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.

06 July 2011

Dolphin Lace

Some days the gremlins just get in things and muck them up. At least, I have to figure that's what happened to a particular pattern in Victorian Lace Today. This is a gorgeous coffee table lace book. I sometimes refer to it as the lace porn book, because it makes you want to drop everything, even socks, and go knit lace. The samples were modeled and photographed at an English estate, Belton Manor House, as well as some other locations around Cambridge. And the projects are based on Victorian-era knitting patterns. So, it's all beautiful and all good.

My friend Becky sent me an e-mail over the weekend. She was having a little trouble with the Dolphin Lace scarf on pages 106-107; and could I take a look at it and give her some helpful hints? I started by going to the XRX website to look up the errata. Yes, there are errata for Victorian Lace Today. So I downloaded those.

Hmmm. Not as helpful as I'd hoped. In fact, I didn't see anything indicating a problem with the pattern. A quick check on Ravelry was only partially illuminating. As with so much knitting, casting on and trying it out is the way to enlightenment. And the stitch itself does have an odd maneuver, so maybe that was the source of Becky's consternation?

The project is a long lace scarf with a dolphin stitch border on each side and a lace faggoting insertion in the center. The pattern begins with casting on 60 stitches in 3 groups of 20. Chart B, the dolphin lace, is worked on both edges, while Chart A, a faggoting insertion, is worked over the center. Go look at the scarves on Ravelry. Now look at the scarf on page 107. The pictured scarf has three columns of faggoting in the center. The ones made by following the pattern only have one column. So, first error: Chart A does not match the scarf! This is not as much of a disaster as it sounds. Why? Because it is pretty easy to see that the business section of Chart A is a 4-stitch repeat. To get something that looks like the model, you'll need to work the faggoting 4 times across the center 16 stitches, not twice across the center 8 as stated on the chart. If you still want to stick with 20 stitches in the center, cut four stitches off the left and right sides of Chart A.

To review: for the central insertion (Chart A), k2, work the faggoting pattern 4 times, k2.

Okay, but Becky wasn't asking about the faggoting; she was asking about the dolphin stitch. And her timing is serendipitous, because I've just finished a shawl that involved a lot of faggoting and some peculiar graphing. Chart B isn't bad, but there are some ways to adjust it to make it more helpful.

First off, the ten stitches on the right edge of Chart B are constant. The double yarn overs flanked by knit two togethers form wide open columns on each side of a narrow band. This extension sets the edging off from the central panel. So, in addition to the two stitch markers you already have to divide the work into three sets of 20, I recommend placing a stitch marker in each border section to divide the 10 stitch extension from the dolphin lace. Why? Because the dolphin lace stitch count varies on every row! It is easier to follow if you can narrow the problematic area to as few stitches as possible.
That brings you down to just the dolphin lace. I've redrawn the chart and shifted the stitches. Why? Well, one way to keep track of what you are doing is by lining up the k1-p1 on the wrong-side rows with their double yarn overs from the right-side rows. I've done this, and I've added a hazy bull's eye symbol to call attention to them.

I've also split the chart. If you put a marker at the split in Row 1, that marker will follow the split up through Row 7. It all goes bad at Row 8, as the marker will fall in the middle of a knit 2 together. If you try to continue with the marker, the same problem occurs on Rows 10 and 11. And carrying the marker completely falls apart at Row 12. But, you can use a marker for at least a few rows.

And here's a really bizarre bit -- that double yarn over on Row 11 will end up underneath the double yarn over on Row 1 when the new repeat begins.

And just to help you a bit more, here are the stitch counts for this section of the chart.

Start with 10.
Row 1: decrease to 9.
Row 2: increase to 14.
Row 3: increase to 15.
Row 4: decrease to 14.
Row 5: increase to 15.
Row 6: decrease to 14.
Row 7: even at 14.
Row 8: decrease to 12.
Row 9: increase to 13.
Row 10: decrease to 12.
Row 11: increase to 13.
Row 12: decrease to 10.

One last note: The illustrations on page 107 are excellent for showing how to work the peculiar maneuver of Rows 1 and 2. However, the phrase "On next row" has been printed one illustration too low! The top four pictures show you how to work the passing over of stitches on Row 1. The bottom three pictures show you how to cast on five stitches on the return row. Notice that the new stitches do not cover the gap you made in Row 1; rather, they are added between two stitches!

01 July 2011

Shawl Competition

Today is the due date for entries for the Claudia Hand Painted Yarn Shawl the Love contest. For me, this was a great excuse to indulge in some linen yarn. I had heard great things about linen. For one, it likes being thrown through the washer and dryer. I've seen in person the Flounce duo skirt from Gwen Bortner's Entrée to Entrelac. Linen has some life to it, so a skirt or shawl will have a lot of sassy movement! I was glad to have an excuse to play.

I started by shopping for the yarn. The Whole Nine Yarns did have some, but only in half a dozen colors. Eat.Sleep.Knit carries the full line of colors. And I decided to work outside my comfort zone by choosing brown. In the end, I found two mismatched dye lots of "copper pennies" and a light-brown named "honey." I must admit that although I'm not a big fan of brown, "copper pennies" is a pretty colorway in either its dark or light incarnation. And brown can be a nice change-up from the basic neutrals of black, white, gray, and navy. Using mismatched skeins was a fun way to turn a potential problem into a design solution. Hand dyed yarns often vary significantly from dye lot to dye lot, but in this design, that quality is desirable.

I don't remember my original inspiration. I have been fiddling around with mitered squares for quite some time. I think I even made a teddy bear dress several years ago using non-square mitered shapes. For some reason, I came back to the mitered idea and played around with it. I thought about making a shape that would look like a feather. I chose a basic faggoting pattern in which the lace is worked on both right-side and wrong-side rows. The real trick was figuring out how to work the lace and the mitered shaping at the same time.

Remember all those Japanese pattern books I've been reading? The solution came from something I'd seen there.
If you are used to graphs, you may be tempted to draw something that looks like the diagram on the left. You'll start with a lot of stitches at the bottom, and decrease to only one at the top, and your mitered decrease line will run down the middle. It looks like a triangle on the page, but it will be a mitered square or its relative when you knit it. The problem with this approach is that the stitches that are disappearing in your knitting are not the ones at the edges. The stitches you are decreasing away are the ones next to the miter. The diagram on the left would work if you were decreasing at the beginning and end of the rows, rather than in the middle. Instead, lay out your chart so it looks like the example on the right. Yes, those big open gaps between the shaping and the miter look very odd on paper. But by graphing this way, the wales of the chart and the wales of your knitting will stack up and match. You'll be able to see on paper before you knit it how the lace patterning interacts across rows. You'll be able to tell what to do to keep your mitered shaping while still keeping your lace patterning continuous.

I am sharing this design technique because perhaps the best part of Rosemary Drysdale's Entrelac book is the section of swatches of entrelac knit in a variety of stitch patterns -- lace, Fair Isle, bobbles, cables, seed stitch. I haven't seen a lot of pattern play in mitered modules. Usually miters are just garter, garter ridge stitch (2 rows stockinette, 2 rows garter), or stockinette. I'd like to encourage some experimentation.

In my shawl I've also played with the rate of decrease. The first course of kite-shapes has mitered decreasing on right-side and wrong-side rows. This produces top sides that are half the length of the bottom sides. The second course of shapes is stockinette-based but with the usual right-side only shaping. Because all four sides have the same number of stitches, it resembles a square or a least a diamond. I have also swatched a number of variants on this, including decreases every third row, or alternating the central decrease line with decreases at the edges. In this way, you can produce a variety of quadrilateral shapes all with a central miter line. I would love to see more designers playing both with shape and with pattern in modular knitting.
In the end, my shawl doesn't really look like bird wings. But, it does have a pretty pattern. After consulting with my gardening friends, I named it Dahlia. At least my friends aren't science fiction fans. When I laid the shawl out to take a picture, I realized that in black it would loosely resemble the Shadow Vessels from Babylon 5.