Wednesday, June 24, 2009

First Impressions & Almost a Miracle

Earlier this year, I quite frankly splurged to acquire first a single skein of Rio de la Plata Impressionist Merino Pampa in the colorway known as "Spring Bouquet" — and then a full *eight* more to go with it. I know exactly why it was so hard to resist. The fact that it was February (blech) and that I was having a fairly rough semester definitely made me rather susceptible to yarn temptation at the time. But more to the point, this is positively dreamy wool, rich and buttery soft, and the colors are a feast for the eyes. The right sweater made with it will become both a snazzy showpiece and the ultimate snuggle garment, all in one. Mmmmmm.

The Impressionist collection is a Yarn Market exclusive. From what I can tell, they have arranged for several different high-end yarn companies (Lorna's Laces, Twisted Sisters, Cherry Tree Hill, Prism, Rio de la Plata, Fiesta) to design magnificent hand-dyed colorways in various elite fibres, all inspired by the same series of famous 19th century paintings. The artists represented include Monet, Van Gogh, Caillebotte, Sisley, Renoir, and Degas. The designers create their own "impressions" of the paintings' color schemes, and each skein comes with an elegant label depicting the painting in question.

Spring Bouquet (a.k.a. Grande Vaso di Fiori, "Large Vase of Flowers") is a painting by Renoir from 1866. You can see a nice large image of it here. The Rio de la Plata wool yarn named after it is all deep blues and greens and violets on a creamy white background, with occasional tiny flecks of crimson. These are some of my all-time favorite colors, and for my admittedly self-indulgent purposes, it is a good thing that they are not accompanied by either the golden accents or the pale pink that I also see in the painting.

When the second batch of this yarn arrived, I knew that I had just saddled myself with rather a tricky little project. The problem, of course, is that no two of these skeins are exactly alike. Some have relatively little of the cream color and concentrate on the dark blues and greens instead, while others are noticeably paler by comparison, and at least one is almost entirely cream with very little of the darker hues.

As soon as I saw this assemblage of wool, I realized that knitting a sweater in the conventional fashion, i.e. completely using up one skein at a time, would result in uneven blotches of color in odd places and obvious, ugly transitions from one skein to the next. So I decided to take my time & work out a way to switch around between all the different skeins in a consistent pattern throughout the sweater, so as to create a harmonious, balanced effect.

OK, fair enough. But then what pattern to use? For lots of different reasons I emphatically do *NOT* want to knit just straight stockinette. Even with smallish needles to ensure the right density, the fabric would be flat and could easily wear thin in places, and talk about *boring*. The sweater that I have in mind needs to have plenty of "nooks & crannies" to hold in warm air on a chilly day. Most conventional textured patterns, however, even simple cables, would inevitably try to compete with the variegated colors and create visual chaos on a large scale. Not good. I swatched one or two ideas and did not like the results at all. So I stashed the yarn away and told myself that I would just have to wait & think it over. I knew that if I could manage to be patient, the right idea would eventually percolate into my head.

At length I thought of entrelac. And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to emerge as the IDEAL solution to my dilemma, with just enough structure and interest to make the garment something special, but also enough geometric simplicity to stay unobtrusively in the background and let the colors do their thing without getting in the way. It's also a French word, which simply sounds intriguing and stylish by its very nature, although there are some quite frankly hideous objects that were designed using this technique. Do a quick search on Ravelry for "entrelac" and you will see what I mean.

Now here's the fun part... The day before yesterday, a friend of mine whom I had not seen in person in a long time brought me along to join in a friendly gathering of knitters who meet 2 or 3 times a month at a bookstore in Louisville. I had a bunch of finished objects with me for show-and-tell (including the Wedding Ring Shawl and the Princess), and I also brought the Impressionist yarn to get my friend's opinion. She is very wise in the way of fibre arts (hence her blog handle: The Fiber Artist), so I was delighted when she liked the entrelac idea. And then she made the brilliant suggestion that each "row" of squares in the entrelac pattern could be done from a different skein. The natural tilt of the design, with the corners of each row interlaced with the ones before and after it, would effortlessly tie the whole composition together. And Bob's your uncle...

I came home from that conversation *thoroughly* convinced that we were onto something big here, and yesterday evening as a follow-up I did a search on Ravelry to see what sorts of entrelac sweater patterns I could find. I hoped to confirm that something vaguely like what I wanted had been done before, so that I could proceed to design my sweater with confidence.

What I found instead was *exactly* the pattern that I had envisioned, in a back-issue of Vogue Knitting that I actually happen to own. It's even a turtleneck!! Understand that the odds of this are decidedly in the "not bloodly likely" category, since I have never subscribed to the magazine, and only ever buy it when I run across it it at a bookstore and see something in it that I really like. What an amazing serendipity — almost a miracle — to have just the right pattern pop up, and then to discover that I do not have to do any design work, beyond figuring out the sequence in which to use the different skeins. YIPPEEE!! Time to get out the trusty ole' swift & yarn-winder. I am off to the races.

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