Saturday, June 6, 2009

Graft and Corruption (more on the Princess)

Dare I admit it? Grafting lace makes me really, really nervous. Racing pulse, sweaty palms, dry throat, the whole bit.

So before attempting anything on the Princess, I did some hunting around on the Internet in search of inspiration and advice. A quick Google search for the words "grafting" and "lace" revealed an interesting pattern that I found both telling and oddly humorous in approximately equal measure.

Many of the links that turned up were expressive of frustration and/or dismay, and some used *very* colorful language to describe the frayed emotional state to which the writer(s) had been reduced by their first (and second, and third, etc.) attempts to follow well-intentioned instructions designed by others, at least supposedly, to make this notoriously maddening process more congenial to those unaccustomed to it.

No less an authority than Sharon Miller herself has this much to say on the HK web-site: "I think grafting is one of the most difficult things to do in lace knitting and it seems that a lot of knitters share my feelings." And again this (here): "Lace Grafting - only for the brave!"

This is NOT an undertaking for the faint of heart, that much is clear. It reminds me of the ominous warnings often posted near roller coasters and other amusement park rides.

But I took courage from what I had gleaned from my web-surfing, as well as from a handful of suggestions offered by the generous souls on the HK Yahoo Group (where I posted a query), and so I gathered my tools and soon set to work.

Mind you, the seam in question is no more than 3" long. Just 29 little stitches. How hard can it be, right? Or, as my eldest brother is fond of saying, "What could possibly go wrong?" Famous last words...

In the end it took three separate tries and many painstaking and persnickety hours, but at last I came to the conclusion (perforce??) that I had achieved enough precision & accuracy to convince me that it will do. By the end, I honestly didn't know how many more times I could afford to rip the @$%&@#!! seam apart.

Though perhaps not the triumphant walk-in-the-park that I might have wished for, this experience did give me a chance to experiment with several different techniques, and that, I must admit, was highly instructional. Here is the low-down...

Attempt #1: I used the waste-wool method attributed to Lucy Neatby and illustrated both here and again here. The idea is to knit a few rows of garter stitch with contrasting yarn on both sides of the graft and then binding them both off before making the seam down below them. The advantage of this method is that if you know what you are doing and pay close attention, the contrasting threads (where the waste-wool meets the lace fabric) can serve as guidelines for your grafting. I found that part intriguing. The problem I soon encountered, however, was that the gauge of my gossamer yarn is so fine that the waste-wool got in the way and obscured the underlying pattern. So because I could NOT in fact see what I was doing, I failed to perform the necessary decreases on one side of the seam, and the whole thing ended up being off kilter and out of alignment. Grrr.

Back to the drawing board. But first, of course, I had to recover and/or reconstitute the two sets of loops after taking out the seam, which was a decidedly unpleasant process.

Attempt #2: This time I placed the stitches/loops onto a pair of dpn's, one on either side of the graft. That made it really easy both to see the stitches and to keep the seam *loose* (as a wise knitter who lives nearby had stressed in her reply to my query on the Yahoo list).

I think that the second attempt might have succeeded, too, except that I wanted to tighten it at least somewhat prior to blocking, and in that process I very nearly went out of my mind trying to distinguish the grafting thread from the lace fabric proper. Let me reiterate: these are tiny, indeed well-nigh microscopic stitches, and by necessity the strands of yarn (i.e. top loops, bottom loops, and grafting thread) are ALL the same color. So especially in clusters of stitches I found it very difficult to tell which was which — and in circumstances like that you definitely don't want to tug on the wrong loop!

Yet I would probably have been OK and gotten away with it, if the grafting thread hadn't first tangled itself up and then actually broken. At least it was only the grafting thread and not, as at one point I greatly feared, part of the fabric itself. I was very worried that it might have been one of the constituting threads from the provisional cast-on. THAT would have been a nightmare to reconstruct. *Phew*.

Even as it was, the whole thing had disintegrated into enough of a mess (does the phrase "Mongolian cluster frog" exist? It should.) that I decided with gritted teeth that I had better tear it out and start over. Again.

Recovering the loops a second time did not take as long as the first, but the process was far more unpleasant, owing to the fact that the well-worn yarn of these poor stitches had started to "bloom" (i.e. grow fuzzy), a prized characteristic of the CashSilk, to be sure, but one that is generally expected to emerge only after washing & dressing.

Attempt #3: Grim determination. By this time I knew that I had very little margin for error left. Three simply *had* to be the charm. Above all, I really needed to see what I was doing, so that I could judge the effect of each grafting loop before creating the next one (and thereby avoid big mistakes). The dpn's had not hidden the lace as much as the knitted waste-wool had done, but they were not exactly transparent either. So for this attempt, I placed the loops on single thin strands of contrasting waste-wool. Inevitably, without needles to hold them the loops themselves shrank to the diameter of the contrasting yarn, but at least I could keep better track of what I was doing.

Here is a closeup photo of the end result, taken during the blocking (click on the image for an expanded view). I kept the seam relatively loose, and did not either tie down the ends of the various threads or remove the strands of waste-wool. Thus it should be possible to make minor adjustments if necessary, or even (GOD FORBID) to tear it all out & start over, without fear of having to reconstitute the loops yet again.

It may not be quite perfect, but its defects are only minor and that is GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME. Time to make peace with it and move on.

No comments:

Post a Comment