Thursday, March 8, 2012

Colours of springtime

My friend Louisa called around today and brought these beautiful tulips for me.  

The colours are so vibrant and uplifting.  I really should make something in this palette!

Thank you, Louisa.  xx

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Frothy thoughts - Lace knitting from the start

As well as a Fair Isle fascination, I've been trying my hand at lace knitting.

There have been a few attempts at lacy items in the past, such as a Zimmerman Pi Shawl :
 which I gave to my niece as a baby present.  It doesn't look too dreadful here, but there are a fair few mistakes in it to be truthful and it made me vow not to knit with fluffy fluffy kid-silk haze for such intricate projects in the future. Although, actually, now I know this is not all that intricate - rather a matter of counting.

A few flings with Noro also confirmed my deep hatred of that particular yarn, but two shawls later:

Holden Shawlette knitted in sock wool
 I decided not to fiddle about on the edges but to get a proper lace project on the go.

Hence The St Ninian's Scarf , knitted in 1-ply Shetland Lace (practically cobwebs!) and designed by Mary Kay for Jamieson and Smith of Lerwick.  Here it is at an early stage - a point at which Tom asked what on earth it was meant to be.  Well, perceptions differ.  He thought it was a bit of scrat whilst I thought it looked lovely and frothy at this point.  True, you can't really see how the lace will turn out at this stage, but already I was learning a few things.  
1)  Persistence.  What you see is 4th attempt to get that far.  4th!  Ripping back and starting right from the beginning again!   Drop a stitch or make it badly, miss your counting, speak to someone, look up briefly, sneeze --- any of those things and you have really lost it with this kind of lace.  The mistake just runs and runs, right to the bottom, bringing up whacking great holes that you can never fathom how to fix.  I can take back and fix mistakes, do serious knitting surgery for others on all sorts of projects, but lace?  Nope, it has a life of its own.  So to get this far involved a lot of bitten bullets and blue air.  However, things got better when I learned about...

2) Lifelines.  Look carefully at the image above and you will spot a thread of red near to the knitting needles (improvised dpns with beads temporarily stuck on).  This is a very aptly named lifeline.  At certain points in the knitting, say every 10 rows or at the end of a pattern repeat, the canny lace knitter takes a sewing-needleful of contrast thread and takes it through every stitch on the knitting pin.  And there it rests.  If now, by chance, a stitch or three go astray they will only run down as far as the lifeline where they can be retrieved.  And even if that means completely ripping back 9 rows (or more) to that lifeline, it is a darned sight easier than starting over for the fifth time, believe me. 

A few points on lifelines - 
  •  contrast thread can be anything.  Some people use dental floss which is actually brilliant.  I tried it but went to red thread because I couldn't see the difference between floss and the yarn so well, and you need to see it because,
  • when you knit your next row you need to be careful to knit the stitches cleanly without taking up the lifeline at all.  You don't want it knitted into your lace, because later you need to remove it, whether at the end of the work, or more bravely after the next 10 rows or so to re-introduce it in a new position. 
  • Also, if you are using a stitch marker to identify a border or pattern repeat, do not thread the lifeline through it.  If you do it will stay with the lifeline rather than move up through the rows as you knit, therefore defeating its purpose.
Now the St Ninian's Scarf is a small lace project, a scarf measuring just 9" by 41" with reasonably simple stitch patterns, so it is excellent for a beginner such as my self to cut their teeth on and learn the techniques.  The pattern is charted and uses the following 'takes' or decreases ...
s1 k2tog psso.  The first two of which can get very confusing indeed on a chart as they are the mere difference between / and \.  So a bear of little brain like myself found out that beginners can take...

3) Shortcuts.  Until you have learned how lace behaves it is absolutely ok to do all the single decreases as k2tog (or ssk if that is your preference) without seriously affecting the pattern.  Now I know that purists and expert lace knitters will throw their aprons over  their heads at this suggestion, but remember that we are still learning.  It is my firm belief that a first project means getting the hang of how things behave.  Save refinement and technical expertise for later.
Likewise s1 k2tog psso can be substituted.  This operation always makes for a rather baggy over stitch, which is eliminated (and easier to perform) as k3tog.

4) Dressing.  Over the last few years I have become ardently converted to blocking knitting rather than just  wearing it as soon as it comes off the needles.  In lacework, blocking is known as dressing, and experienced Shetland lace knitters have all kinds of boards and wires and contraptions for achieving the finish on their (breathtakingly beautiful) knitted items.  But for less expense at home I did this:

Take finished knitting (scratty-looking or otherwise) and fold cast-on edges together (both cast-ons due to construction of this piece).
Sew sides together into a tubey-baggy sort of affair using cotton thread.

Wash gently and carefully and take most of water out by rolling in dry towels.

Stretch over a piece of cardboard 20% wider and longer than finished measurements.  Join the scallop points of the short edging by sewing them together.

Leave the whole lot to dry.

(You may notice the ends are still visible.  Although woven in, it is best not to cut them off until after the scarf is dressed.)

Once dry, carefully (and I mean carefully!) snip away the cotton stitching to remove scarf from dressing board.



And on to the next lace project ..., although my imagination has been caught by knitting two socks at the same time, one inside the other, and Tom would like a hat, and one day his fine scarf  and,....