14 February 2013


I don't knit a lot of other people's patterns. I do admire a lot of other people's patterns. And I do read a lot of other people's patterns. But every now and then there is a pattern that just has to be done.
When I was in Portland, Oregon in the summer of 2011, the owner of Urban Fiber Arts was wearing a recently-completed Damask by Kitman Figueroa. This is such a beautiful lace pattern that I just had to work it. When a friend was de-stashing, I was able to acquire a large (215g) skein of Fleece Artist Blue Face Leicester 2/8. The skein was marked as 250g, but I must say, it wasn't that on my scale. Not sure if my scale is wrong or if Fleece Artist's scale was wrong, or maybe the yarn had acquired some moisture at some point? Nonetheless, either 215g or 250g is plenty of yarn for a shawl. Plenty.

I like my shawls large. I get cold. I don't like cold. (I don't like dark, either, just for the record.) So I decided to make a large Damask. The pattern comes in three sizes and calls for either 8, 9, or 10 repeats of pattern along the bottom edge. I cast on and started the shawl before the Denmark trip. And I knit on it across the Atlantic. And I knit on it on the trains in Denmark. And I knit on it in the hotel rooms while waiting on the Cuddly Hubby. And late in the Denmark trip, I realized I didn't like the size. It was too small.

The one great flaw in the this pattern is that the shawl is started on the large bottom edge and knit to the top. This means that you need to guess correctly how much yarn you will use so you can guess what size to cast on. Unlike a top-down shawl, you can't just knit until you run out. So the only choice I could make was to rip back what I had knit and start over. I believe I ripped out something like 80g of lace knitting. One of the ladies in the knit night group was appalled that I would do this.

I did have a couple false starts (see my notes on Ravelry) but finally got it going. I ended up using 14 repeats of each pattern, so 28 total at the beginning for a grand cast on of 523 stitches. For an experiment, I used Jeny's Stretch Slip-Knot Cast-on. I chose this because I knew I would block the lace. And I figured the stretchy cast-on would guarantee an edge that would not get in the way of blocking. I am happy to report that in the end, it did behave as anticipated! Hurray!
Now here's the really strange thing. My goal was not to knit to the top. I purposely knit with the idea that I would knit until I ran out and that, by running out early, I would have a notch for my neck. My goal was to knit the entire skein to the largest possible size that would produce a shawl with a notch. It took a bit of math, but I did get it.

Diagram of shawl with 14 pattern repeats on bottom edge.
Green lines indicate shaping.
Purple region is area not worked on my Damask.

The trick to thinking about yarn usage on a project like this is to figure out how much yarn it takes to work one repeat or area "unit" of the pattern. If you can then calculate how many units in your project, you can make intelligent guesses about yarn usage. Damask follows standard shaping for a triangular shawl -- i.e. a double-decrease in the center and a decrease at each edge; all shaping worked only on right-side rows.  I cast on 14 units per side, and I ran out when I was almost at 4 units per side. So if you count all the white units in the diagram, that's how many I knit -- nearly 90. If I had worked the next size down, that would have been casting on 13 units. When I work out that math, a whole shawl is 84 ½ units. So I would have had leftover yarn.

For those of you wondering, here is the math:
Number of pattern repeats on a side -- Total number of area units in a whole shawl
1 -- ½
2 -- 2
3 -- 4 ½
4 -- 8
5 -- 12 ½
6 -- 18
7 -- 24 ½
8 -- 32
9 -- 40 ½
10 -- 50
11 -- 60 ½
12 -- 72
13 -- 84 ½
14 -- 98

As you can see, the numbers take big jumps as the number of repeats of motif increases. Interestingly, the increase is easy to figure. For example, going from 5 motifs to 6 means knitting 5 ½ more units of area. Going from 12 to 13 motifs means knitting 12 ½ more units of area.

Why is the notch so important? See tomorrow's post for more about how the notch affects wearing a shawl and for information about how to size a notch.

P.S. A big thank you to the Cuddly Hubby for working with me to get these great photographs! It isn't easy for an engineer to do photography for an art major.

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