(Or what NOT to knit for Christmas.)
I’ve been sent a couple of things to review recently which I’m not going to mention. Sometimes I do this because they are inappropriate. OK, sometimes they are terrible (in which case I give feedback directly, but not here), but sometimes they are just plain wrong. And this is the season for it: the run up to Christmas. If I see another book inviting me to knit / crochet / weave / felt something – stockings / candy canes / decorations / skirts for Christmas trees / strange small gift items – I am going to scream. Or strangle / incinerate / shred / rip the offending object into small pieces.
These books are toecover production manuals, and they should be ignored at all costs.
This is a budgie cover, but it is also – most emphatically – a clear type of toecover.
Not come across ‘toecover’ before? It was part of our family vernacular, for as long as I can remember, and now I forget that it’s not universal. But it should be. It has nothing to do with sports equipment or anything medical, and everything to do with, um, ‘handicrafts’. Unfortunately.
It comes from the wonderful Betty MacDonald, and her book from the 1940s, The Plague and I, detailing her year in a TB sanatorium (doesn’t sound funny, but it’s a hoot). ‘Toecover,’ she writes, ‘is a family name for a useless gift. A crocheted napkin ring is a toe cover. So are embroidered book marks … pincushion covers done in french knots … cross-stitched pictures of lumpy brown houses…’
She waxes lyrical for a long paragraph, but you get the picture. Those are toecovers. It’s easy to imagine that the toecover died out sometime around 1970, when everybody was too busy getting off of their heads to bother about making attractive napkin rings out of leather scraps and left-over yarn, but evidently not:
Thank you, Golden Hands.
And they still live and flourish today.
Think about it. What else are knitted iPhone covers, crocheted tree garlands that look as though the cat’s been sick, twee dolls for adults, wine-bottle cozies in moss stitch (or, indeed, any stitch), and most take-away coffee cup holders, especially those with hands? And in case you think I’m exaggerating, a quick search for ‘knitted gifts’ on Pinterest revealed the existence of what can only be described as a completely un-ironic frilly dress for a decanter. NO!
Magazines are the natural habitat of the toecover, especially at this time of year. Take the latest issue of Landscape, for instance, a relatively recent addition to the ‘I want that lifestyle’ area of magazine publishing. The latest edition, based around Christmas, features some things called ‘table stockings’. (I can’t photograph it, because I’d be breaking copyright and I’m being rude enough without tempting fate.) They’re not for the table legs – we’re not Victorians, honestly – but they are little socks, knitted in red with a cable pattern and a white cuff. You put your cutlery in them at the table. Apparently they ‘bring a light-hearted touch to the dinner table’. I knew that.
Surely those of us who do knit presents for our nearest and dearest are already bogged down making scarves, hats, gloves, socks, even the occasional definitely ironic sweater with a reindeer on it (check out this Rav project page for an, er, interesting take on the reindeer motif – but not if you’re easily offended), to bother about making tiny socks for spoons? Surely? Surely?
Posy Simmonds had a series of cartoon strips in the 1980s Guardian called Mrs Webber’s Diary; there were several incarnations with slightly different titles, but they were some of the most pertinent pieces of observation I’ve ever come across. In one, a daughter had called her mother to say that she had just been unsuccessful in a job application. It’s seen from the mother’s POV, and she suggests that at least missing out on the job would mean her daughter had time to care for her family – ‘you’ll have time to do it all properly … I was only joking, Jane’. She then says ‘…you’ll find something to do … look at me, I did…’ and puts the phone down. The last frame says it all:
Do not fall into this trap. Do not knit bulky bookmarks, tiny hats to use as Christmas tree decorations, strange naked deformed dolls which are supposed to be cute, little house-shaped key rings which double up as key tidies or – the oddest one I found in a quick search – a strange chicken with something hanging out of its mouth, possibly a worm, possibly its entrails. It will end badly.
But if you do have spare time, knit socks - and give them to me. My nephew has just requested socks and I do not knit socks. Rats.
PS: I popped into (and out of) a little craft fair yesterday, and discovered a toecover nest. Here are a few extras, not all knitting:
- Earmuffs, knitted in eyelash yarn, but with dangly legs (why?).
- A crocheted heart with ‘I [heart] my teacher’ embroidered on it. No scented stuffing or anything like that, just a heart-shaped thing.
- A wooden circle, with ‘a round tuit’ pyrographed on – so someone could get a round to it (ho ho ho)
- A decoupage box for holding those small packs of paper hankies… there were also several of these knitted or crocheted, too; I think this village must be prone to bad colds.
- A fake nose. I need to explain this one: made out of pink felt, I think it was supposed to be a pig’s snout. It had elastic so it would stay on, clearly designed for a small child. Childline need to be advised.
- A pile of blocks of wood or cardboard covered alternately in fabric or crochet, with embroidered titles. They were not real books – I mean, who’d want real books in their house when they could have a pile of fake ones?