(from the novel The Last Continent, by Terry Pratchett, c. 1988)
The minute I saw Sivia Harding's Continuum legwarmers, featuring 100's of beads and an amazing Celtic cable design, they went right to the top of my queue for Christmas break. I thought of them as my Christmas gift to myself. Our house gets decidedly chilly in the winter, you see, and for the sake of the long afternoons and evenings that I often spend sitting still while struggling to stay warm, I sought to maximize the coziness factor by using an alpaca yarn (Knit Picks Andean Treasure). I paired the rich charcoal gray color called Mystery Heather with 6/0 beads in Metallic Amethyst Gunmetal. The beads glow with a quiet and distinctly purple intensity that marks a delightful contrast with the fuzzy warmth of the yarn. It was a match made in heaven (see left, and click for a closer view).
The ~450 beads for each warmer had to be strung in advance, which got interesting as I went along, because each skein of the yarn contained only 110 yards. I used six skeins in all, and although I always tried to err on the side of stringing too many beads at any given time, rather than too few, inevitably there were a lot leftover whenever I changed skeins, so I ended up re-stringing some of them several times. It felt like many more than 1,000 beads!!
But the biggest challenge that I faced with this project was not the beads: it was the fit. The original design called for 100% wool yarn, with a broad flare toward the bottom to accommodate a pant leg and/or boot. See the example shown in white on the left here. Of course alpaca fiber, though warmer by weight than wool, has little trace of the elasticity and springiness for which sheep fleece is justly famous, so I knew I would probably end up altering the pattern somewhat to help the legwarmers stay up. But I was still surprised by just how much the fabric wanted to stretch out and hang loose around my ankles. To make the fabric more pliable, I decided to move up a needle size to a US size 6 (4.0 mm), which naturally also enhanced the floppiness of the bell-bottom.
In fact, after some experimentation, I ended up reworking the lower half of each warmer to remove the bell-bottom increases altogether. It took several weeks to complete the alterations. The end result fits a lot more snugly, although the ankle still flares out to some extent. I still wouldn't trust them to stay up either, if I need to walk or move around very much, and especially if I wear them over any kind of slippery fabric.
I used Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Slip-Knot Cast-On for this project again, as I had first done with Rivendell, and then I also taught myself the corresponding Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off, which has since proven its usefulness time and time again. It is so much fun to experiment with new knitting techniques and expand one's repertoire.
The top two photos below show the upper portion of one warmer and the elaborate cable motif at the knee. Then there is a picture of the knitting in progress, followed by two full-length shots of the finished object: one as written from the first time around, with all the extra fabric, and the second as I revised the pattern to make the two ends match. The change in shape was really quite dramatic. As always, click on any of these images to take a closer look.
These elegant beaded legwarmers do a magnificent job of fending off the cold, and they look fantastic all the while, but I have to admit that they also tend to fall down at the slightest provocation. So I have concluded that they are best suited for times when I need extra warmth while staying put for extended periods, such as around the house or in the car. Fortunately, there are plenty of such times, when I can put them to good use. They perform beautifully under the right conditions. I have plans to make another pair in pure wool specifically for my walks to/from work, either with an even more heavily modified version of this design, or perhaps with another pattern entirely. Never a shortage of new knitting projects around here, no sirree...