Months ago, the vintage kit for this project arrived in the mail. It was a complete surprise, a gift from Clara Parkes, who must have been in some kind of mad KonMari frenzy that I am totally not going to question. The kit did not spark joy for her.
IT SPARKS JOY FOR ME. As Clara knew that it would.
I was so stunned to own this thing that I simply stared at it for a while, slackjawed. Then one day I took out its various components, laid them all on the floor, and tried to figure out how hard it was going to be, and whether I had the mettle. Kaffe’s patterns are notoriously difficult, mainly because he does not seem too concerned with ease of knitting. He is concerned about creating beauty. He is concerned about using as many different colors, weights and fibers of Rowan yarns in a project as he possibly can. Why use 10 colors when you can use 30? Why not mix different thin yarns to get a thick yarn? That’s Kaffe’s approach; he does not think anything is too hard. One simply gets on with making it–the one time I got to hear him speak, that’s what he said. He said he does not understand why people dither and hesitate about making things. Just get on with it.
But dither I did. I put the whole kit into a Dedicated Reticule, and let it steep for a while.
I’m glad I did, because with time came clarity. When I started thinking about Big Flower again recently, I no longer toyed with the idea of gerrymandering it into a Big Flower throw, or even a sweater with a less outrageously oversized 1980s fit, or something more “me” or more useful. It seems so obvious now that I must knit this kit exactly as intended. It’s timeless. Fashion and fit are not relevant concerns here. Thirty-one years ago, this was in style. It’s sort of in style right now. It’s a mad beautiful textile. It’s going to be my Rhinebeck sweater for the rest of my Rhinebecks. I am going to wear a sign that says, “Ask me about my Kaffe Fassett Big Flower Jacket.”
This shade key right here is my rock and my redeemer. The skeins and balls of yarn are not labeled in any way. When the chart calls for shade “HN,” you have to fish out yarn H (thick) and yarn N (thin) and double-strand them. Some shades are triple-stranded. The stripes change constantly. Some are 2 rows, some are only 1 row. You have to get the sequence right, because you knit up the back of the jacket to the shoulders, and then you knit the fronts down from the shoulders, separately. Later, when you seam the sides, the stripes all line up.
Back in those days, you got a letter from Kenneth Bridgewater of The Westminster Trading Corporation, telling you about the single error in the color key for the flower chart, and clarifying the bit about knitting the fronts down from the shoulders. Somebody should post this letter on Ravelry. It’s time travel.
I got a few rows farther than this, going great guns on US 10 needles, when tragedy struck. Color E, Rowan Chunky Chenille shade 363 French Mustard, was missing. I checked and double checked. I nearly punted and used very similar Color C, but I realized that would just be asking for trouble. My own collection of Chunky Chenille (of course I had one) never had that shade in it, and I KonMari’d the whole lot last summer anyway, so I couldn’t even sub a different shade. I went looking for it on Ravelry, with little hope in my heart.
And there it was. A single skein of shade 363 French Mustard in someone’s stash, marked “Will Trade or Sell.” I sent her a message.
PS A hearty congratulations to the winners of our giveaway featuring Lorna’s Laces Yarns String Quintets: Megan R. of Canada; Julie D. of France; Twyla L. of Montana; Pam H. of Illinois; Carol S. of New Jersey; Sue A. of Michigan; Corey S. of Virginia; Shannon C. of Arkansas; Kim E. of California; Emily H. of New York.
More than 1,700 knitters shared their favorite lace patterns, a mighty compendium if you’re looking for your next lace project.