Posts Tagged ‘lace’

I’ve had so many things going on over the last few months that I’ve mostly failed to blog about any of them. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been too busy doing to be writing, but mostly, it’s been more a matter of failing to organize my thoughts well enough to write them down. And then, time goes by, and with it another project (or ten) and the moment passes.

Anyway, here’s another ‘one I made earlier’. It started with a shawl. No, further back, it started with a KAL on Ravelry in the group devoted to probably my absolute favorite dyer, Twisted Fiber Arts. (Seriously: I can’t in all honesty recommend clicking that link. It’s not safe. Your money, possibly your life-savings and the deeds to your house, will be in the hand of the ultra-talented Meg before you can say “CVV number”). A Ravelry friend had destashed a double-length ‘Evolution’ skein to me a few months ago, and here was a chance to use it. These are skeins dyed in a gently evolving gradient of colors, some of which can be quite alarming on their own, but which always seem to work miraculously as a continuum. I really don’t know how Meg does it, but she does, time after time.

While I was as unsure as my friend had been about the colors (it was the salmon pink on one end of the gradient that bothered me), I was sure of two things: one, the yarn itself was an exceptionally high-quality blend of merino and silk that would be a pleasure to knit with (even in salmon pink); two, the final combination would probably prove as entrancing as every other TFA yarn I’ve used (and if not, would make a great gift). Also, I seem unable to resist a KAL, although I’m not sure why, and daren’t stop to analyse it. So, given that I had no other clear plans for 660 yards of luxury yarn in a random color I didn’t think I liked very much, I joined in and set to making a ‘crazy lace’ Citron shawl.

Now, Citron is a shawl of mind-bogglingly boring construction and curiously satisfying effect. It is semi-circular and comprises alternating sections of plain stockinette with sections of ruched stockinette (i.e. twice as much endless stockinette per inch of fabric). And of course, being a shawl, that means it’s knit flat, which in turn means that half of all that endless stockinette needs to be purled. Yay. Go me for the project from Hell.  Well, crazy lace improves it considerably. It means that you replace the normal stockinette portions with whatever lace chart you can fit into the stitch count and eight or ten rows. That’s pretty good fun, and suits me very well, as I’ve noticed I tend to get a tad bored with a lace pattern that repeats itself more than about four times. Also, I decided to use the ruched portions (which would, while eating yarn, and taking hours, also at least hide a multitude of sins) to learn to knit in the continental style, with the yarn in my left hand. (This in preparation for a humungous colorwork project – another KAL – about which, certainly, more soon.)

So, anyway – cutting to the chase, eventually I had a semi-circular shawl that used 657 of my 660 yards, and where the final section rows were 650 stitches long. That’s a LOT of stitches to purl. But hey, the yarn was nice, and the long rows made short work of the salmon pink, and lo! the whole thing was soft, an interesting color, and a pleasure to wear.

At least, it would have been if the dratted thing hadn’t kept slipping off my shoulder every few minutes. It’s a problem as old as humans wearing garments, I suspect, and the solution is a pin.

Now, shawl pins I do have. I’ve made several since I started metalworking and collecting handknit shawls. But none of them was right for this shawl. And I did have plans to try out another design, which looked as though it would do the trick.

So I went back to approximately the third century, and whipped up a Romano-Celtic classic: a pennanular cloak-pin in sterling silver. You pin the shawl, and then twist the ring closed to secure it. It does the job perfectly. Simple, but effective.

I am utterly thrilled with the notion that a design so simple, and so ancient still works and still has a job to do for someone living in the twenty-first century, and I’m tickled that, despite the many centuries of technological advances made by other people, it’s still pretty close to cutting-edge for my own humble metalworking skills. And as a side-note, I’m additionally more than a little amused at quite how perplexed the other students in my class are by my predilection for  such peculiar artefacts.

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This may not look like much, but these 18 grams of emergency yarn saved my Kosher-bacon-equivalent, and my shawl from utter disaster. Imagine, if you will, embarking on a project of – for you – daring complexity. Challenges abound, both obvious and hidden. Reward, if it comes at all, is likely to be relative, and rather modest. In my case, the challenge was lace, and the ostensible reward was to be warm shoulders and a fine glow of achievement.

Well, not so much, it turned out. Firstly, it has to be said, I learned a couple of less-than-palatable things about myself. Namely (but in no particular order), I bore more easily than I like to think; I am willing to accept desperately low standards of finishing and also, I can’t count to ten. Or four, actually. Possibly even to two, but my ability to count is so compromised, and my counting-confidence so damaged that I’m no longer sure how many I can’t count to. I am trying to get reconciled to being one of those (along with millennia of hunter-gatherers) who apparently count, one; two; many. I have news: this is not good for lace knitting.

So, I worked my way through interminable – well, a fair few – in fact, frankly many – rows of the Echo Flower shawl pattern. It has repeats ten stitches, and eight rows long. After about ten repeats of this I got very bored indeed. It turns out that while I can do endless stockinette without minding, once I have to pay attention (in my case, a sort of tongue-between-the-teeth level of attention), my boredom threshold is embarrassingly low. It’s close to vanishingly small, in fact, but I am also tenacious, and it turns out that I’m marginally more tenacious than I was bored.

I was proud of managing the two-into-nine and three-into-nine stitches without fuss, and rightly so, I still think. I was, and am, less proud of the fact that any indication that I had added a stitch, or dropped one, or done the wrong kind of decrease, or lost or gained a yarnover was dealt with by resolutely fudging. I tinked back from time to time, but as often as not, I’m ashamed to say, I made do and mended. And this, in spite of the keen awareness that if a lace pattern doesn’t line up, you might as well not bother knitting it. Hell, as long as I got more or less to the end of the row with approximately the right number of stitches, I was willing to let it go. What’s an SSK or a S2K2P2SSO (or whatever) between friends?

OK: I admit it: I was wrong. What’s an SSK or a S2K2P2SSO (or whatever) between friends? The difference between lace and a dog’s dinner. But what of it?

I digress. Let us just say that eventually I was rid of the blasted blossom repeats and then I made what may have been my fatal error. I switched to the border charts for the Laminaria shawl. In theory, this should have worked just fine, because the blossom repeats are common to both shawls, and the Laminaria pattern clearly indicates what percentage of the yardage is taken up by the border. I weighed, I measured, I cogitated, and I steamed ahead.

Alright, not steamed exactly, but still. I thought I was going to be fine, and then one day, I realised I was decidedly not fine. In fact, somehow, it seemed that about 20g of yarn had evaporated (who knew yarn could evaporate?). Somehow I was nine rows from the end, and rapidly running out of yarn. How in the name of all that is holy did that happen? I still don’t know. I went on Ravelry and bleated in distress. I begged and pleaded, and wrung my hands, and a kind soul generously offered to supply me with the necessary extra yards of the precious (irreplaceable, unmatchable) yarn I was using.

Post haste, it came. Cue the Seventh Cavalry. Bugles! Everything! Here it is. All 78.3 yards of it. Saved! Saved, in the nick of time.

Well, nearly.

Because it turned out that the Shawl that Refused to Die wasn’t finished with me yet. I can report without exaggeration or embellishment that I had very carefully weighed the the last row before I ran out (eight rows from the end), and calculated I was using two grams per row. I calculated (one, two, many – I really thought I was within my comfort zone here) what I would need to finish. And the dispatcher of cavalry sent more than I asked for (I think 18g of a 100g skein of yarn is a pretty generous donation, myself), and I got to two rows from the end and saw, most clearly that I wasn’t going to make it after all. My shawl was Scott of the Antarctic, struggling back towards basecamp, and expiring twelve miles from safety. I was that close. I tinked (again); I bound off a row before the end (really, it’s a dog’s dinner: why did I even think this mattered?) and …

I can barely bring myself to admit it, I ran out again. Yes, the third time, I ran out of yarn twenty stitches from the end. At this point I capitulated, and went to find the best match I had on hand. A very non-identical undyed BFL in about the right weight and approximately (I think two, but now I’ve lost my confidence) similar number of plies.

And I soaked it, and blocked it, and the miracle of lace happened. Yes, by any real lace knitter’s standards, it’s still crap. But it went from this:

to this:

And that’s enough of a miracle to ensure I’m willing to go through all this again. But this time, I really will try to make sure I have enough yarn to finish the job.

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Happy Christmas to those that do, happy holidays to the rest, happy first knitting birthday to me.

Yes, a year. I’ll be celebrating in style by casting on for half a mile of fun and excitement in the form of an overambitious Estonian lace shawl. Lead me to those nupps, that I may wreak havoc upon them.

I will also be having a giveaway to celebrate, starting right after the holiday (and after I’ve painted the kitchen, when I shall return, and lick this blog into shape). Watch this space, as they say.

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One of the things I find most captivating about knitting is its ability to produce patience in the most unlikely of subjects. I have always been tenacious, but not always patient. I tolerate imperfection only with the greatest difficulty. I like fast results (but who doesn’t?).

Knitting soothes me quite substantially by its tolerance of error. I’m learning that most mistakes can be fixed or lived with, often either one according to personal taste. Can’t live with that mistake three rows back? That’s OK. Rip it back and try again. Can’t be bothered ripping it back? That’s OK too. It’s one stitch: no-one will notice. I’m trying to work out where I am along that continuum, and realising that it changes from day to day, and that nothing bad happens either way. As a control-freak, I really like that I can make this little part of my world as perfect as I want/need it to be. It’s my time, and if I want to spend it all knitting the same row of the same shawl for all eternity, which is what it looks like at the moment, well, that’s nobody else’s concern but mine. No-one else need suffer or lose out as a result, “no animals are harmed”, and no-one takes any flak for my mistakes because curiously enough, I’m not even getting frustrated. Maybe it’s because the knitting police are not coming to drag me away in the middle of the night for screwing up…

… but thank goodness they aren’t. I decided to turn the cashmere I dyed myself into a shawl. It’s two-ply, and screaming lace at me. I couldn’t refuse. So I thought a “bluebell” shawl, as the colors are perfect, and the bluebell woods still fresh in my mind. I’m going to do something in glass as well, but I’m working up to that. For now, the shawl’s the thing.

bluebell shawl 1bluebell shawl detail

Since I love making my life unnecessarily complex I decided that for my first foray into lace, I would introduce several additional complicating factors. I thought – given that I can barely even hold the yarn, and notoriously can’t even count to four (see my slip-up socks in person for confirmation of this), lace wasn’t going to be a challenge for me unless I made up my own pattern. Yes, really. I kind of liked the Ishbel pattern, but I also liked* the idea of the nupps on the Swallowtail pattern. So we have an Ishbel-like beginning, which to be fair is the beginng for quite a lot of shawls, only I didn’t bother reading the pattern for any of them, preferring to cast on and guess. See the spine down the middle where the yarn overs are? Amazingly I even screwed that up a few times. In the end I want for a serious backbone (a single stitch didn’t seem to be working: mine is slip one, knit one, yarn over, pass slipped stitch over). After a while I decided to do a bit of the “lily of the valley” section from the Swallowtail. Then, in theory I’ll do another chunk of the plain stockinette, then some more Swallowtail, depending on how much yarn there looks like being. Or if I’ve decided that chewing off my own arms would be more amusing, I’ll stop. In reality I’ve done four rows, frogged four rows. Twice. It’s not the nupps that are bothering me, but for the life of me I can’t quite see what is. The nupps are fine; I watched the requisite video. I think the problem is historical. My ancestors and the Estonians = not such a great mix. I’m getting my revenge in knitting. A lot of them did bad things to a lot of my people, so – I raise your camp guards and einsatzgruppen one lace shawl. See it and weep. Actually, I think I’m OK for now though, and I have to say – the cashmere is incredibly soft, and the lightly variegated yarn continues to delight me. On the down side, I do have to keep reminding myself that lace apparently always looks like spaghetti throw-up until after it’s blocked. So I’m not worried. Yet.


*I mean, liked as in “thought I’d like the effect of”, not as in “wanted to execute”

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