One of my goals for 2020 was to finish my Big Flower Cardigan.
For those just joining the program, Big Flower is a 1980s design by Kaffe Fassett. It’s an oversized drop-shoulder cardigan with a monumental chrysanthemum or lotus flower on the back and also on the front. (The front flower is just there so the knitter can enjoy the extra challenge of knitting a giant flower in two halves.)
You can date this pattern by how much the model looks like Princess Diana.
I acquired the original vintage kit for this cardigan by means of a miracle whose name is Clara Parkes. One day the mail carrier brought me a large box with about 40 balls of yarn in it, along with a pattern and a color card. Clara had had the kit in her stash for some time, and felt called to pass it along. I was honored to be the chosen recipient.
But great gifts bring great responsibility. I knew I had to answer the kindness by knitting the cardigan. It was going to be challenging, but I thought, what the heck, this is going to be my love song to Kaffe Fassett and his radical, audacious optimism about what the average knitter can accomplish.
I knit on my Big Flower steadily at times, but inevitably had to pack it up and set it aside for long periods. Big Flower is the kind of knitting that requires focus. It also required lots of strategery on the part of the knitter. The chart rows are not numbered! The striped background changes constantly! The background between two petals is sometimes just one stitch wide. Many of the rows call for triple-stranding of lace weight, the main flower motif and many of the background rows are in a bulky weight cotton chenille yarn that can only be described as Resistant to Intarsia.
I made a few modifications: I knit the fronts and the back simultaneously, which required some rejiggering and may not have truly saved me much trouble. But at least, when the flower was done, it was done, and I didn’t have to knit it all over again, in two pieces. Doing it my way also meant the sacrifice of the pockets, which were placed on the side seams that I eliminated. It saved me some ends, and given the massive number of ends I still had to weave in, that may have spared the whole project from abandonment. Even with help, I don’t think I could have woven in one more end.
I also eliminated the ribbed band around the bottom, which I thought would make me look like a potato. Doing a hem instead of that band turns it into a swing-coat shape.
It’s still not totally finished, but this past Sunday morning, I got up early and set in the sleeves, so that I’d have a wearable garment for our talk with Kaffe Fassett that afternoon for Vogue’s Virtual Knitting Live.
When I confessed to Kaffe that my cardigan, despite being nearly 40 years in the making, still did not have its front bands, he said, “What’s a button band, between friends?” Proving that he is not only brilliant, but compassionate.
I think I’m leaving it here for now, at least until the next time we get to talk to Kaffe. The simple intarsia patterns he designed for Field Guide No. 16 are too appealing for me to wrestle any button bands right now: I’ve got miniature houses to knit!