Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Faith, Hope, and Love: A Wedding Gift To Remember

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
— I Corinthians 13:13 (English Standard Version).

It was a close thing, but by averaging ~5% of the project per day over ~20 days, I managed to finish the rectangular lace piece in gossamer silk for my sister-in-law and her new husband and to have it blocked and dried in time for our trip to the wedding. What a relief!

As mentioned in this previous blog post, the pattern came from the book Knitted Lace Designs of Herbert Niebling, as shown on p. 87 (charts on pp. 88-91). Although the design in question might or might not itself be a genuine Niebling, it is certainly a splendid example of German Kunststriken ("Art Knitting") from the second half of the 20th century. The yarn was Gossamer Silk from Heirloom Knitting. Since my sister-in-law with her undeniably "WASP-ish" ethnic heritage was marrying a man from Brazil, it was in keeping with the international flavor of the wedding that I chose that scrumptious silk fiber which is cultivated in Japan, spun in Italy, and sold from the UK. Michael at HK was kind enough to answer my questions about the provenance.

We arranged for the newlyweds to open the gift at the brunch hosted by the bride's parents on the day after the wedding, mostly so that I would get to see their long-anticipated reactions. I have developed the habit of typing up a cheat-sheet to go along with each knitted lace item that I give as a gift. This is partly to inform the recipient of the lifetime guarantee that should it need washing (or, God forbid, repair) it need only be sent back to me, since I have all the required blocking tools. But it also allows me to share various informative background details about the yarn, the colorway, the designer, the pattern, etc. My sister-in-law read the description out loud to the assembled friends and family, and she choked up a bit when she got to this part:

The pattern does not have an official name, but I chose the title from 1 Corinthians 13 (see above), because if you examine the motifs, you will see crosses (for Faith), leaves and flowers (for Hope), and heart shapes (for Love). The construction of the piece is also laden with wedding imagery, in that it starts as two separate squares, each knitted outward from the center until they reach a sufficient size. Then they are seamlessly grafted together and the elaborate edging is worked all the way around the outside of the resulting rectangle. So two pieces that began each with a life of its own become one and in the process create something new and beautiful together, just as the two of you are doing this weekend as you start your married life.
The finished dimensions of the piece were a generous 25" x 40". It started out, as indicated, with two separate but identical squares, which were then grafted together. Given my previous adventures with grafting lace, I was thrilled with the near-invisibility of this attempt, aided by the fact that the pattern at that point was nothing but stitch, yarn-over, stitch, yarn-over, etc. Near the start of the edging pattern, having noticed that the stitch count did not change over the course of the 42-row chart, I switched from 1.75 mm (US size 00) needles to the next size up (2.0 mm = US size 0) to help the fabric open up when blocked. In addition, the blocking process was GREATLY facilitated by the chain-stitch loops conveniently running all the way around the outer edge as a result of the laborious and time-consuming crochet bind-off (for which I used a 1.65 mm crochet hook).

Knowing that I was about to give the piece away and that it would be moving to Brazil with the newlyweds, I took lots of pictures while I still had it in my custody. Here is a gallery of my favorites. Feel free to click on any of these images, as always, to get a closer look. I should add that I did not have time to weave in all the loose ends until we reached Baltimore, where I managed to snatch a few productive hours sitting in our hotel room between family gatherings. So the occasional stray thread appears in these photos, taken before we left home.

One final note... This last photo was taken by another sister-in-law at the post-wedding brunch. It shows the newlyweds veiled behind the piece as they held it up for everyone to see while I pointed out and explained some of the motifs of the lace pattern to them. So yes, that's me on the right in the black sundress that didn't always zip up so easily. ;-)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Evenstar: Blocking Magic, Perilous Repairs, and a VERY Happy Ending

Busy with summer travel and projects on a deadline, I have been rather neglecting the blog lately. So let's see what we can do to get caught up ASAP...

The big news that has been waiting the longest to be posted is that I finally finished the Evenstar on June 30th. The beaded edging had been dragging along for weeks, a few points at a time, until I reached the halfway point, and then a sudden spurt got the rest done in a matter of *days*. I was eager to see the end of it. Since it was my first circular shawl, I felt nervous about trying to block it, but a coil of spring wire borrowed from my trusty friend Anita (a.k.a. The Fiber Artist) made the whole process a no-brainer. Once I had threaded the wire through the edging points and pinned it out to stretch the fabric, a length of cotton yarn pinned to the center helped ensure that the radius was consistent all the way around. It came out to a diameter of 57". Here are some photos taken while it was still on the wires, including several wide shots and a closeup of the beaded edging. As always, you may click on any of these photos to see a larger view.

Only one aspect of the finishing on this project left me displeased, and that was the graft where the edging came full-circle. Grafting is never a relaxing or foolproof process even under the best of circumstances (hah!!), and this time I admittedly let it bunch up in places, especially when weaving in the ends, because I simply did not realize how much the fabric would open out when blocked. It turns out that there was ZERO room for error, so that every extra strand showed up like a searchlight in the night sky. The result was really quite ugly (see left and click for a closer look, if you can stomach it).

I tried to persuade myself that this was a minor flaw that others would overlook, but I found my eye so unerringly drawn towards it when I tried to look at the big picture that I decided it would bother ME even if no one else ever spotted the defect. So I set out to fix it, taking some time to think out a careful plan before attempting the repair.

The first step was to locate and untie the anchoring knot at the point where the edging meets the shawl. Once the right threads were loose (a surprisingly effortless process), it was easy to undo the graft and restore the live stitches on both sides, using strands of crochet cotton to serve as flexible stitch holders. I removed a single row on one side so that the graft would result in a full repeat of the edging pattern without adding anything extra. It took several tries to fiddle the loops into place, advance planning and preparation notwithstanding, and I finally had to call a halt to further manipulation for fear of over-handling the yarn. The faggoting on the inside edge proved especially tricky. Here are two photos that document the "during" and "after" of the repair. What I ended up with is still hardly the most perfect or inconspicuous graft in the history of lace knitting, but definitely represents an improvement over the original ugly blob. Hooray, and PHEW!!

This is most definitely a shawl to be WORN and ENJOYED. The fabric is robust as well as airy (thanks to the combination of alpaca and silk fiber in the KnitPicks Shimmer), and it feels luxuriously soft to the touch. I wore it several times to great effect during the festivities associated with my sister-in-law's wedding in Baltimore last weekend. No relevant photos from there have surfaced as of yet, but today I dressed up in my outfit from the rehearsal dinner for a home photo shoot, to be sure I would have something to share. Here are my two favorite shots (one front, one back). I just love the way the circle of lace makes its own perfect little collar when you fold it down on one side and drape it over your shoulders.
Now that's what I call a happy ending!! :-)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Loose ends had better watch out!!

I have just acquired a whole ARSENAL of weapons in the never-ending war on loose ends. They will also be useful for delicate repairs in lace and fingering-weight yarns. In other words: *jackpot*!!

It would seem that the Meijer store in Jeffersonville, IN is closing down its needlework department. Truth be told, although we shop there regularly, I never even realized that it *had* a needlework department. In any case, their inventory appears to have been rather limited, so while I do feel a pang of regret at the sadly shrinking market, the absence of this particular shopping outlet is no big loss to me and will have precisely zero impact on my access to tools and supplies — except, of course, for the fact that the day before yesterday I stumbled upon the closeout sale, where I managed to pick up this little treasure for a mere $3.

The crochet hooks are stainless steel, in six sizes ranging from 1.3 to 3.25 mm, with lovely narrow heads that are ideally suited for picking up stray loops one at a time without splitting the plies.

Other than the two tiny tools that I use for beading (0.5 mm for 8/0 beads and 1.0 mm for 6/0 ones), until recently the smallest crochet hook in my trusty array (all bought during the 1970's and 80's) was an old 3.25 mm one from the same brand as the new kit (i.e. Boye). I also recently got new aluminum hooks in US sizes C (2.75 mm) and D (3.25 mm), but lovely as they are, those have wide heads that make them difficult to use with finer strands of yarn. They are better for DK or sport-weight, or even worsted. So in other words, I just filled in a big gap in my tool box.

Score one for the good guys. :-)