Friday, 8 February 2013
One Saturday afternoon in late 2008, while I was happily browsing the racks at Value Village, I found a Knit Wit kit. By which I mean one of the above. The Knit Wit, despite its name, is not a knitting tool, but is rather a sort of small, simple hand loom. Knit Wits used to be advertised on TV when I was little. The commercials showed a woman and her little girl happily making afghans by winding yarn around the pins on the tool and then twisting the handle to make the finished rosette pop dramatically off (there was even a special sound effect). In retrospect, the items the two of them made on the commercials were freaking hideous. But I was the kind of child who always wanted to try my hand at every craft going (actually, that's the kind of adult I am as well), and I clearly remember how much I wanted a Knit Wit. So I bought the Value Village kit. It was only $5 and I was pretty sure I could put it to good use. Plus I got to gratify a childhood desire, which is one adult pleasure I totally recommend.
Then I went home and began doing some research. Knit Wits seem to have been around since the 1950s, and this is one of the former reincarnations of the kit.
In company with a lot of TV-advertised plastic gadgets, they don't work quite as easily as the commercials lead us to believe. This is part of the instruction manual from one of the older kits. Apparently there were also several pages of written instructions to accompany these visual aids.
Looking at the official Knit Wit website that night in 2008 made me laugh until I had tears streaming down my face. The company was using the same images they used in their commercials circa 1981, and offered almost no recent designs or patterns. Unfortunately the Knit Wit web site is not extant anymore, or I could show you horrendous pantsuits and mini-dresses and daisy afghans (such as the one above) that dated from the sixties and seventies. They were offered for sale individually, as if anyone would ever buy them. And as God is my witness, I swear I could hear the yarn screaming.
There aren't too many Knit Wit patterns or examples on the net at all, and most of them are decades old and/or terrible. This, for instance, is one of the pattern books from back in the day. I wish I could page through it, because I'm sure it's a gem of its kind.
Here's another book, with two close ups of the afghans in it. On second thought maybe I don't really want to see the rest of the patterns in these booklets.
This is one of the very few recent designs I could find, and it... leaves something to be desired.
But there aren't any needlework techniques or tools that can't be used for good rather than evil — the failing is usually that of the crafter's taste or skill rather than inherent in the craft itself. And there are a few good examples of Knit Wit items on the net that prove that yes, it is possible to use the Knit Wit tool to make something attractive. I don't care for the pink snowsuit above, but I must admit the cocktail dress is quite something.
Blogger Kathleen Gauthier has written a post on her site about her mother's 50s-era Knit Wit dress, which was made out of purple organza ribbon, and gotten her own daughter to model it for us over a vintage slip (Gauthier's mother wore it over a purple silk sheath). It's lovely.
Martha Stewart has featured a few quite desirable Knit Wit designs on her site. There's certainly nothing wrong with this delicate scarf.
Martha Stewart also offers us some Knit Wit décor ideas: making a cushion from Knit Wit rosettes, or using the rosettes to decorate a plain cushion or throw.
But even so I know I will mostly be on my own as far as Knit Wit designs go. And I am afraid but ready. The Knit Wit tool kit doesn't seem to be in production at present, but if you'd like one of your own, try your luck on eBay, or perhaps make your own with pins and cardboard.
A reader named Karen (thank you Karen!) has helpfully pointed out that there are more Knit Wit designs available on the net. Rather than limiting myself to what's under that one brand name, I should have searched under "daisy loom", "bloom loom", "flower loom", and "square loom".
This is not to say that all the flower loom designs are attractive. A western skunk cabbage by any other name would still smell just as bad. You know how I keep saying some designs are too afghan-like in my magazine issue reviews? This photo must be the ultimate illustration of my principle that though an afghan is a fine thing, you can't wear it.
Here we have an afghan/skirt, and a rather cute little top.
Here we have a collection of atrocious items with one that's actually quite good. As you can see, this little cardigan is a clever hybrid: it's partly flower loomed, and partly knit. If you want to try making wearable items with flower looming, you probably will need to incorporate some knitting into it at some point. I don't know how you'd shape the rosettes into a flattering garment otherwise.
Great photo. This woman actually looks chic. The purse and hat are useable by contemporary standards. I'm going to reserve judgment on the blouse because I can't see enough of it to tell whether it's flattering and attractive. What we can see does look promising.
You can see more pictures of flower loom items here, and check out the many related links here.
Thursday, 31 January 2013
This is an old Family Circle ad from 1974 for a child's Knit Magic knitting machine.
And apparently a child can make all these items with a Knit Magic. I'm skeptical, to say the least. As well as somewhat aghast by the sheer aggressive ugliness of most of those items. Why on earth were seventies crafts just so horrible? It seems to be largely because of the ugly shades acrylics were dyed at that time, but the designs are often cracked-out too.
It's still possible to buy a child's knitting machine. Singer makes one, there's a Hello Kitty knitting machine, and Mattel makes a Barbie knitting machine. You could probably even score your very own vintage Knit Magic on eBay if you searched long enough. But I wouldn't recommend it. The online reviews of child's knitting machines that I came across on Amazon and other places while researching this post were unenthusiastic and qualified at best. People were saying that the stitches constantly slipped off the hooks, that working the machine could be an extremely frustrating and tricky process that was hard for even an adult to learn, and that the plastic gears wore out by the time they made a third item. And another problem I have with toy knitting machines is that they're mostly pink and otherwise targeted exclusively at girls, which will discourage boys and boys' parents from even thinking of knitting machines as a boy's toy, and by extension, knitting as a boy's activity.
My shopping experience has been that cheap special-purpose gadgets are generally not worth the money. They never work anything close to as easily or as well as their advertisements make them appear, and just end up taking up space in the cupboard. Or are donated to a thrift shop, and then bought by someone else who will also be disappointed in them and stick them in their cupboards. You see this principle manifested most often in cooking equipment. As any good cook will tell you, a good quality set of sharp knives will take you a long way. Hey, just look at David Duchovny's experience with the Chop-O-Matic.
Children's craft kits are a subset of the cheap gadget category. Those big, colourful boxes often hold just a few, poor quality items, such as plastic needles and small amounts of horrible acrylic yarn and plastic beads with badly drilled holes and the coating already flaking off them. You'll pay a premium price for that kit, and if you think about how frustrating it is for you to work with poor materials, just think how much harder it will be for your child, when she or he doesn't have the experience or patience or finer motor skills that you do.
So I'd avoid trying to entice children to take an interest in crafting, or in anything for that matter, by buying expensive novelty items, and instead give them less exciting but decent quality materials and tools to work with, invest the time teaching them the necessary skills, and/or enroll them in a school knitting program where they can have fun learning with their friends. If the child really wants a knitting machine, I'd buy her or him a very basic, good quality machine intended for adults, secondhand if possible. Then, if the child uses the knitting machine like an obsessed little prodigy or even just regularly and with enjoyment, I'd get him or her a better model some Christmas or birthday down the road. Alternatively, if it turns out that the child doesn't ever use the basic machine, I could use it myself, or sell it or give it away to someone who will.
When I was six I started asking my mother to teach me to knit. She'd told me she learned to knit when she was six so I figured I could learn at that age too, but she told me I wasn't old enough. I spent the next two years begging her to teach me, and she kept putting me off. She told me later that she dreaded teaching me because of my temperament — I was basically pure id as a child — and she postponed the evil day for as long as she could stand to have me pestering her about it. (This wasn't unjustified — some of her collection of knitting needles are still slightly bent from being flung across the room.)
I still remember the moment of utter joy I experienced when, one summer day when I was eight years old, she finally told me, "All right, go get some needles and yarn." I learned to knit with a pair of double-pointed needles and some remnants of pink Aran yarn. Genuine interest and natural ability can't be bought, but always manifest themselves if given a reasonable opportunity.