Friday, April 15, 2011

1,0o0 (Knitted) Cranes. For Jun Miyamoto.

Knitnotwar 1,0o0 by Seann McKeel.
It will come as a surprise to no one that books such as Astounding Knits!: 101 Spectacular Knitted Creations and Daring Feats, do not happen in a vacuum. Each featured artist and craftsperson (such as Seann McKeel, a picture of whose work you see above) generously gave their time to answer questions, and pass along photos and press materials; and it's no exaggeration to say that this project could not have manifested without them. But there are hidden contributors as well – people who work behind-the-scenes and sometimes without all due credit, to help certain aspects of these projects come together.

Jun Miyamoto is one such contributor – both to Astounding Knits, for which she tracked down the elusive Kiyoko Yoshikawa (of Food Knits and the Descente penguin); and to the upcoming Knitting Around the World: A Multistranded History of a Time-Honored Tradition, in which I'm pleased to note her name is plastered all over the Japan chapter. She elucidated the history of Japanese knitting as well as its current state; interviewed the "Prince of Knitting," Matsuhare Hirose; and generally made sure that the chapter was in good (and accurate) working order. So today, I'd like to honor Jun.

This is in no small part because I learned last week that she and her family have had to abandon their Tokyo apartment, condemned due to earthquake damage. Her boys have been packed off to France to stay with their grandparents while Jun and her husband move house. And still, in the midst of all her own chaos, Jun is getting ready to dye her stock of yarn to sell for northern Japan's earthquake refugees. While I figure out how best to use this blog help in her endeavor, please feel free to leave messages at the end of this post for Jun. I know it will warm her heart to hear your good wishes.

Finally, a word about the knitted cranes pictured here. They are part of Seann McKeel's project, Knitnotwar 1,0o0, which she conceived in 2007 and finished in June 2010. They were meant as a gentle protest against the war in Iraq, and were constructed by Seann, her mother, and scads of other knitters who heeded her call for crane submissions. By now, they are on their way to the Children's Peace Monument in Hiroshima, which itself was constructed to honor Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who contracted leukemia after exposure to the atom bomb dropped on her hometown during World War II, and who believed that she might be able to save her own life by folding 1,000 paper origami cranes. Seann has recently put her pattern for the knitted cranes up for  sale on Etsy. Proceeds are earmarked for Mercy Corps, to benefit victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Thank you, Seann, for providing a way for generous knitters to help.
Photo by Seann McKeel Knitnotwar 1,0o0.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


For those of you whose heads exploded after last week's extra-brainy Math post, here's some cute stuff from the folks in Astounding Knits!: 101 Spectacular Knitted Creations and Daring Feats to help you recuperate.

Toy designer Anna Hrachovec's "Luvgun" (pictured below) "shoots" three knitted hearts. Since contributing to the book, Anna's moved on to more and more cuteness: a solo show in Berlin (pictured below, below) and two books: Knitting Mochimochi: 20 Super-Cute Strange Designs for Knitted Amigurumi, available right this very second, and Teeny-Tiny Mochimochi: More Than 40 Itty-Bitty Minis to Knit, Wear, and Give, which will be available in August.

Photos courtesy of Anna Hrachovec and
Emily Stoneking's frog, rat and fetal pig "dissections" are perfects gifts for cute-loving biologists. One of them was purchased for the permanent collection of the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Photo courtesy of Emily Stoneking.

Every Teddy bear deserves some love. Even if it's made of lead and therefore, completely toxic. Dave Cole's sweet-but-deadly little stuffed animal (yup, stuffed with lead, too) perhaps takes a back seat in the danger department to its cousin, the 14-foot fiberglass bear Cole had to wear a full-body Hazmat suit to knit, since he used his arms as needles.

Photo courtesy of

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Math! Only Knitted!! (And Crocheted)

One of the most revelatory aspects of putting together Astounding Knits!: 101 Spectacular Knitted Creations and Daring Feats was discovering the incredible diversity of objects and ideas conjured by the brains of knitting craftspeople, artists and scientists alike. But honestly, it was the math that really blew my mind (spoken like a true non-mathematician, I'm sure).

"Global Warming," 2008.

"The Day and the Night in Hyperbolic Space," 2007. Photos courtesy of Daina Taimina

The two crocheted marvels pictured above represent hyperbolic planes - surfaces that constantly curve away from themselves, like some lettuce leaves, and wood ear mushrooms - and were created by Cornell mathematics researcher Daina Taimina. Incredibly, the first example, which measures 28" x 28" x 28", is comprised of 3.5 miles of ribbon.  The second used 30 skeins of yarn and weighs in at 6 pounds. 
"Double Base." Photo courtesy of Pat Ashforth and Steve Plummer.

English mathematicians Pat Ashforth and Steve Plummer knit to visually teach students various rudiments of math. "Double Base" pictured above, represents the binary system's Base Two counting system. The duo - aka Woolly Thoughts - have also knit afghans representing multiplication tables and equi-angular spirals, and that seek to answer such questions as, "what makes a pattern?" 

Finally - from the department of "it's math, even if I don't remotely understand how it's done," comes this extreme- double-knit hat by Alasdair Post-Quinn. Post-Quinn, who knitting enthusiasts have followed for years on his Falling Blox blog, has discovered how to knit two patterns simultaneously on the same piece. You can find out how to do it yourself (maybe) when his book, Extreme Double-Knitting is published. (This site wouldn't let me type in the caption for the hat this morning, so here's what you need to know about the photo: "Falling Blocks Hat," photo courtesy of

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mystery of the Speed Knitter - Solved!

Miriam Tegels of The Netherlands, breaking the record for fastest knitting.
Over the weekend, Shay Barsabe wrote in to ask about the above photo, which appears in Astounding Knits!: 101 Spectacular Knitted Creations and Daring Feats and shows Miriam Tegels breaking the speed-knitting record back in 2006. Was the photo reversed, Shay wondered? And furthermore, was Miriam supporting her right-hand needle (something Shay had never seen)? The answer is in, provided by Miriam herself, who says: "I knit continental style, picking the yarn with the left hand, as the picture shows." An unusual method to some, to be sure, but then again, so is knitting at Tegels' breakneck speed of 118 stitches per minute.

Carla Meisjen, founder of Stitch 'n Bitch Nederland, was the event's official witness and stitch counter. She emailed to say: "Mystery? Not to me...Miriam uses continental knitting and does not cross stitch, she doesn't do any kind of combination knitting (all stitches are always right leg in front)."

Miriam getting ready to beat the world record, pictured here with Carla Meijsen (in the flowered stole) and the mayor of Swalmen.
Carla makes an appearance in my next knitting book, Knitting Around the World: A Multistranded History of a Time-Honored Tradition, (October 2011), discussing a project dear to her heart: her recreation of a Dutch knitting sampler. I'll be posting updates about my next book in coming weeks. In the meantime, keep your questions and comments coming!

Friday, April 1, 2011

We Have a Winner! (Well, Two Winners, Really...)

A big HURRAY to Jenni from Queensland, Australia and Ellen in Westchester US of A, who each won a copy of Astounding Knits!: 101 Spectacular Knitted Creations and Daring Feats. Thanks for playing! I can't wait to hear your thoughts on the book.

While it wends its way to your disparate locations, here are some pictures to tide you over. Today's theme, in honor of the tedious snow that persists in falling on Brooklyn, is Penguins. First, Kiyoko Yoshikawa's all-knitted penguin, which readers of my newsletter will recognize from a couple of weeks back. I show it here from practically every angle, mostly because I just can't get enough of this gorgeous bird. (And to everyone who expressed concern over Kiyoko's well-being and where-abouts after earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last month, I have yet to hear from her. But she has always been a poor email correspondent and the fact that she lives in Kyoto, at a distance from the disasters, gives me hope that she is in good health and spirits as I type this. Thank you so much for asking.)

Photos courtesy of Descent and Kiyoko Yoshikawa.

Next up, a gaggle of penguins from Annelies de Kort, the Dutch miniature artist whose microknitting – at 1:160 scale – was absolutely the smallest of all Astounding Knits. Her latest penguin coats and balaclavas are not quite so minute (penguin models shown are 6.5 cm), but they are sure to keep tiny penguins the world over free from chills.

Knitting, sewing, styling, and photos by Annelies de Kort.

Meanwhile, at the Philip Island Nature Parks, staff members (and dozens, if not hundreds, of volunteers) knit for life-size penguins. It was the most logical way to keep Australian Little Penguins caught in oil spills from ingesting the toxic goo; and the success rate for rehabilitation, thanks in no small part to these knitted "jumpers," was an impressive 98%. Pictured below is a simple model, but enthusiastic volunteers sent in everything from scaled down Australian football league sweaters to a complete wedding party ensemble.
Photo courtesy of Penguin Foundation: Philip Island Nature Parks.

Last but certainly not least are two of Laurel Roth's crocheted Biodiversity Reclamation Suits for Urban Pigeons. Okay, so pigeons are not penguins but according to Laurel's logic, maybe they'd like to be. As I wrote in the book, she conceived these suits to "disguise our nation's winged urban pests as more savory...members of the avian community." And at the same time, to recreate our faltering animal biodiversity – because each of Laurel's suits represents an extinct species of bird.  A little research has unearthed a potential penguin candidate: New Zealand's former Chatham Islands Penguin. The trick will be training the penguin-pigeon to swim...
A dapper suit to disguise your pigeon as an Ivory Billed Woodpecker.

Dodo suit. Photos courtesy of Laurel Roth.