Monday, March 31, 2008

Nice Weather for Silk

I made a scarf: Laminaria by Elizabeth Freeman, from the Spring '08 Knitty.

laminaria blossom

Estonian lace is new to me, so this scarf was interesting to knit (and now I desperately need the book these stitch patterns came from, of course!). The best part is that each chart grows out of the previous one, so that you can work as many repeats as you'd like before moving on, no fudging required. The pattern author has written out numbers for two sizes, and I made one in between. It measures 23" from the centre to the bottom point and 44" across the hypotenuse, which is curvaceous enough that it seems much bigger than that.

It's out of yarn I hadn't seen before: Handmaiden Tussah Sea, which is a variation on Sea Silk—it's a bit thicker, it's not as tightly spun so it's a bit softer, and it's also not quite as shiny. Also the yardage per hank is generous—600m to 100g— and this colourway has stolen my heart, as many not-quite-solids do. It is markedly different colours in different lighting. Direct sunlight: lavender! Indirect inside light: fuchsia almost! Twilight: royal purple! Dude.

laminaria altogether

I'm insecure about using needles that are too large, and I may have erred on the side of too small in this case (3mm). But the fabric still drapes wonderfully and its texture is fascinating, so I'm not too fussed about it. I am also at peace with the asymmetry of the star section; it could be fixed by working sssk instead of k3tog in the second half, but sssk is uncomfortable enough to work that I like to avoid it whenever possible.

laminaria asymmetry

I also appropriated a tiny bit of silk/merino roving and spun it as fine as I could, just to test the water.

miniscule laceweight

The water is fine, I think. I included nothing for scale, so you can use your imaginations! There's a bit less than twenty yards here and it hardly weighs anything and I never want to spin anything out of non-silk ever again (except maybe sock yarn, which is also proceeding apace).

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I haven't been knitting as much as I should because of this:


From right to left: 100g each of Blue-Faced Leicester, merino, Wensleydale, merino/silk, and Blue-Faced Leicester again, all of them from Fleece Artist.

I played around a bit with handspinning some years ago, before I became single-mindedly obsessive about fibre, but never in earnest. Now I am spinning like a madwoman.

First goal: to spin yarn for a shawl! Emily is willing to exchange patterns for words; she sent me a shawl pattern in exchange for some stories about birds and my grandmother, for whom I would have made such an item. It doesn't require a truly immense amount of yarn, and I figure that just over 1000m of even laceweight is an excellent lofty goal to bear in mind.

Second goal: to spin yarn for socks! This one is actually within the realm of possibility, and is important. For the last few months I've been in a Sock Rut. I need new socks because my old ones are beginning to wear out, but I can't muster the enthusiasm to knit any, even though there is all kinds of tempting sock yarn sitting around taunting me. Maybe if I spin the yarn myself it will be exciting enough to knit.


This is the beach-coloured Blue-Faced Leicester roving from the far left. There's 25g of it spun up here into around 100m, Navajo-plied to make longer colour runs because I was worried (rightly!) that baby blue plied together with rust or greeny bronze would look like mud. There's 75g more where that came from so there is a lot more distraction in my immediate future, but my cold feet will thank me for it in the end.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Proportions, at length

One of my favourite things is mixing up sources and seeing what happens. In "real life" that means that I always want to talk about tracking paths of influence and genealogies of items and ideas; in knitting it means I've been thinking a lot about different lace-knitting styles and how to combine them, or at least how to arrange pattern elements from one in the style of another.

Last year I knitted some Orenburg shawls all in a row, so now I feel comfortable assembling shawls in that style: knit a strip of edging long enough to accomodate the main body pattern, then mitre a corner, pick up stitches along the long edge, pick up the cast-on stitches, mitre another corner, and work the body of the shawl and two sides of edging at the same time; then mitre the third corner, knit another strip of edging attaching it to the shawl body as you go, mitre the last corner, and graft the corner stitches together with the leftover edging stitches left in reserve.

There are some advantages to this method. My favourite part is that you don't have to estimate how much yarn you'll need to knit the edging, because all that's left at the end is one side to finish. (If you're keen you can even weigh the first strip of edging after you knit it, make a note of the weight, and knit the shawl's body and side edgings until you have just over that amount left, then knit the top edge. It doesn't work if the whole thing is extensively patterned in an elaborate and carefully thought-out way, but it's dope for plain shawls or ones with a small allover repeating pattern.) My second-favourite part is that you don't have to spend a jillion hours kniting interminable boring edging all the way around after finishing the fun central area. Third-favourite is that edging looks much tidier to me if it is knitted at the same time as the shawl it's attached to.

How do you knit on an edging? My shawls tend to be garter stitch and I worry about binding edges, so I don't slip the selvage stitches. When I'm picking up stitches I pick them up in the "bar", not the "knot", and work shawl body stitches together with the last edging stitch on incoming rows by knitting them together. This is what it looks like:


Which is awfully insubstantial and uneven to boot! I've gotten a better result by picking up stitches all the way around and knitting them through their back loops to yield a crossed pattern, then knitting the edging onto that, but that's an entire shawl circumference's worth of stitches crammed onto a circular needle. Do you know a better way?

Anyway, what I mean all of this to say is that I started a new thing. It will be a stole, constructed inna Orenburg stylee but to look like a Shetland shawl, out of patterns from Heirloom Knitting. The Unst stole made me contemplate wide borders, so this one will be divided into thirds (exclusive of edging), border-centre-border again; all I really have to do is make sure that each pattern element is symmetrical end-to-end. I thought you might want to see a corner:

yak - corner

The trouble with Orenburg shawl construction is that you have to pick up stitches from the edging's starting point, then proceed in the opposite direction. Gossamer Webs suggests beginning with a backward-loop or long-tail cast-on over two needles and slipping a stitch holder or thread through, to work back the other way when you arrive at that point. I wasn't sure about that, because all the edgings in Gossamer Webs aren't patterned at all on even rows, and maybe this type of beginning only looks decent in edgings of this type?

Maybe. I initially thought about casting on invisibly, but doing that means that the edging (1) has a plain row in it, which is obvious and obtrusive in an edging that's otherwise patterned every row; and (2) is offset by half a stitch at that point, which is an occupational hazard of working a piece in two directions. (It doesn't show at all in e.g. stocking stitch, but it's glaring in rib.) I ended up just following Galina Khmeleva's instructions, and it totally worked—there's just an extra thread running through it, but you can't really tell if you're not looking for it, and it takes emphasis away from the offset. Best of all, this method is almost completely hassle-free. I give it my seal of approval.

The yarn is silk and yak, so it is very crisp but with a lovely hairiness that softens the edges of things, so it ends up looking less severe than a silk lace shawl with pointy edging. It's also a funny colour—brown in indirect light but silvery in the sun. All of these are excellent qualities.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


It feels excellent to have finished this:

lyra - 4

It's "Lyra" by Herbert Niebling, from a twenty-year-old Anna magazine, knit as a circle (blocked to a kind of curvaceous octagon), worked in Colourmart 2/65 cashmere/cotton on 2.5mm needles. It was entertaining to knit even though it was a slog at the end, when each round took the better part of an hour. I'm still partial to Niebling's smaller doilies (<100 rounds) that feature more aggressively floral areas and less background mesh, but finishing this I feel like I have arrived as a lace knitter, or something.

lyra - 3

I'm not sure what it's for. It's not quite big enough to be a functional shawl (for me, standing 5'5"; it's about 42" across) and there aren't many things stupider than a cashmere tablecloth, so. Someone suggested making coordinating booties and turning it into an extravagant baby shawl type present, which may well end up happening. It would come with orders to give it back when it got grimy so that I could launder it, because blocking is my favourite part and also I want new parents and babies to be comfortable and warm, not frazzled by demanding washing instructions.

I'll likely end up knitting at least part of this again; the centre flower thing + first tier of leaves would make a fine small doily.

lyra - 2

Half the Internet was working on this pattern a while ago, and some of them suggested going up a needle size about halfway through to prevent binding issues (that seem to be somewhat typical of Niebling patterns). Of course I didn't read this advice until twenty rounds too late, so I kept on keeping on. And it doesn't bind as much as I was worried it might! The hex mesh is a bit distorted immediately below the big flowers (are they tulips?), but whatever, it's not glaring. Blocking it wasn't a problem. It's a bit reluctant to lay flat now that it's been paraded around, but that's the yarn's fault again (and also my fault for failing to learn my lesson after this).

The binding becomes less of an issue if it's spread out on a smaller table. This way the yarn also gets to act out some of its desire to sproing, and everyone gets to admire the drape. Maybe a cashmere tablecloth is not that stupid an idea.

lyra - 1