For some people, a hurricane is a chance to catch up on reading or watching TV. For others, it’s a chance to knit. My knit for Sandy is a cloud-soft scarf made of yarn thin as dental floss wrapped in a halo of mohair. No fancy stitch work for this yarn, no elaborate lace patterns. Hurricane knitting is comfort knitting, the same stitch over and over, something you can do while watching a movie, or by candlelight. It’s the repetition that gives rise to the stereotype of knitting as something practiced by little old ladies in rocking chairs, churning out raspy sweaters and polyester baby sets in pink and blue. Needle in, needle out, with a gentle accompaniment of clicks. My hurricane knitting is growing inch by inch, a fabric light and warm and smeared with vivid color.
Is this a creative act? Or a safe one? I am making something that wasn’t there before. But rather than inventing something, I am following a pattern and using colors prescribed by someone else — in this case, by a textile designer named Kaffe Fassett. Fassett is a kind of Harrison Ford of the knitting world, which is to say an ’80s heartthrob who has retained his rugged good looks and a modest following into his gray years. Following his directions gives me the satisfaction of achievement, the light warm fabric growing under my fingers, without the mental pressure of having to figure out how to do it.
“You sort of bypass the brain,” Fassett says of knitting, “and you really enjoy the process of bringing colors together.”
I talked to Fassett, 75, because he recently wrote a book called “Dreaming in Color” about his life as a knitwear designer, needlepoint designer, quilt designer, fabric designer and self-appointed color crusader, and he was traveling around the United States giving workshops to promote it. Fassett mostly focuses on quilts these days, but it was with knitting that he burst onto the scene in the ’70s in fashion magazines and in the early ’80s with the first of his books. He has since produced a sequence of coffee-table books with lavish photographs of models draped in sweaters and shawls in geometric or organic patterns, in a riot of shades, photographed in colorful locations around the world: a tulip garden in the Netherlands, a village in Morocco. “What I’m doing is showing people how to come to their own personal color,” he says, sounding like a self-help guru. But what he produces is also a coloristic equivalent of soft porn, the opulence and decadence and prodigality of color packaged for home consumption.
A tactile experience
Color is sensuous. Think of the clean blast of a Matisse with its vibrant blues and reds, or the languid, seductive, suffocating surfaces of a Klimt. Think of a painter’s palette with its thick unctuous blobs of fatty pigment. Think of a yarn store, a tactile experience open to amateurs, with shelves and bins laden with soft greens and bright yellows and twisted hanks of multicolored yarn as bright as ribbon candy. The first thing you want to do is touch: “So soft!” is the cry of every non-knitter as she or he thrusts fingers into a skein of unknit yarn. This is how Fassett started knitting: On a visit to a Scottish woolen mill in 1968, he was seduced into buying 20 colors of yarn, and he was so eager to find a way to use them that he got someone to teach him how to knit on the train back to London.