by Brenda W. Clough
Have you noticed how very many stories, and how the sweeping majority of movies, star young people? The hero, the heroine — always under forty, often under thirty. Even Spider-Man’s Aunt May has lost sixty years! It is as if people pass over an event horizon when they hit the big four-oh, becoming uninteresting, ignorable, and negligible. This is particularly a problem for women. Actresses complain about this all the time, as the roles dry up and they are demoted to second-string supporting roles: “First you’re another sloe-eyed vamp, then someone’s mother, then you’re camp, then you career from career to career.”
Actresses and trophy wives have to put up with this. Writers don’t! So when I wrote Making Love I deliberately made the protagonists retirees. They are every 70-year-old couple you have ever seen, married for half a century, feeling their aches and pains, watching reruns on cable TV. Nevertheless they love, and struggle, and defeat their foes with the tools they have.
And they knit! One of the best perks of writing fantasy is being able to invent a magic system. It’s a no-brainer that knitting can be magical. You have a two-dimensional thing and you turn it into three dimensions, how cool is that? It is creative in the same way as writing, or bees making honey, the slow accumulation of tiny bits of perfection until you have a whole jarful or an entire novel. It’s not a magic system that’ll carry a heavy plot; no one’s going to get the One Ring into the volcano and save Middle Earth from Sauron with a set of double-pointed sock needles. But it was Tolkien himself who said of his Elves that they put all that they love into all that they make. That’s what knitting is, the slow and steady building of love, a solid representation of emotion. So that’s what this story is about, how to get that love out there where it’ll keep you warm or soothe your pain or simply make you happy.
And here is a blog bonus: a knitting pattern, for a Beanie Baby sweater.
First, get yourself the Beanie Baby. This is because Beanies come in different sizes, and you need this sweater to fit your Beanie. Find some yarn — you won’t need much. This is an ideal project for odd balls and leftovers, as the heroine of my story has discovered, Fifty yards or so is plenty. Get needles suitable to the yarn; we will avoid the concept of gauge here, but essentially fat yarn needs fat needles and thin yarn needs thin needles. You have a wide leeway here, so just go for it.
Cast on some stitches. You want enough stitches to go across the Beanie’s belly. The simplest way to guess this is to cast on for a while and then hold the needle and its stitches up to the toy. Lay the Beanie flat on a table (the way the bear is lying at the top of this post) to get an accurate estimate. If you have enough stitches on the needle to extend from one side of the Beanie to the other, that’s about right.
Then knit. You can do garter stitch, or stockinette, or rib it, or any fanciness you desire. When you’ve done an inch or so, hold it up to the Beanie again. Is it the width of the Beanie? You have lots of leeway, but it’s better if it’s a little big. If it’s dreadfully small you might pull it all apart and cast on again, adding more stitches this time. The Beanie is not going to complain about fit, but if it’s too tight you’ll never get it on at all.
If you’re satisfied with the width of the knitting, go on. Knit until you have a length that will be a good sweater on the Beanie — shoulder to waist (if it has a waist) or wherever you want the garment to end. Then cast off, leaving a long end for sewing up. What you have now is a knit square or rectangle, the front of the garment. Cast on again and make another square or rectangle, identical to the first.
Then lay the finished square on top of your Beanie. Mark with a pin or something, where the armholes should be. Pin the two squares together, and (using the long end of yarn from casting off or casting on) sew the side seams, from the bottom hem up to the armhole. Use more yarn, and sew the shoulder seams. Be careful to keep these shoulder seams short. Leave plenty of room for the neck opening — Beanie heads are more solid than their squishy little bodies. Try it on to be sure the head will actually go through the neck hole.
Fasten off all the loose ends, turn the garment right side out, and cram your Beanie into it. Pull its limp little arms through the arm holes. If you want refinements, a little collar or teeny sleeves are easily knitted, just tiny rectangles that you can then sew on.