Sunday, March 25, 2007

Warning: Blanket Under Construction

There are two things that I love about knitting. (OK, there are more than two things, but for purposes of this post I'm only going to write about two!!)

The first is the process--knitting is meditative, challenging, creative, essential; it binds me to all those who make fabric with sticks and string since the beginning of the craft and until the end of time.

Second is the spirit of community that knitters share. I especially value group projects. Oh, I know, some group projects have turned out so unspeakably ugly that only their mother could love them. I've organized a number of group projects and they all have produced items more beautiful than you could imagine.

Before I describe the current project that is the topic of this post, let me brag about one of my other group projects.

I used to teach an after school knitting club at the neighborhood elementary school. The children at the school are from more than 50 different countries in the world, mainly due to the fact that the University's student family housing is close by. Every year the kids, the teachers, mothers, fathers, grandparents, the school principal and even the school nurse would knit squares that I would then sew into a patchwork afghan. In 2003 I designed patterns to knit the flags of all the countries represented in the school!! Children from first grade through fifth grade worked on squares/flags, along with teachers, parents, etc., etc. Everyone was so proud of the resulting blanket.
In addition to the sense of pride that all the children had (can you see it in their faces??) I was most pleased with the how the blanket brought together the parents from different, and sometimes warring, countries. Dozens of people at a time crowded around the blanket at the annual school auction to locate their flag, or the flag someone they knew worked on. The blanket created a world community. I was hooked on group blankets!! (click the photo for a larger view.)

This year I started a fiber arts circle at my church. The ten of us meet regularly to create a smaller community within the larger community of our church. We bring our handwork--everyone knits, but some members are mainly quilters, or mainly weavers. We explore ourselves and our spirituality through the commonality of our love for working with fiber.

(NOW to the group project!!!)
The ten of us decided to make a blanket for the church auction in April. Because our church was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright we decided to make a blanket that is inspired by the the structure and the colors of our church. We debated the merits of various designs, various techniques and various colors. We debated the merits of everyone following a pattern versus everyone riffing on a theme. We talked about gauge and needle size. We talked about the number of squares and the size of squares. I talked about the mind numbing task of sewing the squares together, making an edging, etc.

We finally agree to knit bias squares, with mandatory color changes every 12 garter ridges and permissive color changes every 6 garter ridges except for the beginning and ending 12 garter ridges. We agreed on a gauge that would result in squares 11 inches on each side.

We selected colors from our church--the famous Frank Lloyd Wright brick red, the gold and tan of the limestone walls, the teal and greens of the bench cushions, the greens of the well loved trees on the property. We also took found these colors in the original drapery designed and woven by Frank Lloyd Wright's wife Oglivanna and women of the church. The drapery wore out years ago and is gone, except for a restored section that is on display in a locked case. We examined the drapery and found shades of purple, which we included in our squares. We went to a local yarn shop to select yarn and colors. We took a color card to our church, holding tiny bits of yarn to stone, floor, cushion and drapery. We held a meeting to wind the 33 skeins of Cascade 220 into small and medium size balls--five swifts and ball winders attached to a dining room table!!
Then, we retreated to our homes, to cafes, to automobiles, etc., to knit our squares.

As any experienced knitter would expect, the squares were somewhat irregular in size and the "rules" were followed to the best of the knitters' interpretations. Each knitter was proud of her work and eager to see the result.

We held a meeting at the studio of a group member who is a fabulous weaver--and who has a large table.

Ok. We had 35 squares to arrange. Five on one side and seven on the other side. My scientist husband (PhD from MIT) says that the number of possible arrangements of 35 squares in a 5 x 7 format is either 612 or "35 factorial". (my brother--a MENSA member--tried to calculate 35 factorial on my daughters fancy calculator and received the message "overflow error." ) I think we tried every arrangement with the squares on the table--our brains were definitely on "overflow error" mode! (My daughter just calculated 35 factorial on her calculator and received the answer of 1 followed by 40 zeros!!!!)

The results are fantastic, we think. The photos do not do the colors justice, however. The flash of the camera made the colors too bright and garish.

thirty five squares are sewn together as I write this. However, 35,000 ends need to be sewn in. We also need another column of seven squares. "Emergency volunteers" are knitting them as we speak. Also, more "emergency knitters" are knitting long 15 stitch bands of dark brick red to "frame" the blanket. It will be big enough for a coverlet on a queen size bed.

The blanket construction takes place at my house. It currently occupies the living room floor. It also occupies all of my knitting time for the moment. Group members stop by to drop off squares, strips or just to view the blanket-under-construction.

I will keep you posted on the progress.


HPNY Knits said...

35,000 ends need to be sewn in- OMG but it looks amazing. you go girls, I mean ladies!

betty said...

The blanket is AMAZING!! Is it possible that you could have showed us already some of the squares?

And by the way, I think the correct response for the number of possible combinations is 35!*4, as any of the squares can be put in 4 different orientations. :)

greno said...

Hello Gail !
What a wonderful blanket ! It is really a good idea !

I agree with Betty for multiplying by 4, but I would add that the result should be divided by 2 for a reason of symmetry of the rectangle you obtain... :-)

Greetings from France !

Knitting Ewe said...

That's a lot of ends! But worth it, the blanket is gorgeous! You asked on my blog if I could rip down to the mistake - and since it occured in the 7th row I decided to start over and save what is done for a larger size for another time.

Cara said...

Gorgeous! Gorgeous! Gorgeous! I'm a sucker for a big knitted blanket with lots of squares. ;-) I have a blanket plan for bias squares - what method are you using to sew it all together? I havne't found one I like yet.

I can't wait to see it all done. What a masterpiece! Congratulations!

PS - Vicki sent me over.

Margene said...

Vicki sent me, too. Very inspiring!!

vanessa said...

very very cool!

kmkat said...

Another Vicki sendee. That blanket is gorgeous! What are the eventual plans for the finished object?

Norma said...

Both of those blankets are absolutely amazing accomplishments! I can't imagine the sewing-together issues!

vanessa said...

thanks for the scarf comliment gail!
i guess weaving in my scarf ends pale in comparison to your blanket ends ;-)

Laura said...

I love everything about the flag afghan that you and the kids made. It is fabulous.

The Frank Lloyd Wright squares are incredible. Definitely looking forward to seeing them sewn into a blanket.

Fabulous work!

Elizabeth said...

Vicki sent me over - give her a hug.
The blankets are wonderful. I would do the sewing up if I didn't have to do the math!

Maia said...

Also sent by Vicki.

Both blankets are beautiful. I think you need an end-weaving-in party.cxwoe

Laura said...

I just had to say thanks for the last 15 minutes of enjoyable reading! I just found your blog via knitorious. Not only do I like the blanket here but enjoyed your writing style and variety of knitting projects. I especially relate to the unfinished Christmas gifts and love that you wrapped them up in their unfinished state. I may try that next year!

Stephanie said...

Both of your blankets are awe-inspiring! I want to have my students make the flag blanket now (actually any blanket they would finish would be awesome!) Also, the calculations, planning, (and the fact that you designed the patterns for all of those flags!) is mind-blowing! I can hardly wait to see the result!