Ruth Bass: Knit 1, purl 2 in red, white and blue



Some people just love their Christmas sweaters. Some people hate Christmas sweaters. The middle ground on this issue probably doesn't exist - unless it's where we stand when we resist telling Aunt Nellie or Grandma Gidget that their sweaters are god-awful.

Many of us who knit would not enjoy making a Christmas sweater. Aside from the look of them, there's the continual switching from one color to another, foretelling hours of work when the sweater is done. Even if it looks colorful and fun on the right side, the back will be a maelstrom of fighting yarns, many ends to be secured and then tucked away.

We have to set aside more than a casual amount of shopping time when the yarn store is the goal. It takes awhile to choose yarn for a new project, consult the in-house expert, resist anything that costs $18 a ball and poke about in the colors if it's to be more than a one-color sweater.

Ralph Lauren didn't have a problem with choosing colors. He just picked the obvious: red, white and blue for America's Olympians. When it came to design, it would appear that the famous leader of fashion made no decisions at all. He used them all.

Well, not quite all. As far as can be determined from Internet photos, the American eagle didn't make it to the new sweater. But the rest is a patchwork of stars, stripes, flags and, of course, the five-circles that stand for the Olympics. The rings required a minor invasion by yellow, but it barely shows up in the mish-mosh.

Prominent, however, is the word POLO on the shawl collar that is half red and white stripes and half navy blue. It has become tiresome in our commercial world to realize how hard it is not to be a walking ad for one store or another when wearing their clothing. Fortunately, stores like Talbots and Land's End have gone in the other direction and often imprint their name on the inside of the back of the neck so there's not even a hidden attached label to irritate skin or flip into view.

This sweater is, fashion-wise, truly dismal, except for the rear view, which features U.S.A. against a dark blue background sprinkled with white stars. But the front and the sleeves? No place to focus. The eyes jump from a blue cuff to a striped cuff, from a sleeve flag to a chest flag, from white stars on red to white stars on blue. It's dizzying.

Small wonder that the critics - who last time around blasted Lauren for making Olympic garments in China - have hit on a comparison with the infamous Christmas sweater.

That garment has become such a synonym for ugliness that an Internet search for ugly Christmas sweaters turned up a website that boasts, "Trying to win an ugly sweater contest? - We've got you covered." People actually hold ugly sweater parties at which appropriate wear finds people covered with combos of reindeer, Christmas balls, huge Rudolph faces with eyes placed unfortunately, reindeer atop brilliant orange and yellow horizontal stripes, pink fringe on a blue field covered with Santas and glittery Christmas balls (a few flamingos would add to this one). The website shows one older couple whose faces are embedded in their sweaters, topped by Santa hats.

For a serious knitter, such things are a nightmare. For me, it was serious from the age of 6 when World War II sent veteran knitters to their yarn leftovers for the creation of afghans. These may have been ugly, but they were useful for wounded soldiers. Our mother or grandmother sewed our sixinch squares together, and at the center of each, nine squares formed a red cross on a white field to identify the American Red Cross as the source.

At least that mish-mosh had a focal point.

Ruth Bass knits and purls in Richmond. Her website is


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