Showing posts with label Mary Maxim. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mary Maxim. Show all posts

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Mary Maxim Sweater

When I did a special Canada Day post last July 1st, a commenter pointed out that I'd missed the most iconic Canadian knitting pattern of all, the Mary Maxim sweater. She was quite right, and I replied that I planned on doing a special Mary Maxim sweater post at some point. Well, here it is.

Mary Maxim is the largest privately held craft and needlework mail-order company in North America. The company was founded in the 1950s by Willard and Olive McPhedrain, who had been running a company called Sifton Wool Products Ltd. which sold wool blankets and socks. Willard saw possibilities in the hand-knitting market, and set his designers to work creating sweater patterns. The patterns sold well, and Willard derived a new name for his company that had a more homely, relatable appeal from the name of the McPhedrains' maid, Mary Maximchuk. Sixty years later, Mary Maxim has store locations in Paris, Ontario, and at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto, Ontario, as well as an American office in Port Huron, Michigan. Most of Mary Maxim's revenue is derived from their catalogue and online sales.

Mary Maxim can definitely count me among their customers. They are one of the three companies from which I generally buy yarn, and are my main source for needlework supplies. I very much enjoy shopping at their Toronto store, I occasionally order some items from Mary Maxim online, and I can never forget how much I loved getting a parcel from them as a teenager. I grew up on a farm, the only craft store I ever got to visit was a good hour's drive away and wasn't exactly up to par anyway, and being able to buy anything I wanted from Mary Maxim's comprehensive catalogue was the best thing ever.

My catalogue lands in my mailbox at regular intervals and I still read it with enjoyment, though also with some bemusement. Besides the craft kits, patterns, needlework tools, and yarn you'd expect, they've branched out into offering oddball household gadgets such as an electric dog treat maker, an expandable back scratcher, a "detoxer" foot bath, pajama jeans, and other products of the kind one sees advertised on TV infomercials.

Tucked among all these items is the best-known Mary Maxim product ever — the classic bulky weight cardigan patterns based on the Cowichan sweater. Their reindeer cardigan is the first pattern Mary Maxim ever produced, and they still sell it. There are many of these patterns now and they feature quite a variety of images, which are usually either some type of animal or sports figure. To be honest, I find most of these bulky cardigans hideous. But there's no denying the Mary Maxim sweater's iconic status in Canada. The Mary Maxim sweater is familiar to most Canadians. If you didn't have one yourself when you were growing up, at least one of your friends did, and you didn't hear them complaining about being cold or uncomfortable.

The most appealing of the Mary Maxim sweater designs are those which are most similar to the Cowichan sweater. (Some are, indeed, nearly indistinguishable from an authentic Cowichan sweater.) This is a picture of Bob Hope sporting his Mary Maxim totem pole sweater.

This is a screen cap of Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher in episode two of the first season of Murder She Wrote, staying warm in a Mary Maxim fish sweater while on the cold trail of a murderer.

Mary Maxim sweaters aren't really city wear. One sees them much more often in small towns or in rural areas. But of course they can always be worn anywhere if worn ironically, as they are here on the cover of the Barenaked Ladies' 2004 Christmas album. I remember reading at the time that Mary Maxim sweaters were a hot item in Toronto's vintage clothing stores, as hipsters had gotten into them. Literally.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Hobby Lobby's Misconceptions

Hobby Lobby, a chain of U.S. craft supply stores, has announced that it will "defy a federal mandate requiring it to offer employees health coverage that includes access to the morning-after pill, despite risking potential fines of up to $1.3 million per day".

Hobby Lobby claims "the mandate violates the religious beliefs of their owners. They say the morning-after pill is tantamount to abortion because it can prevent a fertilized egg from becoming implanted in a woman's womb".

Leaving aside the whole abortion morality debate for a moment, let's make something clear here. Emergency contraceptives like the morning-after pill are not abortifacients. They do not prevent a fertilized egg from implanting itself in a woman's womb; they prevent the egg and sperm from ever meeting in the first place. You can verify this fact on Wikipedia if you wish. Hobby Lobby is illegally denying its employees coverage for contraceptives based on their religious principles, which in turn are based what I can only call willful ignorance of the facts, since surely someone has at least tried to explain the family that owns Hobby Lobby that "emergency contraceptives" are called "emergency contraceptives" for a reason.

I first read about this issue on, and as always MeFites brought their considerable collective intelligence and snark to the debate. It makes for entertaining and thought-provoking reading if you're looking for a more in-depth discussion than you'll find in this post.

It'll be interesting to see if Hobby Lobby actually carries out its threat, however, or how many days they'll be willing to pay that $1.3 million fine. As has been remarked in the Metafilter thread, although Hobby Lobby prides themselves on closing their stores on Sunday in accordance with the fourth of the ten commandments, the fact is that a number of their employees are still required to come to work on Sunday to do inventory behind those closed doors.

But assuming that Hobby Lobby does defy the mandate and incur those massive fines for any significant length of time, if you're an American knitter who's inclined to dismiss this issue because you believe employers should have a right to decide what benefits or because you think this issue isn't important, and intend to go shopping at the Hobby Lobby in the near future anyway, please take a minute to think through the ramifications.

If employers can decide what benefits to give their employees according to their religious principles, your Jewish employer will have the right to deny you your statutory holidays at Christmas and Easter. Your Jehovah's Witness employer will have the right to deny you medical coverage for an operation because it requires a blood transfusion. Your Christian Science employer will have the right to deny you any medication or psychiatric treatment benefits at all. Your fundamentalist Christian employer will have the right to deny any coverage to your common-law or gay or lesbian partner, or perhaps even your second spouse if you divorced the first one. Are you comfortable going down that road, or do you wish to help uphold the U.S. law, which says that no employer has the right to deny employees legally mandated benefits and insurance coverage for legally available medical services on religious grounds?

If you think the Hobby Lobby employees can simply pay for their own emergency contraception because it won't cost much or be needed often, take a minute to think about what it would be like to be a young woman who's already having trouble making ends meet on Hobby Lobby's average hourly wage of no more than $14 an hour, who maybe is trying to put herself through school, or who perhaps already has a child or two to support, and who needs the morning after pill because a condom broke, or because she's been raped. Are you comfortable supporting an organization that is breaking the law by refusing to give her the benefits she's legally entitled to and helping to make her life that much harder? Or would you rather buy your yarn somewhere else until Hobby Lobby is willing to abide by U.S. law?

The final decision of whether to support a boycott always has to rest with each consumer, of course, but I would like all those who shop at Hobby Lobby to know and consider the facts of this situation. I'm not asking anyone to rely on my presentation of the matter. Please read the accompanying links and google the issue to learn more.

And I bet you never expected the act of buying yarn for your new fingerless gloves project to become a political statement. I know when I started writing a knitting blog I never expected to find myself doing socio-political posts — and I've already done several in the 49 days of this blog's existence. But then it's not so surprising, really. Knitting takes resources (time, money, and materials), and the allocation of resources is always political.

Not that I regret my politicized posts. My only regret is that, as a Canadian, the only political statement I can make on the Hobby Lobby issue is here on this blog. We do not have Hobby Lobby stores in Canada and so I can't make a point of not shopping at them. However, I can continue to happily shop at the closest Canadian equivalent of Hobby Lobby, which is probably Mary Maxim, bless its Canadian and secular little heart. And, for any U.S. knitters who are looking for alternatives to Hobby Lobby, I note for your benefit that Mary Maxim also does business in the U.S.