A How-To Guide for creating your own Cedar Chest Knits.

When I came up with the idea of knitting my autobiography of sorts, one of the most compelling things for me was thinking about how I could share this idea with others.

I am very fond of my designs, and I do hope others will knit them! But I totally recognize that you are not going to knit a McBryde Hat and get sentimental about it in the way that I will. You might love the chunky lace motif, or be drawn to the possibility of color combinations… but most likely, you will not be thinking about the streets I am, or longing for the same local donuts. And that is totally fine! The idea is that my love for Blacksburg fueled a creative process that gave me an outlet for processing and reminiscing. That the result of that is transferrable to anyone, whether they’ve been to my little mountain town or not, is a happy bonus!

And so I’ve been wondering about you sweet knitters out there with real stories to tell. You have deep affection for people and places in your life. You’ve endured tragedy and lost loved ones. You’ve traveled to stunning landscapes and met people rich with culture and history. And just maybe, like me, you’re looking for a way to memorialize those things… to put your hands on something tactile and create something from that memory. I want to invite you to participate in My Cedar Chest Knits: the incarnation of memory through craft.

Below is a link to download a printable worksheet for you to work through. Underneath it is that same series of questions, but I’ve included my “answers” as they relate to my first Cedar Chest Knit, the McBryde Hat. At the end of all of it, sit down and sketch. Swatch. Create. You just might find there’s been a garment living inside you all this time.



What is it that you’re trying to memorialize? Is it a place? person? event? It can be as broad or specific as you like and may evolve over the creative process, but it’s a place to start. Complete the sentence, “I hope to capture the spirit of _______.”

  • Some of my examples have been:
    • I hope to capture the spirit of Blacksburg, VA on an autumn day.
    • I hope to capture the nostalgia I feel standing on the MSU campus.
    • I hope to capture the sense of community I felt the night my friends came to dinner after our friend died.

Determine what kind of garment makes the most sense for this memory. It can be directly influenced by the climate (maybe you wouldn’t make a heavy sweater to remember that trip to Bali…), or be symbolic of your inspiration (Travis was such a servant, a pair of mittens– which cover the hands– could be a meaningful way to to remember that). Or maybe it’s not a garment at all… a stuffed animal, a blanket, or other housewares might be more befitting.

Do a quick brainstorm of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes associated with that time or place. If you’re using a person as your inspiration, think about their character qualities or specific memories you have with them. Make a list of 5-10 things that help “capture” whatever it was you wrote above.

  • In the case of my McBryde Hat:
    • Rural mountain landscape. Lots of trees, beautiful colors in the fall. The phrase “God must be a Hokie because the leaves turn maroon and orange in the fall.”
    • Commitment to local and ethical living.
    • Favorite places and sights: The Palisades (a farm to table restaurant) and Gillie’s (super crunchy vegetarian joint), farmers market, Huckleberry Trail walks, Pandapas Pond
    • Hiking the Cascades, Dragon’s Tooth, McAffee’s Knob… love of being outdoors
    • Amazing community of friends, especially other moms.
    • Virginia Tech pride, and the university and community being so closely linked

Reviewing the list you just made, make another to note colors, textures, or techniques that come to mind about each of those things. Consider what kind of yarn might best accomplish those techniques, and what makes most sense for the kind of garment you chose.

  • Fall, earthy colors (maroons, brick oranges, mustard yellows, browns… I know I have some Cestari in my stash, could that work?)
  • Rustic and textural. More rugged than pristine, but still feminine.
  • Leaves or acorns? Mountains? (Could I do this with cables? colorwork?)
  • Want it to be youthful.. would be worn by VT students or young moms.
  • A word about fiber selection: There are lots of ways to choose your fiber content, but my advice is to first shop in your stash. Do you already own yarn that’s local to the place you’re commemorating? Anything fitting the color or texture description above? Any old sweaters in your closet that could be unraveled for this project?  If you come up dry, head to your local yarn shop on a day you have lots of time to browse. Since this is sort of improvisational, and the end goal is the value of remembering (and not necessarily a perfectly-executed FO), see if you can do this without spending money. If you get to the end and have a beautiful garment you want to market, consider investing in new materials at that point. I want you to have time and space to feel the freedom to engage in (and walk away from) the emotional process at-will, and not feel compulsion to make something marketable or perfect on the first try just because you spent money on the yarn.

Do some research. Consult reference books like “Sequence Knitting,” The Knitted Cable Sourcebook,” and “A Treasury of Knitting Patterns” at your local library. Browse patterns on Ravelry and Instagram for motifs and techniques that could be incorporated into your garment. Do some serious whittling down here… you don’t want to overcomplicate your design by trying to include every element on your brainstorming list. Seek to capture the essence of that person or place with 2-3 attributes. [[Note: in this stage, you might find that someone has already designed something that’s exactly what you’re looking for (“Hey that Banff Hat would be an awesome way to commemorate our hike through Yosemite!”). That’s great! You can choose colors or fibers to personalize someone else’s design and make it more meaningful to you. Just realize that you won’t be able to claim that design as your own or reproduce it for sale or distribution.]]

  • Found 2 lace leaf patterns I liked and one cabled leaf. The cabled leaf was definitely more someone else’s individual creation (let’s avoid copyright infringement!), and I preferred one of the laces over another. I think it could look cool with a thicker yarn to pull out a more rustic feel and less frilly.
  • Found some mountains I liked but decided the leaves felt more “Blacksburg” (no real way to explain it!)

Start sketching! If you land on a design you like, consider photocopying it to fill in with different colors. Or if you’re a more tactile and less of a visual person, begin swatching.

  • This is where I came up with the idea to add an under-layer to the McBryde Hat. After swatching the leaf lace (and modifying what I found in my reference book to be more like what I wanted with the yarn I had), it just didn’t seem warm enough for what I wanted, and I didn’t love the leaves being yellow. So I thought “I can put the yellow underneath, but make the leaves a neutral!” That solved the color issue and the warmth issue.

Knit. Frog. Re-knit. Change needle sizes. Scream at it and cry a little. Come back when you’ve got more emotional energy. Try it on. Knit some more. Make sure to take good notes as you’re working so that you can replicate the parts that go well. [[Some great resources for improvisational knitting include Karen Templer’s Basic Top-Down Sweater and Susan B. Anderson’s “How I make my socks.”]]

There’s no certified  end-point here. It will likely be one finished garment. But if you can’t get there, that’s okay too. I truly believe there’s much to be gained just from working through the process. Maybe your FO is just a sketch or watercolor of the garment. Maybe you end up making something you love so much you write and publish the pattern. Wherever you end up, I hope you will share it with me! Use #myce


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