Sunday, May 23, 2010

Heavenly Hearthfire

Let's be honest: knitting projects are NOT all created equal. Some are frankly more compelling than others. And every once in a while, a special one comes along that exercises a unique fascination and takes the creative process to a whole new level.

That's what the Hearthfire Shawl was like for me, from the very first moment that I saw this limited holiday edition colorway of the Fiesta yarn called Gracie's Lace in December of last year. Forgive me, Dear Reader, if these pictures of the skein seem overused and all-too-familiar. I just can't seem to get enough of them!

On one level, it was all about the *colors* — fuchsia, blue-violet, cypress green, russet brown — each of them deep and rich enough to drown in on its own, and the whole ensemble brought together in a harmonious and cozy seasonal blend aptly named "Cranberry Crush." The description on the Earthfaire website (where, incidentally, they have several of the regular Gracie's Lace colorways in stock at the moment) said something about mulled cider that really stuck in my mind. I am very much a cool colors, white-metal jewelry sort of girl, and generally avoid warm shades in my personal wardrobe. Earth tones tend to crawl off me. But with the pink and purple to offset the cinnamon, this colorway quickly became the exception that proves the rule.

When the package from the yarn store arrived, unexpectedly fast as I recall, I ripped it open eagerly and paused only long enough to snatch one or two photos of the unwound hank before winding it up to see what it would look like. And then, of course, a week later I had the unforgettable epiphany of matching the yarn with the silver-lined dark topaz AB beads, which magically reflected ALL the colors in what was already a heady mixture, to make the whole thing sparkle and sing. Scintillating!!

Yet amid all the chromatic rapture, let us not neglect the *texture* of this sensuous beauty. Gracie's Lace is truly a feast for the touch as well as the eyes, with 70% resilient, springy merino, 15% luscious, shiny silk, and 15% buttery soft, self-indulgent cashmere. It was an incredibly smooth, cushy knit, the kind where I found myself torn between wanting to work fast and make progress toward completion and wanting to slow down and savor the experience of holding the knitting in my hands and running the yarn through my fingers. Fortunately, even after blocking (which can sometimes attenuate the fabric and change its tactile character), it still has an incredibly soft, luxurious feel.

And of course the other crucial element in all of this, was the *consummate artistry* of Sivia Harding's Harbour Lights shawl design. Originally inspired by the nautical images of a lighthouse and lapping waves, this triangle shawl with its bold radiating panels and unusually deep, flowing edge pattern lent itself perfectly to the home-for-the-holidays, festive cooking and candlelight/fireside warmth and fellowship evoked by the Cranberry Crush. So the Hearthfire concept emerged from a rich and harmonious fusion of colors, textures, and lace patterns.

It was, quite simply, a *WOW* experience for me from start to finish. The edging became a surprisingly large task, even with just 24 points around the outside of the triangle, because of its depth and intricacy. It took over a month to complete. When the shawl was done at last, I honestly missed being able to work on it anymore!! That is probably why I kept taking so many pictures of the finished object, literally dozens of them. I had enjoyed the whole process so thoroughly that I wanted to capture it and hold onto it somehow. Nor could I let it go here in the "blogosphere" without one final attempt to put some of my inspiration into words.

But enough rhapsodies... Without further ado, here is a gallery of the completed Hearthfire Shawl, both during and after blocking. You can tell the difference, when in doubt, because of my blocking cloth with its unmistakable (and amazingly helpful!!) grid peeking through from behind the lace. As always, click on any of these images to get a closer look. I strongly encourage it, because this is truly a fun piece to look at. It will reward your attention, I promise. :-)

I should note that since completing this shawl about a month ago, I have actually worn it several times. It is a delightful cover-up for a woman on-the-go and especially effective over Basic Black, which offsets the colors beautifully and lets them shine.

And this story has an Epilogue... Working in lace-weight yarn with a design that was written for fingering-weight, I paid close attention to the measurements and did several extra pattern repeats on the body of the shawl so that it would come out to be the right size. There were also some careful calculations for the edging, and when I realized what a substantial portion of the time, effort, and yarn had to be kept in reserve for that final phase of the project, I kept weighing the remainder of the skein after each pattern repeat of the body, because above all things I did NOT want to run out of yarn within sight of the finish. As a result, when all was said and done, I actually had 8 g of the precious fiber left over, which was just enough that I could not let it to go to waste. I had some extra beads too. So with a bit of tinkering, and thanks at least in part to the fact that I have been gifted (?) with small hands, I was able to make a set of beaded wristwarmers to match the shawl. I used the Estonian Lace Wristwarmers pattern by noted designer Evelyn Clark (available as a free Ravelry download). Click on any of these images likewise for a closer look if it pleases you.

It took some special care to ensure that the bind-off would be loose and elastic enough to get these on and off with ease, but they fit nicely and add a surprising amount of warmth for all their diminutive size and delicate appearance.


  1. Stunning, just stunning! Nothing feels grander than being draped in swaths of fine lace knitted by ones own hand.

  2. Y'know, especially in this case, I couldn't agree with you more. Big silly grins here! :-)

  3. Gorgeous, MRPP! Absolutely stunning!
    (You're obviously not teaching summer school, which I, unfortunately, am.)