Friday, October 30, 2009


Today I am mulling over stitch dictionaries. With one lace project finished and two small projects begun, it is now time to begin thinking about the next complicated piece.

Usually I find myself drawn to leaves and vines, curves and florals. Today, it is bold, geometric patterns. Firm and unyielding, they are difficult to pair up. Vines are all about fluidity and smooth, gradual changes from one state to the next. A geometric motif is about order and rigidity, solid and unmovable. It's harder to find a partner for these patterns; they prefer to stand alone. Elegant and stately, they hold themselves apart.

But maybe there is a way to soften them? To take their stern, stiff lines and complement them with curves, as running water and trailing ivy complement brick houses and long, straight roads.

I have long admired the geometric designs, but have not yet figured out the trick that will allow me to combine them in one coherent piece without becoming too busy or too ornate. I have not found the middle ground between flow and stasis. I don't know if I'll find it this time, either, but that's what I'm thinking about. Flipping through stitch dictionaries looking for volunteers, jotting down notes. Looking, and then looking again. Searching for the balance between order and chaos.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Here she is...

...all laid out for blocking.

This shawl came out at about 15x86 inches.

A much longer waving lace section:

Flowing into the openwork:

Can you see the join?

Looks pretty good up close, too:

So there it is. Two versions, one design. I love the color of this one, and I like the lace in the heavier yarn. The yarn softened up a lot on washing, and it has great drape, though it's not as soft and warm as the alpaca. In sock weight merino, this is a spring or fall piece, where the alpaca is definitely a winter piece.

While the new shawl was blocking, I started a new project with the Claudia:

It occurred to me last week that Branden has no handwarmers in Germany. He has 3 pair in storage in Madison, but none here where the weather is suddenly cold. And so began a new pair. Never hurts to have a few, right?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New and Improved

Despite the fact that the alpaca shawl is fast becoming one of my all-time favorite knitted objects, it is far from perfect. It was a piece that evolved, not one that was designed. Sometimes this works beautifully, and it was fun to use a different approach to the design process.

Combined with the limitations of the yarn (not a lot of it, and not really re-knittable), the evolution left its mark.

First, the shawl is pretty narrow.

Great for a scarf (which is primarily how I've used it), but a little stingy on the width for serious shoulder-wrapping.

And while I like it like this:

This looks ever so much better:

See that center seam hanging out below the bust line? Yeah. That means it needs extra length, with more of it in the waving lace pattern.

Next, there's the edging. It looks great when worn, but right after blocking it looked like this:

Those corners are bulging out because I added too many repeats in the turn section.

And then there's the seam. I knit the two halves and then grafted them together. It's not a bad graft, but it is definitely visible, particularly because it interrupts the faggoting columns.

Finally, there's the part where the different kinds of openwork refused to play nicely together.

Overall, lots of room for improvement. Plenty of things to play with in the next version (and why knit if there can never be a "next version"??).

The second shawl is knit from the center with a provisional cast on. With a little bit of care, it's simple to keep the faggoting in pattern. I can still see the seam, but just barely, and I'm not sure I'll be able to see it at all after blocking.

(Sorry for the flash, but it really helps you see the lace detail more clearly...)

I added another repeat to the waving lace panel, making it about 4 inches wider. Last time, the waving lace limited how wide I could block the piece. This time, it will be a little less stretched and I'll get a more open openwork section, which was kinda the idea.

I replaced the Rick Rib with a simple yo k2tog faggoting stitch. Looks beautiful, only slightly different, and it works well with the waving lace pattern.

Last time, I ended the waving lace abruptly at the join with the openwork section. I didn't like how that looked, so this time I extended the last repeat of the waving lace into the faggoting.

It's a tiny bit uneven at the join, as my abundant stitch markers messed a bit with my tension, but I'm pretty sure that it will block out well.

I used fewer turn repeats, making a nice, tight corner that shouldn't overstretch.

And the knit-from-the-center construction eliminates four grafts in the edging, making for a much nicer, smoother border.

This version has used a ton more yarn (probably about 600 yds, all told), mostly because of the larger waving lace area. It's denser knitting, and so requires a lot more length. I had between 350 and 400 yards of the alpaca, by comparison.

The Cascade sock isn't the softest stuff on the planet, but I think it will wash nicely. I wanted something a little heavier than a laceweight, and this was all that the shop had in the right color when Branden visited. I love the sculptural look of the waving lace in the high-twist yarn, though this one will definitely not have the same warmth as my soft and fuzzy alpaca.

I don't think this shawl will steal the others' place anytime soon, but it's fun to see the same pattern knit in two different yarns, and this one is far and away the better design.

And now, off to finish the pattern transition in the second half...almost finished!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Darker sister

You might wonder why I suddenly remembered that I hadn't shown you finished photos of the alpaca stole. After so long, it would probably be more natural to just completely forget than to remember out of the blue.

That's probably what would have happened, had my memory not been jogged by this:

I said that I would knit this stole again, and last week I started the alpaca stole's darker sister, knit in Cascade superwash sock, one of the yarns that Branden brought back from the US for me. After about 9 cast-on's (we lost count at about 7), she was off and running. Took about three days to get the first half knit, and then we had guests for almost a week.

You know that I'm busy when I go for 5 whole days without knitting a single stitch. Not even on the train. Very strange. As of yesterday, I am back out of the no-knitting funk, and she's singing along again.

I also finished the yarn that I've been spinning. Before the Raveler meeting, I had been seriously limiting my spinning time to avoid running out of fiber while in Germany. When I picked up the new top, I gave myself permission to finish. I gave it a bath on Sunday.

This picture is a little bright, and looks a little more blue than the real yarn, but you get the idea. I love the color, and I got about 200 yards out of the 2 oz of roving. It's a little thicker than I'd like, coming out as a fingering-to-dk rather than a lace-to-fingering. I'm starting to think that's as fine as I can get with this spindle (1.3 oz), but we'll see.

And now, off to knit.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Finshed alpaca stole

I realized the other day that I haven't shown you pictures of the finished alpaca stole yet. There were some on the camera when Branden went to the US, but I looked at them when he came back and they weren't all that great. So we took advantage of some glorious fall weather to visit the nearby castle at Gondelsheim and take pictures.

The stole blocked out at about 5 and a half feet long, open and airy despite the thickness of the yarn.

I wasn't sure that I'd wear it much, as I don't always use the shawls and stoles that I knit. I love the knitting, but often they find their way to the bottom of the pile once completed.

Not so with this piece. It's become the thing that I grab when heading out the door, security against the unpredictable fall weather.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Reexamining prejudice

I learned to knit a long time ago. I was probably somewhere between 6 and 8 when my mother first taught me to wield needles and yarn. She wasn't and isn't a knitter, and so passed on only the most rudimentary of skills.

My grandmother is a knitter, and has always made stunningly beautiful knit items, but she tends not to talk about her knitting. I was more than willing to learn, but she didn't seem moved to teach.

After a while I got tired of knit and purl, garter stitch and stockinette, and I put aside my needles. For years.

I picked them up again about 4 years ago. I knew that I wanted to move beyond plain stockinette and garter, and so bought a book of stitch patterns. (Actually, if I remember correctly, Branden bought it for me...)

I knit a few things with simple knit-purl patterns, but I found them tiresome, and moved almost immediately into lace. My third or fourth project was a simple yarn over lace, and then I tried some self-invented intarsia, some cables, and was off and running.

I've never really looked back at the knit-purl stitch patterns. I hated them then, and I wasn't excited about knitting them now. Branden, however, is very drawn to the geometric, embossed look created by combination of knit and purl stitches. When I begin planning a project and hand him a stitch dictionary, he almost invariably comes back with a knit purl pattern. I almost invariably respond with a groan.

I've knit a few things with these patterns, in deference to his liking for them, but they were in fuzzy yarns not really suitable for seeing the pattern while knitting, or to being able to tell that there was a pattern once they'd been worn a few times. A lot of work yielded very little result. I remained unimpressed.

When Branden brought the Claudia yarn back from the US, the Ink colorway immediately stated that it would be a knit-purl pattern. Something with ridges and deep valleys. It was non-negotiable. The yarn is slightly overspun, and it's beautifully soft and just a little bit shiny. Perfect for showing off a simple pattern.

Every once in a while, I like to re-examine my likes and dislikes, and to give things I hated the first time another chance. I cast on for a scarf.

Scarves are another of my dislikes. I have found that I have no problem knitting thousands upon thousands of stitches, but I hate stopping to turn my work while I knit. The closer the turns, the less I like it, and the more impatient I become. (There's a reason that the rainbow vest stalled out just after I'd split for the back neck shaping...)

So, I cast on for a scarf knit lengthwise. And oh, what a difference. I started out at 500 stitches, and made it about 10 rows in before realizing that I wouldn't have enough yarn to complete the scarf at the rate I was using it up. I ripped back and cast on for 400, a 20% decrease that I was pretty sure would give me enough width. We did some back-of-the-envelope type calculations and confirmed that I should end up with something 7-8 inches wide.

Not quite, as it turns out.

I went to the Karlsruhe knitting group on Wednesday after class, and my first skein ran out about halfway through the evening. The scarf is about 2.5 inches wide. There will not be enough yarn.

I'll be ripping back this afternoon, and pondering what else to do with this yarn. I absolutely love the stitch pattern, and how well it accents the plain, dark yarn. The thing that surprises me is that I really enjoyed knitting a scarf in a knit purl pattern, and I don't resent pulling it back at all. I even find myself a little grateful that the yarn took the time to make me re-examine my stitch books, and to rediscover a whole area of knit texture that I have been ignoring. For this project, I ended up creating my own stitch pattern based on a detail on the bath towels in our hotel apartment, but there is a whole world of stitch patterns just waiting to be explored. Sometimes it's really worthwhile to dust off your prejudices and hold them to the light. Often, you'll find that they no longer exist, that they've been replaced by opportunity.

I don't know what this yarn will become. Socks are probably the obvious answer, but I don't think that they're a good fit for this particular skein. I need something small, something that can be made from just two skeins, but something that will really show it off. I don't think it will happen right away, but I'm sure it will happen. And I'm looking forward to knitting with this yarn again.

I also think that this stitch pattern offset by half a repeat would make a great accent for a sweater.