At press time, Nashvillian Ann Shayne and her New York-based co-author, Kay Gardiner, were traveling through the Northeast promoting Mason-Dixon Knitting, their recently released book based on their blog of the same name. Ann and Kay (the nature of their blog makes surnames seem overly formal) are trendsetters at least three times over: they were on the forefront of the knitting craze, they embraced blog culture early on and their blog has now successfully transitioned to a conventional medium—Mason-Dixon Knitting is the lead title of Clarkson Potter’s new craft imprint.
Readers of Mason-DixonKnitting.com, a hilarious commentary on knitting and the life surrounding it, are being kept abreast of the pair’s ongoing “Any Excuse for a Party” book tour. There are pictures of Kay riding the subway, overflowing basket of knitting on her lap; Kay and Ann lugging said basket through the streets of Manhattan; the CD a fan made for them to listen to en route to appearances; and the husband sent to collect autographs for his absent wife.
As entertaining as the blog is, craft books don’t necessarily make for the best reads, especially for non-practitioners, so Mason-Dixon Knitting is a rare find indeed. Ann and Kay’s infectious camaraderie, joie de vivre and irreverent humor translate well to the printed page, where they encourage readers to connect life and knitting, which might mean finding creative inspiration in sources as varied as the Gee’s Bend quilts and a glass of champagne.
But while the images are enough to make you think seriously about buying some needles and yarn, the technical details—no matter how well illustrated and narrated—remain daunting. “Awww, just you wait,” says Ann. “The siren call will get you eventually.” Both she and Kay let years lapse from the time they initially heard that call and when they became darlings of the knitting world. Kay started knitting as a Camp Fire Girl, producing a pair of “bright red acrylic bootie-style house slippers, complete with pom-poms.” But two decades passed before she happened upon a knitting shop at the end of a Sunday morning run through Central Park and emerged with $150 worth of bright red yarn.
Ann’s reintroduction to knitting came via Martha Stewart. Waiting to hear the domestic diva at the Antiques & Garden Show in Nashville, she jumped at a friend’s offer to sample her knitting as they waited to enter the show. “I need to write Martha a thank-you note for giving me that lovely interlude in the hallway of the Nashville Convention Center,” she says.
But does it follow that discovering or rediscovering knitting will lead to obsession? “People often get sort of nutty once they get hooked on knitting,” Ann says. “The gear is part of it—the yarns, the needles, the books. Where a fly fisherman gets all wound up about tying flies, a knitter thinks a lot about yarn. A lot.”
For the most part, the duo encourage readers to relax, experiment, have fun. Rules are meant to be broken, stress avoided. So a project may seem to be taking forever—what of it? “We each have many, many projects lying around in various stages,” Ann says. “I don’t know exactly how many, and I’m not even sure how I define ‘project,’ because sometimes a swatch of orange wool may eventually turn into some cool thing, or it may just live its life as an orange swatch.”
Ann and Kay’s vision of their book dates almost from the beginning of their correspondence four years ago in a chat room devoted to Rowan Yarns. “The book is very much what we said we would do,” Ann says, “but I never would have guessed it would end up having our woodcut heads on the cover, made by Hatch Show Print.”
As for a vision of the future, “We’re currently pondering our next step,” Ann says.
Perhaps lingerie, she muses.
But they’ve already done that; it’s on page 48 under the heading “Mason-Dixon After Dark.” -MJHearing the CallA passionate acolyte responds to Mason-Dixon KnittingReally, this is a knitting book, with luminous close-ups of fabulous handknits in colors that sometimes require protective eyeware, and patterns ranging from Looks Simple (Decayed Tutu Scarf) to Looks Impossible (Moses Basket, Ambitious Grandmother Version). But what Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne are really up to here is an altar call. Knitting is the way, and they want you to rededicate your life.It’s not about the patterns; it’s about living abundantly in the company of similarly enlightened knitters. The rules are few but always liberating: “Number 1: Knitting Is Spoze to Be Fun.” “Number 16: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Rules.” Their maxims ring true: it is hard to get your kids to wear the stuff you’ve made, so dress your house instead. (The rugs and curtains are stunning.) A knitter’s deepest motives are revealed and found worthy: it’s really okay to knit with the overt intent of making the expectant mom “burst into tears of uncontrollable joy right there at the baby shower.” Gardiner and Shayne will show you how.The exhilarated convert will hit a snag, though, if she ignores the first step: get yourself a mentor. No matter how easy that “warshrag” looks, you’ve still got to learn to knit, purl and navigate such arcane mysteries as “slip one purlwise”—all of which the authors leave to your knowledgeable companion. Unless, of course, you want to wing it, which is also completely in keeping with the spirit here. If you never intend to knit a stitch, Mason-Dixon Knitting is still a great read. Gardiner and Shayne are certified hoots, and their proselytizing isn’t knitting-specific. They bubble with bonhomie and witty insights regarding husbands, kids and the “bag of woe” that is an unfinishable project. So lighten up. Knit what you like, like what you knit and remember the Mason-Dixon Manifesto: “Peace, Love, and Natural Fibers. Not necessarily in that order.”—Laura Huff Hileman