Skip to content

With a big, knitterly hug, we welcome the incorrigible, brilliant DG Strong to MDK. What follows is a tale we have been begging him to tell. Now, for the first time, exclusively on MDK, he shares his story. Grab a cup of something warm or cool, and settle in. (And do not miss the photo gallery up top.)

—Kay and Ann

Well, I suppose the first thing I should bring up (trust me, it’s the first thing I always bring up) is that long, long ago (2015), I won Best in Show (Knitting Division, not hogs or anything) at the Tennessee State Fair.

With the very first thing I ever knitted.

Which was basically a giant queen-sized washcloth.

None of these details matter in the least when it comes to the next part of the story; I just like to throw them in as often as possible, especially really loudly in groups of other knitters. Somewhat related: dinner with me is a nightmare. “Oh dear, a water spill. Too bad I don’t have my giant queen-sized award-winning washcloth with me.”

I say you don’t need to know those things before I go on with the rest of the story, but that’s not precisely true. You should know: once you get a ribbon, you want another ribbon. And then you want another ribbon. And suddenly you have enough ribbons to start a one-person rhythmic gymnastics team.

Those ribbons are addictive.

After my win, I immediately turned my attention toward winning Best in Show again. Alas, because of a rule that I am positive is unconstitutional, a person cannot win Best in Show in the same division at the Tennessee State Fair two years in a row. So now I had two years to rub my hands together and cackle and bide my time—bide my time—and come up with something that would win again. Now I knew just how Henry Fonda felt waiting 41 years between his Oscar nominations. It was exactly like that.

Let’s jump to January 2016. I had been thinking for a while about knitting something related to the National Parks in honor of the Park Service’s centennial. NPS Centennial souvenirs were already everywhere—mugs, t-shirts, coolers, hiking boots.

I think I even ate a Yellowstone-flavored tater tot at Sonic one week. The National Parks have been a longtime obsession of mine—an obsession borne not so much out of experience in the actual parks (though I had some), but more out of some strange, artificial nostalgia for them that was probably largely created via multiple viewings of The Long, Long Trailer when I was a child—oh, that Lucy! But I couldn’t quite figure out how to knit a tribute to them without just making a Pendleton-inspired striped blanket.

I got very, very lucky.

Endless half-assed Ravelry searches finally turned up a fantastic in-progress project called the National Parks Centennial Celebration Blanket, designed by a group of knitters from Utah, Smart Knits. It was a series of illustrative squares, each one inspired by a different National Park.

It was just up my alley in a lot of ways: the recovering graphic designer in me liked the pared-down, minimal quality of a handful of them and the folk art collector in me was attracted to the naive sensibility of a few of them and the National Parks supporter in me admired the charitable aspect of the whole thing. (All pattern sales benefit the National Park Foundation; they’ve donated over $2,000 so far.) It worked like a typical mystery knit—I got a package of five or six patterns per month—and since there are 59 parks (plus a NPS logo square), the plan was to finish it up in about a year, long before the 2017 State Fair entry deadline.

Plenty of time, I said. Plenty of time.

Right off the bat, it was clear to me that it was going to be tough and that a good chunk of it was beyond my knit-purl-knit-purl skillset. I didn’t make it any easier on myself, either—right from the start, I started making changes (I told you I was a nightmare at dinner): I switched from the recommended DK yarn to a worsted one, so all my squares blocked up larger and a little more inconsistently than the patterns indicated. I wanted to make the blanket eight squares by eight squares, which was going to leave me four short—what were those going to be? I ended up doing four signature squares. Four. Not since John Hancock has there been such a disproportionately large signature.

Since I discovered the project three months after it started, I was also already 15 squares behind. And on and on and on, so many roadblocks at the beginning. Border or no border? Seam in order or save it until the end? Swatch, test, rip, repeat. And, oh, the worst one: most of the designs involved intarsia.

I was not completely new to intarsia. During the in-between non-Best-in-Show-eligible year, I felt like I should keep a toe in the State Fair waters and knocked out an intarsia sweater that snagged a second-place ribbon. (It featured a silhouette of Bigfoot because what wardrobe is complete without such a thing?) I have no great love for the technique, and the fiddliness of it frequently drives me to just taking it outside and burying it in the yard and pretending it never happened.

But now it was March 2016 already, and I was elbow deep in making a picture of a bear cub climbing up a tree—though it also looks a little bit like the bear cub is, uhm, just really, really fond of the tree.

Every few nights for months, I would look at all the unknitted patterns and shuffle them around, trying to decide which intarsia nightmare would make me cuss the least, and that’s the one I would cast on.

In early November 2016, I said out loud to someone that I didn’t care who won the presidential election, as long as her first order of business was to immediately deactivate about half of the National Parks, thus saving me from having to knit any more of them. And let me tell you: after you fiddle around with seven bobbins in an attempt to honor the full, glorious majesty of Glacier National Park in a 31-stitch-wide square, your number one rub-a-lamp genie wish is to go back in time and smother the inventor of intarsia in her crib.

I’ll confess: about halfway through the project, I almost gave up. I was thisclose to just having 30 wool trivets. It felt like the blanket would never be finished, and I was extremely frustrated by my limited skillset. Every time a new set of patterns arrived, I had to pause and go learn some crazy new thing.

That weird pinhole cast-on.

Lacy, yarnover-heavy blocks. 

Fair Isle.

Some crazy thing called a palm stitch, which had the nerve to show up twice.

One square involved making three-dimensional what I think are fish-scales? Coral reefs?

It was . . . a lot.

But, right when I needed it,  I had an epiphany about the project during a woodland hike at Big South Fork with friends. We were having a conversation about the different types of hikers, and we determined that there are two types: waterfall hikers and trail hikers. Waterfall hikers just want to get to the waterfall and snap the picture and get back to the car. Trail hikers are happy to just be on the trail, looking at plants and animals and the way the light hits the bark and having Deep Thoughts as they hike. I am definitely the latter. Just like that, I knew that the blanket was a trail, and I was happy to be on it.

I barely made it under the wire. It ended up taking about 16 months, with a few expletive-laden “I’m never knitting again” temper tantrums sprinkled around. (My dog now thinks her name is F***ing Intarsia.) I tore things out I was unhappy with and started them over.

I threw things down in a huff and checked online to make sure that American Samoa even has a National Park. (It does.) But I did end up loving this particular hike, especially after I worked up the courage to veer off the designated path and redesign and chart a few blocks based on my own experiences in the Parks.

Doing that reminded me why I wanted to do a NPS project in the first place, even before discovering the in-progress Smart Knits group and their brilliant project.

I wanted to celebrate this amazing, uniquely American thing that’s been so important to me for so long by recording my own feet having been in some of them. I revisited my own journals and photos and drawings of National Parks visits over the years and came up with some squares of my own: Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Pinnacles.

Carlsbad Caverns.

Some are successful, some aren’t (my Carlsbad looks like nothing so much as a desperate plea for Batman to come save Gotham City), but I’m certainly not afraid to haul out the graph paper and just go for it in the future—you can just all look forward to my blanket commemorating the films of Barbara Stanwyck.

I finished seaming the last of ten thousand seams and weaving in the last of six hundred thousand ends just ten days before the entry deadline for the State Fair.

At the last minute, I flirted briefly with backing the blanket, but I was ultimately so proud of my seaming that I decided to leave it exposed.

Most intarsia is unsightly on the backside, but I almost prefer the back of the blanket to the front; it definitely signals the presence of hand, and that’s something I really love.

It’s a little bit like seeing how the sausage is made, but at least it’s very delicious sausage.

Are we at the end? (WE ARE).

Is now the time to spoil it? (YES.)

Did I win Best in Show again? (I DID.)

It’s only been a couple of weeks since I finished the blanket. It’s only been a couple of days since I learned I was going to have to enlarge my ribbon-holding room. And it’s only been a few minutes since I started a new project for 2019.

It’s an intarsia blanket.

About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.

102 Comments

  • It’s 5:14 am and I’ve done enough laughing to start the day right. As an intarsia hater, if I had a hat on, I’d take it off and say, “Well done.” Now hurry up and write us some more.

  • Congratulations! A job well done on a very interesting project!

  • This read really started my day off in a great direction!! Congratulations to DG for his perseverance in completing this major project. I can hardly wait to read about his next Blue Ribbon attempt form the Tennessee State Fair!!

  • What a great writing style. More, please.

  • What a lovely blanket-and what a hilariously lovely read first thing this morning. Congrats to DG!!

  • Great story. Great writing. All a treat!

  • He can knit, he can draw, and WOW, can he write!

  • What a great story!! I loved reading this.

  • What an epic story, and just one chapter in a intarsia king-sized blanket of stories, I hope.

  • Hysterical!!! And extremely well done! CoNgRaTuLaTiOnS to DG! why is there not a blue ribbon emoji???

  • Fabulous‼️An inspiration to all of us who think we have modest skills at best. Congratulations!

  • Wonderful read! And an epic project for sure. I started following DG on Instagram for a few months and so I loved reading the backstory of his blanket.

  • Wow. Wow! Wow!! What a great story, and an amazing blanket!! Congratulations. I’m looking forward to the next installment in this… series? 😉

  • CONGRATULATIONS!!! If they hadn’t awarded you best in show, I was going to have to come down there and throttle someone! I look forward to 2019! Keep us posted!

  • Love it! Love the hilarious way the story is told and your stick-to-it-ness. Congratulations!

  • What a fun read, and great way to start the day! I look forward to your award winning 2019 blanket!

  • Congratulations DG on a beautiful ribbon-winning project. I totally agree with you about intarsia – not a fan.

  • Congratulations!!! I’ve seen the afghan in person & it’s way wonderful!!! I would have buried it in the backyard about 3 squares in!!!! I hope Clementine & the rat terrier enjoy it!!!

  • I loved reading the evolution and process of this project, made me laugh, thanks!

  • This is one of the most honest, brilliant and laugh-out-loud funny knitting articles I’ve read. Ever. I’ve felt these same growing pains when learning new knitting skills and had similar frustration tantrums. Just have to find the good humor in the process! Please lots more of DG Strong’s musings.

  • What impressive knitting, and the best thing I have read about knitting in a long time–laughed out loud about five times, but loved the thoughtful insight into why we create. Thank you!

  • Hilarious. Brilliant. Beautiful.

  • So, so funny! I love your story and your beautiful blanket! I have a love/hate relationship with intarsia but your knitting is amazing.

  • Love this article. I’m also working on this blanket. I’ve had all the frustrations experienced by the author. Can’t wait to be finished. Sue

    • Since I didn’t really knit them in precise order — I knit the easy ones first each month and then pushed a lot of more difficult ones to the end — I made sure to save a couple of beloved parks for the very end so that I would be a little bit sad about finishing instead of just relieved.

  • I LOVE THIS!!!! The story, the blanket … EVERYTHING!!!! Thanks for a really WONDERFUL start to my day!

  • Loved reading this knitting adventure almost as much as spending time celebrating quiet in our National Parks! I love that entered (&won a blue ribbon) the state fair, yet another treasured American institution.

  • Made my day!!

  • I look forward to the intarsia chronicle of the Barbara Stanwyk Series.

    • Me too!!

    • So do I!

  • I live outside of Montrose, CO and DG nailed the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, one of my favorite places to hike! Such an awesome blanket & very entertaining story!

  • Thanks so much. What a great article. I will think of this whenever I think of the National Parks and, of course, intarsia….

  • DG, that is a wonderful blanket. From one trail hiker to another: well done.

  • hilarious and true, all of it. Looking forward to your next dispatch!

  • THIS “… it definitely signals the presence of hand, and that’s something I really love.” Three cheers for your labor of love and lust for that blue ribbon, Mr. Strong <3

  • …can’t ever get enough of DG’s words and his knitting!

  • I am obsessed with this knitting journey.

  • DG, you are the boss of your knitting. That well-deserved blue ribbon is beautiful. It will look great next to the first one.

    I’m a trail hiker/knitter, too.

  • A very entertaining read and a very beautiful blanket!!!

  • That is an incredible piece of work, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about it. Thank you for sharing your magnificent blanket!

  • Last night I screamed at my dog “I can’t knit Fair Isle Christmas Ornaments on size 1 needles!!” Afterward I thought I’d really lost it, but now, after reading your story, I feel better. I shall pick up the needles again this morning and try not to yell at the dog. Your blanket is spectacular.

  • Good grief DG! That’s amazing! Well deserved my man! I’m happy to say I may DG at a knit night at the Farmer’s Market. I’d have asked for his autograph if only I’d known!

  • DG Strong is brilliant and inspiring. Thanks.

  • A great read on my way to work. I find myself thinking up NPS squares. Looking forward to more from Mr Strong.

  • Goodness, this is wonderful–the blanket, AND the story. I’m looking forward to seeing more!

  • Loved the blanket and the story! Hope to see more!

  • HA Ha Ha Ha. I wish I could post the dorky picture I have of myself with my blue winning sweater at the Amador county fair. I’m positively giddy with winning despite my certainty that mine was the only sweater entered. Not surprising since our fair always falls during a nice 104 degree july weekend. most people forget they even own, let alone ever knitted a sweater.

  • More charming knitting stories, please … they are what brought us here. I’d rather have a lovely story about knitting than self help advice any day. Much more uplifting, if that is what you are aiming for!

  • That is a monumental achievement – definitely deserving of a blue ribbon. I love the bold colors in the blanket. My experiments with intarsia have ended up in the frog pond, so I salute your determination! Beautiful blanket and story!

  • Loved the story. Blanket is awesome. Laughed out loud at dog’s new name.

  • Congratulations DG! You definitely earned that ribbon! I saw your beautiful blanket and Best of Show ribbon when I went to the fair on Monday to see what ribbons I had one. I’m glad to say our knits are neighbors. My Fox Paws scarf is hanging to the left of your blanket. Although, sadly it only won a second place ribbon due to some tough competition in the accessories category. I’m so glad to know the fascinating story behind your winning blanket.

    http://www.ravelry.com/projects/Francieos/fox-paws

    • Francie that is a world-class Fox Paws!

    • Francie! Your color sense is just amazing. That’s just a gorgeous scarf–congratulations on making what looks to me like one of the most challenging patterns out there. x0x0x00x0x

    • Wow. Your Fox Paws is gorgeous. Congratulations! The notes you have on your project page are nice as well.

    • I loved your fox paws!

    • Very nice also! Congrats.

  • Awesome job! I’ve got that one queued up as well 🙂 And congratulations on your two big wins!

  • DG, I went and read your blog, and you should resume writing it–or something else. And your drawings are fantastic. You should link up with Roz Chast and form a Modern Daily cartoon blog. But seriously, you have a voice. Your writing needs a wider audience.

    • That’s such a nice bunch of things to say; I actually avoid looking at Chast for long stretches because I worry that I might steal from her!

  • If I were still working in magazines, which I’m not in part because it’s a dying field, I would be contacting you with an assignment on the basis of what I’ve seen.

  • I got to the fair late, only having time to come and read now, but well worth the trip! I loved the detailed account of how you won those ribbons. I felt as if I were there every step of the way; it was a great time on the trail..

  • Love the squares that are representations using just the perfect stitch pattern & D G S lol

  • Both blankets are such amazing achievements! They are beautiful and so deserving of those ribbons. We all appreciate the amount of hard work that goes into a project like that. I hope we hear more about your knitting adventures, DG. You are as entertaining a writer as you are an intrepid knitter. 🙂

  • Thank you for making me LOL! Beautiful blanket, I am inspired to try a few squares based on my favorite places.

  • Thank you for the laugh, the validation as I despise intarsia and a photo of the finished project. Also, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of my favorite places. It would be my dream to live in Crested Butte.

    • Black Canyon and Great Basin are – in my opinion — the two most underrated parks; I love them both. I’d be torn about choosing. BTW, there’s a wonderful knitter posting on Instagram (@knitlandscape) who works at Great Basin (she hikes for a living!) who’s doing a series of Icelandic intarsia landscapes based on her Great Basin hikes. They’re 100% magic and I covet them like crazy.

      • Thank you for telling us about Knitlandscape on Instagram. What a beautiful project!

  • Well, I laughed so hard I snorted coffee up my nose. This is the best post ever. Besides being hilarious, it is inspirational. I know I’ll go back and read it again and again during future projects when I’m doubting my sanity for even beginning.

    • Yes, here also. Please, MDK do not irresponsibly suggest one settle in with a beverage when DJ Strong publishes his next post!

  • A great, fun read.

  • I love this story! Congratulations, and thank you!

  • I love this! And since intarsia and blankets are two things I prefer not to do – although I just finished a baby blanket – I realIy admire your tenacity, too. I have a co-worker who, every summer, treks off by himself to a national park, camping and hiking alone for a week. In fact, he’s doing that right now, somewhere out west (I can’t remember where – I’m a terrible friend!) and I can’t wait for him to get back to show him this! He knows nothing about knitting, but I think he will appreciate it, too!

  • This was perfect and made me laugh and think about hikes in the mountains that I have loved and also how many times I’ve cursed at my knitting while hurling it to the floor. I loved this so much! I was remembering how, once I had knit and purl down, I ended up in a small knitting class with Alaisdar Post-Quinn on double knitting. My first ‘real’ project, I decided, would be his parallax scarf. Oh the cursing for those first several weeks… 🙂 I eventually finished it – I admit, no double knitting projects since!

  • DG – I have an unusual request – is there a key somewhere to what park goes with each square in your blanket? I shared this post with a good friend who is not a knitter but worked many years for the parks service and she was fascinated by the whole project! She was able to figure out several squares but was interested to find out about the rest. Thank you kindly!

    • I don’t have the key online — though I did submit one with the blanket at the fair…laminated (OF COURSE). If you click the Smart Knits link in the article, though (not the blanket link, but the Smart Knits one), you’ll see the patterns for each square and can figure them out that way. Except for the ones I re-charted myself: Carlsbad, Pinnacles and Black Canyon.

      • I’ll check that out – thank you so much!

  • I enjoyed this so much! Love the projects and congratulations on your win! Good luck for 2019!

  • What a delightful article and what a stunning, fantastic blanket!! Thanks for the belly laughs and the gorgeous photos –

  • Oh brilliant! Sums it all up.

  • Lordy me.. I can relate. Admire your sand. Beautifully written piece and you final blanket adds up to more than its amazing individual parts. Bravo. More!!

  • I loved this post! Laughed the whole way through. May inspire me to enter the fair as an adult, but that would be a lot of work…

  • Wonderful article and congratulations on the win! You really “pushed the boat out” on this one! Good knitting!

  • What a triumph! Lovely work – many congratulations on your well deserved win.

  • MORE MORE MORE D G STRONG

  • The blanket is just wonderful! and your finishing work to be envied. My Mom always taught me that the back of a project should be as beautiful as the front. You certainly achieved that! Please keep telling us your stories.

  • Fabulous blanket, fabulous story telling – best in show indeed! Thank you for sharing all of this

  • A knitting tale with a happy ending ! Love it.

  • Bravo that is one Fab-U-Lous blanket!

  • Laugh out loud. What a fun project. Happy Knitting everyone!

  • Man oh Man – you have a treasure here. Please ask DG Strong to write every other week and then put Franklin on every OTHER week. Wait. A reality show with DG AND Franklin! Knitting! (Why yes, I DID read his blog…and we need more!!) I’ve got dibs on that idea – at least executive producer credit. Thank you Ann and Kay for this little jewel.

  • Oh my gosh! DG, you are an inspiration!

  • This is SO fantastic, DG! Wonderful blanket, wonderful writing. I sure hope we get to hear more from you! Congratulations!

  • Beautiful blanket! I really enjoyed your story. Congratulations!

  • Oh, Well Done!! It’s a beautiful blanket, and some of those squares have such movement and charm. You’ve completely captured the otter and bison and goat… Beautiful seaming, too. Congratulations! And thank you for sharing your journey so humourously. Good luck with Ribbon No. 3!

  • One of the best posts I’ve read in a long time.

  • That was hilarious and I’m so glad it had a happy ending for everyone involved.

  • Congratulations!! man, that is gorgeous. And ribbon lust is real; I got a red ribbon years ago at the county fair –not even state–for a handspun scarf, and a feral beast was unleashed upon the world

  • I may have commented this on your IG account, but I bought the yarn for this project and decided to just enjoy your hike with it, instead. (I must be a waterfall hiker.) Job well done!

  • Bauhaus school turns 100 in 2019. Bet you could do some great squares. Just sayin. Also, love what you’ve created. Bravo!

  • So glad u reposted this as I missed it the first time. Also the that you guys are doing a Best Of post brings up the best of my smiles because MDK you are so damn smart and funny!

    Happy Happy to all!

  • I don’t know how I got to this site but nice work and really enjoyed the story. Thanks for sharing your wonderful talents. Pleasant reading you!

Come Shop With Us

My Cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping