Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Starry, starry night..."

Sometimes inspiration strikes, and you have to take risks in order to see where it will lead. That's how it was with my Starry Night shawl. Note that I use the past tense. For the entire project has already come and gone without a word or even a single WIP photo posted here. I honestly thought I had blogged about it, but looking back it turns out that I documented it only on Ravelry. Eeep. It just goes to show what a wild ride this term has been, if I can conjure up *imaginary* blog posts!! So I guess this is going to have to be a single-page project gallery, from start to finish...

It all began with a fabulously luxurious yarn that is aptly named "Lust" (from Twisted Sisters, 70% kid mohair, 30% silk), magnificently hand-dyed to match Van Gogh's iconic painting "Starry Night" for the YarnMarket exclusive Impressionist Collection. Long-term readers of my blog will know all about my love for that collection from my earlier projects Paris Rain (based on a painting by Caillebotte) and Spring Bouquet (based on a Renoir). So I splurged with a bit of my Christmas money to buy two lusty skeins (see left): "Starry Night" in blue/green/gold and "Monet's Garden" in shades of red/fuchsia/violet. The latter is currently residing in my stash, but it is slated for its own adventure soon, so lovers of All Things Pink should definitely stay tuned...

I decided to work with the "Starry Night" first, but it posed a number of obvious challenges. Between its fuzzy texture and highly variegated colors, it needed the rare sort of lace pattern that could showcase it rather than competing with it and/or being totally obscured by it. I also wanted to use beads as a dramatic way of highlighting the connection to the artwork. In keeping with its artistic inspiration, this was meant to be less of a garment than a piece of jewelry...

So after a bit of searching around, I chose the popular Swallowtail Shawl from Evelyn Clark Designs. It is a relatively simple lace pattern, with a basic motif for the body of the shawl that is small and repetitive enough to let the colors do the talking, and a lovely edging originally designed for rows of nupps that was ideally suited to 6/0 beads instead. The "lily of the valley" motif actually reminded me of the famous swirls of clouds across the sky in Van Gogh's painting. I ordered 6/0 beads from Earthfaire in two different colors (blue and gold) to match the yarn: silver-lined cobalt AB and transparent light topaz AB. The following photos show the shawl at a very early stage (left) and the beads when they first arrived, about a week later (right). Note the emerging lace pattern in the background, as well as the depth and variety of the colors. As always, click on either image to take a closer look.

The body of the shawl took me nearly *two months* to complete, because it was such a repetitive pattern that I could not stand to work on it except in short bursts, so I just had to chip away at it, bit by bit, whenever I happened to be in the right mood. Along the way I felt reasonably confident that something beautiful was in store, but it was really hard to tell. I kept having doubts. But I would periodically stretch the fabric out over my knee to reassure myself that yes, this was what I had imagined. And the beads held tremendous promise. I was counting on them to make the whole project sing. Once I finally reached the point where I could switch to the border pattern and actually began adding those beads, the work suddenly picked up LOTS of speed. I actually finished the entire border section and the edging over a long weekend!! And that was despite having added an extra repeat of the border pattern in order to use up more of the yarn and display more beads.

This next series of pictures shows the WIP with beads (upper left), and the finished shawl right when it came off the needles, prior to blocking.

I loved how light and airy the fabric felt when it came off the needles. So much bounce in the yarn!! And then came the miracle of the blocking process, which took place rather fittingly on Easter Sunday. :-)

The beauty of lace never truly emerges until you block it, but this project took that truism to a whole new level for me. I soaked the fabric for a long time, to be sure the mohair fibers would be fully saturated, and then I pinned it out carefully with a good deal of stretch, although it probably could have withstood more. WOW. The vaguely triangular blue/gold blob that I had been laboring over for so many weeks suddenly transformed itself into an astonishingly lovely thing, fully 30" long at the center back and with a "wingspan" just shy of 60". Here is the final array of pictures, taken both during and after blocking.

What can I say? As I waited for the fabric to dry, I was overwhelmed just by the look and feel of the lace, and then, when I undid the pins and finally draped the shawl over my shoulders, I realized that it fits like a dream and, what's more, would STAY PUT when worn, even by an active person... WOW. This shawl is everything that I had imagined and hoped that it would be: warm, fuzzy, sparkly, artistically-inspired *jewelry*. I have worn it several times already. It looks fabulous over Basic Black, and I know in my heart that it will be a wardrobe staple for many years to come.

Starry, starry night.
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze,
Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue.
Colors changing hue, morning field of amber grain,
Weathered faces lined in pain,
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand...


  1. That is about the most gorgeous swallowtail I think I've seen... and getting to watch the entire process in one go was fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing! :)

  2. Wow. Your work is absolutely beautiful!

  3. What a lovely shawl you created! It's absolutely stunning.