Book Review: Barbie

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Barbie: Four Decades of Fashion, Fantasy, and Fun

Author: Marco Tosa

Author’s publicity page: (he’s also on Linked In and E-Bay)

Translator: Linda M. Eklund

Date: 1997 (Italian), 1998 (English)

Publisher: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore (Italian), Harry N. Abrams (U.S.)

ISBN: 0-8109-4008-6 (English)

Length: 152 pages

Illustrations: lots of color photos

Quote: “Barbie lovers…do not judge her for disappointing their fantasies, but rather cling to the pleasant illusoriness of her trademark shocking pink world.”

Nothing quite like the American Barbie dolls existed before 1959. However, “fashion dolls”–patterns of fashionable clothes with stuffed forms underneath–existed before the realistic “baby dolls” of the early twentieth century. Many of these dolls were hardly built to survive being played with, but Tosa supplies a photo of a jointed, adult-proportioned doll buried with a little girl in a Roman tomb.

Barbie dolls got much of their distinctive look from a novelty action-figure doll, “Lilli,” based on a German cartoon character. The cartoon was not meant to entertain children. During the postwar years when many people in Europe were skinny, Lilli was distinctly plump, because she had a lot of boyfriends. It remained for an American tourist, Ruth Handler, to think of marketing dolls as curvaceous and sophisticated as Lilli to little girls. Her husband Elliot Handler, and his partner Harold Mattson, formed the Mattel toy company, and the busty but wholesome teen fashion model became their best-selling toy.

The collection Tosa photographed for this book features mostly early Barbie dolls, whose resemblance to Lilli was strong. Definitely more sexy than pretty, these dolls had “flirty eyes” that glanced off to the side when the dolls were locked into display stands. Like real models, they were supposed to be wearing flesh-colored body stockings (which, in real life, protect a model’s clothes from contact with sweaty skin), so anatomical features, including toes, were always covered even when the dolls weren’t dressed.

Although Barbie’s waist and thighs were always thin, she was never meant to model anorexia. She was meant to be displayed in elaborate costumes, often many-layered costumes. When clothes were layered around her tapered waist, she acquired the proportions of a large, well-fed woman. Early Barbie outfits were often inspired by European haute couture, and often featured realistically detailed rolled waistbands, belts, and pockets, which added width and depth to Barbie’s figure.

Tosa includes many sketches from the 1960 and 1961 Barbie costume catalogues, often shown in contrast with photos of what the costumes really looked like. In the catalogue Barbie often looked slim, sometimes like a girl with a 34” rather than a 42” bust measurement; sometimes she wore glasses, and her shoes were often sketched as fashionable “flats.” In the round she was top-heavy at best, and her feet were made to lock into high-heeled shoes.

Noting Barbie’s resemblance to pleasingly plump Marilyn Monroe, Tosa empathizes, “It wasn’t easy to dress such an explosive body.” Somehow, on those lipsticked, flirty-eyed Barbies, sweater-and-skirt, blouse-and-jumper school outfits, or the “Barbie-Q” dress with the chef’s hat and apron, just didn’t look the same. Tosa discusses two major commercial influences on Barbie’s wardrobe; her nice-girl looks were inspired by the costumes of Doris Day and June Allyson, while her “evening” fashions showed the European influences of Dior, Givenchy, Chanel, Courreges, Pucci, and Balenciaga.

Barbie has had lots of different jobs. Modelling was clearly only student labor for the world’s busiest doll. Between 1959 and 1997 Barbie had been a registered nurse (before self-demoting to a “Candy Striper” volunteer, to accompany a novel), astronaut, surgeon, Olympic athlete, veterinarian, teacher, rock star, Army officer, police officer, pediatrician, dentist, scuba diver, firefighter, paleontologist, and baseball player. She also ran for President—in 1992, when she probably collected a few write-in votes against Bill Clinton. Barbie has served in every branch of the U.S. military service, has been a stewardess on two airlines, and performed on several TV shows. Tosa doesn’t even count the movie roles on her impossible résumé (Barbie played both Dorothy and Glinda in The Wizard of Oz). In educationese, it’s all meant to help kids act out any and all of their “career” fantasies. In more practical terms, it sells a lot of doll outfits.

Barbie is also a world traveller who collects period costumes from many countries. Unlike most travellers, she changes her face and complexion to suit the country she visits. Japanese Barbie had slightly almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones, and a tan, and learned to smile with her mouth closed. Indian and Malaysian Barbie had big round brown eyes. Jamaican Barbie had a dark-chocolate complexion and a huge puff of curly hair.

Lilli was, of course, blonde. Marilyn Monroe was blonde. It’s hard to think of Barbie as anything but blonde, but in fact Barbie has had every color and texture of hair that could be imagined. Even in 1959 there were dark-haired Barbies. In the 1960s there were red- and brown-haired Barbies, and Barbies with brown or tan skin tones. There was a grey-haired “Barbie’s Mother” (I owned one). By the 1980s Barbie even had feminist cousins who wore low-heeled or flat shoes.

Tosa doesn’t discuss the mechanical innovations built into more recent Barbie bodies. He cites M.G. Lord’s Forever Barbie, which does. Some Barbies “talk” when a string is pulled, some raise their arms or step forward when a panel is pressed…and then there was the tasteless “Growing Up Skipper.” Tosa gets some points, from me, for not confusing these mechanical effects built into a toy with any statement about actual living women—nobody has reported that any child seriously tried to help a twelve-year-old girl grow faster by twisting her arm, or punch their mother’s back in to help her walk.

Adults conjecture that little girls think they’re supposed to grow up to look like Barbie. I suspect that more little girls think they’re supposed to look like some unlikely but not impossible living woman, of whom they recognize Barbie as a caricature. The party line that shrills that Barbie’s tapered waist made some N.O.W. members insecure, and therefore must have been among the influences that made their daughters insecure, does not give an accurate picture of all the possible ways little girls relate to dolls.

Little girls’ imaginations are less limited by visual effects than some adults think. If I wanted to play mother or teacher, I had no trouble casting my Barbie dolls as children (including the grey-haired one–she was the daring teenager who’d had her hair highlighted with silver, and was likely to do just about anything). More often, during the years when I played with dolls, I used them as action figures… and in fact some of my dolls can’t be passed on to the next generation because they were too badly damaged while living in real tree houses and swimming in real streams. The ones that survived that phase became the human figures in a world of miniature models, eventually dressmaking dummies with heads. A book about Barbie that recognized all these possibilities would be an interesting novelty. Tosa, unfortunately, did not write that book.

The book he’s written basically says “Look at my collection.” He’s a collector; his most active web site is E-Bay. Nevertheless, if you enjoyed playing with Barbie, if images from 1960s Barbie-clothes catalogues would be a nostalgia trip for you, Tosa’s Barbie will take you on that trip. Recommended to all who collect, repair, or dress dolls.

Although this is a big, glossy, expensive-looking sort of book, thanks to Amazon we can offer it for the standard $5 per book + $5 per package, and you could probably fit at least one other book into the package. Out of this total of $10 we’ll send Tosa or a charity of his choice $1 per book if you buy this book from this site.

Ativa at Morguefile contributed this photo of a Barbie doll of the vintage in which Tosa specializes:


Book Review: Prize Country Quilts

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Prize Country Quilts

Author: Mary Elizabeth Johnson (Huff)

Date: 1977

Publisher: Oxmoor House

ISBN: 0-8487-0444-4

Length: 230 pages including index

Illustrations: many full-color photos

Quote: “The people who entered Progressive Farmer magazine’s ‘Joys of Country Living’ Heritage Quilt Block Contest provided…this book of brand-new quilt designs.”

That’s what makes this quilting book special. Some designs are traditional, symmetrical, geometric arrangements, like “Stars and Stirrups” (eight-pointed stars interspersed with half-rings” or “Proud Pine” (yet another stylized tree shape for your collection). Some, like “East Tennessee Farm” and “Our Heritage the Church,” portray landscapes. Then there are a few new, ambitious flower designs; “Jack in the Pulpit” mimics the plant’s asymmetrically curved shapes, and “Summer Leaves” seem traced from real oak leaves.

Some of the designs call for specific colors that would have been hard to find in 1877. “Abundance” relies for its effect on fabrics dyed in the colors of real, fresh vegetables, which are not achievable with vegetable dyes and were neither cheap nor abundant in the nineteenth century. Other designs, like “Lindbergh’s Night Flight” and “Bicentennial,” obviously refer to events of the twentieth century.

Other designs, like “Starflower,” “Wildflower,” and “Sunshine and Stained Glass,” are such natural variations on the (approximately 500) canonical Traditional Quilt Patterns that only people who are familiar with the traditional patterns would notice that these are new variations.

Templates allow every reader to reproduce each pattern, and each pattern is introduced with a few remarks by its designer.

Prize Country Quilts is a pattern book with minimal narrative. If you just want to read about other people’s quilts, this is not the book for you. If you’d rather spend your time planning, cutting, and stitching than reading, you will love Prize Country Quilts.

Mary Elizabeth Johnson, later Mary Elizabeth Johnson Huff, does not seem to be active in cyberspace; Google found two online articles by her, the latest one from 2003. However, in the absence of conflicting evidence, we’ll assume that she’s retired. If you buy this book from this site, by sending $5 per book + $5 per package to either address at the lower left side of the screen, we’ll send $1 per book to Mary Elizabeth Johnson Huff or a charity of her choice.

Just for a change from the cat image, here’s a Morguefile quilt image…


Book Review: A Creative Companion

A Fair Trade Book

Title: A Creative Companion

Author: SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy)

Author’s web site:

Date: 1991

Publisher: Celestial Arts

ISBN: 0-89087-651-7

Length: 80 pages

Illustrations: drawings on almost every page, some in color

Quote: “It is good to read this book lying down, because that is how it was written.”

Like other SARK books, this one is a collection of calligraphy and cartoons, plus poems, quotes, a few photos, an occasional story. SARK lives in, for, with, and of creativity. Her brooks are wacky, goofy, intimate, inspiring, and fun guides for fellow artists.

This one tells us how to shake loose our creative blocks and build castles with them. You’ve probably heard of unblocking yourself by working with your less dominant hand, talking to someone much older or younger than you, or taking a long brisk walk. These techniques work, and SARK tells us about them, but she knows goofier ones too.

“Lying down” and “naps” are mentioned often, for a reason. Sleep deprivation is known to cause that “blocked” feeling. On the other hand, when creative people give our bodies the rest they need, they reward us with inspiring dreams.

When you’re rested, alert, and ready to write or draw, A Creative Companion offers lots of simple, affordable brain teasers to get you started. Some pages are left partly blank to encourage you to answer questions and fill in decorations. Five pages contain scaled-down versions of SARK’s original calligraphy posters; some of the black-and-white pages are suitable for photocopying, enlarging, and embellishing so that you become SARK’s “creative companion” in finishing the posters. (Attention any plagiarists who know how to read: SARK’s style is quite distinctive—if you tried selling these posters as your own, they’d be recognized.)

There are some artistic problems A Creative Companion won’t help you solve, such as thinking of something fresh or original to say on a topic a commercial sponsor has requested…but these techniques will go a long way.

SARK is alive and well and fundraising to help pay for expenses related to her partner’s cancer treatment. If you can possibly afford it, buy her books (this one and as many others as possible) new from to show respect. A Creative Companion is widely available secondhand, so I can resell clean used copies as Fair Trade Books for the usual $5 per book + $5 per package, from which SARK or a charity of her choice will receive $1. But check first; you might find as good a price there.

Book review cat, courtesy of Morguefile:

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How to Knit Mandie’s Dress




This Barbie doll’s knitted dress was inspired by the cover drawing on Mandie and the Schoolhouse’s Secret, by Lois Gladys Leppard. (All the covers of the “Mandie Books” feature interestingly complicated Edwardian-style children’s clothes.) This dress features a big collar, knitted separately, full skirt, long sleeves, and snug waist. It slips on and off…but this doll’s arms and hands are a little more flexible than some Barbie dolls’, so choose your model carefully.

(Now, obviously, you could sew a more authentic replica of Mandie’s outfit in very fine woven cotton, with embroidery floss for the ribbon trimmings…but the idea with this whole series of dolls has consistently been to use up scraps of widely available craft-type yarns, rather than to achieve the perfect period look.)

To knit this outfit as shown, you’ll need:

  • About 1 ounce of Red Heart Super Saver yarn in purple
  • About 2 ounces of Simply Soft yarn in rose (Gena Greene used a similar wool yarn that may not be so widely available, but Simply Soft would work)
  • US#8 knitting needles, or the size that give you a gauge of about 4 stitches to the inch

Although this is a small, cheap project that should be accessible to children who know how to knit, it uses some fairly sophisticated knitting skills. If you are a beginning knitter, ask the nice ladies (and gents) at your local yarn shop for help with this project.

  1. Begin with the skirt by casting on 48 stitches in purple. Leave a tail for sewing.
  2. Immediately break purple, leaving another tail for sewing. Attach rose and work 4 rows garter stitch.
  3. Still in rose, work 20 rows stock stitch, ending with a purl row.
  4. Next row, *K 2, k2tog* across the row. Purl back on 36 stitches.
  5. Next row, *K 1, k2tog* across the row. Purl back on 24 stitches.
  6. Next row, *K2tog* across the row.
  7. Next row, *P 1, p2tog* across the row.
  8. Change to purple and work 4 rows garter stitch on these 8 stitches.
  9. Change to rose and increase in every stitch across the row. (This is a slightly bloused “shirtwaist” dress, as worn by little girls, not the painfully tight waist as worn by fashion victims in the generation before Mandie’s.)
  10. Next row, *P 1, increase in next stitch* across the row.
  11. Work 2 rows stock stitch on these 24 stitches.
  12. Next row, divide and shape the front by K 12, turn. P 12, turn. K 5, slip 2, K 5, turn. P 5, slip 2, P 5, turn. K 4, slip 4, K 4, turn. P 4, slip 4, P 4, turn. Put these stitches on a holder, and leave a tail for grafting.
  13. Rejoin rose yarn to the remaining 12 stitches and work 6 rows stock stitch for the back.
  14. Graft 4 stitches on each side and bind off the 4 center stitches of front and back.
  15. Now for the sleeves: With rose, cast on 12 stitches.
  16. With purple, *K 1, k2tog* across the row, then K back across 8 stitches.
  17. With rose, work 2 rows stock stitch.
  18. With purple, work 2 rows garter stitch.
  19. With rose, *inc in 1st stitch, k across the row, inc in last stitch.* Turn. *Inc in 1st stitch, p across the row, inc in last stitch.*
  20. Work 10 rows stock stitch on these 12 stitches. Bind off. (You can either bind off directly into the armhole, or bind off and sew the sleeve into the armhole; if grafting a bound-off edge onto another knitted piece is a new skill you want to practice, this is a good place to practice, since the collar covers the shoulders.)
  21. Make the other sleeve.
  22. For the collar: With purple, cast on 12 stitches. You can mark them with stitch markers or loops of thread if that helps you think of them as four sections of, at this point, 3 stitches each. Work 2 rows garter stitch.
  23. Change to rose and *inc in 1st stitch of each section, k to last stitch, inc in last stitch of section* 4 times across the row. You now have 20 stitches.
  24. Turn and *inc in 1st stitch of section, p to last stitch, inc in last stitch of section* 4 times across row. You now have 28 stitches.
  25. Work the next 2 rows as the previous 2 rows, thus ending with 44 stitches.
  26. Break off rose. With purple, increase in each stitch across row to 88 stitches.
  27. Knit another row (garter stitch) as in row 23.
  28. Bind off these 96 stitches loosely, still working increases in first and last stitch of each section–thus actually binding off 104 stitches.
  29. Join the side of the diamond shape you have formed, attach the neck edge to the neck edge of the dress, and tack the collar down to the dress at front and back waist (and wherever else it may want to stick up).
  30. Carefully ease the dress over the doll’s head, then ease her arms into the sleeves and, finally, stretch and ease the waist down to the doll’s waistline.

Gena Greene sells these dolls for $5, including the book the doll is dressed to match, locally; online, this set would cost $20 + $5 for shipping.

(Blogjob friends, this article was suggested when I signed up for a new advertising program. If you’re seeing ads that look relevant to this article, rather than relevant to something else you read about last week, then Prosper Ads is working. I signed up for free and saw an ad for Red Heart yarn there, and, how felicitous, happened to have a doll dressed in the stuff right on hand. If you want Prosper Ads too, feel free to use this link: .)

Book Review: Needlepoint for Everyone

Title: Needlepoint for Everyone

Author: Mary Brooks Picken & Doris White

Date: 1970

Publisher: Harper & Row

ISBN: none, but click here to see it on Amazon

Length: 207 pages plus index

Illustrations: photos, mostly black and white, and some charts

Quote: “Needlepoint, which is embroidery on canvas, was a type of needlework highly developed by the English.”

Needlepoint for Everyone gives a few details from the history of needlepoint, but there’s not a great deal of history in this book. Neither is there a great deal of exposition. There are examples of needlepoint found in museums and historic mansions, explanations of techniques, and chapters about specific styles and subjects for needlepoint. There are lots of pictures. Most of them are black and white, but most are clear enough to inspire crafters.

Specific topics discussed in this book include the needlepoint of Blair House (“the Guest White House”), needlepoint in rehabilitation programs, samplers and mottoes, devotionals, needlepoint for children, needlepoint for men, needlepoint in advertising, needlepoint treasures in museums, and needlepoint symbols.

This ambitious, somewhat eccentric book contains far more photographs than charts, but even knitters and weavers—as well as needlepointers and cross-stitches—can find some inspiration in Needlepoint for Everyone.

By looking her up online, I’ve learned that Mary Brooks Picken was quite an interesting character. She died, around age ninety-five, before I became a serious needle crafter. Back in 1916 she had founded the “Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences.” As what one pattern publisher still calls “the original fashion authority,” she wrote ninety-six books on sewing and textile crafts. Someone looking for fresh material for a Women’s History Month project might want to research her life and work. Certainly she no longer needs a dollar.

Needlepoint for Everyone was reprinted in 1997, so the older edition I physically owned when I wrote this review has not gone into unreasonable collector prices. To buy it here, you’d need to send $5 per copy + $5 per package to salolianigodagewi @ yahoo, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t buy a cheaper copy somewhere else…unless you want to tuck a copy of Needlepoint for Everyone into a package with a Fair Trade Book.


Book review cat for Google + purposes:

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Book Review: American Patchwork Quilts

Title: American Patchwork Quilts

Author: Lenice Ingram Bacon

Date: 1973

Publisher: Bonanza / Crown / Morrow

ISBN: 0-517-30940-8

Length: 190 pages

Illustrations: many full-page photos

Quote: “In that section of Tennessee where I grew up in the early part of the twentieth century, quilts still served…We had a goodly supply for ‘everyday wear,’ but they were not made at home. They were made by the Witt sisters.”

Lenice Ingram Bacon has collected stories of individual quilts and quilters to flesh out, and sometimes debunk, familiar stereotypes. I could wish she’d debunked the stereotype of “the areas of Appalachia”—a fine and scenic town, but too small to occupy many “areas.” However, Bacon was concentrating on quilts rather than general history, and her book is full of interesting anecdotes about European as well as American textiles.

Both typical and unusual quilts have been documented in this book. There’s a lovely, patchwork-appliqued, finely stitched “Pineapple Quilt” made in China, by order of a rich American, in 1791; an unfinished “crazy quilt” looking crazy indeed after a hundred years of wear and tear; a bizarre applique piece in which the figures represent scenes from history and the Bible, but few could be recognized without a page of written explanations, which was fortunately preserved in the same museum.

Anecdotes from quilting history make this book an entertaining read, and large, colorful photos make it an inspiring collection for quilters who feel confident enough to make their own templates. So it can be recommended to anyone interested in quilts.

Lenice Ingram Bacon is remembered in the Quilters’ Hall of Fame ( Since she is no longer living, American Patchwork Quilts is not a Fair Trade Book. You may still buy it online here for $5 per book + $5 per package, payable to either of the addresses in the lower left-hand corner of the screen.

Quilt graphic courtesy of Morguefile:


Book Review: New Discoveries in American Quilts

Title: New Discoveries in American Quilts

Author: Robert Bishop

Date: 1975

Publisher: E.P. Dutton & Company

ISBN: 0-525-16552-5

Length: 127 pages

Illustrations: most pages contain color photos

Quote: “The reason for this…book…is simply to document as many as possible of the beautiful quilts that have been brought to my attention since 1972.”

Bloggers who enjoy “Wordless Wednesday” posts should enjoy New Discoveries in American Quilts. Most of the words in this book are captions, credits, and historical information about the textiles photographed.

Not all of them are traditional pieced quilts; there are also quilted “bed rugs,” single pieces of fabric joined with stuffing and quilt-stitching, and there are some modern pieces quilt-stitched around printed designs. Most are shown in full color, and the colors aren’t as faded as you might expect, given the age of some of the pieces. These quilts were not worn out in everyday use. They were designed and preserved as works of art. They were selected, photographed, and published by an art historian because they’re beautiful enough to compare with works of “fine art.”

As a book of “glorious inspirations” for textile crafters and collectors of all sorts, this book is recommended. Raw beginners may want to invest in a quilt book with detailed instructions and templates. Experienced quilters (and other crafters) can use this book for inspiration.

Several writers were known as Robert Bishop; apparently the art historian who wrote this book died in 1991, so New Discoveries in American Quilts is not a Fair Trade Book. The minimum price to buy it online here is $5 per book + $5 per package, payable to either address at the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Two copies of this book would fit into one package for a total of $15. Alternatively, you could fit in one or two Fair Trade Books, and I’d send $1 per book to an author who is currently alive.

Here is a quilt image from Jjulian812 at Morguefile, :


Knitting the Foursquare Patch Afghan

The foursquare patch afghan was a stash reduction project. Although I ended up buying an extra cone of cotton, both the cotton base and the colorful mixed-fibre scraps were left over from other projects.

Because I’d used most of the cotton base yarn to knit a slipcover for a 1970s vinyl-upholstered armchair, I chose to use the rest to knit a lap blanket big enough to wrap around knees or shoulders, not both. Once you’ve knitted a square or two, you can put together as many squares as you need…in theory you could patch together enough of these squares to cover a football field. The lap-sized blanket used less than three cones, almost exactly one kilogram, of Peaches-n-Cream cotton yarn (I used ecru) and an equivalent yardage of scraps.

For this project I just wound yarn off a ball of scraps I’d rolled up after sewing up knitted pieces and trimming the ends. The colors are random, yet there’s some harmony among the colors in each individual square. Not all of the scraps knitted up to 4 or 5 stitches per inch, as Peaches-n-Cream does. Most did, and since I wanted this to be an indoor blanket with a loose, cozy feel rather than a tight, solid feel, I used #11 needles to knit one strand of scrap and one strand of Peaches-n-Cream in every stitch, for an average gauge of 2.75 stitches per inch. (If you use up scraps of different weights in a project like this, your gauge will vary slightly from row to row when measured over rows of thicker and thinner yarn.)

At this gauge it doesn’t take a lot of stitches to make a good-sized patch. For these big bold squares I cast on 144 stitches, using markers to divide them into 4 groups of 36. If you happen to have double-pointed #11 needles, feel free to use them. I used straight #11’s and worked back and forth, thusly:

Pick a stitch pattern (or mix them up). In order to make the squares lie flat without blocking, use a row-intensive stitch like these six:

1. Garter Stitch—knit every stitch, every row.

2. There’s some disagreement about the names for moss and seed stitch. Here is the simplest one: Row 1–*knit 1, purl 1* across. Row 2—on an even number of stitches, the first stitch on the needle is one you purled on the previous row, which now presents itself from its knit side; purl it. Knit the next stitch, and continue to K the P st and P the K st across. Repeat these 2 rows.

3. A four-row elaboration: Row 1–*knit 1, purl 1.* Row 2—the first stitch on the needle was purled on the previous row and now presents itself from its knit side—knit it, as if working 1×1 ribbing. Purl the next st,and continue to K the K st and P the P st across. Row 3–*purl 1, knit 1,* as for row 2 of pattern Option 2 above. Row 4—as for row 2 of this pattern; now the first stitch on the needle was knitted on the previous row, and now presents itself from its purl side; purl it, knit the next stitch, and finish the row as if working 1×1 ribbing.

4. Row 1–*knit 2, purl 2* across. Row 2 (on 36 stitches)–*knit 2, purl 2,* as if working 2×2 ribbing, K the K’s and P the P’s as they present themselves. Row 3–*purl 2, knit 2.* Row 4—although the stitch count has now changed, what you’re doing is basically *purl 2, knit 2* as if working 2×2 ribbing again.

5. Row 1–*knit 2, purl 2.* Row 2–*purl 2, knit 2.”

6. Random stitch—knit any random number of stitches, then purl any random number of stitches; this works best when the numbers of stitches knitted or purled are fewer than 10 each time. Random stitch does more to randomize and mingle the stripes of different colors in a multicolored knitted fabric than any regularly repeating pattern.

What the six stitch options listed here have in common is that they all mix up knit and purl stitches enough to give a 5:9 or even 5:10 stitch-to-row ratio instead of the standard 5:7 ratio found in stock stitch. If you want to use a fancier pattern based on stock stitch, you may need to block and stretch the squares to make them lie flat. Blocking works better with wool than it does with cotton or acrylic, so I recommend using a row-intensive stitch.

To begin each square, work 2 rows (1 ridge) even, slipping markers.

Next row (rs): *Work 2 together, work 32 in pattern of choice, work 2 together,* slip marker, and repeat 3 times more.

Next row: Work back in pattern as set.

Next row: *Work 2 together, work 30 in pattern, work 2 together,* slip marker and repeat 3 times more.

Continue decreasing 1 stitch at each side of each of the four quarters of the square until you have 4 stitches left on the needles. Remove markers, join these 4 stitches, and use one long end of one yarn to sew the square together.

Choose a side of this square, pick up 36 stitches along this side, cast on 108 more, and repeat.

Continue to pick up stitches along sides of previous squares to begin new squares until you have a blanket of the size and shape you want.

Knit or crochet borders, add fringes, or add other embellishments if you want them.

This is not my Foursquare Patch Afghan, but it shows the sort of effect produced by knitting with two strands of yarn together:

[Photo from Wikipedia: “Close up of multi-coloured knitting slip-stitches” by Brian Sawyer from Westford, MA, USA – close_up. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons –]

Knitting a Blanket Shawl

From time to time knitters need a “stash reduction project.” One should never throw away yarn—it can always be used in another project, and at worst, if you’re planning to quit knitting, you can always give or sell your stash to another knitter—but whenever I’ve accumulated more than a 60-gallon bin full of yarn, I do something quick and frivolous with some of the leftovers. (I try to plan my knitting and yarn buying in such a way as to have lots of leftovers.)

When I made my Blanket Shawl during the poncho craze at the turn of the century, I took out all my leftovers and sorted them into groups of congenial colors: shades of pale pastels, pink and red, pink and coral, red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-gold, yellow-green, mossy greens, grassy greens, blue-greens, true blues, blue-violets, dark colors, black-white-and-greys, neutrals, browns, and some odd bits of chunky craft yarn for which I’d found no other use. I peeled off as much yarn as I’d wrapped around each ball in one direction…anything from five inches to a hundred yards. I then rewound the yarn from each group into balls of congenial colors, always winding and later knitting two strands of yarn together, taking care that one strand was always acrylic.

If you want to do a project like this and use up scraps of wool, silk, cotton, mohair, and even rayon, it will wash and wear like acrylic as long as one strand is acrylic. Mohair will gradually lose its fluff as the piece is washed, but will stay soft to the touch. Other fabrics will behave themselves; when washed the wool and rayon will try to shrink, but the acrylic will stretch and exert enough counter-pressure to keep the piece pretty much the same size and shape for many years. When worn or otherwise used, between washings, the piece will stretch slightly until the next time it’s washed.

The Blanket Shawl consists of three big squares arranged in an L-shape. For something that will completely cover an average adult from neck to ankle, with side vents, I used my #10-1/2 needles and cast on 120 stitches for each square…remember, it will be heavy and stretch when worn. I used the rewound “magic balls” in the rainbow sequence described above.To discourage curling I alternated rows of plain, reverse, and garter stitch in a sequence suggested in Deborah Newton’s BOOK Designing Knitwear. If you can’t get a copy of that book, you’re deprived of seeing lots of other inspiring patterns, but for this project, no worries; just work the first and last 20 rows in garter stitch if you want to be sure the edges don’t curl, and work each group of 20 rows between in whichever pattern pleases you. You could use moss, Irish moss, seed, and Betty Martin stitch as well; I didn’t, because they take longer, and this is a large project.

The big question to answer if you’re planning and knitting a Blanket Shawl is how big you want each square to be. By the time you’ve done enough knitting to have a stash of this size, you should be able to guess the average gauge you’ll get (it varies slightly as thicker and thinner yarns are worked in) with two strands of the yarns you’ve been using. I use a lot of yarn that knits up to between 4 and 5 stitches per inch on #8 needles; doubled, it worked up to an average of 3 stitches per inch on #10-1/2 needles, which gave me approximately 40”  squares even when one strand of yarn was lightweight or extra-bulky. Anyway, make sure each piece is square by folding it diagonally, then bind off the last row, pick up a row of the same number of stitches down one side, and work another square in which the stripes line up at a 90-degree angle to the stripes in the first square. Do this twice so the squares form an L shape.

That’s all I did. You may, of course, use up an extra hundred yards of a suitable yarn by knitting or crocheting a border around your shawl.

My Blanket Shawl is long enough to be worn over my head in very cold weather. If you made a smaller shawl or are taller, you might want to attach a hood, or better yet knit a companion scarf…the fabric doesn’t feel heavy on your shoulders but it does, to me, on my head.

You now have an outer garment that is warmer than most coats and at the same time, due to the air vents at either side, less likely to make you feel overheated before your whole body is warm. Splendid! I wear my Blanket Shawl with pride in freezing weather. It’s much warmer than either a trench coat or a wool coat; when pulled tight it’s about as snug as a bearskin coat. Also, because the pale stripes stand out under any kind of dim light, it’s more easily seen when I’m walking at night.

It lacks only one advantage. Because so few people realize how wonderfully comfortable a Blanket Shawl can be, it’s not nicely inconspicuous. If you wear a Blanket Shawl, even if you use only soft neutral colors, you will be noticed.

(Graphic from Jdurham at Morguefile, .)