Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rediscovering my very *FIRST* lace project


In the summer of 1990, right at the end of my first year in graduate school, I did something that I had never done before and have not repeated since: I purchased an entire CONE of yarn. I bought it at Straw Into Gold in Berkeley, CA, off a dusty shelf crammed full of similar cones from floor to ceiling. There must have been hundreds of them, but before finding that remarkable store, I don't think I even realized that yarn in bulk could be wound on cones. Remember Pippin in the inn at Bree? "It comes in pints?! *I'm* getting one... That was me at the time.

My bounty was a 2-ply fingering weight Shetland wool in a rich heathery color that is a mixture of navy blue and forest green, almost as if somebody took the "Black Watch" tartan and ran it through a blender. I ran across a handful of remnants recently in the course of cleaning out my stash. Here is one of them. I vaguely recall that the cone initially weighed something like 2.5 kg, or maybe 3.25 kg. At any rate it seemed to my younger self like an awful LOT of yarn. I remember thinking that the project would keep me busy for a while. Little did I know...


It's called "Garter Lace" by Gene Beugler and was published in the Winter 1989 issue of Knitter's magazine. It was not on Ravelry until I put it there myself, and a Google search revealed only a couple of mentions in the Knitting Universe forum from 2002. This is obviously not one of those famous patterns that every knitter in the blogosphere seems to have added to the queue. Apparently no KALs or support groups have formed up around it. Indeed I had no idea until yesterday that the designer must be the Eugen Beugler of "Frost Flowers and Leaves" fame. That's quite a pedigree for a project that feels like a familiar corner of my own little private knitting universe.

The clever design consists of a garter stitch border surrounding a vast openwork lace panel in which garter stitch rectangles are interspersed at intervals throughout in a sort of lattice-work motif. It's knitted from corner to corner, on the bias, with lace patterning only on the RS rows (you simply knit back on the WS). The original pattern is for a 58" square. You start with just 3 stitches and increase with a yo at the beginning of every row until the widest point, where you begin decreasing at the same rate until only 3 stitches are left again at the end. I worked out a way to make a rectangle instead, by inserting a parallelogram-shaped wedge in between the two corner triangles. For a while I was increasing on one side and decreasing on the other, thereby maintaining a consistent number of stitches at the maximum width before beginning the "real" decrease. So I was able to elongate the finished piece without disrupting the pattern.


I distinctly remember casting on those first three stitches and beginning to knit a little steadily growing triangle in the car on the way home from the yarn store. What a sense of adventure! It called for US size 3 (3.25 mm) needles, one or two sizes smaller than I was really used to. I was riding in the back seat with my best friend up front and her sister driving. The three of us shared an apartment at the time, and from that moment onward my lace often accompanied us on our frequent shopping expeditions.

But that was just the beginning. It took a *ridiculously* long time to complete this project. Indeed it was so long in the making that I can't quite pin down when I actually finished it. It just seemed to go on & on. I do recall wondering how much blanket I could eventually eek out of my indeterminate quantity of yarn, and that there came a point when I realized that I was on course to run out of wool before completing the final corner. That would never do! So I had to rip out a bunch of knitting and scale back my ambitions.

The final stages of this process are particularly hazy in my memory. I think maybe I put it away unfinished when I went away to study abroad in 1993-94. It then hibernated quietly on this side of the Atlantic while I was gone — probably just as well, given the need to regroup before starting again after the setback I have described — and I picked it up sometime after my return. I have a vague sense of having wrapped it up sometime around 1995 or thereabouts, when I was living in D.C. to be near my soon-to-be husband who was in graduate school there.

At any rate, having triumphantly finished this astonishingly long-term project, I simply folded it neatly into a zipped blanket bag and packed it away in a closet, fearing that if it ever got into general use around our house, it would end up being hopelessly covered with cat hair and/or ripped to shreds by those little kitty claws. And that was before the three Maine Coons arrived! No textile is safe in our household, especially in the living room.


So it was that my handiwork lay hidden from the world for years, until a few days ago I unearthed it for the first time in a very long while. I was prompted by both curiosity and nostalgia, and the idea that I might try to photograph it for my Ravelry profile. To my dismay, I discovered that it had never been properly blocked or even had its loose ends woven in!! I can't quite understand how I could have left it in such a raw, unfinished state, but of course as a graduate student I lacked the tools and techniques, not to mention the chutzpah, to block anything on so large a scale.

This past weekend I labored to remedy the situation and put this blanket to rights with the finishing it deserves. Not surprisingly, for an object knit on the bias, it was stretched out of shape and badly needed to be pulled into the proper alignment. Nor was it as lacy looking as one might have wanted, after so many hours (months, *years*) of needlework effort.

I washed it with Woolite in the bathroom sink first, but it was too bulky and absorbent to rinse easily by hand in that small a basin, so instead I placed it into one of the tightly woven mesh laundry bags that I recently acquired and ran it through several rinse cycles in the washing machine at its gentlest setting. Good call! It came out perfectly, and the slow spinning removed just enough moisture to leave it primed for blocking but not dripping wet.

My first attempt involved pinning it out on wires on the floor of a room in our house that happens to be empty right now. It made a big difference, but unfortunately I just couldn't get enough torque with the pins on the carpet to pull the rectangle properly into shape. This is resilient, springy wool in a fingering weight, not gossamer lace! The only way I know to get sufficient torque with pins is to use the firm top of our queen-sized mattress, but it wouldn't fit on the bed, until I realized that I could fold it in half and run the wires through both layers of the edging, which had the added benefit of really fixing the alignment problem.

Here are several photos of the net result. I am *delighted* with how it turned out. What a transformation! As always, click on any of the images to see a larger version.

The finished product now measures 63" wide by 71" long. My lovely hand-knitted blanket has a whole new lease on life, and it certainly won't get hidden away in a closet again anytime soon. I want to enjoy it from time to time. We'll just have to find a way to protect it from the cats. ;-)