Monday, June 8, 2009

Royalty is a tough act to follow, but...

I think I may have mentioned it once already, but I am *addicted* to the CashSilk yarn. I feel as if I'm chain-smoking with this stuff, even though I've never held a lighted cigarette in my entire life. Here's what I mean: as the Princess Shawl was nearing completion, I made sure to order my next installment of CashSilk so that it would arrive in plenty of time before I finished, and I cast on for the new project literally less than 24 hours after the washing & blocking extravaganza described in my previous postings. I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact at least for now that I simply MUST have one CashSilk project on the needles at any given moment. No more than one at a time, certainly, but at least one, always. That's just how it is.

But where to next? I mean, how on earth do you follow up on something as splashy and ornate and over-the-top as the Princess?

Well, for one thing, LESS IS MORE. I was ready for a project on a smaller scale, where I could enjoy the forgotten pleasure of knitting with less than 200 stitches across and actually see progress on an hourly basis rather than having to wait days or even weeks for my effort to produce a measurable difference. I also wanted something that I could actually expect to wear. Occasions that would call for a lavish garment like the Princess shawl are few and far between in my world!!

So for a bunch of different reasons I chose the Unst Stole from Sharon Miller's book Heirloom Knitting (p. 261). It's just the right size for my purposes right now as a "Princess knitter in recovery," and I've always loved the design, especially the scrumptious border (also seen on this shawl pattern, which is the first in Sharon's collection and a very close cousin of the Unst stole).

Oh! And I almost forgot to add that a new colorway in the CashSilk was released just in time for this project. It's called Platinum, and as a sterling silver jewelry fanatic, I adore this alternative to the pearly white yarn traditionally used for fine lace. The moon-glow gossamer thread is like knitting with a strand of mithril. Fabulous.

Along the way, while laying the groundwork for this project and reading through the book, I started exploring the possibility of designing my own lace shawl(s) someday, based on the traditional motifs. To that end, Heirloom Knitting is a wonderfully *RICH* resource, containing not only an extensive individual pattern library (centers, borders, edgings, and grids) but also various tools and guidelines to help ease beginners into the complexities of designing whole elaborate pieces. Sharon addresses such topics such as the selection and layout of patterns and techniques for the construction of various shapes (e.g. borders-inward vs. borders-outward), as well as aesthetic issues like balance, symmetry and proportions & how to do the necessary calculations too.

These design discussions are specifically aimed at the novice and so remain very much on an introductory level. Indeed sometimes their tone almost verges on the coy or flirtatious. For they seek to spark curiosity and inspire creativity, rather than to instruct in any detail. But since I have never designed my own lace before (having only ever followed patterns written by other people), they were pitched right at my level and I have found them very evocative. There are certain pages that I find myself turning to again and again, and each time that I do so, my understanding and appreciation grows deeper toward those who do design their own lace patterns.

Lately I have been particularly taken up with the concept of "frames," i.e. narrow patterned bands that serve to highlight and embellish the transition from center to border on a shawl. These intriguing design elements can appear singly or be layered several deep in a concentric fashion. There is a photo of an antique shawl on p. 216 of HK that I just can't seem to get out of my mind for some reason.

So I decided to try my hand at tinkering with the Unst Stole pattern a little, to see what it felt like to take some control over the design of a piece of lace.

I drew some confidence from the fact that this is a rectangular stole, with the two border panels placed (from the knitter's perspective) on the top and bottom of the center panel. All three of these elements are worked straight back and forth with the same number of stitches across throughout. No increases or decreases to keep track of or picky mitred corners to work out. That made it easier for me to take my first few tentative baby (or perhaps toddler steps) in the design direction.

There are some big decisions left that I will have to make at some point down the road, but here is what I know so far about my modified version of the Unst stole:

1. I decided to keep the original count of 185 stitches across for the center & borders, despite the small gauge of the CashSilk. One or two posters on the HK Yahoo Group suggested that their shawls, following the pattern as written, came out less long-and-skinny (i.e. with rather more width and less height) than they had hoped, so I did not feel any call to widen mine.

2. The layout of the stole precludes a 4-sided frame, but I thought it would be fun to experiment with a narrow band at top and bottom of the center panel, separating it from the two border panels. Using the mirrored version of the fern motif (p. 90), which is a cousin to certain visual elements found in the existing pattern, I decided to place a row with the ferns facing one way on the bottom of the center and another with the ferns facing the opposite direction on the top. I followed Sharon's instructions to do the math for the pattern repeats, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the ferns would fit exactly when spaced only 3 stitches apart. I simply placed 6 rows of plain knitting and a break pattern row both above and below the fern motif. Nifty!!

3. Looking at various pictures of the Unst stole as knitted by Sharon Miller and others, I have always thought that the spider-hole lozenges appearing in the center pattern between alternating bands of spider webs look too square and boxy, allowing the webs to dominate the pattern rather more than I would like. So in order to achieve more of a balance, I decided to elongate them by incorporating 3 spider holes into each lozenge instead of 2.

4. Just for the fun of it, by way of introducing some additional complexity and visual interest, and with encouragement from Sharon Miller herself (offered via the HK Yahoo Group), I also decided to alternate bands of the traditional pattern known as the "Shetland Twins" (HK p. 139). After some charting & based on the arithmetic, I decided to make the lozenges for the Shetland Twins pattern contain 4 pattern repeats to balance the height of 3 spider holes. In fact, as it turns out, the Shetland Twins lozenges come out two rows taller than the spider-hole ones. Better that than 3 rows shorter, so there you are.

5. As of right now I am still not sure how many repeats of my extended pattern will be required to achieve the desired effect. It will be a choice between 9 total bands of lozenges (i.e. 5 of spider holes and 4 of the Shetland Twins) or 11 (one more of each type, i.e. 6 and 5, respectively). Depending on the ratio of width to height when the center is complete, I will most likely add to the borders as well, rather than keeping them the same size and letting the center account for any increase in the overal dimensions of the finished piece (as it did in my Princess shawl). If/when this happens, I will simply continue the existing diamond-shaped trellis grid and repeat three out of the four "filler" patterns in the reverse order: those patterns now go ABCD, but I would do them ABCDCBA.

6. Last but not least, while I am at it with all these other modifications, I will definitely choose my own edging as well. I have never much cared for the original one, with its chunky squares of plain knitting.

Well, that's all for now. Here are two pictures of my Unst Stole center as a WIP. The first one shows the bottom "frame" and the second is a closeup of the modified center pattern. As usual, just click on either image to see a larger view.


  1. Beautiful! I've also admired that shawl.

  2. I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to set up your blog, and to share all these details with us. The HK group is fantastic but this makes it easier to be able to keep up with what you are doing.