the rhythm of her color repeats. I’ll probably use more blues and greens.
I’m most concerned that the denim is the wrong move; is the vivid red of the quilt its defining quality? But since I am going to knit the strips as separate, portable pieces (like scarves, really), I will have a chance to abandon the denim and re-use it (recycled denim yarn is itself a thing to be coveted, in my book) if it deadens the look of the blanket.
I’d love to hear your views and those of our readers.
Love, Kay

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Kay, you truly are THE artist. Ms. Xenobia Bailey look out! I love your idea of replacing the red with Rowan Denim. Have you ever thought of using fabric from old denim trousers together with the knitting too? Lately I`ve been thinking of combining fabric and knit. Am I crazy? Looking forward to seeing your progress on this one.

  2. I think if you replace the red on the sides, you need to make the triangles more muted than the denim _or_ amazingly vivid. The red stripes are such a visual break point, I think the denim color has a stronger possiblity of looking more like a frame, or receding into the background.
    I do think short-rowing is the way to go. I took a great class a few years back from *(I think) Ginger Luters on short-rowing where we experiemented with making designs in fabric using short rows. When you said you were thinking of reinterpreting this design, I immediately thought short rows.

  3. wow!!! i can’t wait to see what you do with this! i will be anxiously awaiting your progress reports! good luck!

  4. Oh yeah!
    Kay, what an inspiration. I think the denim will be great, but I do agree that it will mean rethinking the colours of the short-row triangles to be either muted or extra vibrant.
    Ann, what a trove you have with those shirts, and I think it’s a generous idea to have quilts made from them for Herb’s offspring. They will be beautiful.
    Go girls!
    Aara

  5. Oh, wow, I’m so excited that I’m not the only person who wanted to knit these when I saw them! They’re near me, at the Milwaukee Museum of Art at the moment.
    What struck me about the quilts was how free and joyful they felt. I think that same feel can come from a different color scheme. A lot of the quilts there were largely made of denim and still had that feel.

  6. Maybe do the triangles in short rows, garter and stocking stitch mixed? You get a nice mix of shapes and textures that might add some more action to it, plus you might be able to knit the entire ‘triangle stripe’ section in one go, far less sewing up afterwards.

  7. Thanks for the inspiration, I’d been trying to think about what to do with all my odd balls of cotton! I’d been loooking at an old IK – the one with the article about the kimono jackets and using modular knitting.
    My only note of caution is to think about the shrinkage and colour loss issue with the denim yarn as it may distort the rest of the quilt.
    Good luck

  8. Yvonne–I take your advice to heart. Do you think the denim shrinkage problem will be solved if I knit the denim strips separately, wash them once (or twice or three times, for good measure and to get a more faded effect, with plenty of whitened spots, as that’s what I think might resemble quilt stitches showing through) and then attach the denim strips to the Handknit DK Cotton ‘strings’ of triangles?
    And Thomas–I love the idea of mixing garter and stocking stitch on the triangles. I am also pondering casting each triangle off and then picking up stitches for the next color. Somehow this strikes me as more consistent with the ‘piecing’ aspect of quilting–than knitting simple stripes (albeit short-rowed stripes).
    It’s so much more fun doing this with pals kibbitzing along with me!!! Happy weekend everybody, xox Kay

  9. Kay–This will be your finest hour. How big are you going to make it? I vote for heroic size.
    I like Thomas’s idea about varying the texture a little–it wouldn’t be overwhelming, and in a long-haul project like this, you might welcome the variety.
    I couldn’t resist trying your quilt in Photoshop–see Found Objects for a quick attempt at something denimy. The triangles turned really muted, and I like how they look. But I think it could withstand vibrant colors in the triangles–I agree with Melissa that really muted or really vibrant would work. I mean, denim is the ultimate neutral.
    Finally, I think the vivid red is the defining quality of Ms. Pettway’s quilt, but I don’t think it will be for yours.
    Fantastic! x0x0x0x

  10. PS I don’t think we’ve properly talked about Tammy Wynette, but suffice it to say that it’s not Christmas at our house unless we have “A Tammy Wynette Christmas” playing. She really was/is/shall forever be the First Lady of Country Music.

  11. Now I’m really confused. It’s so interesting to see it in blue. It does sort of look like a frame, doesn’t it? The denim is too flat with the original triangle colourway. I was planning for brighter color in the triangles, given the jewel-bright blues and greens that dominate my Vintage Rowan Cotton Collection (that sounds grand but it’s basically 30 or so shades, many in single balls). Many shades from teal to turquoise, also several hot pinks & oranges; almost no pastels or ‘dusties’. This is why I thought the denim might be the thing (I know, I almost always think denim might be the thing–e.g., the denim waffle dishcloth in my lap at this moment). There is not a lot of ‘muted’ in my palette, and I thought with the brights and the red it scream too much.
    I’m going to just start, and see how I like it as it goes. That’s the Gee’s Bend way, I’ve read. They just sat piecing what they had on hand, to please their eye, and then pieced the strips together the way they thought looked best. The lack of choice was in some sense a gift, forcing ingenuity and imagination.
    Current plan: denim, maybe Memphis because it’s warmer, clearer than Nashville, and bright and/or deep-toned triangles. It may turn out looking like a faux Amish rather than a faux Gee’s Bend. Stay tuned. This will take a while. Thanks, love, Kay

  12. Hi, Kay! It sounds like you might already have begun casting on and knitting, so this may be for naught — looking at the blue colorway really, uh, makes me appreciate the red colorway all the more . . . What if you were to overdye Rowan’s ecru denim yarn a somewhat washed-out, vintage-y red, similar to the color in the original quilt? I think a truly red yarn would be overwhelming and Christmas-y, but a dusty red indigo yarn might be just the thing . . . I just discovered Mason-Dixon Knitting over the holidays and spent many happy hours catching up with past and present entries. My thanks to you and Ann for providing such well-written, interesting reading!

  13. Although I can’t offer much help on the knitting of THIS particular quilt, it reminded me very much of this website. Perhaps you have seen it before? http://www.woollythoughts.com/creation.html
    It is a collection of pamphlets on how to knit very complex blanket patterns (and teach yourself some nifty mathematics at the same time) Some of them look remarkably quilt-like and all of them are quite inspiring. My personal favorites being http://www.woollythoughts.com/afghans/blocks.html http://www.woollythoughts.com/afghans/fives.html
    and http://www.woollythoughts.com/afghans/windows.html
    I hope this provides some input or inspiration for you!

  14. Hello again! The blue colorway makes the triangles look really different, doesn’t it! I think the Memphis color of Demin would be much better – much less risk of it getting skipped by the eye with the clarity of the color. That with the teals-turquoises and hot pinks to oranges will be striking! I can’t wait to see how it looks!

  15. I agree that the memphis denim would be better than nashville and I think it’ll be lovely with all your different greens & blues – especially with some bright pink/orange highlights! What a fabby project! I’m looking forward to following your progress.