>The Melon-Color Baby

>OK, I think I did this stream of consciousness thing backwards. What set off the entire chain of thought was a comment from a reader here a couple of weeks back. She asked if I could design children’s wear and I stated, flatly, no way.

I lied. Over a decade ago, before crochet, there was knitting. I knitted tons of baby things before I discovered that crochet was the better way to go. In fact, it was a pattern for a knitted baby set that started me on the way to my current crochet MO of top-down, seamlessness.

I still have the Winter 1996 issue of Knitters Magazine from whence came this gem. It is the Baby Delight on page 46, designed by Irene Kublius, a hat and sweater set that could be sized for a baby or a little kid, depending on your choice of yarn and gauge. Already that was a revelation to me. But the most appealing feature of this design was that it was…. wait for it…. top-down, one piece, no seaming,  from the teeny garter stitch collar right down to the cuffs. I knit literally dozens of these tiny sweaters in a range of yarns and gauges, learning along the way what happens to the proportions of the fabric when you do this. These were valuable lessons in garment non-construction that I would lean on in years to come when setting out to create my own designs.

By the time I had the skills and experience to really design cool stuff, my own chicks had flown the nest and for a long while there were no occasions for making baby things. I don’t think I’d know how to start. It’s a whole different process from designing women’s fashions. I sort of forgot how small real babies are, how big their heads are in proportion to their necks and bodies.

Which brings me to the point. A few years ago I actually did design a crocheted sweater set for a little girl, as yet unpublished. This is the original Melon-Color Baby, the design that was the answer to the reader’s comment that set me to thinking about the name that prompted me to write the previous blog post that is the backstory to this design. Does that make sense?

I didn’t have a kid handy to serve as a model, so I used a doll.
Which reminds me, once and only once and by accident, I designed doll stuff. While experimenting with gauge I extrapolated that a small human sized vest in worsted weight if crocheted in sportweight, fits a bear; in size 30 thread it fits Barbie. For the record, I did not personally crochet the thread version.  That was done, completely voluntarily, by my friend and other half of my brain, Karen Manthey.

 Why are you not surprised that I never went there again?

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>BACKSTORY: Melon-Color Baby

>If ever asked what languages I speak, I answer that I speak English… and Crochet. But English is not my first language. What I heard at home for the first five years of my life was a patois that was primarily Cantonese with the odd bit of English for words that had no translation — Mickey Mouse, the Boston Red Sox for example. I don’t remember speaking Chinese, nor do I recall learning English. What happened was calculated by my parents to help me better assimilate into American society.

The legend goes that I came home from my first day of kindergarten with a note pinned to me that said “Please speak English at home”. Did my parents take this as some kind of law or a warning from the Language Police? Because that’s what happened. They spoke only English to us kids and Cantonese to each other when they couldn’t be bothered to translate or when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying. By the time my younger brothers started school, nobody had to pin notes to them.

I knew kids who grew up in Chinatown or lived with old-fashioned grandparents. Those kids continued to use Chinese at home or attended Chinese school in addition to regular school and became completely bilingual. I regret that I no longer speak any Chinese; I can only understand a few baby words and a few choice insults. And as much as I wish it could have been otherwise, I completely understand why my parents chose the course they did. We lived in America, we were Americans, we should speak American.

Which ain’t easy. There are phonemes and morphemes in English that don’t exist in most other languages. My mother would have a real tough time saying “ask the crazy judge to taste the rarest shrimp straight”. Who wouldn’t?

Then there’s the problem of grammar, context, slang and spelling. About the time I started school so did my mom. She took night classes in English and studied to become a U.S. citizen. (She also took driving lessons because my dad made her a nervous wreck when he tried to teach her.) Despite the effort she never became totally comfortable in English. And she was stuck with such a bratty child. I smugly used words in front of her that I knew she didn’t understand, impatiently, impertinently and insensitively corrected her flawed pronunciation and grammar, felt ashamed of Mom and Dad for being so foreign. That I survived to adulthood is a testament to my loving parents’ forbearance and restraint.

Even a native speaker can mispronounce words, hear words incorrectly or not get the meanings. That happens to all of us. When we’re young and confronted with these linguistic glitches, we just wing it. The human brain functions as a great filler-in of the gaps. It struggles to makes sense of stuff according to past experience, even if the result is nonsense. Funny things can happen.

My partner John admits he thought for most of his childhood that the prayer went “… and Lena’s snot into temptation…” instead of “lead us not…”. It made perfect sense to him at the time. He had a cousin Lena, he knew what snot was. What’s the problem?

The most inane things can stump us for years. I never caught on to one of the lines in the theme song from The Flintstones. For a long time I made it out to be “through the curb to see a place to eat”. When I finally understood it was “through the courtesy of Fred’s two feet” the world became a much scarier place.

Who hasn’t struggled with incomprehensible song lyrics? “Louie, Louie”. I rest my case.

As a professional radio disc jockey, I heard dozens of misunderstood song titles from callers on the request line. Some gaffes stick in your mind longer than others. To keep things interesting during ratings sweeps, stations used to resort to running contests and theme weekends; the smaller the radio market and the goofier the air staff, the more idiotic the themes. Toward the end of a brainstorming session at an oldies station, with every new suggestion lamer than the last, a colleague suggested we play songs that had the word “color” or had colors in the title or lyrics. “Lady in Red”, “Color My World”, “Blue Bayou”, “Green-eyed Lady”. You get the picture. When someone chimed in “Melon-color Baby”, it broke the place up, and trust me, we thought we had heard it all. That’s exactly the way my mom’s brain would have filled it in. “Melancholy” is not an everyday word. She knew what a melon was and she knew what color melons were. I stored away that anecdote for future reference.

Eventually it came back to bite me in the butt.  Infants who are born with immature liver function have high levels of bilirubin in the bloodstream, a pigment that makes the babies appear jaundiced – melon-color. Both my sons came out bright, International orange. A higher than normal bilirubin (or “belly ribbon” according to my mom) count is not a cause for undue concern. Harry had to spend the first couple of days of his life in an incubator under a blue light. I was able to take Nick home right away, but it was suggested that I leave him in a sunny window whenever possible. They both survived. You can guess what song became the first lullaby they ever heard. A mental block prevented me from ever learning the correct complete lyrics. But the boys never seemed to mind.

>More is more

>Crochet is supposed to be a pleasant experience. Some of us are in it for the process; we love the act of crocheting and are not overly concerned about what we are making. Some others are in it for the stuff, possibly chafing at the long, tedious hours of work, but eager for the completion of a project and the chance to wear it or show it to you. Either way, crochet can feed emotional needs by soothing the soul, creating a sense of well-being or swell of pride in accomplishment. It has also been described as nurturing; the same way cooking and caring for your loved ones is nurturing, so is making them scarves and mittens.

Crochet is also a satisfying feast for at least two of your senses. (If you habitually crochet while listening to music or eating, then obviously more senses get in the act.) Visually, crochet is incredibly stimulating. The first thing we notice about yarn is the color. Gorgeous colors, even neutral and/or drab colors are pleasing to look at. But it’s not all about the color. Yarn-a-holics admit to “drooling over” yarn shop displays. That can be taken quite literally. Just seeing an object of desire can set off a gang of Pavlovian conditioned responses. Don’t you feel your eyes and pupils widen, your pulse quicken, and your fingers quiver in anticipation at the mere sight of beautiful yarns? Maybe it’s just me, but do you find that good yarn makes your teeth itch, too?

Crochet is also an overwhelmingly satisfying tactile experience. We enjoy grasping the hook and the smooth motions of making that hook glide in, out and around the stitches. We don’t just touch the yarn, we revel in it, dive into it. We love the feel, texture and drape of the yarn and of the project growing in our hands.

It goes a long way toward explaining the yarn stash. The stash is not a collecting thing, like it is with antiques, statehood quarters, baseball cards or Hummels. Most yarn stashers are not in it for the status of acquiring, owning and hoarding stuff so we can tell everybody we have it. There is no collector’s guide to follow, no list of must-haves without which our collections are worthless. It’s not about being smug or one-up. We occasionally justify purchasing yarn because it is on sale and well priced, but we know it’s not about saving money. We occasionally purchase yarn because we don’t have anything like it in the stash (that we can recall). But it’s not about uniqueness or variety. We may purchase yarn with every intention of using it for a particular crochet project. But we often don’t buy enough to make anything out of it, and besides, most of those things never ever get made anyway. So what is this stash thing all about?

Here is my theory. The visual and tactile rewards from yarn are so enormous that we, like junkies, simply have to have it, economic downturn notwithstanding. There are numerous other things, legal and socially acceptable things, over which it is possible to be so completely obsessive, chocolate being a prime example. (I had hoped to research, strictly for blog fodder, mind you, the correlation between yarn stashing and choc-o-holism, but for lack of funding and the five to ten extra pounds of flesh already around my middle, I had to drop the idea.) Anytime we need a fix, we can go to the yarn basket (or cupboard or closet or room or warehouse, or all of the above) to see and touch our yarn … and make our brains unbelievably happy.

>Hawaii, at last!

>Just now I lovingly inserted the shiny, almost new 50th US state commemorative quarter into the slot of my collection. When this diabolical program was hatched by the feds and the mint, beginning in 1998 with small wonder Delaware, I seriously doubted I would have the attention to span ten years.  Amazingly enough, I am now looking at a gang of coins that track the continuity of my life for a decade.

Ten years ago I was still “back-selling” (reciting the list of titles/artists just played) pop tunes on air at an area radio station. Crochet to me was merely a pleasant hobby, not yet the consuming passion it is today. At that time I had yet to design my first exploded lace garment, write my first crochet pattern or tussle with my first editor.  I could have (and did) store my entire yarn stash in one big box at the bottom of my closet.  Short row meant an altercation between midgets.

Surveying the 50, I can now say without hesitation that the most artistically pleasing one is Connecticut, with the stately charter oak tree.  The stupidest one is Wisconsin, with a bovine head, wheel of cheese and ear of corn.  Really.  They paid somebody to design that one?

Numismatists might criticize my collection.  I did not seek out pristine, uncirculated quarters.  I did not find them strictly in order, either.  They are all from the Philadelphia mint as you might expect from one who lives near that city, with the little P under the “In God We Trust” next to George’s head.  And over the years all of the coins have grown an odd sort of patina and are no longer as brilliant as the latest additions. But they are MINE!

>Caveat Emptor

>Buyer… or should I say non-buying downloader… beware. It has come to my attention that many crocheters are attempting to make certain designs of mine from patterns that are incomplete. I refer to garments taken from Everyday Crochet for which the instructions have been excerpted and reprinted out of context.

Please understand that I was never consulted and have no control over what is provided by my publisher to these outlets.

I know you don’t want to hear this, but the only way to truly “get it” is to get it. The book, that is. Sorry.