18 July 2011

Why We Block

During the weekend I finished a shawl. This is White Lotus by Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer. The yarn is Colinton 3000, which is 100% fine kid mohair. The yarn, pattern, and beads were sold as a kit.

The pattern is well-written, and includes both charts and written-out instructions. The lace pattern is a 22-stitch wide by 12-row tall repeat. For all but the final repeat, every 12 rows adds half a motif on each side of the shawl, which accounts for the almost trapezoidal shawl shape as well as the half-drop arrangement of the motifs. The chart has a thick vertical line indicating both the beginning of a motif its center. For this pattern, I strongly advise two colors of stitch markers. The markers that are the centers on one repeat will be the edges on the next, with the sole exception of the final repeat.

I did not want to swatch, so I just grabbed my 3.5mm / US 4 Kollage square needle and cast on using the surprisingly stretchy slip-knot cast on by Jeny Staiman. You can see her video here. I later matched edges using the surprisingly stretchy bind-off, which is rather easy when the whole row is purl. Jackie warns you that you will need to block this shawl severely, hence my cast-on and bind-off choices. Although I didn't swatch, I did do a little math. If you want to jump right in but you do not wish to run out of yarn, be aware that you'll need to be partway through the 7th repetition when the first skein runs out and partway through the 11th repetition when the second skein runs out. If you run short before then, you may not have enough yarn to complete as many repetitions of the pattern as Jackie recommends. Alternatively, you can just weigh your yarn as you go and adjust your number of repetitions accordingly. In the end, of the initial 150g in the kit I had only 6g left over.

White Lotus, as I worked it.
I did adjust a few other details. In addition to using a different cast-on and bind-off from that recommended, I also changed the center of the motif. I replaced the yo-ssk and k2tog-yo stack with my own unvention. The design challenge is to create a vertical element in a design with an even number of stitches. (This sort of symmetry is easier if you have an odd number, as you then have a central wale.) Jackie's choice gives you an element without changing the number of stitches on each row and without introducing wrong-side shaping. However, this solution is not bilaterally symmetrical. The change I made on row 9 was to work k5, yo, k5 between the beaded nupps. This increases the stitch count. On the return row, I worked
     p2tog a stitch and the yo,
     slip next stitch knitwise to turn it and place it back on left needle,
     place yo back on left needle, and
     p2tog through the back of the loop.
In other words, I've joined the yarn over to the stitches on both sides of it. This creates a symmetrical hole. I also maintained symmetry in the lace by working the double decreases as sssk and even by working the nupps symmetrically -- wrapping either Western or Eastern and then pulling the yarn through in the appropriate direction. Eventually, I started working row 10 by knitting back backwards instead of turning my work. It made it easier to see how to work the nupps and easier to work the symmetrical yarn overs. I used the symmetrical yarn overs again on row 11.

The yarn and I did not necessarily get along. I was working in my regular right-hand throwing mode, and this yarn seemed to get unbalanced as I worked. I changed to flicking with my right index finger, and that seemed to work better. There were still times I had to stop to rebalance the yarn. This was especially an issue on the dang nupps, as I used a size 8 steel crochet hook to work them, and a size 12 hook to add the beads. Unbalanced twisting nupp loops are hard to spear, and unbalanced yarn tends not to stay on the hook and pull through the nupp. And I can say that I'm just not a big fan of 2-ply lace yarn. I like lace and I like thin yarn. And I understand that a 2-ply yarn will push open, which is why you choose it for lace. But 2-ply yarns have a tendency to open and split.

The mohair also has no elasticity. None. And it isn't noticeably soft. So why use it? The kit did come with samples of Unicorn Fibre Wash and Fibre Rinse as well as Power Scour. Obviously, I didn't need the Power Scour as the yarn was already clean and spun. (I've placed the sample in my spinning supplies where it shall await some raw fleece.) After it came off the needles, I treated the shawl to a long soak -- a couple hours while I went out to a Mensa function. When I came back, I used the Fibre Wash and lavender Fibre Rinse. I rolled the shawl in a fluffy towel, then I stood on it to extract water. Finally, I blocked the shawl hard using blocking wires and the bed in the guest bedroom. The full-size bed was almost not large enough -- a queen size would have been better.

Right side, before blocking
Wrong side, before blocking
And from the pictures, you can see why blocking is necessary. From the back, this shawl looked like a meringue pie. It was a scrunched-up tangle of mohair.

I can't really say that the yarn bloomed. However, it did soften. It isn't going to win any softness contests, but it is good enough to be against the skin. The real interest is how lively it is. The stitch pattern puckers significantly because pairs of yarn overs are offset by double decreases of either sssk or k3tog. Even after blocking, the final fabric is subtly un-flat. In spite of the lack of elasticity in the yarn, the shawl fabric is springy and alive. This is noticeable even at the edges, which don't lie flat because the lace is stockinette-based. In a lot of projects this would be a problem, but here the liveliness of the curling edge is appealing, especially against bare skin. As it has been warm here in Atlanta, it may be awhile before I know if this shawl is warm. But is it the very definition of lovely.

1 comment:

Nease's Needlework said...

This is GORGEOUS, Jolie! And yes, the heading for your posting is correct - this is why we block. You did some great work on making this pattern your own, too. Thanks for sharing it with the greater knitting community.