Sunday, April 29, 2007

What to do next?

Many, many thanks for all your kind comments about the She Sells Sea Shells Shawl, which I am now convinced I should have called "5S" to cut down on typing time. My head is quite swollen. I am trying to work up the pattern into a form that can be understood by others, so that you too can knit one (if you should want to). This involves translating many squiggles and numbers from various bits of paper and trying to make a chart. I'm using Excel to do this and it's a jolly steep learning curve, I can tell you. 'Im indoors has proved useful in bringing home books from work to help me - the mobile library service is a marvellous thing. So all that is coming along slowly.

As ever at the end of a big project, I am casting around for something else to get on the needles. Yes, I've got the Galveston Shawl - growing bigger by the minute. I don't think I'm very keen on the colour, at least not for this project, and am thinking about overdyeing it. I have not had a great deal of experience with dyes and am wondering if using blue dye on yellow wool would result in a sort of greenish (technical term) that would be more in keeping with the sea theme of this shawl. It seems that the sea is a motif in my life at the moment. It keeps popping up everywhere.

I'm still working on the Japanese Shawl, too. It's the same but bigger.

I happened to take out Debbie New's "Unexpected Knitting" the other day, to refer to her sock pattern. It's always a dangerous thing to look at that book because it sends me off in all sorts of directions and I often spend hours messing about with odd bits of yarn, often with very little to show for it at the end. This time, however, I think I was quite successful:

Here's a yellow "Tiffany" flower. She used hers to make a "vest" (i.e. long sleeveless coat). I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with mine but as Debbie herself says if you run out of steam you can always frame it.

I also found two little swatches (rare as hen's teeth) in my rummagings. I used a crochet seam to join them into a little purse for #1 daughter:

This is Colinette "Skye" - I think it's the "Dusk" colourway. I was practising modular knitting from the Artyarns tutorials. This is probably the best use for this type of variegated yarn that I have come across. Garter stitch certainly shows up the colour changes to advantage.

In other travels in cyberspace I came across the Knitaly site (simply because I am arranging a trip to Italy for mother and me - I am not thinking about signing up for this particular trip. I think it's slightly beyond my budget.)
I searched for Jane Thornley, who will be leading the Knitting Retreat. All I can say is nice work, if you can get it. If anyone would like to employ me to lead a knitting retreat in Italy at any time, I would be more than available. Italian spoken. (Oh, and I can knit a bit.)

One of Jane's free "patterns" is for a ragbag scarf (that's my name for it - she calls it the "Free Range" scarf) which involves knitting in garter stitch with as many different yarns from the same colour family as possible. Pay no attention to gauge, she says. Sounds like my kind of pattern. I made this:

A pink ragbag. Why do the arty pictures on her website look so much better than my pathetic efforts?

Finally, I leave you with a rather different "Back Field Saturday" picture. This is my house from the back field. Thanks to #1 photographer daughter for the image.

Monday, April 16, 2007

She Sells Sea Shells Shawl

This is the first shawl I have designed myself. "Designed" sounds very complicated and may be overstating the case somewhat. I used the formula for a basic square shawl knitted in the round. Cast on a few stitches - I always use the ever reliable "Emily Ocker's circular cast-on" (Seen here from the public side. Isn't it neat?)

Then increase 8 stitches every other round. I designated two stitches at each corner to make the diagonal lines and increased with a simple YO on either side of these two stitches on every public side round. I trawled through stitch dictionaries looking for patterns to insert into my blank "canvas". Since there are so many stitch patterns out there, I thought it best to have a theme. I settled on the sea/shore because I love the sea - ironically, I live slap, bang in the middle of England, just about as far from the sea as it's possible to get on this tiny island. To make up for that I've knitted this shawl.

The first pattern is little shells - it's the 3 x 1 Herringbone stitch from "Traditional Knitted Lace Shawls". It's only a four stitch pattern repeat, so I just worked stocking stitch at the sides until I had enough stitches for another repeat.

When I got fed up of that I worked six round of garter stitch and then four rounds of simple YO, K2tog faggot stitch, to mimic a fishing net, followed by another six rounds of garter stitch.

The next pattern was Fishtail Lace from "The Ultimate Sourcebook of Knitting and Crochet Stitches". This is an eight stitch repeat, so it fitted in quite nicely.

Again, I worked until I got fed up with it and then repeated the six rounds garter stitch, the four rounds faggot stitch, the six rounds garter stitch.

On to the next pattern, razor shell from Martha Waterman again, an eight stitch pattern repeat.

I did that for a bit (and if I'm honest, I think I should have done a bit more of it than I actually did do) and then launched into the border pattern. The delightful "Ocean Waves", also from Martha Waterman's book.

This is an edging that is "knitted on". You cast on the relevant number of stitches - in this case thirteen, onto another needle of the same diameter used for the body of the shawl. Some people like to use a dpn for this, I don't - too easy for the stitches to slip off the other end. I do like to use a shorter needle, though, as there are usually only a few stitches on the needle. You knit the edging and every time you come up against the live stitches, which are still there on your original needle, you K2tog (or SSK, or whatever you fancy) the last stitch of the edging with the next stitch of the body of the shawl. You then graft together the stitches from the beginning of the edging with those of the end. Simple!

Well, not all that simple, actually. It's bad enough grafting ordinary stocking stitch but when it comes to grafting lace?? However, I found a very neat trick from Robert Powell in "A Gathering of Lace". Basically, you use another ball of the same yarn and the same size needles to knit one repeat of the edging without attaching it to the shawl. You knit the last row of the repeat in a contrast colour and then you join in the main yarn and knit the edging attaching as you go. Here's a picture showing the tab and the contrasting yarn.

When you have completed the edging apart from the last row you cut the yarn, leaving a long tail and use the contrast coloured yarn to guide you in your grafting. Makes it a heck of a lot easier. As long as you remember that you have to pass the yarn through each stitch twice before you drop it off the needle and as long as you leave the contrast yarn in place until you have done that, you have cracked it.

Here's the whole thing, pre-blocking.

A sorry sight.

The magic of blocking transformed it into this:

which looks a whole lot better.

I took the "She Sells Sea Shells Shawl" for an outing into town and was astonished to be accosted (in Marks and Spencer's, no less) by someone who said she wanted to "stalk my knitting". I told her to feel free, whereupon she looked at the shawl, looked at me and said, "You're not Kate, are you? I read your blog." That's the first time I've ever met a blog reader in person. How lovely to be recognized by my knitting.

Diane, this one's for you:

Saturday Field, on a Monday.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Blocking the Romance

I give you the Romance Shawl from Fiddlesticks Knitting. I actually finished the knitting a while ago but I've just been waiting until I could manage to crawl about on the floor long enough to block it.

This is one of my very favourite parts of the art of lace knitting. The transformation from a sad-looking bundle of nothingness into the light, floaty, ethereal piece of lace is just enchanting. It makes me gasp every single time.

Here she is looking a little bit sorry for herself in the garden. Unblocked, just off the needles.

I put some lukewarm water into a bowl and add a good glug of hair shampoo. Wool is the hair of the sheep, after all. There's always discussion over the right temperature in which to wash wool. I don't actually think it matters all that much - the important thing is not to shock the fibres by changing temperature too radically. If you start with lukewarm, keep to lukewarm; if you start with hotter water, just make sure you keep the rinsing water at the same temperature. I use lukewarm because that's what I do.

Submerge the item in the soapy water and leave it to soak so that it is completely wet. This can actually take longer than you think - I usually leave it at least twenty minutes.

Squeeze the item gently. Gently is important here - wool really doesn't like to be agitated (but then, who does?). Take the item out of the bowl. Empty the bowl and refill it with water of the same temperature. (See above.) You do not need to be too exact, a thermometer is not necessary! Put the item back in and squeeze gently. Repeat until the water is clear - no more suds. Get the item out and support it. Here she is looking a right mess:

You need to get as much water out of it as you can. Some people squeeze it, then wrap it in a towel and roll it up into a sausage and walk on it. I tend to use my mother's patent method for drying salad leaves. She bungs the lettuce in a tea towel, grabs the four corners to make a "bag" then rushes out into the garden and whirls the whole lot round her head. (If you do decide to try this method for lettuce, or for the shawl for that matter, just try not to release one of the corners - there is nothing like having to retrieve stray lettuce leaves from far flung corners of the garden.)

I just hold the corners of the shawl and whirl it round my head. (Try not to do this when the postman is due. It tends to lead to difficult explanations.) Some people object to this method on the grounds that the lace is too "delicate" - you are just about to stretch it to within an inch of its life, a bit of whirling is not going to do it any harm.

Assemble your blocking ingredients. I put down a cotton bedspread with a handy grid of squares on it. Glass headed pins. Secret ingredient: fishing line.

Thread the fishing line through the edges of the shawl.

(You can do this before you wash the shawl but I get into a right old tangle and prefer to do it at this stage.) If there are points you only need to go once into each point but remember to go the same way each time. Front to back, back to front, it doesn't matter, just be consistent. Leave a large loop of fishing line at each corner. Sometimes I don't even cut the line, I just leave it attached to the reel. This time I did cut it.

Get a spare hand or two. ('Im indoors came to the rescue.) Pull the loops at the corners and, as if by magic, the shawl grows and reveals its true beauty. Use the pins to hold the shawl in the stretched position. It's not necessary to pin through the shawl - you can just pin the fishing line to hold it taut. The added advantage is that you don't run the risk of splitting the yarn and you avoid that "swoop" between the pins. You don't need half as many pins, either.

Here she is all pinned out - the lace has completely disappeared against the cotton cloth (but it is there, honest.)

Leave for a few hours/until tomorrow/until it's dry/until you can't wait any longer.. Remove the pins and weave in the ends. Yes, I know some people do this before the blocking. I prefer to do it afterwards so that the weaving in is done to the same tension as the finished shawl. You decide which you prefer.

Wear with pride. No picture of me in it as there is no-one here but me. However, here's a picture of her on the chair:

There have been other developments, too. The "She Sells Sea Shells" Shawl is finished. Well, the knitting part is finished, the blocking has yet to be accomplished. I used a new method to aid in the grafting (shudder) of the start of the border to the end of the border and will tell all about that another day.

I have also taken on board all your comments about the white cotton Japanese shawl and have decided to go with that and leave the Zephyr for another project.

AND I'm afraid I have started yet another shawl. This is the "GalKal" and there is a Yahoo Group for it. I did a mystery shawl KAL once (and once only). I wasn't very impressed with that one but this looks intriguing. It has rather an unusual construction, for a start. I am not getting all the emails of "I've started, have you started?" and "I'm using green yarn, what about you?" because they drive me bonkers. I have looked at the group messages once because there was a mistake in the pattern (easily sorted). This is it so far:

I'm using yellow yarn, what about you?