Friday, August 05, 2005

YO's & TOG's, or "Adventures in Lace Knitting"

It's been a long time since I've posted. Sorry 'bout that. I've been wanting to post some photos on the blog, but haven't figured out how to do it yet. As a matter of fact, just yesterday, figured out where to put in the card on my new camera. It's a learning process, with many baby steps, which involves "spare time" (whatever that might be). In the meantime, words will have to suffice.

I'm happy to say that the Flower Basket Shawl (Interweave Knits, Fall 2004) is now soaking & ready for blocking. Lace knitting has been a real challenge for me, to say the least. This project was manageable, with a little help from friends along the way, and I'm very pleased with how it turned out. The yarn was from Artfibers in San Francisco, a very fine mohair confection in a taupey color. I used two strands. It will be going to live with a friend in Tennessee (shhhh, don't tell her, it's supposed to be a surprise). I'd just like to say that it's been a real learning experience. I've got a loooong way to go to attain lace knitting expertise, but this little project has been a good, moderately challenging endeavor.

Let me first tell you how NOT to start knitting lace. Last year, I picked up a pattern for the Pacific Northwest Shawl, a lovely Fiber Trends pattern which includes seagulls, trees, and fish among its motifs. "Very easy pattern" remarked a friend. "You should have no trouble with that." Well, yes, the pattern should be manageable. But wait - let's make it a bit more difficult - how about LACE WEIGHT YARN. Oops. This was the first in my series of errors. Not a great idea for a newbie lace knitter. Did you know you can use heavier yarn to make lace? (I didn't.) Even the cast-on had me bogged down. Did you know that if you're going to make a triangle shawl, you start by making a little tiny square & knitting around three sides of it? Who knew? As the PNW progressed, seagulls mutated into asymmetrical squiggles, and after a very short time, the shawl went to live in a bag. It's been there for over a year, while I did some smaller and easier projects to build up a bit of skill.

The things I've learned so far about lace knitting:

1. You don't have to use lace weight yarn! Best to start with something heavier, like worsted weight. A dishrag is a great practice piece - just cast on 4 - 5 border stitches at the beginning & end of the piece, make a couple of lace pattern repeats in between & you can try out a pattern & have a useable product at the end.
2. YO's migrate. They like to hide under adjacent stitches & get knitted together when you least expect it. . .devious little twerps. . . which of course, throws off the pattern & stitch count in your motif. That's why it helps to count stitches in each pattern repeat, each row. Markers between motifs help, too. Of course, when you become more experienced, you'll be able to "read" your knitting & see where your errors are (at least, that's what I've been told. . . I've not arrived there yet).
3. Circular needles can complicate matters a bit. Just having that narrower section of plastic cable changes the tension on the stitches enough to make #2 above occur more easily. That doesn't even take into account sticky joins between the needle & cable on the needle. Which is why I've gone to straight needles (well, I did need *some* reason to splurge on all those gorgeous Lantern Moon needles) on relatively narrow projects.
4. If you need to repair a mistake, you do not need to frog entire rows (unless, of course, the entire row is just one huge error. . . it happens). It works very well to isolate the problem stitches, pick up the corresponding stitches in the row just below the error (using a smaller gauge dp), and drop only the affected stitches from the top needle. You wind up ravelling just a few stitches for just a few rows (if you catch the error in time). Then, using a smaller dp, re-knit, row by row, correcting the pattern, until you get all the stitches knitted back up to the top needle. Last, even out the tension on all the new stitches.
5. I need good light, and good concentration to knit lace accurately. I've gone to using a headlamp (okay, stop snickering there) if the day & lighting is not bright enough. Ideal situation - a couple cups of coffee, moderate sunlight, a non-migraine day, & never after a glass of wine. Don't drink & knit. (Also, don't drive & knit - just a reminder to my friend, Janice.)

Perhaps the PNW will emerge from the bag again soon. The last time I looked at it, the mutant seagull wing was so apparent that it could have been knitted in neon. I think I can fix it now.

Good luck & happy knitting!


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