28 May 2020

Book Review: Making Marls


When I bumped into Cecelia Campochiaro at STITCHES Salt Lake, I mentioned how much I loved her 2015 book Sequence Knitting. I asked if she was working on another book that would explore lace sequence knitting with yarn overs and other maneuvers. She enthusiastically replied she was working on a book about marls and was having a great time with it.

At that moment, I was a little disappointed. Marls? That's just holding two colors together to make a third color. I've done that in counted cross-stitch for years. How could anyone write a whole book about that? And it's such a simple concept. What could you find to say that would fill up a book?

For most of us, the subject of marling could hardly be longer than a magazine article. But, of course, in Cecelia's hands, the subject has unanticipated depth, complexity, and design possibility.

Making Marls is a large affair of the coffee-table book variety. There are plenty of photographs and charts. Most are large and easy-to-read. And there are many pages in the book where a 2-page spread explains one concept. Turn the page and the next two-page spread explores the next logical concept. The first few chapters set up marling — its history, how best to work with multiple strands coming from multiple sources, figuring out needle sizes, calculating how much yarn, following a pattern, and the like.

Where the book takes off is the thoroughness of thought given to the design possibilities. Chapter 3 "The Marled Look" goes into detail about contrast between strands. There are pictures of different effects with high-contrast and low contrast. The chapter also covers other considerations like should you ply the strands before you knit or just carry them together? It turns out, the look is not identical. How does an even marl (1 strand of color A with 1 strand of color B) look different from an uneven marl (1 of A and 2 of B). Does a 2 and 2 look the same as a 1 and 1 of the same colors? And then the book launches into a significant dive into color and value. By this point, I could see why Cecelia had been so excited! Making marls is similar to mixing paint colors.

Chapters 4 through 8 deal with different types of marling sequences (some of these we might call gradients or fades). Each chapter is a deep dive into the possibilities, illustrated with plenty of examples and explained with both text and tables. Cecelia proceeds logically through the possibilities, illustrating the Vulcan concept of complexity through simplicity. And the appendix contains tables to help you assess the possibilities if you have a dozen random skeins sitting around.

The projects are mostly simply — hats or scarves, often enlivened with a sequence knit pattern. Of course, if your fabric has plenty of color and value action due to the marls, texture and patterning would make the item too busy. Let's be nice to our eyes and not overwhelm them with action.

In addition to knitters, I would also recommend this book for spinners and weavers. Marling is basically optical mixing. "Making Marls" is not just a deep dive into combining yarn strands, but also a deep dive into combining color and value optically. Spinners make marls every time we ply yarns that aren't solid colors.

If you do read this book, take your time. Read a few pages. Let it sit in your mind. Think. Consider. Read a little more. In many ways, this tome is as much about the surprisingly complex results you can get from mixing yarns as it is about good design practice in general. And at the this point, I would pre-order anything from Cecelia Campochiaro.

10 May 2020

A Few Words About Lace in General

Galina Khmeleva's Russian lace class was not the only lace class I took at Georgia FiberFest in 2017. I also took a class called "Introduction to the History, Methods, and Styles of Lace Knitting" from Franklin Habit. Franklin talked about the various traditions including Shetland, Orenburg, and Estonian. In the class handouts he included charts of a motif typical for each tradition.

I keep notebooks of the handouts from the many classes I've taken. It is often useful to have swatches with those handouts. So, I decided to knit up samples from Franklin's class. The process got me thinking about lace in general.

First off, there is sometimes a distinction between lace knitting and knit lace:

knitted lace = action on both right side and wrong side
lace knitting = action on right side; mindless wrong side

Also, some laces are stockinette-based (knit on right side, purl on wrong side) and some are garter-based (knit on both sides). Garter tends to be bumpier, especially in large yarns. Traditions that use garter knit lace usually use a very fine thread worked at an open gauge, which naturally de-emphasizes the bumpy texture. On the other hand, garter stitch is reversible and lies flat without blocking. Stockinette has a flat right side but a bumpy wrong side. And stockinette curls. Many stockinette-based patterns will have a border of garter stitch to counteract the curl. For fun, I knit up the Shetland Tree Diamond in acrylic yarn using all four options.

Shetland Tree Diamond chart

This is a pattern that utilizes left-leaning and right-leaning decreases. It has a double-decrease down the center and a purl wale down the center as well. (I am shocked at how that purl wale doesn't look like a purl wale in my samples.)

There are four ways of working from this chart:

garter knit lace
The garter knit lace is a little squat. Remember, this is acrylic yarn. I can't block it open the way I might with wool. The shape looks more like a shrub than a tree. And the garter stitch around the lace wants to pull down vertically, making the lace motif seem taller than the surrounding background. If this were worked in fine yarn at an open gauge, those problems would disappear. Having action rows on both side in garter stitch is how this motif would traditionally be worked in Shetland.

stockinette knit lace

stockinette knit lace, wrong side

The stockinette knit lace is not quite as squat as the garter knit lace. The lace motif wants to be taller than the surrounding stockinette background. But in this fabric, the lace motif pushes forward in sculptural relief. (This is part of why the wrong-side view is slightly out of focus, as the fabric pushed up off the scanner.) You would need to work in a loose gauge to be able to block this open in wool, but it might block close to square. Interestingly, I found both the right side and wrong side of the motif to be different but pretty.

Both the garter knit lace and the stockinette knit lace were more difficult to work than the lace knits. The array of yarn overs close together means working decreases into yarn overs from the immediately preceding row. It is awkward. More than once I somehow lost a yarn over and had to tink back a row and try again. But, it may be why both sides of the motif look okay in stockinette knit lace — working decreases into the yarn overs makes the purl bumps less bumpy?

garter lace knit

garter lace knit, wrong side

The garter lace knit is fairly square. Right away, this was much easier to work with that mindless knit-all wrong-side row. The pattern is close to square. The central spine is not as pretty as on the first two swatches. And the bumpiness of garter stitch is somehow more evident. I am thinking if I hadn't bothered with the purl wale down the center, I would have liked this better. And while the bumpiness is a little bothersome, it also looks a little like a beaded trellis on the right side. Once again, the wrong side looked surprisingly nice. I'm think that's due to the lacy nature of this pattern, rather than a feature of this type of lace knitting.

stockinette lace knit

The stockinette lace knit has a nice, crisp right side. Interestingly, the motif is taller than it is wide. You need to stretch the fabric width-wise to block the motif square. Unlike the lace knit versions, this motif generally stays within the plane of the background stockinette, rather than trying to push forward into relief. The wrong-side row was mindless purling. Of course, if your knit and purl tension are different, this can quickly lead to obvious rowing-out. An advantage of stockinette lace knitting is that it looks nice even at a larger gauge with sock-weight or even worsted-weight yarn. This is probably why myriad shawl patterns in sock yarn are written in stockinette-based lace, The right-side action rows produce a pretty pattern, while the wrong-side purl rows are mindless. And since there is always a row in between each action row, you never end up trying to decrease into a yarn over still on the needles.

If you are designing lace patterns, I suggest giving this experiment a try with a favorite motif. You may be surprised by what you get!

24 April 2020

A Few Words About Russian Lace

I did have one "Hmmm, I wonder. . . " moment in Galina's Orenburg lace class. She showed us a Russian book of lace patterns. The patterns were charted on a grid, much like other lace patterns. The difference was the decreases were not shown on the chart. And the yarn-overs were shown in different colors, to indicate groupings.

This got me thinking. It implies the Orenburg lace knitters understand their patterns. They work the patterns from memory. They know where the holes go. They know where the decreases go because they know where the holes go. How do they know?

First off, Orenburg lace does not worry about direction of slant on the decreases. If you need to decrease one stitch, the answer is to knit two together. A slip-slip-knit decrease is not used. If you need to decrease two stitches, the answer is to knit three together. A centered double decrease is not used. Most of the time, the lace knitter is only asking:

Do I need to decrease one stitch or two?
Do I put the decrease before or after the yarn over?

Spending a little time with yarn and needles, I started to practice the patterns from class. This time, I took notes about what I saw on my needles. If this was a craft technique passed by memory from one person to another, perhaps it was more about seeing what you are doing than looking at a chart?

One of the things you notice right away is how yarn over, knit two together is a unit. From what I can tell, the first rule is, "Unless told otherwise, yarn over is followed by knit two together." Mouse Prints, Cat's Paw, and Diagonals all follow this model. They are worked only on right-side rows, with wrong-side rows being knit all. They all create a grid of open work where the mesh of holes is the focus.

Cat's Paw versus Strawberry
Cat's Paw creates a lacy web design.
Strawberry creates a central fabric surrounded by holes.

Cat's Paw versus Strawberry

I noticed some patterns such as Strawberry or Chain Hearts where the decreases are at the outside of the motif. These are cases where the motif is about creating a center shape of fabric surrounded by yarn overs. Consequently, the decreases are outside the central fabric, On the Large Strawberry, the decreases start off looking like Strawberry. But then they are inside the motif as it narrows! But when I began to think about it, I realized that emphasizes the central panel of fabric. So, rule two might be something like, "For motifs with a solid central panel, place decreases to emphasize the solid center."

Large Strawberry
Compare with Strawberry.
Both are focused on a central piece of fabric surrounded by holes.

Cluster of Large Strawberry

There are several patterns worked on both right-side and wrong-side (knitted laces instead of lace knitting). They include Peas, Fish Eyes, Honeycomb, and Accordion. In all of these, the pattern is always yarn over, knit two together. I noticed when working them there was a rhythm as well as an obvious placement. In these and other Orenburg patterns, you could see where the yarn over was on the previous row and use that as a guide on the next row. In some ways, the knitted lace patterns were almost like lace sequence knits. The third rule might be, "If the pattern is worked on right-side and wrong-side, it is always yarn over, knit two together."

Honeycomb, version 1

Honeycomb, version 2

Honeycomb, version 2 sample
Notice the openwork grid is thinner than Peas.

Peas
Notice how this is the same as Honeycomb version 2, but with plain rows added.

Peas sample
Notice the openwork grid is thicker than Honeycomb.

I also noticed on the sample chart that Galina drew a line down the middle wale. Many Orenburg patterns are bilaterally symmetrical. It was common to work up to the center line, then work yarn over, knit two together. Marking a center line clarifies where to place the pattern.

There is more to Orenburg lace than just this. However, if you are working an Orenburg pattern, pay attention to the logic of the design. You may see after a repeat or two the patterns are meant to be worked from memory using simple rules.

23 April 2020

A Corner Turn

Once again, I am experimenting with doing lace absolutely not the way the Russians would do it. This sawtooth border is a common border in Orenburg lace. The Russian way of turning the corner, while clever, left me unsatisfied.

Traditional Orenburg corner

After a few weeks of experiments, here's where I ended up.

I used a basic sawtooth border pattern. You can find the chart in Galina Khmeleva The Gossamer Webs Design Collection, (Loveland CO: Interweave Press 2000) page 5. This particular sawtooth pattern starts with 8 stitches, widens to 12 stitches, and then narrows back to 8 stitches. When increasing, each yarn over causes the border to widen and the line of yarn overs to grow outward toward the right. When decreasing, it becomes trickier. You still need the yarn over to keep the pattern, but it needs a knit-2-together to prevent the fabric from widening and, since you want the overall border to narrow, it needs a second knit-2-together. Without those, the line of holes doesn't move inward to the left. To make the whole thing work, you need a yo, k2tog on the right-side and a k2tog on the wrong side.

I also realized I was probably going to need to use short rows. Because this fabric is garter stitch, I used wrap-and-turn for the short rows, rather than German short rows, Japanese short rows, or some other approach .

My original thought was to work a mitered corner. For that, stitch counts grow smaller and smaller, then larger and larger as you work short rows, almost like a heel turn.

Schematic for a mitered corner turn.
Notice how it starts off as a parallelogram, but then decreases to a point before turning the corner and increasing.

As you might imagine, patterning and shaping start bumping into each other. I eventually realized the parallelogram part of that pattern worked well, even if my first handful of tries at the corner turn didn't.

Basis for corner turn.
Knitting a parallelogram into and out of the corner.
The question is, "What goes in that big empty corner space?"

All I really needed to figure was what goes in between the two parallelograms. That made the problem smaller and possibly more manageable. How to transition between one set of directions that work to another set of directions that work?

Parallelogram increasing into the corner:
  • Row 01: slip 1-purlwise-with yarn in front, knit 2, yarn over, knit 4, wrap 1.
    9 stitches total, 1 stitch plus 8 pattern stitches.
  • Row 02: leave the wrapped stitch on the right needle, knit 8.
    9 stitches total, 8 stitches plus 1 stitch that wasn't worked this row.
  • Row 03: s1-pw-wyif, k2, yo, k4, wrap 1, leave 1 unworked.
    10 stitches total, 2 stitches unworked (the wrapped one from this row and the wrapped one from the previous row) plus 8 pattern stitches.
  • Row 04: leave the unworked stitch and the wrapped stitch alone, k8.
    10 stitches total, 8 pattern stitches plus 2 left unworked this row.
  • Row 05: s1-pw-wyif, k2, yo, k4, w1, lv2.
    11 stitches total, 3 + 8.
  • Row 06: lv3, k8.
    11 stitches total, 8 + 3.
  • Optional short row refinement for fullness (see below).
  • Row 07: s1-pw-wyif, k2, yo, k4, w1, lv3.
    12 stitches total, 4 + 8.
  • Row 08: lv4, k8.
    12 stitches total, 8 + 4.

After much swatching, I realized it was sometimes helpful to add a little more fabric in the corner. There's a couple very short short-rows that when added will make the next yarn-over hole bigger. These can be added to almost any of the directions I present here, whether in the corner holes or in other holes in the corner turn.

Optional short row refinement to enlarge the corner hole, add these rows after Row 06 and before Row 07:
  • RS short row to enlarge hole: s1-pw-wyif, k1, w1, leave remainder of stitches.
  • WS short row to enlarge hole: leave most stitches unworked, knit only the last 2.

Another way to enlarge the holes is to work yo2 when making the yarn over, then drop both loops together when working into the double yarn-over on the next row.

The tricky transition part goes here. That's what this post is about!

Parallelogram decreasing coming out of the corner:
  • Row A: s1-pw-wyif, k3, yo, k2tog, k2, w1, lv3.
    12 stitches total, 4 + 8.
  • Row B: lv4, k6, k2tog.
    11 stitches total, 7 + 4.
  • Row C: s1-pw-wyif, k3, yo, k2tog, k2, w1, lv2.
    11 stitches total, 3 + 8.
  • Row D: lv3, k6, k2tog.
    10 stitches total, 7 + 3.
  • Row E: s1-pw-wyif, k3, yo, k2tog, k2, w1, lv1.
    10 stitches total, 2 + 8.
  • Row F: lv2, k6, k2tog.
    9 stitches total, 7 + 2.
  • Row G:  s1-pw-wyif, k3, yo, k2tog, k2, w1.
    9 stitches total, 1 + 8.
  • Row H: lv1, k6, k2tog.
    8 stitches total, 7 + 1.

The traditional mitered corner could be thought of like this:

Schematic to think about a mitered corner.

In this case, the challenge would be to decrease at both edges of the little triangle, and then increase at both edges of the other little triangle, and keep the pattern going at the same time.

Mitered corner:
  • Row 09: s1-pw-wyif, k3, yo, k2tog, k1, w1, lv 4.

    12 stitches total, 5 + 7.
  • Row 10: lv 5, k5, k2tog.

    11 stitches total, 6 + 5.
  • Row 11: s1-pw-wyif, k3, yo2, k2tog, w1, lv4.

    11 stitches total, 5 + 6.
  • Row 12: lv5, k4, k2tog.
 Let both wraps of the yo2 drop so it is only one new stitch.

    10 stitches total, 5 + 5.
  • Row 13: s1-pw-wyif, k2, yo, k2, w1, lv4.

    11 stitches total, 5 + 6.
  • Row 14: lv5, k6.

    11 stitches total, 6 + 5.
  • Row 15: s1-pw-wyif, k2, yo2, k3, w1, lv4.

    12 stitches total, 5 + 7.
  • Row 16: lv5, k7. Let both wraps of the yo2 drop so it is only one new stitch.

    12 stitches total, 7 + 5.


Mitered corner

I worked many, many variants of this corner. I consistently had trouble making the corner loose enough to block nicely. And I had trouble getting the miter to look tidy where it changes from decreasing to increasing. It's no wonder the mitered corner solution is not used by the Orenburg knitters! It is tricky to figure out and not easy to remember.


Schematic of a triangular corner worked en pointe.

Another approach is to work a triangle en pointe from one corner to the other. This approach involves having the line of work in three different directions — up, then a 45° turn, then another 45° turn. I found adding short rows for more fullness helped. Start with the increasing parallelogram including the extra short rows for fullness.

Triangle en pointe corner:
  • Row 09: s1-pw-wyif, k1, w1, lv9.
    12 stitches total, 10 + 2.
  • Row 10: lv10, k2.
    12 stitches total, 2 + 10.
  • Row 11: s1-pw-wyif, k2, yo, k2tog, w1, lv6.
    12 stitches total, 7 + 5.
  • Row 12: lv7, k5.
    12 stitches, 5 + 7.
  • Row 13: s1-pw-wyif, k2, yo, k2tog, k1, w1, lv5.
    12 stitches total, 6 + 6.
  • Row 14: lv6, k6.
    12 stitches total, 6 + 6.
  • Row 15: s1-pw-wyif, k1, w1, lv9.
    12 stitches total, 10 + 2.
  • Row 16: lv10, k2.
    12 stitches total, 2 + 10.
  • Row 17: s1-pw-wyif, k2, yo, k2tog, w1, lv6.
    12 stitches total, 7 + 5.
  • Row 18: lv7, k5.
    12 stitches, 5 + 7.
  • Row 19: s1-pw-wyif, k1, w1, lv9.
    12 stitches total, 10 + 2.
  • Row 20: lv10, k2.
    12 stitches total, 2 + 10.
  • Row 21: s1-pw-wyif, k2, yo, k2tog, k2, w1,  lv4.
    12 stitches total, 5 + 7.
  • Row 22: lv5, k7.
    12 stitches total, 7 + 5.

Triangular corner turn

This method used quite a few short rows for fullness, but the result allows for a corner that naturally wants to be fairly square. Of all the solutions, I think this one might be my favorite.

If you want something simpler — or just a good starting point for experimentation — the rounded corner may be better.

Schematic for a rounded corner.

The rounded corner is similar to the triangular corner. While it doesn't make a sharp sawtooth, it is easier to execute. Like the en pointe triangle, the total number of stitches on the needle doesn't change from row to row.

Rounded corner:
  • Row 09: s1-pw-wyif, k2, yo, k2tog, k2, w1, lv4.
    12 stitches total, 5 + 7.
  • Row 10: lv5, k7.
    12 stitches total, 7 + 5.
  • Row 11: s1-pw-wyif, k2, yo, k2tog, k1, w1, lv5.
    12 stitches total, 6 + 6.
  • Row 12: lv6, k6.
    12 stitches total, 6 + 6.
  • Row 13: s1-pw-wyif, k2, yo, k2tog, k1, w1, lv5.
    12 stitches total, 6 + 6.
  • Row 14: lv6, k6.
    12 stitches total, 6 + 6.
  • Optional refinement: add short rows here for more fullness through corner.
  • Row 15: s1-pw-wyif, k2, yo, k2tog, k2, w1, lv4.
    12 stitches total, 5 + 7.
  • Row 16:  lv5, k7.
    12 stitches total, 7 + 5.

Round corner

Round corner with extra fullness:
Add optional short row refinement before last hole on increasing parallelogram.
Add optional short row refinement before last hole on round corner turn.

In a lot of situations, I think the round corner with extra fullness would work fine. Especially in a thin yarn and worked at an open gauge, it would be easy to block the corner square or round, as desired.

A final after the fact thought:

Schematic for a square corner, worked en pointe.

It wasn't until I started making schematics for this blog post that it even occurred to me to consider a square corner worked en pointe. For the sawtooth pattern, the square corner isn't what I want. But, if you are using these schematics to generate design solutions, it is helpful to include it as an option.

Patterns for knitted borders rarely include information about how to turn the corner. I hope this post has given you a framework for problem solving in your own knitting.

22 April 2020

Attaching a Lace Edging

Since I now have some time on my hands, I'm getting back to unfinished objects, half-designed projects, notes for new classes, and the like. I have a backlog of things in the "when I have time" category.

There were several items in the basket on the living room table. Among them were handouts, yarn, and a strip of Russian lace pattern samples from when I took Galina Khmeleva's "The Fundamentals of Orenburg Knitted Lace" at Georgia FiberFest in September 2017. What I what to concentrate on today is attaching a lace border.

I pulled out the acrylic practice yarn and started swatching.

Swatch worked in the Orenburg tradition, with simultaneous edging.

In the Orenburg tradition, the edging is worked in a long strip from left to right across the bottom. It essentially becomes the cast-on. The central pattern stitches are picked up from the side of the edging. And the Russians have a clever method for turning the corners and working the edging at both sides while simultaneously working the center pattern. The yarn is never broken. Instead of binding off, the Russians turn the upper right corner and work back and forth across the top, eating up the live stitches from the center as they join the border. At the end, they graft a handful of stitches together at the upper left corner. This is a clever, fascinating construction method. The swatch above is worked following the excellent directions in The Gossamer Webs Design Collection, written by Galina Khmeleva (Loveland CO: Interweave Press, 2000).

What I had in my knitting basket was a plan to try a couple different ways of adding a border after the fact. There are some traditions where the border is worked separately and sewn on. (Shetland lace comes to mind.) That idea goes against my grain, as it seems un-knitterly and, really, how many of us want to attempt carefully sewing together hundreds of stitches in lace weight? I would much rather knit on the edging. And if you want to use two different colors — one for the body of the shawl and a complimentary contrast for the edging — then knitting it on after the fact is sensible.

To be fair, what I've played with here is exactly not what the Russians do. 

The directions for Galina's class swatch include a chain edge on all sides, making it tidy without an edge but also setting up nicely if you want to add one.

The question is, "What is a good method?"

I decided to audition three:
  1. Knitting together.
  2. Passing a stitch over.
  3. Mondragon loop combined with Gwen Bortner's encasement cast-on.
If you've read this blog for any length of time, you already know where this experiment went. Here are the pictures of the swatch, worked in fine yarn from Galina's class:

Front of work: Mondragon loop + encasement cast on across top, pass over at top right, knit together at bottom right.

Back of work; Mondragon loop + encasement cast-on across top, pass over at top left, knit together at bottom left.

The details:
For the knitting together method work across right side in pattern. Then:
  • Turn to wrong side of work.
  • Move yarn to far side of work, ready to knit rather than purl.
  • Knit together the first stitch of the edging together with both chain loops.
  • Continue knitting across edging in pattern.

The second method begins the same, with knitting in pattern across the right side of the edging. Then:
  • Using right needle, pull up a stitch through both chain loops. You now have one extra stitch on the right needle; left needle is empty.
  • Slip two stitches on right needle back to left needle.
  • Pass the left stitch (the one you knit up through both chain loops) over the right stitch (the last stitch of the edging), as if binding off.
  • Return the remaining stitch back to the right needle. No stitches on left needle.
  • Turn work and continue in pattern on wrong-side row.

Both of these are easy. The downside is they aren't identical on both sides of the fabric. They are also a little thick, especially the knitting together method. You can feel a slight lumpiness at the join. The passing a stitch over method looks tidy from the front and isn't as lumpy, but it definitely looks messier from the back. And it is a little clunky to do, with all the passing stitches back and forth.

The third method:
  • At the end of a right-side row, pull up a Mondragon loop through both chain loops.
  • Turn.
  • Work the wrong-side row in pattern, using the Mondragon loop.
  • Turn.
  • Work the right-side row in pattern, using the Mondragon loop.
  • Evaporate the excess loop.
  • Work the wrong-side row and right-side row as normal.
  • Repeat.

While you could pull up a Mondragon loop every time, alternating two rows with and two rows without gives you a structure similar to Gwen Bortner's reversible encasement cast-on. Both sides are identical. And the join is very flat and stretchy. I don't think the join is quite as tidy as the front side of the pass over method. Overall, I'd go with this method.

Acrylic swatch adding on edging with Mondragon sliding loop and Gwen Bortner's encasement cast-on.

If you are paying close attention, you may also notice the corner turn on the second acrylic swatch is different from the turn on the first. Yes, I had to experiment with that, too.

And here's some video to show how to use a Mondragon sliding loop to add an edging:


Tomorrow: Turning the corner (also not the way the Russians do it).