A new knitting pattern must be something very special indeed, when a KAL (Knit-Along) forms on Ravelry several weeks before its scheduled release, solely on the strength of tantalizing photos from the designer's blog...
That is precisely what happened not terribly long ago with the Pine & Ivy shawl design from Anne Hanson of KnitSpot fame. The KAL Forum on Ravelry was launched March 12th, and by that time people were already buzzing with yarn ideas and color comparisons, even though the actual pattern did not appear until the 22nd!! A lovely photo gallery heralded that much-anticipated event. But the initial fascination had been sparked several weeks earlier by this entry in Anne's blog. I love the way she began by peeking in at the blocked shawl from behind some French doors. By mid-April, the KAL Forum had over 1,000 posts. There was just no mistaking the fact that an instant classic had been born.
I bought the pattern the day it appeared and cast on a few days later. It gives instructions for three sizes of shawl. I started with the smallest one (a kerchief or "shawlette"), but like many of the people on the KAL Forum, I soon realized that I would probably end up knitting the design several times in different sizes, colors, and/or fiber choices. For this first time, though, I turned to my old stand-by KnitPicks Shimmer (70% baby alpaca, 30% silk) in the "Bayou" colorway, a lovely rich mixture of dark brown and forest green with hints of both olive and teal. Normally with such a yarn I would probably reach for a 2.75 or 3.0 mm (US size 2 or 2+) needle, but I decided to take a bit of a risk and go up to 3.25 mm (US size 3), so that the lace fabric would really stretch out. Also, for a little added embellishment, I sprinkled in some 8/0 beads in silver-lined root beer (which has to be my all-time favorite name for a bead colorway), not enough to make the shawl an automatic trip to "bling city," but just to add a touch of sparkle that would still be suitable for day wear or around the office. I placed them on the ivy vines across the bottom border and the pine cone motif running up the center back, and left the intricate patterning of the rest of the shawl to speak for itself, as it were.
The shawl is fashioned from the bottom up, so you start by casting on several 100's of stitches (303 for the smallest size, 403 for the medium, and 503 for the large/tall). Counting and re-counting all those stitches can be a real challenge. In fact, a few people participating in the KAL got seriously frustrated at that point. But I was lucky enough to make it work on the first try, thank goodness. My usual method in such situations is to mark the stitches off in groups of 50 and then count between the markers until I am satisfied that I have the right number. I find that I still have to concentrate harder as the stitch-count grows, but at least the task becomes more manageable that way.
After a scant 3 rows of garter stitch across the bottom edge, you get into the the ivy border. This provides one of the most visually striking elements of the whole shawl, of course, but it offers some special challenges as well, because the pattern seems to be floating unsupported in mid-air. It also involves a lot of switching back and forth between angled decreases in both directions, as this is what Sharon Miller calls "knitted lace" as opposed to "lace knitting" (i.e. there is patterning on every row, without a row of plain knitting or purling in between). So you have to keep track of ssk/k2tog on the right side vs. p2tog/p2togtbl on the wrong side. Of course, Anne Hanson is a marvelous designer. Her charts are all *meticulously* laid out and paired with crystal clear written instructions that can be consulted in moments of doubt. But all the same, the directional stuff can get terribly confusing at times, especially for left-handed knitters like me.
Once I got past the ivy vines and into the body of the shawl, the knitting started to speed up noticeably, partly because the pattern was more straightforward (although that wavy section in the middle definitely had its tricky bits!!), and also because each successive row was shorter than the last due to the steady decreases. The shawl is exquisitely shaped to fit over the shoulders. I found that I had reached the top before I even quite knew what was happening, and the top edging was a breeze. The whole thing took no more than 5 weeks, and it was NOT my only project at the time.
Below is a gallery of the finished shawl both during and after blocking. The blocking process was fairly straightforward. I started by threading parallel wires on either side of the center panel, and once I had them pinned in place, began pinning out first the lower edge and then the upper one, point by point. The wings clearly wanted to curve upward, given the shaping. As I had hoped, the lace fabric made on larger-than-normal needles stretched out splendidly, and the various patterns really opened up. Its finished dimensions are 20" long at the center with a wingspan of ~48". I ended up using the floor of the computer room to block it out, because the master bedroom with its ever-so-convenient queen-size bed was unavailable. So our two youngest cats inevitably got into the act as well. The fluffy miniature tigress is named Wobbles, and the sleek puma look-alike is Quintus Nigellus. He came to us as a stray when fully grown, whereas she was a day-old kitten whom we rescued and bottle-fed. But I digress... As always, click on any of these photos (or the ones above) to get a closer look.