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Simple Gifts

"'Tis the gift to be simple."
- Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr.

Michelle's WashclothsHandkerchiefs. Once they were given as gifts. I’m old enough to have been a recipient of several; all were slipped inside birthday cards sent to me by my Great Aunt Dot Skale. Other childhood presents have long been forgotten, but I still remember the handkerchiefs. Especially the pale yellow one, with shiny embroidery. My aunt took the time to explain that its fibers were made from a pineapple. Imagine that. I did and still do.

Simple Gifts.

In this period of economic hardship for so many, knitters can lead the way back to the time-honored respectability of simple gifts. June's a great month for starting with a wedding present that is totally utilitarian and will never go out of style: dishcloths. Two couples are on my list. Casting about the cotton yarns and pattern choices, I wondered about how I might make these wedding dishcloths special.

Other Yarn Possibilities

LB Collection Cotton Bamboo - a cool blend of cotton and renewable bamboo fiber.

Lion Organic Cotton - a 100% undyed organic cotton in 4 natural shades.

Several years ago, I wrote about the Bauhaus, the German art school (1919-1933) that strived to bring good design into our everyday life. Uniting form and function, their influence can still be found everywhere from art to architecture. In tribute to two of their most celebrated faculty, Josef and Anni Albers, I wrote two Bauhaus dishcloth/washcloth pattern; knit and crochet. Mindful of the Bauhaus ideal of combining design and materials to make a beautiful everyday product, I decided to try the pattern in a new yarn, Recycled Cotton, made from the excess fabric of T-shirts. I was counting on the yarn's softness, its texture, and lushness of its color to create a uniquely different stitch definition, drape and feel.

I was not disappointed. Working up quickly, 48 stitches on size 8 needle, 4.5 stitches to an inch, I soon could see that the yarn's character created enough visual interest that the stripes in the original pattern were not needed. In fact, after knitting several dishcloths, I switched to even less complicated patterns. First, using a basket weave stitch: 6 knit, 6 purls, 48 stitches. The elegance of each little square of purls inspired me to go even more basic, moving to the classic garter square pattern, my all time favorite dishcloth. For an extra finishing touch, with a contrasting color, I single crocheted a border. All three patterns are sustainable and quick knits, crucial if you need to to finish them in time. Mixing color and patterns gave them a visual richness.

Presentation is important in the giving of simple gifts. So I'm planning to wrap my sweet bundle of handmade usefulness in tissue paper with a hand-knit ribbon tied into a bow. Remembering back to my Great Aunt Dot's note about the pineapple handkerchief, my own beginnings on this journey, in my card to the newlyweds, I intend to add a few lines about the yarn, how the cotton was reclaimed and re-used. And of course, I won't forget our family's best wishes for the new couples. May they enjoy a long and happy life together.

'Tis a gift to be simple. Give from your hands and your heart.

Knit Ribbon
Cast on 6 stitches in the yarn of your choice.
Row 1: Knit
Row 2: K1, p1
Repeat row 2 until desired length reached.
Bind off.

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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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