Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The flame is doused

My forearms are sore, the outside of my upper arms are sore, the fleshy muscle at the base of my left thumbs aches and cramps up if used too much, my pads of my left thumb and left forefinger are sore...it must mean that the Knitting Olympics are over! Thanks to the intrusion of life into my knitting schedule (including my father going through leukemia testing) I didn't complete my sweater as early as I had anticipated. In fact, I didn't finish this baby early at all but squeaked under the wire a la the Yarn Harlot. I didn’t stay up until 4am as the Harlot did, but I did stay awake past midnight both Friday night and Saturday before my aching arms forced me to set aside the sweater.

(Please excuse the cat. He insisted on being in the picture.)

I enjoyed knitting this sweater. I didn't enjoy having to untwist the two strands of yarn all the time, though. The lighter silk/wool blend continually wrapped itself around the heavier cotton strand. But I think the look of the two yarns together is quite lovely and am pleased with the resulting look.

Overall the knitting was straightforward. The only (comparatively) complicated part is the increases and decreases on the front pieces. The edges that are exposed (aka not part of the seams) are in three stitch garter stitch, and all increases or decreases are made inside the garter stitches. Toward the top of the piece, increases are happening on one side while decreases are happening on the other. The instructions refer to the sides as Side 1 and Side 2, because the pattern is written out for the right front with the left front instructions merely stating "reverse all shaping", so keeping track of which side is Side 1 and which side is Side 2 doesn't allow for mindless knitting.

The sewing together of the two front pieces was the most challenging part of the project. I had to think about what I was doing so that I wouldn’t make a mistake and sew the front side to the wrong back side. It was even more confusing when the first side was attached and I had to make sure the second side was properly sewn on. But at last! The sweater is done!

Now on to other projects.

I’ve finally decided on my color scheme for the Torino sweater. I’m not a blue person and I really don’t care for the bronze color used in the upper part of the pattern. As I perused the Heilo color card at the LYS, I thought it would be nice to use the colors of the Italian flag – which incidentally would go quite well with my wardrobe. So I’ve settled on off white for the body, deep forest green in place of the navy, forest green for the Norwegian blue, sage green for the soft blue, and dark red in place of the bronze. I plan to wear this sweater at Christmastime when I go home for the holidays, so there’s no burning need to start this project…and I have to get the yarn in anyway.

There is, however, a burning need to get started on the Wedding Ring Shawl. First I’m going to do some practice rows with the leftover cotton from my Knitting Olympics sweater. It’s a DK weight and, like the gossamer silk I’ll be using, doesn’t have give like wool.

Onward and upward!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


I enjoy knitting socks…but I've mastered the art of the short row heel and toe. I enjoy knitting sweaters…but I’ve mastered shaping, cabling, etc. I haven’t mastered colorwork…but I haven’t tried it yet. I enjoy knitting lace…but I know that I’ve barely scratched the surface.

When I knit the first Birch last year I knew I was hooked on knitting lace. The complexity of lace is challenging to me and the resulting product is amazingly beautiful. In other words, creating lace is satisfying on all levels.

So in a nutshell, my direction is higher: higher degrees of complexity in terms of pattern, not length. I don’t want to create the world’s largest afghan; I want to create a very complicated piece of lace no matter how small it may be. Which leads me to my other direction.

Last year in July I made my fourth visit to Venice, Italy. (I love Venice and would move there in a heartbeat, but that’s another story). During this trip I finally made it to the island of Burano which is best known for pioneering the art of needle-lace. I stopped in at the lace museum on the island; stopped in a couple of shops and chatted up the women who worked there. I learned from both places that the art of Buranese/Venetian lace is dying. The younger generations aren’t learning from the older generations. At one shop I saw an older lady in the back room working on the edging of a placemat. In my mediocre Italian, I asked her if I could watch her work. She indicated her permission and I spent a fascinated half hour watching her take a needle and thread and with the deftest of motions build an exquisite cobweb of fabric.

Being the compulsive overachiever that I am, I knew I had to learn how to do this myself. To my dismay and frustration I discovered that while I could buy oodles and oodles of lace on Burano, I couldn’t buy instruction books or materials. I did see one shop window with a lace-making pillow on display but the shop was closed for the day and I couldn’t even inquire if it was for sale. I did manage to find a few books in my favorite Venetian bookstore about the subject of lace (merletti in Italian; pictures to follow tonight or tomorrow) and snapped them up. I figure that as I master the art of creating lace, I can use the pictures from those books as inspiration for creating my own designs.

Back home in the States, I googled like crazy trying to find sources of information, supplies, patterns…to very little success. I did find a book specific to Venetian lace, bought it and have been studying it. I continue searching the web to glean as much information as possible, hoping that some little piece of new data will appear on the results page.

So there you have it! In the sidebar of my blog I have listed the three big goals I’ve set for myself this year which represent my direction: colorwork (Torino 2006 sweater), lace knitting (Wedding Ring Shawl), and Venetian lace (just patterns and doodles from the book). I’ll still be knitting socks and baby blankets and sweaters for my family as mental downtime from working on the lace but the big focus will be on pushing my knitting envelope as soon as my Knitting Olympics project is complete.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Paddling through the confluence

A confluence of events has had me for the past couple of days reflecting upon my knitting career – where I've been and where I'm going to. Let's start first with where I've been.

I first learned how to knit back in the mid-80's as a teenager. My mom, who taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to, instructed me in such crafts as counted cross stitch and crocheting but knitting always looked too complicated to me. Until I wanted a particular sweater made for a graduating-from-high-school social event. I picked out a great pattern for a lightweight sleeveless sweater with a bateau neckline (remember this is the 80's!) and chose a deep fuchsia cotton yarn for the fiber. Mom got started on the sweater but, for some reason I can't remember now, only made it up a few inches on the back piece before having to set it aside. I decided that I would finish the sweater instead. It was a simple stockinette stitch with no shaping whatsoever. A little ribbing at the bottom, knit straight up to the neck, rib a little more and bind off, repeat, sew together and voila! Instant sweater. In lovely deep fuchsia, I might add. And that was the end of my first foray into knitting.

Fast forward to September 2004. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it now, given that I'm a complete and total fiber snob, but fun fur got me back into knitting. My mom (sense a pattern here?) bought some fun fur to make a garter stitch keyhole scarf for my daughter. It looked like fun so for kicks and giggles I went to Michael's, bought myself some fun fur and a set of size 6 needles, and cast on while watching The Moonspinners starring Hayley Mills. Mom had to show me how to perform the knit stitch again because I didn't remember after almost 20 years. I finished the scarf overnight and began searching the internet for a sweater pattern I could knit up for my daughter. Oh, when I think about how innocent I was when it came to internet knitting patterns...

Well, I found a pattern that I thought was fabulous. Mom, knowing that she had raised a compulsive overachiever, didn't say a thing. I went out, bought some yarn and size 3 needles, cast on, ribbed for the appropriate number of inches, then hit a snag. What the hell is a seed stitch?? If I had only known when I found the pattern what it meant to knit a whole sweater, sans the center cable pattern in front, in seed stitch, I would have laughed and gone on to the next pattern. But alas, I didn't, and after a few days my shoulders were really buff from all the yarn switching from purl to knit and back again.

In the intervening year and a half, I progressed from that first scarf and sweater to a whole panoply of objects: a clapotis in Mountain Colors wool and mohair blend, two felted French Market bags in Plymouth wool and Eco-Wool, hem-down socks in Dale of Norway Heilo, toe-up socks in cashmere (for wintertime sleeping) and Socks that Rock wool and Knit Picks wool, a sweater in Maggi's Linen without a pattern (just followed the shape of a favorite summer t-shirt), two Birch shawls in kidsilk haze, currently a sweater in cotton and a silk/wool blend, and a few other projects that have slipped my mind.

All during this time my mind would wander into my genealogical past, thinking about how many of my ancestors didn’t knit for pleasure but rather out of need. Whereas I marvel over the magic of turning a heel, knitting a few short rows just meant warm toes when the weather turned cold. Whereas I revel in the sensation of a high quality wool slipping through my fingers on the way to becoming a loop on my needles, they reveled in knowing that fiber would keep their children from feeling cold when it snows. How lucky am I that I can call knitting a hobby rather than a necessity?

My mental wanderings turned a corner this week due to a confluence of three events: the Knitting Olympics, Eunny's blog posting of February 13, and the Knitting Curmudgeon's blog posting of February 16.

I took up the challenge of the Knitting Olympics (I was somewhere in the 500- 550 range of registrants) on a lark. I'm a Winter Olympics junkie and I knew I would be spending a lot of time in front of the television watching the games. It seemed like a fun idea to knit a project specifically for that 16 day period with the added challenge of starting and finishing it in concert with the Olympics. At the time I didn't realize that there were lessons to be learned here. Earlier this week, some Knitting Olympians were discussing their projects and some have actually completed theirs already. I was shocked! Didn't they set a big enough challenge for themselves? I myself will finish ahead of the closing ceremonies so I turned that question back on myself. Could I have picked the Torino 2006 sweater instead of the GarnStudio crossover sweater? Working full time and being the mother of a nine-year-old suck up a lot of my time...but apparently I am capable of faster knitting than I thought I was. I thought the shaping of the GarnStudio sweater would be time-consuming. Don't get me wrong, I love the sweater I am knitting and will love wearing it but it is officially not a challenge to my knitting skills in duration or complexity.

Then Eunny spoke about her own knitting speed. (Can I just say how brilliant I think Eunny is?) Two sentences in her posting struck deep chords with me: "I really think the single biggest factor in speed, whether in colorwork or lace or cables, is understanding exactly what you're doing with every stitch - making it a point to understand the way the motifs build on each other and the basic rhythm behind the pattern as a whole." and "Understanding why a YO belongs there, and what it sets up for ten rows up, and where this decrease meets with it, and what part of the petal or leaf or wave or whatever that forms, makes knitting faster, yes, but also a lot more interesting, which makes you knit more, which makes progress happen before you know it." Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

My mind had begun working on this concept prior to reading Eunny's words. I've knit a sum total of two lace projects in my knitting career: Birch in black and Birch in toffee. The first time I knit Birch, it took a few repeats for me to memorize the pattern and then I just went through the motions until I reached the final three stitches. I cast on the second Birch almost immediately but this time I knew what I was doing. Instead of doing the pattern by rote, I started thinking about how the stitches built on each other to create the leaves. Eunny captured my thinking and gave it the words that I hadn’t yet formed.

Yesterday it all gelled when the Knitting Curmudgeon, in her own inimitable fashion, challenged the worth of the Knitting Olympics. I'd already been thinking long and hard about why I like to knit, what I like to knit, and what my knitting future will hold. Her challenge had me putting my thoughts into words several days before I'd expected to do so.

Up next: where I’m going with my knitting.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Olympic update

My olympic knitting is coming along quite nicely. I knew that I had to get a quick start out of the gate, given all my committments during the week.

I knit about 4 cm by the end of the opening ceremonies telecast on February 10. I've not worked with pulling two different strands of yarn, and find that I have to stop frequently and untwist the lighterweight yarn (the silky wool in pink). I'm also finding that working with size 10 needles is much slower than when I knit with size 1 dpns for socks. I use my fingers much more with the smaller needle sizes and rely mostly on my wrists to move the needles around.

Saturday I woke up bright and early to catch the biathlon being shown live at 7:00a EST, and of course, to knit more on my olympic sweater! I can't just sit and knit for hours on end but I was delighted to have made this much progress on the back:

You can't tell from this photo but I have started to shape the armholes at this point. I'm also nearing the end of the first skeins of yarn which is pleasing as it means I am right on track with my purchases -- not too much, not too little!

I knit only six rows or so Monday (see? I told you I don't have a lot of knitting time during the week!) so this shot taken Monday isn't too much different than what the project looked like after Sunday's knitting. I finished the back and have started working the right front. This is where the sweater starts getting fun. The front has peplum-like points on each side which are knit independently of each other. The instructions crack me up, too. (I remember reading somewhere about the lack of spoon-feeding when it comes to Scandinavian patterns.) The right front instructions are written out in detail. The left front, which mirrors the right front, instructions simply say to follow the right front directions but reverse all the shaping. Oh no! I'm going to have to think! ;-)

As I work on the sweater, my mind is turning to what my next project will be. I think it's going to be the Wedding Ring Shawl...and something else because I know WRS will be intense knitting that I probably will be able to work on only during the weekends.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Athletic equipment

Every good athlete prepares her equipment before performing and I'm no different. I spent the evening winding my yarn, checking my gauge (see the swatch?), glancing at the pattern one more time, and dipping the filament of my circular needles in hot water and straightened out. I don't want any equipment failures come Friday afternoon at 2:00pm!

Best wishes to all my fellow Olympians and may the best knitters bring home the gold!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


I've been knocked low by a bout of some type of cold this week but nevertheless, the final stitches of Birch have been knitted, the ends have been woven in, and blocking has been completed. The first FO for 2006 has been accomplished!

I knit this Birch for my mother-in-law and needed to finish it as quickly as possible for two reasons. First, a package is going out to her and I wanted to make sure the shawl was included. Second, Knitting Olympics! I didn't want to set aside Birch for three weeks to work on the GarnStudios sweater -- that would have been too entirely selfish -- and it ended up being good training for deadline knitting. Apparently I respond well to pressure knitting though I wouldn't want to do it all the time. It would take a pleasurable activity and turn it into something not so fun...though having 3,000 other people knitting to the same deadline is certainly appealing to my sense of fun.

This is my second Birch and, not coincidentally, my second lace project ever. I didn't get the whole magic of blocking knitted lace until I did it the first time...and I'm fully hooked on seeing the transformation. I truly despaired while knitting the first Birch. It didn't look like leaves to me at all. But I pressed on, knowing that such a popular pattern in blogland had to have something to it.

On to the technical talk. I like the full immersion method of blocking Birch (kidsilk haze does have quite the odeur when wet, doesn't it?) and pulling it taught on strands of waste yarn that has been threaded along the edges. I use curtain hangers jammed into the carpeting to anchor the waste yarn.

I really like how this Birch turned out. It's quite a bit different than the first one which was knit in black kidsilk haze (for moi). I sure hope Maman likes it!

Close up of the leaves... Being a northern Michigander by heritage, I grew up surrounded by birch trees and therefore have a special fondness for this tree. I love the curling white bark, the fluttery leaves that are successfully mimicked by this pattern. I don't know to whom this future project will be gifted (maybe I will donate it to a conservancy in my hometown to be auctioned off) but I definitely plan to knit Birch in the Meadow colorway of kidsilk haze.

Next up: finish those toe up socks before the opening ceremonies on Friday. I've got about half the ribbing done on the second sock, so we aren't talking a lot of effort left here.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Another ten stitches bite the dust

I received this question via email yesterday: “Didn’t it seem kind of obvious that the yarnovers needed to line up each row?”

Absolutely! Once I realized how the pattern flowed together. Of course, this isn’t the type of “light bulb moment” that a seasoned lace knitter, or a knitter of any type I suppose, would have. However, Birch was the first lace pattern I ever knit, and that being only eight months after I had taken up knitting as an adult. (My mom taught me how to knit as a teenager but after so many years of not knitting, I had to refer to a how-to manual to remember how to purl!) I had knit only sweaters and scarves upto that point in my Knitting Career Phase 2 and didn’t have the technical savvy to read the pattern and visualize it. Another thing Mom taught me about knitting is to just do it – if it doesn’t make sense, just start knitting according to the pattern and you’ll understand it. Amazing how often that works!

Speaking of Birch, I decreased another ten stitches last night leaving me with 147 on the needle. It takes about 12 minutes to work a row right now and I am determined to bind off and block on Saturday.

For the socks, I’ve already turned the heel on the second sock of the pair, so all that leaves is the ankle and the leg ribbing. I definitely finish that up in short order – possibly even Sunday – and I know I am too much of a compulsive over-achiever not to start another project while waiting to cast on for the Knitting Olympics.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

142 stitches down, 157 left to go

I knit one whole repeat on Birch last night which left me with 157 stitches on the needles. It may seem like a lot but when you decrease 10 stitches every eight rows, I am definitely on the downhill side of this shawl. I should definitely finish Birch by Saturday and hopefully I can finish the pair of Iolite socks prior to the 10th.

I really love the Birch pattern. I don’t have a wealth of experience with knitting lace but I love the deceptive simplicity of Birch. Once I figured out the pattern and the certain tricks to make sure I am correctly lining up each row (the first time I knit a Birch, it didn’t dawn on me until I finished the first repeat that the “yarn forward, knit one, yarn forward” have to line up – doh! rookie mistake!), I was on autopilot. I also find using placemarkers every ten stitches on the right side row to be an invaluable aid in catching mistakes.

Now that I put into pixels my desire to teach myself Venetian lace, I’ve started thinking about gathering the equipment. I ordered a cone of Gossamer Silk from Heirloom Knitting (can’t pass up a 25% discount!) which I think will work perfectly. Now I just need to scare up one of those cylindrical pillows the ladies on Burano use. I think needlepoint lace will be a summertime project when it’s just too sticky to knit with wool.