Saturday, June 6, 2009

Charting the Princess

The Princess shawl is constructed in a complex and interesting way. If you are familiar with the pattern, you may recognize this rough schematic diagram that has been circulating on the web for a while.

When I first aquired the pattern booklet and was getting ready to begin, I made a point of reading all the way through the instructions so that I would know what to expect at each stage and have a clearer grasp of how the various elements of the design fit together. The details of how and why this happened escape me now, but for some reason I found myself on an airplane at the time. I guess it must have been a break from classes and I was en route between where I live and where family members were gathering. Anyway, there I sat with my shiny new pattern book, gazing with anticipation and reverence (and maybe just a soup├žon of dread) at the prospect of what I was about to undertake.

Certain procedures described in the booklet confused me at first. I found it hard to picture them in my mind. Remember that I teach foreign language and freshman composition. Words are my primary medium. But with needlework instructions, I often find that too much verbiage can get in the way. When you come right down to it, after all, the foundation of knitting and sewing and crochet and so on is geometry: lines and curves and shapes and axes of symmetry. So as I sat there on the airplane, I instinctively reached for a pencil and paper and made a rough sketch, numbering the stages of the shawl's construction, step by step, as I went. By the time I was finished, I had not only figured out how the process of knitting this shawl was supposed to work, but also made some initial calculations for expanding the number of border feathers from 11 to 13 (as Sharon Miller suggests for extremely fine yarns like the CashSilk).

That humble little diagram — drawn in pencil on the torn bottom half from a letter sized sheet of paper and not at all to scale — went everywhere with me all through the ensuing months and proved itself useful again and again. I eventually had to adjust some of my stitch-counts, of course, and I scribbled new calculations all around the edges, whenever it became necessary. Do you think that I threw it away when the shawl was complete? Oh no, dear reader. Perish forfend!! I kept it tucked into the pattern booklet as a souvenir. It's like a miniature diary of the whole knitting process.

Shortly before the end, though, partly in response to a discussion on the HK Yahoo Group where Sharon Miller posted a diagram of her own to illustrate the finished shape of the bottom edge (after blocking), and partly out of a desire to preserve a more permanent (and aesthetically pleasing) record of what I had done, I used my favorite computer graphics program to produce a nice clean, professional looking rendition of the same basic concept.

I posted this to the HK Yahoo Group at the time, but now with the blog I can make it available to a wider audience. Here it is. Just click on the image to bring up the large version (so you can read all the fine print)...

I really tried to make this diagram an accurate representation of my Princess shawl, with its somewhat altered proportions (2 extra border feathers, larger center triangle, etc.). Yet even this careful sketch would prove to be misleading, when I finally got the fabric stretched out on the blocking wires and began to understand its true shape.

And that is a segue to my next post...


  1. I'm really happy that you have started to blog! I've been following your reports on the princess, in the heirloom knitting group and I'm really happy to being able to follow your knitting on a blog:)

  2. "Perish forfend!" My darling Dad used to say that...sigh..wonderful memories.
    I have read your reports on the group and was pleased to see you have started writing here. My Queen pattern has arrived from Sharon but I can't start until July. At the moment I am finishing up a tablecloth. Stop by and say hello!

  3. Welcome to blogland! I've enjoyed your reports on Princess over the last year or so, and look forward to reading more of your reports.