Kettle sweater, kettle sweater, kettle sweater! What an awesome phrase. I could say it all freaking day. It’s even better than cellar door.
Or, the horror: kettle cozy.
Ugh, cozies. I have an ingrained distaste for cozies and granny squares. It runs deep, like my lifelong hatred for the color pink. A tomboy from the get-go, to me, pink meant “girly,” and girly meant a whole slate of mystifying behaviors, interests and likes, codified and policed by girls, boys, teachers, and family.
“Girly” meant getting a Barbie every Christmas from relatives, not showing off your Swiss army knives, following a strict beauty and fashion regimen, not liking “gross” things and having the boys close ranks one day on the schoolyard, saying “Girls don’t play four-square” when my turn came up.
Later, “girly” meant not talking too loud, having polite opinions, wearing the right body-conscious-but-not-sexy clothes, liking what people assumed I’d like, automatically deferring to men and authority figures, and — still! — not liking “gross” things. Sorry, skull collection. “Girly” meant “pink.”
By middle school, I had a hate on for anything girly. Girly made my life miserable and I wasn’t about to forgive it anytime soon. By high school I was as anti-girly as you could get, launching myself into not-girliness so hard the windows rattled.
I discovered that there were grown-up girly things, too. I’d picked up sewing, cooking, embroidery, knitting and crochet without much cultural baggage; They were things I’d learned from my Swiss mom, and were generally considered too quaint to resonate with popular culture. Knitting was the girliest thing I did, but I did it solo, rolling my eyes at the constant “Wow, you don’t look like a knitter!” comments. It was easy to hate granny squares, ruffles, cozies and other things: Things that were kitschy. Earnest. Homemade. Simple. Useless. Tacky.
The yarn store where I worked years ago was the first mostly female space I spent a large amount of time. It was the first thing approaching sisterhood I’d found, and it was weird. For the first time, I was around women most of the time, and lots of them liked ribbon yarns, pastel colors, baby clothes and ruffles.
And I kept bumping up against weird cultural artifacts, especially in older women: Many seemed to need permission to make mistakes before they could learn something new. They apologized for not perfectly performing tasks they’d learned just five minutes before. They called themselves stupid when they made mistakes, something I rarely hear men do. Many who’d been knitting longer than I’d been alive would say “Oh, I couldn’t do that, it’s too difficult” when I offered to teach them something new. It felt like half the teaching I did was creating a safe place for them to make mistakes without anyone, including themselves, judging them. I’d spent a lifetime learning to shrug off the fear of judgment that so many women carried with them everywhere.
For a long time, I needed to hate girliness, because it had made me so miserable for so, so long. I’d be damned before I’d knit a tea-cozy. But at the yarn store, I started to see that the enforced girliness I hated so much had left long, permanent scars on all the women around me, even the girly ones. Especially the girly ones. They weren’t the enemy; they just liked different stuff.
Maybe girliness wasn’t bad, per se. In my head, I’d let “girly” and “weak” and “bad” become the same thing, and it took a long time to unravel them. There’s already enough cultural bullshit against women, and the most insidious of all is the kind women and girls do against ourselves. Hating “women’s stuff” for being girly is a subtle kind of poison.
If there’s one thing I’ve been trying to practice, it’s this: Don’t hate the ruffles; hate the system that says “ruffles are for girls, so all girls must love ruffles.” Some girls like ruffles. Some of the folks who like them aren’t girls.
It’s taken some work, but I don’t hate granny squares anymore. At least, not conceptually. I still think they’re butt-ugly, but that’s more about openwork-related pickiness than cultural signifiers. Thanks to a boyfriend with a penchant for magenta hair, I’m coming around on the harder shades of pink. Pastels can still blow me, though, and nothing under the sun will make me like ruffles. And cozies … well, I guess I don’t have to hate them, as long as they don’t have any features I hate. Which means I hate most of them.
So even though the kettle sweater I made was a gift, I made it like one I’d make for myself: streamlined, muted and wooly.
With adorable vintage mother-of-pearl shank buttons from my mother’s button stash.