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An Artful Way to Knit
Consider the washcloth: the most utilitarian of all handmade items. Several years ago, at loss of what to bring as a gift to my elderly aunt, I grabbed a lacy washcloth I had knit the winter before. I wrapped it around a bar of soap and tied it with a colorful cotton ribbon. Appreciated, admired, and used often, this washcloth was the perfect gift. When my aunt’s daughter called recently and asked for the pattern, I began to think seriously about washcloths again. They are great learning project for beginners and a palette full of possibilities for the advanced.

It isn’t a big leap from thinking about washcloths to thinking about the Bauhaus, the German art school (1919-1933) concerned with simplicity and design and elevating applied arts to the level of fine arts.

Josef and Anni Albers were students, and later, teachers at the Bauhaus. Anni Albers would achieve fame as a weaver. Josef Albers would be remembered for his Homage to a Square canvases. Studying their work inspired me.

Click here for the pattern.
Knit Striped Washcloth pattern Crochet Washcloth pattern

Could I use Bauhaus design elements to create a simple washcloth pattern?

I filled a wicker basket with six colors of Lion Cotton yarn: fuchsia, purple, morning glory blue, sea spray, maize, and banana. I played with combinations of color and simple stitches, and after six or so washcloths, I had two patterns that seemed to work: Anni and Josef, knit and crochet. The Anni and Josef Albers’ washcloths are a modest tribute to their legacy and the Bauhaus tradition. I’m hoping my humble offering will inspire you to make your own variations on a square or a rectangle. If you’re timid, feel free to make all your washcloths according to my pattern. For the more adventurous, take some time: look at the Bauhaus designs, at Anni Albers’ weavings, at Josef Albers’ paintings, then, fill a basket with yarn, get your hook or needles out, and play.

One last thought about washcloths. When my oldest daughter Meera was in first grade at a Waldorf school, the students learned to knit. Their first project was a washcloth.

Meera’s classmates happily muddled along; dropping and adding stitches here and there, working with the delightful, carefree abandon of new knitters. They finished their washcloths and were thrilled with their creations: nubby and knotty, wholly and flawed in the ways that all first knitting projects are.

Meera was still knitting her washcloth while her classmates graduated to their next knitting project. She kept finding her mistakes, taking apart her knitting, and starting all over. Again and again. Meera wanted her washcloth to be perfect. Her yarn was getting grubby. And she was frustrated.

"You’re knitting a washcloth, not painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel," I finally told her. "Leave your mistakes in and keep on knitting until you finish it." And she did. She is now a fine knitter.

So if you are a beginner making this washcloth, try and remember you’re not painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Accept your mistakes. Think of them as the hand-made element of your early creations. Knit on. Your next project will have fewer flaws. Finish your wash cloth. You can do it. You’ll definitely be glad that you did.

Need help with this pattern? Click here and let us know how we can be of assistance! 

Authored by

Michelle Edwards is the author/illustrator of A KNITTER'S HOME COMPANION and many award-winning children's books including CHICKEN MAN and STINKY STERN FOREVER. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys talking about books in schools throughout the US and beyond. Her newest book, Room for the Baby, will be available from Random House in Fall 2012. Visit Michelle Edwards at her website or on Facebook.
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