Sunday, March 28, 2010

Aphorisms and Rose Lace, Just in Time for Spring

Aphorism #1: Spring Has Sprung!!

The annual signs of nature's renewal have been discernible everywhere recently: daffodils blooming in the front yard, birds enthusiastically singing in the trees, gentle rain falling instead of snow, and on clear days the sky once again turning that warm, cheery shade of blue that we have not seen in so long, etc. Miraculous and oh-so-very-welcome...

Every year at about this time, I imagine what it must have been like to live in the Stone Age, when the return of the sun could not be taken for granted. It must have seemed as though winter might seriously NEVER end, so that the growing daylight and warmth and budding plants in springtime were literally life-saving. I mean, we sometimes feel that way even now, despite everything that science has taught us about the continuing cycle of the seasons and how/why it occurs every year. No wonder so many ancient cultures celebrated a solstice festival of some kind!!

'Tis the season for new lace projects, at any rate... Among other things, I am now nearing the completion of my beloved Hearthfire Shawl, which has been such a source of JOY and INSPIRATION, bound up with all the cozy thoughts and spicy aromas from the holiday season. There will be more to say about that project in the not-too-distant future. I have some lovely photos to share. But meanwhile the question naturally arises of what I ought to do next in order to fill the gap, and while contemplating my stash lately, I have found my thoughts irresistibly taking on a certain rosy glow...

Aphorism #2: It is ALWAYS a Lady's Prerogative to Change Her Mind

Oooooh, look at this GORGEOUS object!! Readers who have been with me for a while may remember that it came into my life back in August of 2009. It is Whisper by Aurora, a buttery soft lace-weight 100% merino wool imported from Italy. The yarn is expertly hand-dyed, using a single hue at different degrees of saturation to produce a tonal effect. The color (aptly named "Roses") took my breath away the very first time I saw it, with shades ranging from a deep, rich fuchsia all the way to the palest imaginable pink. It reminds me of pristine English tea roses, bedewed and blinking in the morning sunshine.

The skein is a whopping 1250 m (= 1362 yards), so I have enough to create something truly special. Click on either image (right or above) to get a closer look.

I originally imagined with this yarn that I would knit a rectangular lace stole using the traditional rose-trellis pattern. Makes sense, right? I even joined a Yahoo Group called Yarnfeathers, because the Ravelry database told me about a suitable stole pattern in their members-only archive.

But then time passed. Other items in my queue took priority, and although I did print out the stole pattern and wind the yarn (in an unforgettable marathon session), for some reason I held off on any actual knitting. I created a project page on Ravelry with a picture of the wound skein and a link to the stole, but I never cast on. Every so often, in the intervening months, I would pull out the wound skein to admire it and mull over all the intriguing possibilities that it seemed to offer. Looking back, I guess I must not have been entirely sure that I had really found the right pattern yet, because I kept surreptitiously hunting about and examining various options.

Eventually, I had to face facts. This project wasn't going anywhere in a hurry. I had growing doubts about the stole idea, and at some point I deleted the project page on Ravelry and officially moved the yarn over into my stash while I continued to search for a pattern. At that point I was biding my time and waiting for the next inspiration to strike.

Then just last week I felt my inchoate thoughts start to gel all of a sudden. I realized that I definitely no longer want to knit a rose-colored stole, but a triangular shawl instead. The Hearthfire project has made me a convert. So I did an exhaustive search through the entire Ravelry database, looking specifically for intricate lace triangles.

In my experience, it can be frustrating to go pattern hunting when you have something very specific in mind, because so often you come away disappointed. Nobody "out there" seems to get it just right. This time again, as usual, many lovely things (and some not-so-lovely ones too, IMHO) were examined and duly rejected. In the process, I ran across several striking designs that I had not seen before, including this amazing variation on the peacock-feather motif that may very well be destined for my stash of Unique Sheep Eos in the Aurora Borealis colorway (shown paired with silver-lined capri blue magatama beads). But I tried to stay focused on the task at hand, and after several hours, I finally found EXACTLY what I was looking for.

The winner is American Beauty from BadCat Designs: a triangular lace shawl based on an elegant rosebud pattern that appears throughout, with a delicate edging and some magnificent larger floral motifs in strategic locations. Scroll down on the page linked above to see a photo gallery from the original KAL. Although the complete pattern is now available for purchase and easy download, it was originally published serially on the designer's blog. I took my time and read through the entries in some detail before making even a small investment, but in all honesty I had fallen head-over-heels in love with this shawl at the very first sight, just as I had done with the yarn back in August. I feel very VERY sure that we are looking at a match made in heaven.

Aphorism #3: NEVER Say Never...

Ironically, the pattern calls for 8/0 beads. Whence the irony? Pairing lace yarns with beads has obviously become a favorite pass-time around here, but I had specifically and rather emphatically NOT tried to do it with this particular yarn, because I was afraid that shiny objects might seriously detract from the colors of the wool, which look so spectacular in their unadorned state. But the American Beauty pattern forced me to think again and see if I might be able to find some suitable beads after all.

After taking a deep breath or two, I proceeded to look at a wide variety of bead options. But in the end it was just too hard to tell from the Internet whether any of them would actually work with the yarn when I got them here in person. So I sent an email to Ellen at Earthfaire, asking for advice. She is my go-to person for beads and had also sold me the yarn in the first place, so I knew that I could implicitly trust her recommendations. My email included the same two yarn photos that appear at the top of this blog post. But Ellen is a wise and careful woman. She did not want to make a final decision based solely on an image from a computer screen, any more than I did. So she offered to send me some bead samples instead.

It took several days for the postal service to do its handiwork, but a small padded envelope duly arrived in yesterday's mail, full of goodies. Ellen's current stock is happily replete with rose-tones. Reading from left to right (i.e. counter-clockwise), we have silver lined ruby AB, hot pink lined crystal AB, raspberry lined crystal AB, orchid lined crystal AB, pink lined crystal AB, white pearl ceylon (in a 6/0 size that I requested for the color, since the 8/0 are currently out of stock), and crystal AB. Click on the image (left) to see a larger version.

I knew in advance that some of these beads would not look good with yarn at all, but for "due diligence" to be observed it pays to see things in person. And indeed, when put to the test, the range of options quickly shrank from seven to four, because the raspberry and orchid are both clearly way too purple, and the hot pink has too much peach in it. Now here are pictures of the remaining four choices, each with the yarn. As always, click on any of them to take a closer look.

So there we are. Honestly, I could probably choose any one of them and not hate the results.

Taking them one at a time... I was especially pleased to see how well the silver lined ruby (upper left) matches the darker end of the spectrum in the yarn, because it was an outside chance at best and I do like the effect. But the rainbow highlights in the AB coating add flashes of gold and orange into the mix that I must say I find distracting, intensified as they are when viewed against a darker background. I keep imagining pale beads with this yarn anyway...

Among the pale choices, the white pearl ceylon (lower left) stands out just a tad too starkly for my taste, in addition to being currently unavailable in the smaller size. Ellen does have some 8/0 antique ivory pearl ceylon beads in stock, which have a soft "winter white" look that is still not quite as yellow as the regular ivory pearl ceylon. Intriguing. I have been tempted to order some for a while, and they would make a good addition to my stash, since I am bound to want them eventually, even if I don't use them right away now.

The crystal AB (lower right) look like tiny sparkling soap bubbles. They are an exquisite neutral and would go well with virtually any yarn, because their clear surface picks up and reflects whatever color you put next to it. See how they take on a pale pink glow in the photo above? My only reservation is that the effect is almost too subtle for the task at hand. When I add beads to a big piece of lace, I want them to make a bold statement, and I find these just a tad too self-effacing to stand up next to those exultant rose tones. It is a DELICATE balance that one aims to strike.

All of which points to the conclusion that I should probably go with the pink lined crystal (upper right). Oddly enough, they were my favorite option from the beginning, albeit by a narrow margin and subject to verification. Now that I have seen them in person, I am *thoroughly* convinced. The magic of this choice is that the beads match the yarn perfectly, as if they had been dyed with the very same brush. So they accentuate and highlight the colors of the wool rather than competing with them. These beads also have an ethereal, pearlescent quality to their centers, and yet they are not entirely opaque. So they bring together all the best qualities of the other choices (i.e. the color match of the ruby, the pearly glow of the ceylon, and the clarity of the crystal) without any of the drawbacks that I mentioned above. Each single bead will show up nicely on its own, and the effect will be as harmonious and balanced as anyone could wish.

So now the only thing left to decide now is how many beads I should purchase. The pattern as written calls for 35 g, i.e. a single container. But I am tempted to get two of them, because I am probably going to make some minor modifications to the pattern that are likely to require extra beads. While it is easy enough to order more as needed, I do not like to worry about possibly running out. The pattern also asks for 9 special heart-shaped beads that are meant to go in certain key spots on the shawl as an homage to Valentine's Day (hearts & roses). Not really my thing... I found at least one knitter on Ravelry who replaced the hearts with clusters of the 8/0 beads, which is a nice idea. Alternately, the pink-lined crystal is also available in the larger 6/0 size, and I could sprinkle in a few of those as embellishments without jeopardizing the color scheme in ANY way.

Aphorism #4: Always Finish What You've Started

Good advice, especially for a knitter with chronic start-itis (like me, hehe, just look at those progress bars!!). But since the only way to achieve completion is by knitting, rather than blogging, I think I will take a convenient exit. This post has already gone on long enough!! ;-)

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