Learn how to crawl: the New York City Yarn Crawlย is on through Sunday, September 25.

It Makes The Knees Go Weak

Dear Ann,
I believe you know of my affection for the Frick Collection. You walk in, and no matter how many times you’ve seen Mr. Frick’s pictures, the amazement washes over you anew.
There is a numbered plaque beside most of the paintings. You walk up to the painting, you punch the number into your Acoustiguide, and you get a short description in a charming foreign accent (sometimes Brit, sometimes French, and sometimes a lady who sounds like Sophia Loren). They say just the right amount into your ear, and you move on, feeling smarter. It’s a small enough collection, and I have visited enough times, that I walk smugly up to a portrait of an elegant lady and say to myself, “Now isn’t this just the nicest Reynolds?” Then I punch in the number and learn that it’s Whistler. Right. I knew that. I totally meant Whistler.
My favorite painting is the portrait of Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein, the Younger. (Not so younger anymore. Long dead in fact.) It’s simply arresting. You KNOW Thomas More from looking at this picture. You have met the man, and no one can convince you otherwise. The British accent in your ear is male, plummy and posh (think Alan Rickman meets Dr. Niles Crane). He’s gushing, unashamed of how much he adores this painting. He mentions Holbein’s rendering of the velvet sleeves and says, ‘It makes the knees go WEAK.’ I’ve listened to him on each visit, but I forget that this bit is coming, and it makes me laugh, in an audible way that is not appropriate to the setting. But I can’t help it; it’s funny, because it’s so true. You feel a little lightheaded after seeing this picture.
That’s what your post “what makes hard hard?”got me thinking about. Starmore’s Katherine Howard jacket is not just an infernally laborious piece of knitting; it gives you the vapors. I don’t even LIKE that sort of thing, but I bow before it. And I would knit it, just to make something so beautiful, take a picture of it, and hang it with my bleached and shredded Raspy (the Ick Collection) and my Gallery of Very Loud Blankets.
(Historical note: Sir Thomas More was beheaded because he refused to subscribe to the Act of Supremacy making King Henry VIII head of the Church of England, which cleared the path for the King to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Young Kathryn Howard, the fifth of Henry VIII’s fifth of six wives, was executed also. This is the closest I will ever come to a Seinfeldesque dovetailing of story lines.)
Here’s another knee-weakener. These gave me a bad repeat case of the rockin’ pneumonia and the miter-knitting flu. Cara was in the city. It is a sign of our mutual problem that (1) she volunteered to pack up 100 pieces of knitting to show me and (2) I really wanted to see all 100. So we sat around, feeling a little giddy, and then we went out and bought some Tahki Cotton Classic. It seemed like the thing to do. I need to get mitering.
This project will get me warmed up. Four shades of Cascade 220, doubled, on US 11 needles. You cast on 120 and proceed to miter. This is a blanket that Amber and I are going halfsies on for Afghans for Afghans’ Mother’s Day baby blanket initiative. Amber is knitting one big fat mitery half and I’m knitting the other. We are not meeting up until the sew-up, but we are blithe and bonny about the ultimate result. It’s going to be good, if not knee-weakening. How could it NOT be good?
Love, Kay




  1. Why didn’t I think of using the yarn doubled?? I’m too far in now to turn back, but it’s going to be a struggle to hit that deadline — of course, if I hadn’t cast on 190 instead of 180, then knit 100 rows before I discovered that yes, I placed the marker correctly after 90 stitches, but oops — there were 100 on its other side. . . very Issey Miyake, but just not the look I had in mind for this one. Must. . . knit. . . the . . . monster. . . miters. . .

  2. I once learned a rhyme to help one remember what became of all of King Henry VIII wives: “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.” Now one just has to recall the names of all the Queens in order. Lovely art and lovely knitting. Or isn’t that just saying the same thing?

  3. I learned that ditty too. What with doing Tudors and Stuarts for History O Level and living practically next door to Hampton Court Palace for 8 years I have a peculiar fondness for Henry and his wives… So, from memory:
    Catherine of Aragon – divorce
    Anne Boleyn – beheaded
    Jane Seymour – died
    Ann of Cleves – divorced
    Katherine Howard – beheaded
    Katherine Parr – survived
    And I’m not sure if I spelled them all right. (How many ways are there to spell Catherine anyway).

  4. I’ve been following Cara’s mitre-madness. Love the miters, haven’t tried them yet. Have enough madness here. Tempting. Must. Resist.

  5. You know, it always SEEMS like there were more beheadings.
    Only (only?) 2!
    xox Kay

  6. With all this history, textiles and mathematics, it looks like knitting can make us quite well-rounded and informed. And when we get together in groups, we usually discuss … knitting! (Or yarn …)
    What fun to have a knitting partner for a project. It’s an idea I never considered.
    ~ Dar

  7. Thomas More? A Man for All Seasons Cotton? (That’s Mark’s favorite, too.) You ARE fathomless–I love it. Mine is The Officer and the Laughing Girl.

  8. Mr More looks a tad grumpy, but what colours! The green thingy behind him and the fur collar and the soft red red velvet sleeves! Oooh, my knees are indeed weak!

  9. I got terribly excited when I found the audioguide piece online (http://www.frick.org/virtual/living.htm), but it’s some American dude! No fair!
    I’m sure he’s a perfectly lovely American dude, but still.

  10. Hi
    It’s Kathryn Howard (a cousin of anne Boleyn’s) but Katherine Parr.
    (pedantic english person here) and catherine of Aragon.
    I have come late to the world of knitting mitred squares but am 8 squares into an 80 square blankie.
    Am most inspired.

  11. Yay! Miters! Cara’s madness has inspired me, I mitered my first square last night, then cast on for the second. FHBF was out of town, so no one to suggest that I should go to bed… and I knit until 2am. Yes, Cara! It’s madness!

  12. I’m loving the miters! Can’t wait to see Cara’s finished blanket… you’re so lucky you got to see them in person!

  13. Hahaha. I didn’t even skip a beat when Cara told me she was taking all those squares to show you. It is understood. All I said was, “Whoa, Cara. You’re not going to be able to fit those all into one bag.” She said, “Yeah, I think I’m gonna need two.”
    Gawd, aren’t they gorgeous?

  14. Damn. Now THAT’s a mitre.

  15. The mighty miter!

  16. I just wanted to tell you I have a repro. of that very same Thomas More portrait on my desk because I love it so. It came from a lecture at church about him and how amazingly brave he was to die for his beliefs. My picture came from The Center for Thomas More Studies at the University of Dallas. (a good Catholic school) Also, I am in the middle of mitered squares, too. I am aiming for 60 squares and I’m using your no-sew method. I love it!

  17. I keep oohing and aaahing over mitered square blankets. I love Tahki Cotton Classic and mitering is so fun, but I just keep not putting the two together! They are always so gorgeous, though! Maybe I’ll join the slogalong and knit one.

  18. Thanks for reminding me how much I loved the Frick when I lived in NYC many years ago. Must get back. (We didn’t have audioguides in the old days.)

  19. I love that painting. We have had a print of it for years, but the first time I walked into the Frick and saw it in person, my knees did in fact go weak. It’s so wonderfully placed, there, too, over the mantel. And isn’t El Greco’s St. Jerome in the same room?

  20. there are 100 squares there? you would think they’d take up more room!

  21. A couple of things:
    1) The Frick is my most favorite museum EVER. EVER. And I’ve never heard the audiothingamajigies. When are we going? We MUST go soon.
    2) How is it that after knitting 100+ miters I can screw up the counting? I just ripped out an almost complete miter because I realized I had cast on too few stitches. I really am insane.
    3) I’d be nothing without you. Thank you for the miter love.

  22. It’s just pointless to try to resist the pull of the miters. I am powerless in the face of your book and Cara’s blog. I bought many skeins of Cotton Classic at lunchtime today, and tonight i’m going to bust ’em out and start knitting. Thank you for the inspiration. I think.

  23. Seeing all of these miters (and I’ve been resisting the lure even though I’ve read the book cover to cover and back again) gives me horrible ideas. I should go hide before they become reality…

  24. I had the most delightfully highbrow museum encounter ever at the Frick back when I lived in the NY area. I struck up a conversation with a total stranger about the comparative use of shadow in the paintings of Georges de la Tour (still a fave) and his son Etienne. Ah New York. So wonderfully erudite.

  25. Lovely, lovely miters… doubling yarn… great idea for a blankie. I want some for myself but can’t seem to put myself to an entire afghan on 6’s…

  26. Look at all those pretty miters!

  27. more historical blankety meet-ups! can’t wait to see what comes out of the collaboration ๐Ÿ˜‰

  28. Oh, if you love the Holbein portrait of More then you have to read the book ‘Portrait of an Unknown Woman’ – it’s about Thomas More having that very portrait painted and it’s FABULOUS – a historical romance in the best possible sense.

  29. History and art and knitting … oooh it makes my heart go pitter patter- oh right – those are the hot flashes that are making me week in the knees these days. Geez – I love the wisdom that comes with age, but the physically apparent downward swing is for the birds! Hot flashes made me put my favorite hand knitted sweater in the storage bag rather early this spring.

  30. Oh, me too, me too, me too! The Frick: best museum ever. And the Holbein: the only thing I’ve ever wanted to gaze at longer are sea dragons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leafy_sea_dragon.
    Have you heard the story about Holbein and Anne of Cleves? You probably know that Henry divorced her on account of her homeliness. Well, the story goes that he felt rooked by Holbein’s portrait of her – a portrait that made her looks seem much more fortunate than they really were. Holbein, though, had only painted what he saw, because he fell in love with her as she sat for him.
    A history teacher told this story to my class. She said it was a terrible pity that Henry divorced Anne, because she was very clever and funny and they were well matched, and she could totally kick Henry’s ass at boardgames. It’d be a different world, eh?

  31. The miter is great, so is the history lesson (damn, now I know how “The Tudors” turns out!)…but most importantly – that CHAIR! Love the fabric, I need to see more!!

  32. Well, you know the best bits of visiting NY….
    1. meeting you (again)
    2. seeing that very painting (in your company)- another one who goes weak at the knees at it, but more for the artistry (Holbein) and the legacy of what that great man (More) did for my fabulous city than any admiration of his religious beliefs. (I did stand in the spot where he was condemned in Westminster Hall and feel humble, though)
    3. the trip to Coney Island. Now what does that little list say about me, I wonder?

  33. I just love the way you write. I can so hear Alan Rickman/Niles Crane combined. And after following all your links I have to ask… how do you get anything done at all? I find myself sitting down for a long read at each and every stop. So much to learn and see…how does one do it all?

  34. Mighty miter! I’m on the miter bandwagon, via Cara, via you.
    Any sage advice about backing/not backing the blanket? I’ve a way to go – I’m on square number 5.

  35. Speaking of Henry VIII and Thomas More- there is a show/ mini-series on cable (showtime?) called The Tudors, chronicling that exact time period. It’s not a historical documentary, it is a drama using the historical figures as its characters. You may want to check it out.

  36. I hail from Seattle, and have read your book and blog since my mother-in-law introduced me to it at Christmastime. You guys are great! I thought that you might find this interesting–
    My husband and I love the Frick, and went last year with this guide on our Ipods. It was created by a few former Yale grads now living in the city. One of them is a film student at NYU.
    it is the classic low-brow high concept guide, takes a special kind of sense of humor to appreciate.

  37. I so love that painting! It was a color plate in my high school English Literature textbook. I would study it when I should have been reading Chaucer and Samuel Pepys. I went to the Frick for the first time just to see it. It does not disappoint.

  38. Yes, the sleeves can induce weak knees- sweet!

  39. The White Stripes had a guest appearance on The Simpsons last nite. Anyone else see it?

  40. Be still my heart.
    A voice like Alan Rickman meets Niles Crane?
    I think hearing that might be enough to do me in. But I’d die happy!


A bit of news from us, every now and again.

(Your email is safe with us.)