Sunday, 20 July 2008

Inspiration Goes Around.....

A few weeks ago Susan (of the Rainey Sisters) put out a request on behalf of Wrapped in Care for shawls. It seemed a good cause so when I found some lovely pale blue Rowan Cashcotton on sale at John Lewis - I scooped up two bags. Now all I needed was a pattern.

I browsed a few gazillion online shawl patterns, but - nothing sang to me. I flipped through my books and magazines - and still nothing. Then someone somewhere posted a link to a new book by Kristin Omdahl called Wrapped in Crochet - and there it was (you'll have to flip through the preview to Maya). IN amongst many lovely lovely patterns, was the pattern I really wanted to make.


But the book isn't out until autumn.


From the little bit of the book preview I could read, Kristin was inspired by a shawl she seen in Italy, made of a simple double crochet body with and edging of large medallions. Her version is triangular and looks very elegant in a gold-y tone yarn.

I decided not to let a small detail like no book stop me. So I took out my very expensive designing tools and set about making these meticulous blueprints to work with.

Browsing through some old crochet books I found a pattern for coasters in White Lace Crochet (Ondori) (an out of print book from 1990) which crocheted in the dk weight yarn (rather than the teeny tiny cotton the pattern called for) and a few modifications would be perfect for the edging.

I decided on 10 medallions for the edging and these were pretty straightforward once I got going. I was feeling pretty confident at this point. Which as we all know means doom is just around the corner.

I started the body of the shawl with the same hook I'd made the medallions in and after about 10 looooooooonnnnnngggggggg rows (3 full skeins of yarn!) (am I impressing on you how much work I'd done?) it was apparent that the tension was WAY OFF on the body. Despite lots of decrease per row - the body was still bigger than the edging! I couldn't kid myself - no amount of blocking was going to make this work.

So I ripped it all out. Well, not all, just the 10 loooooooonnnnnggggg rows (3 full skeins). I kept the medallions. I started the body over with a much smaller hook and 10 looooooooonnnnnnngggggg rows later I was smiling. I could see the beginning of a semi-circle. Yippee!

As everyone knows, rows and rows of double crochet are very good for watching Jane Austen adaptations. I chose to crochet to Mansfield Park with Billie Piper playing Fanny. And, well, I'm not sure the film makers actually read the book.

Yesterday morning I finished the last double crochets, wove in the ends and then blocked the very large shawl on my bed.

The shawl is 72" across the top with a 36" drop and took 14 50gm skeins of Rowan Cashcotton.

I'd love to make another one with a silk yarn one day, as I think the drape would be amazing. I'm pleased with the finished shawl, and hope it provides some comfort to the recipient.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

A few mistakes, a few lessons learned...

...but it came out alright in the end.

This project was never meant to be. I know that now and if I could turn back time (like Doctor Who)(or Cher)(now I've got that dang song in my head) - anyway, if I had it all to do over again I wouldn't have started it. The finished object is nice -but I can't get much more enthusiastic about it than that.

The pattern is fine, if a bit dull. It's the Edwardian Lace Wrap from Heirloom Knitting, and is a very simple garter stitch border with a 12 row repeat diamond pattern for the body.

Mistake number 1: My choice of colour. This blue Kid Silk Haze seemed to have a bit more oooomph when I was looking at in John Lewis surrounded as it was by a rainbow of other yarns. Away from the other colours it just looks sort of drab.

But - this was the yarn I'd chosen, and the Edwardian Lace Wrap had been in my queue for ages so I cast on. The pattern is writen as garter stitch lace (ie every second row is knit rather than purl) and I'm not a big fan of it. So after about 5 repeats I pulled the needles out, ripped out what I had done and started again replacing the knit rows with purl rows.

Mistake number 2: Deciding the second time not to use the 5mm needles recommended but moving down to 4mm needles. I'm struggling to recall my reasons for doing this (particularly as I made a special trip to iKnit to replace my 5mm nickel tips SPECIFICALLY for this project) -- but I can't find one. And it was a mistake. The pattern would be more open, and the edging would be more effective on bigger needles.

I wasn't letting these mistakes get me down (much). I knit on. I knit on with my too small needles and my blah yarn colour. With barely a trace of bitterness. I knit on.

The stole uses a provisional cast on. The first half is knit, then the cast on stitches are picked up and the second half is knit to mirror the first. I added two repeats to each half to make up for the fact that I was using needles that were TOO SMALL.

Finally, I finished the top edge, and cast off the last stitches. Hurrah!

Mistake number 3: Deciding to block the stole at 9pm. On my bed. The one I sleep in. In fact the only bed in the house. What was I thinking pinning a soaking wet stole on to my bed at 9pm!!?? Obviously I wasn't.

I had three choices: 1) stay up all night 2) unpin it all and do it again another day 3) speed up the drying process.

I went for option 3. First I tried turning on the small bedside fan. But it was pretty clear I needed something more drastic. I needed to bring in the big guns.

I bought this fan last summer, and I've never been able to use it. The thing is a wind machine. Anything not weighted down goes flying when this baby is on. So I pulled it out of the closet, placed it at one end of the stole and turned it on 'hurricane' setting.

An hour later the stole was dry and ready to unpin.

Alls well that ends well. Or something like that.

Just the facts:
Edwardian Lace Wrap
4mm needles (fool)
3 skeins Hurricane (blah) Kid Silk Haze

Unblocked: 18 x 56 inches
Blocked: 21 x 68 inches

PS People often (well, occasionally)(errr, once) ask me how I get stoles and scarves to stay put. In this case I've used my latest Romi acquisition - a simple, beautiful shawl pin in silver and black horn. I love her pins and am beginning to suspect I knit lace just so I have someplace to use her pins!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

A Dickens of a Post....

I’m a Winner!
No, that isn’t some sort of Tony Robbins self affirmation thing. I am actually a winner! This week I won TWO (2) (deux)(1+1) competitions.

First I won some lovely sock yarn and sock bag from Knittiotherapy. Knittiotherapy was raising money for Breast Cancer Research (always a good cause) by doing the Midnight Moonwalk, which is the annual 26.2 mile stroll (ahem) around London. She delivered the prize this morning and it is gorgeous!!

And if that wasn’t enough (it was) last night I found out I won a signed copy of the Harlot’s latest book “Things I Learned from Knitting (Whether I Wanted To or Not)” from YKnit! If you haven’t checked it out yet – give it a listen. WonderMike and Stephen (hizKnits) are funny and recent guests have included the Harlot and Cat Bordhi.

I’m struggling with knitting at the moment. Not physically. I just can’t seem to find a project that sings to me. I’m finishing up something today and should be able to get some pics and post it later this week. In the meantime I’m browsing the pattern sites and books looking for some inspiration.

Things I Think About When I’m Not Knitting
I re-read A Tale of Two Cities a few weeks ago, and as ever the overriding question while reading the novel is: How exactly does madwoman Defarge knit the names of those to be executed into her knitting?

This perplexed me when I first read the story in high school, and has continued to plague me since.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it is set in London and Paris (thus the two cities) around the time of the French Revolution. There is a soppy, beautiful, kindhearted girl Lucie (blah – we hate her, every single male in the novel falls in love with her), her husband Charles Darnay (really Evremonde) and an alcoholic lawyer Sydney Carton. Lucie has a sometimes senile, sometimes lucid father who is a doctor when lucid and a shoemaker when not.

Madame Defarge, arguably the most famous fictional knitter of all time, is a central character in the Paris part of the story full of hate for the aristocrats of France generally, and the Evremonde’s specifically. She will not rest until she has seen all of their heads rolling on the grass in Place de la Revolution. Madame Defarge is never without her knitting in which we are told she is coding the names and crimes of all who are to be condemned.

I have recently watched two film adaptations of the novel, and it is clear to me that this is not a question which interests film makers in the least. Look at this example from the 1980 BBC adaptation. Sheesh. Worsted weight yarn in stockinette followed by a few rows of garter is not a code people.

In fact, Judy Parfitt, the actress playing Madame Defarge, looks quite uncomfortable with those needles. Fair to say this isn’t a great adaptation. (Almost as unconvincing as the knitting code is the storming of the Bastille. If this film is to be believed, this was accomplished by the knitter, her husband and about 6 toothless extras.)

In the 1958 film starring Dirk Bogarde, the knitting is equally codeless. Some pretty straightforward stockinette stitch in a single colour. At least this actress looks comfortable with knitting needles in her hands! (And they had lots of toothless extras when storming the Bastille. As you would.) I preferred this to the 1980 tv series.

Since then, I’ve been trying to determine what coded knitting would look like, and what the practicalities of knitting it would be. (This is in preparation for my own, yet to be announced revolution.)

Knitting the letters would be a pretty easy code to crack, and frankly pretty hard to achieve and keep track of across multiple rows bearing in mind that while knitting Madame Defarge is otherwise engaged in her wine shop or busy plotting revolutionary activities.

Ideally I think you’d want something where a letter could be represented in a single row, so you could ‘write’ the words as you knit, and if you had to put down your knitting to serve some wine to a fellow revolutionary you would immediately know where you are when you picked it up again.

Morse code (or a variant) seems the most likely choice. Morse code hadn’t yet been invented, but Madame Defarge was pretty darn clever so I think she had devised her own.

You could knit the code using colours – as I have here (apologies for the messy and less than stellar colourwork). Purple is dot, and blue is dash. Each cluster of blue and purple is a letter – blue/purple is ‘a’, blue is ‘t’ etc. I used a pink space between letters and a double pink space between words. This particular example says ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. I was pleased to notice that if you write the text as you knit the rows, when you turn it round to read from the top it reads perfectly from left to right.

Although this was pleasing (and quite compact) I have to say that I doubt your average vengeful revolutionary could be bothered faffing around with colours, carrying the colours back across the purl rows and then untangling the mess.

It would take more stitches (but probably less cursing) to knit a Morse code-like code in a single colour, with a stockinette background using a single ‘purl’ stitch for dots and two purl stitches for dashes. A light colour would preferable for better stitch definition and easy reading! If I were a really good knit blogger I would have also done a sample this way.

But I’m not.

To make up for it though, I’ve got two more film adaptations winging their way to me now. Further Defarge updates to follow. Bet you can't wait!