Sunday, June 27, 2010

Evenstar Edging Endgame

After weeks of slow and intermittent progress, I finally passed the halfway point on the Evenstar edging last Thursday. What a relief!! And then I began to realize just how close to the end I had come. A switch seemed to flick somewhere in my brain, and the next thing I knew, I found myself locked in a marathon push to the finish line over this weekend. I guess I must have decided that the project has simply gone on long enough. That, and a certain lack of enthusiasm about picking up double-pointed needles again for the second square of the Niebling project...

But whatever the reason, the GOOD NEWS here is that I now have only *8* points to go. Here's proof (see left, and click for a closer look). The photo doesn't show off the sparkly beads very well, but I think it gets the point across.

According to my official summer timetable, I only needed to have the Evenstar finished by mid-July, just in time for my sister-in-law's wedding. But what seems to be happening is that this task and getting a new start on the Unst stole have both jumped the queue a bit, which means that my goals for the kimono, the Frejya sweater, and Eriskay (all slated for end-of-June completion) will just have to switch places. It can all wait until July, and if as a result a few of the things on the August list get postponed until September, I won't lose much sleep either. There was nothing carved in stone about the list anyway, and as long as I keep making demonstrable progress I won't have any regrets. The other thing mitigating any potential guilt right now is that my list made no mention of the Niebling wedding gift, which has turned out to be a rather larger project than I had reckoned. So we are in pretty good shape. :-)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My Niebling Adventure Begins

Herbert Niebling (1905-1966) was a master of German Kunststriken or "Art Knitting," who brought us the famous Lyra pattern and many other fancy doilies and tablecloths. Many of his designs feature elaborate flowers and/or foliage in fascinating geometric arrangements, and he is said to have had the unusual gift of being able to look at something (e.g. a vase of flowers) and translate what he saw directly into lace knitting. Read more about Niebling here.

The patterns were originally published in European magazines, which made them extremely hard to come by in the US market for a long time, until the spate of recent republications instigated by and/or available from Lacis in Berkeley, CA. Rare copies of the original Lyra once sold on ebay for $100's, but now the Lacis reprint is available for a mere $7. There is also the book called Knitted Lace Designs of Herbert Niebling, an English translation of Eva Maria Leszner's 1986 Gestrickte Spitzendecken. I have learned that the English title is a misnomer, in that many of the patterns are in fact *not* actual Nieblings. But positively verifying such attributions can be an impossible task, partly because the original published patterns often do not include the name of the designer for each piece, but also because there was in fact a Niebling "school" or design team that worked under his name and stylistic influence, like the ateliers of the Renaissance.

So there has been an explosion of Niebling work in the English-speaking world in recent years, with the formation of at least one Yahoo group and much activity on Ravelry, etc. It has become quite popular to knit doily patterns at a larger gauge so that they can be worn as shawls: Lacefreak's purple Lyra is a lovely example, marked as a Ravelry "favorite" by nearly 800 people to-date. I bought the Lyra pattern and the Leszner book last year, along with a cone of Gossamer Silk from Heirloom Knitting in stunning silver (see left), in hopes of starting a Niebling adventure of my own. And with a family wedding coming up in mid-July to serve as the excuse, I decided that the time had come to make it happen.

For the wedding gift I chose a rectangular design (shown on p. 87 of the Leszner book), consisting of two identical squares that are grafted together down one side before an elaborate border/edging is worked all the way around the outside. It may or may not be an authentic Niebling design, but it has enough complex elements to it so as not to be a dull knit, and I can interpret a fair bit of wedding imagery out of it as well. I decided to do a single practice square first, with no. 10 crochet cotton and 2.75 mm (US size 2) needles, to be sure that I understood the chart. I used up an entire ball (400 yards) of the crochet cotton just on the main chart!!

The original plan was to finish the cotton piece before even touching the silk, but then part way along I suddenly realized that the wedding was only 3 weeks away (yikes!!), and so I reluctantly laid the practice piece aside with its edging incomplete. And then there were (*sigh*) thirteen... Then again, a case could be made to consider the cotton and the silk together as a single project rather than two separate ones. And both are short-term investments rather that will not become permanent fixtures on the WIP list. I fully intend to finish the cotton one ASAP, both as a matter of principle but also because it will give me something to keep, since I am giving the silk version away. Here are a few pictures of the crochet cotton at different stages, starting with dpn's and moving to a circular needle.

Notice the little brown pelican stitch marker in that last picture? I originally commissioned four pelicans, two white and two brown, from Jillian at Wee Ones, as a tribute to my maiden name (Pelikan), but working on this piece and thinking about recent headlines I discovered that the emblem could also serve as a meditation focus or prayer bead for the Gulf Coast oil spill, which made the knitting that much more meaningful.

The silk version has taken up the preponderance of my knitting time this whole past week. In fact, I have done very little else, because I am eager to finish it in plenty of time without any last-minute panic or midnight marathons. Just last night I finished the first of the two squares, which means that I am right on schedule and ~30% done with the piece as a whole. I am working with 1.75 mm (US size 00) needles, which is a step up from the 1.5 mm (US size 000) that I used for the Princess Shawl and other CashSilk projects. I could have chosen the smaller size for this project too, but I wanted to ensure that the lace would really open up. The fabric will require some serious blocking, of course, but I think it is going to shape up nicely and will make a big impression as a wedding gift. Fingers crossed...

Here are some pictures of the silk square as a work-in-progress, with knitting notes below. I have been photographing it against both pale and dark backgrounds, because the varying contrasts show off the lace in different ways (color vs. pattern). As always, click on any of the images to take a closer look.

Casting on in a circle with the tiny, slippery silk thread was a veritable nightmare at first. But after trying several “clever” new methods of circular-cast-on with the gossamer yarn to no good effect, I finally adopted an old-school approach, especially because the silk was likely to break when attempting to adjust a slip-ring at the center. So I got out my 1.0 mm crochet hook, made a fixed ring of 6 tiny chain stitches, placed the live loop onto a dpn, pulled a new stitch through the chain loop with the crochet hook and transferred it to the dpn (= 2 stitches), wrapped the yarn around the dpn once (= 3 stitches), then created another stitch with the crochet hook through the chain loop (= 4 stitches), and so on, until I had 16 stitches, which was 1/2 the desired amount. I then knit one row plain (figuring that the gossamer yarn could handle an extra mm or two near the center), then a row of knitting into the front and back of every stitch to double the count, then two rows plain as per the pattern, before starting the chart with row 3. Worked like a charm, and felt like a huge accomplishment.

In rows 3-15 the pattern calls for a number of crossed stitches (really mini-cables) in adjacent pairs, and the one modification that I made to the chart as written was to angle these away from each other for symmetry, rather than crossing them all in the same direction. It was a bit of a nuisance, but my friendly crochet hook proved its usefulness yet again, by serving as the world’s most convenient cable needle. One more floppy stick was the last thing I wanted in the midst of 5 dpn’s on that tiny scale!! Fortunately, though, I got through those early rows relatively fast.

My 1.75 mm dpn's are fully 8" long, and so I had originally acquired only 24" and 32" circular needles in that size, which meant that I was not able to take the first square off the dpn's until after 31 rows (when it would finally fit on the 24" circular). The slippery silk made some serious ladders at the junctions between needles. I don’t know if these will eventually block out or not, or maybe part way, but since they are evenly placed on all four sides of the square I keep telling myself that they will not detract from the finished product in any case, provided that both conjoined squares match. So even though I ordered both a 16" circular needle in the 1.75 mm size, and even a 12" one as well, I will probably use the dpn’s for the first 31 rows of the second square as well and save my new shorter-circumference circs for future projects, of which there are bound to be many. ;-)

When the first square was finished, I transferred it to a crochet cotton lifeline so that I could see what the pattern looked like (and get pictures) and to facilitate the grafting process as well. The latter should not pose an insurmountable difficulty, since it thankfully involves only single stitches alternating with yo loops. And once it is done, I will place the remaining live stitches from both squares onto the 32” circular needle for the edging. I deliberately postponed the last row of plain knitting from the main chart, so that the graft can take the place of it down the center seam, and so that I can use it to establish the unified path all the way around the outside of the rectangle prior to starting the edging chart.

One little footnote: the only other knitting that I have managed to squeeze in around all this Niebling lace is the Evenstar, where I am happy (and relieved) to report that I now have 30 out of 56 edging points complete. It felt really good to pass the halfway point at last, and to empty the first container of beads as well. Progress... My goal is to wear the shawl to the same wedding where the Niebling will be a gift. So far, so good.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Progress Report (1 week later): 3-1+1 = SUCCESS

My stated goals for the opening bout of summer knitting after the landmark "12 weeks/12 projects" post were three-fold: finish the stained glass bag and the back of the Candlelight Kimono, and keep working on the beaded edging for the Evenstar.

Well... After getting through the first task in short order (obviously enough), I then went out of town for the long weekend to attend my 25th high school reunion, which was also remarkably the 350th anniversary of the school's founding back in 1660. I actually wore the bag to the reunion. You can see it peeping out in various photos that people have posted. So that felt like a significant victory.

I am also happy to report that I managed to stay on track over the weekend and have now completed the back of the kimono and gotten started the two fronts, which I decided to knit side-by-side in aid of the symmetrical shaping at waist and neckline. Here are some pictures as proof that I am not just telling make-believe stories. Click on any one of them to take a closer look.

I decided for a bunch of reasons (mainly luggage constraints and for the sake of practicality) not to travel with any beaded lace projects, and so I did not make any progress on the Evenstar over the weekend. But I DID bring along the Unst stole, and I was able to work on it quite extensively en route in both directions and in between as well.

It felt a bit awkward at first, picking it up after so long a hiatus. I definitely had to re-familiarize the muscles in my fingers with the tiny movements demanded by knitting with gossamer yarn and 1.5 mm (US size 000 needles). So I started by tinking back several rows, partly to make sure that I knew exactly where I was on the chart, and also to get used to handling it again. But by the time I had made my connection and embarked on the second leg of my journey on Thursday afternoon, I was already moving forward with confidence. And when I landed yesterday at my home airport, I had added several inches to the unblocked length of the piece. To put it another way, I stopped knitting a year ago with 4 out of 9 repeats of the modified center pattern complete (see left, which is a closeup from an old photo rather than a whole new one), and I am now 3/4 of the way through the *6th* pattern repeat. LOTS of happy progress!! Other projects are beckoning and will have to take priority in the next 2-3 weeks, but nonetheless I would be very pleased to finish the center and move on to the border patterns by the end of this month.

All of which means that I set out last week to do three things, and did two of them plus another unexpected one that was slated to happen soon. So I hereby officially proclaim this first bout of knitting a success.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Stained Glass!!

People talk about instant gratification a lot, but the delayed kind has its merits too. :-)

I am getting to experience it firsthand today, because I just finished the Ravelympics Stained Glass felted bag. FINALLY. It admittedly needed only a lining and handles at this stage, but it had also been sitting around here since *February* waiting for me to get those two jobs done. The problem was that I needed to clear a solid block of time for the cutting and sewing, preferably during daylight hours, and that simply proved impossible in the springtime, while school was still in session. Hooray for summer knitting. "Tantantara! Tzing, boom!"

Technical procedures were as follows...

The lining would have posed a nice little challenge for any seamstress, what with no real pattern and all those fussy curves to consider. But I had been thinking it over for the last several months and came to the task as a Woman with a Plan. Focusing on the basic shapes first, and leaving room both for seam allowances and for eventually trimming the top edge to fit, I began by cutting out two rectangles 18” wide x 12” tall, and a circle roughly 12” in diameter to match the popcorn can on which the bag had been stretched to dry after felting. After sewing the rectangles together to form a tube and pressing both side seams, I attached the circle to the base of the tube with another seam running around the lower edge. Then I cut two strips of fusible interfacing to go across the top edges, between the side seams. The designer’s instructions suggest using an old CD to help create a pattern for the scalloped outline on the interfacing, and that technique worked well, with a little fiddling. Once I had positioned the interfacing and fused it to the wrong side of the lining (and NOT to the press cloth, as I have mistakenly done once or twice before), I trimmed the top of the lining fabric along the established curves, but just outside them, to form a seam allowance. Last, I carefully hand-sewed the lining to the inside of the bag, folding the raw edges under and making the stitches as neat and well-nigh-invisible as I could.

Truth be told, I might have wished the measurements and shaping to be even more precise than I managed, but thankfully the process was forgiving, and the end result actually looks quite professional, if I do say so myself. I think the lining compliments the felted wool nicely, both in texture and in color. So I promise to keep my perfectionist grumbling dialed down to a minimum. Here are some photos, including one that shows the side and bottom seams, as described. For a closer peak at any image, just click on it, as always.

Then came the handles. I weighed my options at first but ended up making i-cord, as per the original specs, although I used 7 stitches instead of just 6 for something just a tad more substantial. Each strap measured 32" before felting and 28" after, which is the perfect length IMHO. The Brown Sheep wool always felts beautifully, and it was very convenient to deal with the handles separately from the bag, as my extended time-frame demanded, because I could easily soak them for as long as necessary to make them good and solid, with virtually zero stretch. Anchoring them in place with black button thread was a mere bagatelle by comparison with the stitching required for the lining, and then suddenly the project was finished. Voilà.
A footnote: before attaching the handles to this bag, given its shape, one must first decide how the fan shapes across the top should be aligned when it lies flat. In all the designer's photos for the Bar Harbor Shell Bag (this pattern) and the Stained Glass Fan Bag (which is very similar), the midpoint front and back comes at the low trough between two fans. The latter is often highlighted with a button closure, and the handles are attached in the adjacent troughs. It makes for a very pleasing arrangement, but as a result the fan in each upper corner, left and right, is folded in half, wrapping around the side of the bag. I decided, however, that there should be three full fans uppermost, rather than two fans and two halves, in order to show off the vibrant pinks and reds of that top row to best advantage. So I opted to place troughs at the side edges instead. That leaves a bump in the middle and no convenient spot for a button, but I don't mind, because I was planning to leave the top of the bag open anyway. I should add that the project galleries on Ravelry for both M. Langan bag patterns show a WIDE variation in the type of handles used and in their placement, which means that I am not alone in taking some minor liberties.

In conclusion, I have been gratified and humbled by the positive feedback that this project received both during and after the Ravelympics. Then again, speaking for myself I almost cannot believe how amazingly well the color scheme turned out. It is every bit as elaborate and subtle and harmonious as I had imagined it could be. Yet for all that, and as much as I will cherish this bag and enjoy using it whenever the opportunity arises — starting this weekend at my 25th HS reunion — I would be loathe to make another one like it.

Don't get me wrong: Madeline Langan's design is a marvel of shape and texture and clever construction, even just from a technical viewpoint. But she calls for only two colors per fan, not FIVE, as I had throughout. I am still in recovery from weaving in all those ends!! So if I were ever to repeat the pattern, I would choose a narrower color palette, and I would seriously consider using single shades of Brown Sheep (or the equivalent), as I did with my zippered accessory pouch, instead of the multi-colored Noro Kureyon, so as to avoid having to carve up skeins and sorting through all the random, tiny snippets. But whereas that is a distant, hypothetical possibility, and no more, I now have a brand new knitted treasure to enjoy, and it is right here in front of me. Mmmm. :-)

And then there were... *ELEVEN*...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

P.S. Rules Governing New Projects

This photo shows my yarn and fabric stash as it appeared a year ago. I am proud to say that several of those bins are noticeably emptier now...

In my previous post, setting out lofty goals for an ambitious program of summer knitting, I made quite sure to couch them as "more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules" (as they say in the Pirates of the Caribbean), so that I can easily let myself off the hook if any aspect(s) of the plan should turn out to be a little *too* ambitious. I needed that for the sake of preserving my mental health.

I also deliberately phrased the central statement thus: "I have decided to dedicate the bulk of my summer knitting this year to wrapping up as many works-in-progress as I can." Notice the word "bulk" (conveniently highlighted here), as in "majority" or "lion's share," i.e. as opposed to something like "sum" or "entirety" or "whole."

I want to be very clear that even in the midst of striving to shrink the overall number of WIP's, I am *NOT* actually forbidding myself to launch a few new projects here and there along the way. I know of at least one such that will be coming later this month for sure — a gossamer lace doily to be a wedding gift for my sister-in-law and her fiancé, who are getting married in mid-July — and I have other items in the queue that I am eager to get on with ASAP, including some alterations to a sweater that I made for my husband last year. But obviously I can't afford any wanton proliferation here either, if I am indeed serious about shrinking that prodigious pile of existing projects.

So... Here are some self-imposed guidelines (*ahem*) for any new projects that I might contemplate adding to the list in the next few months. It makes sense to categorize things as follows:

  • NO NEW SWEATERS, period, until four of the current five are complete, and then no more than two at a time ever again (if I can manage it, hehe);
  • no new hand-warmers until the Fiddlesticks Mittens are complete, and then no more than one pair at a time;
  • no socks until tenure(!!), and then never more than one pair at a time, preferably alternating with hand-warmers rather than in tandem with them (this general principle with regard to fancy knitted footwear, which I will outline more fully in an upcoming post, has LONG been a personal by-word of mine, and I see no reason to change it now, especially with tenure on the horizon for the coming year);
  • no new beaded lace projects until the Evenstar and two more of the current four are complete, and then no more than two at a time ever again (why not give it a try, hein?);
  • no more than one small-scale gossamer lace project (i.e. doily or swatch/sampler) at a time and no new large-scale ones until the Unst stole is complete, then no more than one of each at any time thereafter;
  • no net increase in the number of projects for the foreseeable future, so that for instance I must finish the stained glass bag before starting the aforementioned wedding gift, which is in the small-scale gossamer lace category (see above), and so on.

I think that covers the important bases. I could sit here all day stipulating various rules to micro-manage my activities even further, but the central point is to keep whittling away at the number of projects in each category AND at the overall total, until we reach a manageable level, where I will then strive to maintain the status quo. There will have to be checks and balances too. If I were to max out all the various limits that I have set in each category, I could end up with as many as seven different projects at once (= 2 sweaters + 1 handwarmer/sock + 2 beaded lace + 2 gossamer lace items), but I would ideally like to see things settle down closer to *five* in all. Let's see how it goes...

"In the first week of summer, a knitter on a spree made progress with these WIP's..."


That's how many weeks are left now until school starts again at the end of August.

It's also how many WIP's (i.e. works-in-progress) I currently have piled up on my Ravelry profile. I just took total stock for the first time in a while. Eeeep!! Obviously there's no one else to blame for this over-exuberance. I let it happen, and I am not afraid to admit that. Yet even though I saw myself giving into a certain amount of "start-itis" over the past couple of months, I never meant to let it get quite so much out of hand. I guess that's what comes from not really keeping count of new projects, or more accurately from discounting (i.e. ignoring) certain long-term ongoing — I suppose the technical term is hibernating— ones.

But however this absurd / lamentable / crazy-making state of affairs came about, there is clearly no good reason why it should be allowed to continue. So... I have decided to dedicate the bulk of my summer knitting this year to wrapping up as many works-in-progress as I can. One of them I actually expect to finish as soon as today or tomorrow, and several more by the end of this month. July and then August will each see their share of completions in turn as well. Yet tempting as it might seem to do some simplistic math and set up an elaborate, regimented scheme for getting them *all* done by the end of the summer (e.g. 12 projects / 12 weeks = 1 project per week on average), I WILL NOT GO THERE. It would be silly, unrealistic, and joy-killing in the extreme to put that kind of undue pressure on myself. The projects are at different stages of development, ranging from 95% complete to just getting started. Some of them will no doubt continue into the fall/winter and beyond, but the goal is to make demonstrable headway on each and every one of them in the next dozen weeks.

Plain old common sense dictates that I adopt such a plan, and there is a financial incentive too. I would like to avoid undue expenditures wherever possible, and it should be easy to stay on track with so much already in the works to keep me occupied sans new purchases. I do have a wish-list, of course (what knitter doesn't?), most notably including Silk Thread or maybe Silk Thread II from Blue Moon Fiber Arts in one of the Raven colorways for Anne Hanson's Irtfa'a farose shawl and Gossamer CashSilk from Heirloom Knitting in *black*, which they recently made available partly at my urging. I would also like to acquire a woolly board for the guernseys when the time comes. But all of these things can wait until August, when I should have some birthday money to throw around.

Meanwhile there are these twelve ongoing projects spread out here in front of me, including five lace pieces (four beaded and one gossamer), five sweaters, a pair of colorwork mittens, and a felted bag. My goals for each of them are as follows. Click on any of the image thumbnails to get a closer look...

[1] At the very top of the list, because it is the closest of the entire bunch to being 100% finished, comes my Ravelympics 2010 Stained Glass Felted Bag. It was all but wrapped up back in February, needing only a lining and shoulder straps to pronounce it "D-U-N done." I even purchased some appropriately cheerful lavender lining fabric weeks ago, but then I did not get a chance to tackle the actual cutting and sewing until just yesterday. It was a tricky little bit of seamstress work, if I do say so myself, and I will devote an entire post to the finishing process, also including the knitting, felting, and attachment of the shoulder straps, as soon as the project is successfully completed. It will be nice to check off at least one item right away. :-)

[2] The second item is actually new to the blog. Somehow I never got around to mentioning it, but right after the Ravelympics I started a pair of the ever-popular Fiddlehead Mittens using some jewel-toned Borgs Vävgarner S.N. 2 garn from the depths of my stash. I got the body of one mitten done in short order and ordered some yummy alpaca yarn for the linings, before my life became too hectic and the weather too warm to think about mittens anymore. So I put the project away for a while. The first one did not take more than a day or two to knit, though, so I will get the second one finished at some point during the summer, whenever the mood strikes, and then try to have them both lined and ready to wear before the snow flies. No huge rush on this project, then, but not a big deal to wrap it up either.

[3] I may have waited nearly 20 years to say it, but as I mentioned in a recent post, the lavender-blue silk Candlelight Kimono is happening VERY fast. Sometime in the next few days I should actually have the back finished and start the two fronts. After that it will require only short little sleeves and some careful blocking and sewing to ensure a proper fit and drape to the fabric. But even so, I will be frankly *astonished* if I do not have the option of wearing this sweater for the July 4th holiday.

[4] Based on actual start-dates (as opposed to yarn acquisition), the single longest-standing item on the incomplete list is my sweater tribute to Frejya, our fluffy orange Maine Coon cat. The front took me no more than a week to knit, but that was 3 years ago!! First I procrastinated mightily over weaving in all the loose ends produced by the intarsia. Then I took almost as long again with the duplicate-stitch embroidery. But the latter is 85% complete, and I will see to it that it gets the rest of the way done during June. I have already started the back of the sweater, which is slated to have a goldfish bowl on it. More intarsia and embroidery there, alas, but thankfully on a smaller scale than the front. So I will aim to complete the knitting in July and the embellishments in August. Then (mirabile dictu) the sweater will need only sleeves and a collar — oh, and a fuzzy dangling Main Coon cat-tail!! I would love love L-O-V-E to wear it at Christmas. So help me, then, oh ye Gods of needlework, this project *will* be done in 2010...

[5] My husband's Stornoway is coming along nicely, though at a rate consistent with the 2.5 mm (US size 1+) gauge, and is now missing only the sleeves. I recently acquired the 24" circular needle required for the upper portion of the arms and have picked up the first round of sleeve stitches. My goal is to finish one sleeve in July and the other in August, thus ending Phase I of the Great Guernsey Adventure, which was launched here last July. Since I fully expected the His & Hers project to take at least a year all along, everything looks to be more or less right on schedule.

[6] Since I did not actually cast on for my Eriskay until late November, I do not expect to finish it anytime soon. But I have made quite a bit of progress on it lately, since completing the ribbing. In fact, the body now measures 6 1/2" , which is already more than halfway to the base of the armhole gussets!! So I will try to reach the armholes sometime in the next few weeks and maybe get through the front and back yokes (or at least one of them) by the end of the summer. Then again, I am not in any great hurry and can always recalibrate the timetable if need be.

[7] The fifth and final sweater on the list, which I have dubbed "Peggy Tudor," went into quasi-hibernation in early October, when I completed the second of the four large body panels and laid the next two aside in deference to other things. I have deliberately never set any timetable for this painstaking (dare I say 'monumental'?) project, preferring to emphasize quality over quantity in my overall approach to it. I do not want it to go on forever, though, and it would be nice to start seeing some real progress again in the not-too-distant future. Indeed I would like see if I could have all the remaining body pieces done by the end of the summer. That's two side panels and four openwork panels, so not entirely out of reach, depending on how the time goes. As with Eriskay, though, I will take stock of things in July and adjust my expectations as needed. I will order the buttons before long, though, following the lead of a fellow Raveler who put me onto this magnificent solution to the otherwise vexing button problem. So the work goes on...

[8] Among the lace projects, the one closest to completion is the Evenstar. As described in my recent update, I continue to plug away at the beaded edging, a few points at a time. I try to do at least a little bit every day. Sometime very soon, although I won't pledge myself to an exact date, I should reach the halfway point. My goal is to finish the shawl in time for my sister-in-law's wedding in mid-July. I should manage it with ease, if I just keep working at the slow-but-steady pace that I have established.

[9] The American Beauty shawl could move up and become my "front-line" beaded project when the Evenstar is out of the way, but I will not force the issue if other things seem to take priority instead. I am enjoying it immensely, as I intimated not long ago, and I fully intend to savor it for as long as it lasts. So I will continue to work on it whenever the mood strikes and trust it to keep growing at a reasonable rate without applying any undue pressure. This is one where the best plan will be to set no timetable whatsoever and simply let nature take its course.

[10] Remember the Unst Stole? I have done nothing and said nothing about it for a very long time, but I have not lost sight of this delicate piece that I started last summer as a kind of coda to the Princess Shawl. It was driven into hibernation by the sudden arrival of beaded lace, and then kept there by a succession of other projects that came along to grab my attention. Truth be told, I was ready for a break from gossamer knitting after the Princess, even though it took me several weeks of gradual "detox" to realize it, whereby I started this follow-up project. But the better part of a year has gone by since then, and I have been meaning for a while now to pick up the 1.5 mm (US size 000) needles and get back to work. The Platinum colorway in the Gossamer CashSilk has always reminded me of Tolkien's mithril, full of magic and mystery and lore. I have done two full repeats so far of the complex alternating body pattern, and it will need either 4 1/2 or 5 1/2 repeats in all, plus the second "frame" band, before I can move on to the diamond border that is my favorite aspect of the design. I am reluctant to set a firm goal before actually taking a hand to it, so that I can get a sense of how a reasonable pace will look/feel, but roughly speaking let's watch for me to start knitting it again during June and to finish the body in July/August. Then I will work on the borders, and I might aim to have the rest done by mid-winter or spring break. Something like that, anyway.

I have not written about the last two items on the list. They are both beaded lace and belong to the Christmas 2010 Project. I don't think either of the intended recipients pays any attention to my blog, but I will try not to give too much away here. There is more information on my Ravelry profile.

[11] I started working with this skein of Unique Sheep Eos (50% merino, 50% tussah silk) in late March. It is in the Earthfaire-exclusive colorway called "Deep Forest," and I am making a beaded lace scarf/stole with a delicate motif appropriately based on woodsy foliage. The pattern comes from one of my favorite designers. I am nearing the halfway point already and hope to have the whole thing done by August 1st or thereabouts.

[12] Last but not least, I had no business casting on for Yet Another Beaded Lace Project, but I had been thinking about this one and looking forward to it for so long that I finally gave in a few weeks ago and got started anyway, just to see what it would look like. I am using a 100% organic cotton yarn (Pakucho Lace) from EcoButterfly and some magatama beads in a drop-dead gorgeous colorway called garnet-lined transparent topaz AB. The pattern comes from another one of my favorite designers. I have done only a few inches so far of what will eventually be a substantial stole, but it is very open lacework on 3.25 mm (US size 3) needles, so the knitting should go quickly when I finally get a chance to focus on it, which is highly unlikely to happen until August.

So I have my work cut out for me, as the saying goes. To recap the stated goals in a slightly different (i.e. chronological) format:

*Phew*. That was a long haul, and no mistake. But it feels really good to have typed all this up. For one thing, the blog is now completely up-to-date. No more "hidden" or undocumented projects lurking in the wings!! What a relief. It is always a balancing act between knitting and blogging, but maybe now that I don't have to focus quite so much on catching up with the latter, I can spend a bit more time on the former. From now on, periodic updates throughout the summer can refer back to this post by way of holding myself accountable for the goals that I have set. I have placed a convenient marker beside each of the twelve entries to facilitate that process via precise hyperlinks.

Of course, setting goals can be dangerous, especially when you declare them publicly. If I should fall behind at any point, however, let me say right up front that there will be no guilt or recrimination, only adjustments to the timetable. After all, more than anything else I need this to be FUN and RELAXING. :-)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Blogging Milestone (or TWO!!)

Dear Reader,

Today marks the first anniversary of "The Faculty Meeting Knitter" (launched June 6, 2009) *AND* my 100th post as well.

I am awed and humbled to have reached these two important milestones on the same day. I mean, who would not be struck by a momentous feeling to see them appear together on the horizon, as I did a few weeks ago? Knowing that they were Out There, I could quite easily have taken steps to ensure that they would in fact coincide, but in all honesty I did not. I was extremely loathe to meddle in the ways of such wizards as may be seen to govern the Blogosphere, and thought it best instead to keep plodding away at my ongoing efforts to catch up. "Let destiny take its course," I told myself, and here we are...

On this occasion, I would like to extend a special word of appreciation to all my friends from Ravelry and Facebook who have supported this endeavor, but my sincere gratitude goes out as well to everyone around the world who has ever read my material. *THANK YOU*, whether indeed you follow the blog religiously, or have only stopped by once or twice in passing, or something in between. The art of knitting has graced my life in many ways, and not least because it brings people together out of kindness toward each other and respect for the craft. So the blog is just one aspect of a lifelong journey, and I am glad that there are so many fellow travelers.

Yours most truly and sincerely,

Could it be a happy ending to my LONGEST knitting story?!! Meet the Candlelight Kimono...

4:28 PM PST, April 12, 1991. Nineteen years ago. I know the precise date and time because, miraculously enough, I actually still have the receipt. George H. W. Bush was U.S. President, and Operation Desert Storm had ended not long ago, short of Baghdad. I was a second-year graduate student at UC Berkeley, who had recently fulfilled the requirements for a Masters Degree in Classics and was poised to move on to the PhD program in the fall. I was also a fairly experienced knitter by that point and a self-avowed yarn-snob, notwithstanding the genteel poverty of the grad student lifestyle. The late and much lamented Straw Into Gold was still in the retail business on the corner of Ashby and San Pablo, and their spring yarn sale happened to be in progress. So I went there that afternoon and decided to splurge a little, as a pat on the back to myself for having completed the MA.

The inventory at Straw Into Gold always blew my mind. It was the largest high-end yarn store that I had ever seen, with so many glorious offerings. On the day in question, for instance, I remember admiring the rich jewel tones and yummy texture of Manos del Uruguay, a singular indulgence that I have coveted ever since and may yet acquire one of these days.

But there is no place for heavy wool sweaters in the Berkeley climate, as I had already been forced to admit, die-hard native New Englander though I am, after trying in vain to wear them sometimes since my arrival. There's a familiar schtick where the newcomer to the Bay Area complains that "this place has no weather," and the longtime resident replies, "oh, there's weather alright. It's just *subtle*..." After two years' worth of what passes for seasons in that part of the world, I was finally coming to terms with reality, albeit somewhat begrudgingly. So I let the Manos go by and spent my money instead ($78.52, to be exact) on ~1100 yards of luxurious sport-weight 100% silk yarn, Italian spun, in a pale lavender-blue ("dilly dilly...") that positively gleamed in the California sunshine, seeming to defy the ambient heat with its icy placidity. Here are the original yarn labels, though noticeably yellowed by now, with the Crystal Palace name and all the pertinent info still legible (weight, yardage, dye lot, etc.). Feel free to click on the image (left) for a closer look.

I was proud and a little in awe of my purchase and soon set out to make a scoop-neck sweater with dainty little cables, deep k2p2 ribbing at the bottom, and cap sleeves, based loosely on a Kim Hargreaves design from Rowan No.3, (oddly enough not a perfume, but a stylish book of knitting patterns). I used small-gauge needles of some kind, no larger than 3.25 mm (US size 3), although detailed memory eludes me. Working on and off over the next year or two, I eventually got about 85% of the sweater finished — that is to say the back, the front, one whole sleeve, and part of the other — before reaching the grim yet inescapable realization that I simply did not have enough yarn to complete the entire garment as planned.

I cannot fully account for what happened next. But oddly enough, it was not a moment of panic. Very calmly and composedly, I gathered up all the pieces, folded them neatly and placed them, along with the remaining few small balls of unused yarn, into a clean plastic bag that I carefully tucked into the bottom of my knitting basket. I felt intuitively that I must not hasten to make an irrevocable decision that I might live to regret. This garment needed to be something classy and timeless that I could wear and treasure for many years, because the yarn not only stood for a memorable moment in my personal history but had marked a financial investment as well. So I held onto that bag and guarded it carefully, promising myself that I would eventually find, or create, just the right pattern.

I never forgot about my unfinished silk sweater, but I never did anything about it either. Over time, the bundle made its way intact from my knitting basket into deep storage at the back of a closet, and thereafter, perfectly preserved and safe in its enveloping plastic, it followed my peripatetic career from Berkeley to Washington D.C., Toronto, Champaign, IL, and finally here to Hanover, IN. In the interim nearly *TWO DECADES* went by...

Then at last this past February came the 2010 Ravelympics, with the special "Aerial Unwind" event encouraging knitters to "frog" their failed projects (i.e. "rip it, rip it, rip it...") and reclaim the yarn for new and better use. I don't know what made me suddenly think of the silk after it had lain dormant and undisturbed for so many years, but at a pivotal moment before the Olympic Games I went and dug it out with a clear sense of purpose and determination. Strangely, I knew right where it was and did not have to hunt for it at all amid the jumble. So maybe there had already been some unconscious awareness that the time had arrived to act decisively. Or something.

I suppose that there should have been poignant feelings, violins, and perhaps even tears to accompany the process of ripping out my old handiwork, winding the yarn into hanks, rinsing it, and hanging it to dry on hooks inside the bathroom door. But in truth it was all terribly methodical and matter-of-fact. What I felt more than anything else was *relief* and *anticipation*. The original sweater idea with its tiny cables was by now a thing of the distant past. I had not chosen a new pattern yet, but with the entire Ravelry database at my disposal, and the advice of wise and trusted knitting friends to rely upon as well, I knew that I was finally ready to resolve the issue once and for all and give this story the happy ending it deserved.

Here are some pictures of the reclamation process, including the impressive mound of expensive (and inedible) "ramen-noodles" fresh from frogging, the hanks of yarn neatly hanging to dry side-by-side, and the cakes of silk newly rewound, ready for their next adventure. As always, click on any of these images for a closer look.

The yarn had soaked up a great deal of water and took some considerable time to dry. Musing over patterns meanwhile, I came to the conclusion that a lacy cardigan with short sleeves would probably do the trick. The design had to be both classy and wearable, remember, and above all I could not afford to run out of yarn again. That prospect just did not bear thinking about!! Lace would help to make the yardage go further, of course, and I expected to knit at a somewhat looser gauge this time too.

Now enter my friend Anita and the Candlelight Kimono. Last summer I watched her knit this magnificent sweater of hers from a 100% bamboo yarn in a lovely spring green, and I have seen her wear it several times since. Two things about it caught my eye and eventually convinced me that this was indeed the answer for my silk: the elegant drape of the fabric and the meticulous custom fit.

The choice was not without its ironies, however, for UK designer Amy Pickard originally conceived of and published the pattern for the Ample Knitters Yahoo Group, where it is still exclusively available. Suffice to say that I am NOT an ample knitter, being of average height (5 ft. 4 inches) and a build that is medium verging on petite. The smallest size on the pattern is meant to fit a 42" bust, and I am a 34" or a 36".

The whole raison d'être of Ample Knitters from its inception in 1998 was to address "issues of concern to knitters in all sizes of large," because such issues are all-too-often ignored by the designers and publishers of knitting patterns. People come in a wide range shapes and sizes, after all, and with different proportions. To ensure the proper fit for a plus-sized person, it is not always advisable or even possible just to scale up an existing pattern as written for a smaller size. The individual may need more room in the bust and/or hips but not at the shoulder, for instance, or in the length of the sleeves. Frustrating!! So the Ample Knitters group is a place where one can go to draw on the collective wisdom of some very smart and resourceful people who have wrestled with these challenges, practiced techniques such as short-row shaping and so on, done the math, and come up with attractive, workable solutions.

Thus it was that the shoe found itself firmly wedged on the other foot, as I set about adapting the Ample Knitters pattern for my own more modest frame. I actually joined the Ample Knitters Yahoo Group for ~5 minutes, just long enough to sign in and download the pattern. I have to say that it is not the clearest example of the genre that I have ever seen, or the easiest to follow. All the instructions are there, but not necessarily organized in an intuitive sequence or even labeled very well. It was apparently the designer's first attempt, though, which would help to explain the awkwardness of the presentation. And the results really are quite lovely, once you get going.

As a first step, I made two swatches (left), one in plain stockinette and the other in the candlelight lace pattern. The pattern calls for 4.0 mm (US size 6) and 4.5 mm (US size 7) needles, but with my yarn I could not imagine knitting with anything larger than a 3.5 mm (US size 5), so I used that instead, fully expecting that the final stitch-counts would have to take my smaller gauge into account as well as my diminutive body-size. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when both swatches came out to precisely the specified measurements. Generally speaking, I seem to knit with about average tension, not much tighter or looser than most people. So the designer must grip her yarn with a very firm hand indeed, to get her gauge with a needle two sizes larger!!

Be that as it may, not having to worry about altering the gauge simplified matters quite a bit when I sat down with Anita and another knitting friend a few days later to come up with a detailed plan for my sweater. We took measurements and ran the numbers to ensure a good fit, preserving the figure-flattering waist indent from the original, but downsizing it. We kept the armhole shaping too, of course, but opted against short-rows for the bust, since the finished garment will be worn loosely enough to make that unnecessary. We sketched out the back and both fronts, but not the sleeves just yet, because I wanted to wait and see how the yarn supply will hold up, so that I can adjust both their length and width if need be.

A week ago today, then, armed with the original printed pattern and a graph paper diagram that showed all our the measurements and careful calculations, I cast on 93 stitches for the back, worked the band of moss stitch for the bottom, and *whooosh*!! The lace panel and armhole shaping went astonishingly fast. In fact, the back is nearly done already. See the photo on the bottom right (below)? I can hardly believe it, but honest to goodness, I am nearing the point where I will do the short-row shaping for the shoulders and then bind off and start the fronts. Feel free to click on any of these pictures to see an enlargement.

This design holds great promise. It may well turn out to be the fulfillment of my aspirations for the lavender-blue silk, aspirations thwarted long ago that have been held in abeyance all these years...

So the blog inches closer to the enviable point where everything will have been brought up to date, with no new, undocumented projects waiting in the wings. In fact, there are only three more to go, and I expect to mention all of them in an upcoming post that will have a rather unusual format for the start of the summer knitting season. :-)