Saturday, November 25, 2006

Swallowtail Shawl

The Swallowtail Shawl is complete – and several weeks before the deadline! It is a Chanukah gift for my daughter-in-law, who said she liked the picture in Interweave Knits, where the pattern was published. I hope she likes it when she sees it in finished form – and actually wears it! The nupps drove me crazy, but otherwise it was a delightful pattern to knit and went very quickly. As usual it looked like a total blob before blocking, and then metamorphosed like the caterpillar to the eponymous butterfly.

Pattern: Swallowtail Shawl by Evelyn A. Clark, Interweave Knits, Fall 2006
Yarn: Jaggerspun Zephyr, Aegean blue, approx. 30 grams
Needles: Addi Turbos size US 5
Blocked size: 48" x 25"

I eventually cheated on the nupps, but after blocking they are practically indistinguishable from the real ones at the beginning. So if I do this pattern again (which is a distinct possibility) I will definitely do them as Sl2, P 3 tog, Pass slipped sts over, instead of P5 tog. The only difference is that this time I won't feel guilty about it.

What is it that is so addictive about lace knitting??? I have my second (Myrna Stahmann's) Faroese shawl on the needles, in another warm squishy worsted wool from Uruguay, but after finishing the Swallowtail I have a longing to start any of the 6 or 8 other lace patterns sitting in a stack on my desk. Oddly enough, two of them are by Evelyn A. Clark, the same designer who created both the Swallowtail and the Pacific Northwest Shawl. I never even noticed who the designer was until after I had bought the patterns. There is a je ne sais quoi about her patterns that must speak to me.

Oddly enough, in the middle of all this lace knitting, I suddenly got to urge to learn how to make socks. Could it be the onset of cold weather? The fact that "bought" socks never fit me properly? The fact that the only socks that do fit are boring? Or the fact that every other knitter in the world is talking about socks and I don't have a clue how to make them? Or all that beautiful sock yarn that suddenly seems to be available? [The correct answer is "all of the above."]

With the plethora of sock patterns available, it was hard to know where to start. But one thing was clear... that I would have to do a toe-up pattern, to make sure I wouldn't run out of yarn. (Why is it that sock yarn is generally sold in skeins large enough for an average sock? Another case of discrimination against ampleness?) Finger-less gloves are one thing, but the toe-less sock is an idea whose time has definitely not come! I had been looking at the Queen Kahuna approach, which made a lot of sense, since you knit both socks together on two circular needles. So this week I took up my new size 1 Addi turbos, two skeins of Knitpicks Dancing, and Page 1 of Queen Kahuna's book.

The less said about the first three attempts the better! On three different days I started, reading every word of the extremely explicit instructions and studying the many diagrams, only to finish the session by frogging the whole thing. On the fourth day, though, it came together, and I made it past the toe section and up thorough the foot. Yesterday, when everybody else in New Jersey was at one mall or another, I tackled the heel section, and despite struggling with a few of the instructions and somehow being off by one stitch in the slip-stitch section of the heel, got to the point of starting the cuff. I took a deep breath and slipped one onto my foot and ... (drumroll, please) ... it actually fits!

This process is not for the dimensionally challenged. You are juggling two socks, with two balls of yarn, on two circular needles (the front of each sock on one needle and the back on the other). When turning the work at the end of each row you have to be careful to (1) knit on the correct part of the sock using (2) the correct needle end and (3) the correct ball of yarn. It sounds easy, but on several separate occasions I noticed that I had knit onto the wrong needle (easy enough to undo) or, worse, joined the two socks to each other. I now know to check after each round that they are NOT connected, so in the worst case I just have to tink a row. In the long run, though, this method has distinct advantages: the socks will come out the same (barring some horrible mistake) and, even better, they will be finished at the same time, thereby avoiding the Second Sock syndrome that plagues so many knitters. The only down side is that one of the big arguments for knitting socks is their portability. The two-at-once approach makes them somewhat less portable. But that seems to be a small price to pay.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Weekend at the Frog Pond

I spent this past weekend in central Pennsylvania with 5 other members of the A-K knitting group. It was a delightful weekend way out in the country (as in chickens, goats, and horses) – a nice change from central NJ – in good company. We spent the weekend knitting, talking, eating, and laughing. One of the highlights was going through a huge stack of old knitting magazines and practically rolling on the floor in hysteria at some of the designs.

The others were working on a variety of interesting projects, while I spent most of my time frogging. My first sweater after my 20+ year knitting hiatus was an Einstein jacket in Noro Kureyon. It looked absolutely terrible on me – I didn't realize that the stripes would be so pronounced, and the vertical stripes didn't counteract the effect of the horizontal stripes. It has been sitting in a lump, never blocked and ends never woven in, waiting for a reincarnation. The yarn finally decided that it wanted to be a knitting bag, so I took it along with an unfinished hat and a shawl to work on over the weekend. What a project! Because of the construction of the jacket, which is knit in one piece, with top part knit perpendicular to the bottom, it is extremely difficult to unravel, and seemed to take forever. I was beginning to think it was going to take as long to frog it as it did to knit it.

Back on the home front, I finished the Swallowtail shawl, which is blocking. Despite the torment of the nupps, it is a lovely design. I'll take a picture when it finishes trying.

On another note, the Reluctant Penguin was just accepted into the Knitting Blogs webring!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Pacific Northwest Shawl

This pattern seemed to call my name the first time I saw it. Since I had never knit lace more complicated than a simple scarf, it was quite a while before I tackled it. Here it is:

Pattern: Pacific Northwest Shawl by Evelyn A. Clark
Yarn: Jaggerspun Zephyr, peacock, approx. 75 grams
Needles: Addi Turbos size US 6
Blocked size: 36" x 72"
Modifications: Omitted I-cord edging along top edge (because I have never done I-cord before and couldn't figure out how to do it)

This shawl was a pleasure to knit, and it went very fast. The Zephyr yarn has a wonderful feel, and the pattern was generally easy to follow. The only problem was the small size of the charts, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology I was able to blow them up to a size large enough to see. It isn't quite as large as it should be, but blocking was a problem – it didn't fit on my blocking board and even the bed in the spare room was iffy. I may try re-blocking it, if I can figure out where to do it.

Here is another view:

By sheer coincidence, my next project was designed by the same designer. It is the Swallowtail Shawl from the Fall Interweave Knits. Here it is about 3/4 done:

It doesn't look like much, but then lace always seems to look like an amorphous blob before it is blocked.

The problem with this pattern, in a word, is... NUPPS. Nupps are bobbles made by knitting several stitches into a single stitch, and then on the next row purling them all together. In this pattern the nupps are formed by K1 YO K1 YO K1 in a single stitch, and then on the next row doing a P5 tog. Ouch! I don't consider myself a particularly tight knitter, but getting the needle through 5 stitches at a time is incredibly difficult. I even bought Bryspun needles, having read that they have sharper points than Addis, and in fact they do... but not sharp enough! The first part, the budding leaf pattern, was uneventful, and it seemed to be going well. Then came the next section... NUPPville! The lily of the valley pattern is very pretty, but almost led me to frog the whole thing.

Fortunately, there is a Knitalong for this shawl, and several knitters shared tips for dealing with nupps. The one that worked best for me was to slip 2, P3 tog, pass the 2 slipped stitches over. There is apparently a slight difference in how it looks at the end, but in my case it was either "cheat" or quit.

Thank goodness for internet support groups!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Shetland Tea-ish Shawl Finished!

This is absolutely gorgeous (if I do say so myself). It took a long time to knit, and then there was the saga of the missing blocking wires (which, in the end, I didn't use), but here it is...

Original Pattern: Shetland Tea Shawl by Dale Long in A Gathering of Lace
Yarn: Handpainted 100% Cashmere from Mystical Creation Yarns, approx. 4 oz. (~1625 yds)
Needles: Addi Turbos size US 4
Blocked size: 48" diameter
Pattern modifications: Open circle instead of circular pi shawl; substituted Madeira and Diamond pattern (fromHeirloom Knitting) for Diamond Madeira pattern; added additional repeat of Horseshoe before the edging

The yarn is absolutely gorgeous, but was so fine that it was like knitting with dental floss. As a result the shawl is somewhat smaller than I would have liked... but I just couldn't bring myself to face another increase round to over 1000 stitches! (As it was, the edging seemed to take forever... it would have been "forever times 2.") I may try blocking it out a little more, but it is wearable as it is, and soooooooo sooooooft.

This project was probably a little too ambitious for my limited experience with lace. By knitting an open pi shawl instead of a full circle, it was necessary to knit back and forth instead of around, which meant re-writing some of the lace patterns. Fortunately, most of them had plain knit on the alternate rows (or purl, when doing it back-and-forth), but the Diamond Madeira pattern was much more complicated. On the advice of several members of the Knitted Lace forum I bought the expensive but oh-so-worth-it Sharon Miller book, Heirloom Knitting, and found a similar pattern that was easier to do back-and-forth.

Now I just need an occasion to wear it!