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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How (not) to knit a lace shawl

I am a glutton for punishment, folks.  How many times have you heard me say write that I just can't knit lace?  How many times have I bewailed the fact that I've been bested by the Swallowtail Shawl that everyone and their three-legged blind dog can knit?  But I cannot resist admiring lace for its precision, the way it reminds me of stained glass windows, the intricate and precise math that demands each row has the correct stitch count so you can proceed to the next row and not have doom fall upon your head.

The Swallowtail Shawl.  My personal kryptonite.

An Elizabeth Zimmermann tribute shawl

Batik, up close (obviously). 

Oh.  Haruni.  Oh. 

As an aside, I have been re-reading The Pillars of the Earth, and while it is not a knitting book, I found there were some similarities between knitting lace and building a cathedral.  In the book (spoiler alert), when there was a divergence from the plan the architect had drawn up, do you know what ended up happening?  Cracks began to appear in the walls, and eventually the roof caved in. 

What does this have to do with knitting lace?  Well, when you (read: me) get to the end of a row, and you are short one stitch, and you decide to just "wing it" and increase another stitch to make it all "work out" ok, you have already destroyed your lace.  Your roof has caved in already, my dear.  Especially when a couple of rows after that, you suddenly find you are short yet another stitch, and later on you have three extra stitches, wildly enough.  Why, how could this happen?  You only just futzed it a little bit.  Isn't knitting a rather organic, fluid art?  How can one or two extra little stitches cause such havoc?  You don't have disaster strike when you have a couple extra stitches on your hand knit sweater, for cripes' sake!

That's when my knitterly tendency to duck my head and plow on through and live in knitting denial (a real, pervasive Syndrome, I'm sure) backfires in its most spectacular way.  Imagine having the first half of your lace shawl having the exact right amount of pattern repeats, and once you cross the midline, your flying buttresses holding up the roof suddenly are multiplying like rabbits...being rabbits.  When you get to the point where there's no denying it any further.  Your steeple is leaning to the left like a drunk on Saturday night.  Oy vey.  There's no fixing it as you go at this point.  This calls for a full out swan dive in to the frog pond.


This is the most dignified frog I've ever seen.  He probably believes in KDS (Knitterly Denial Syndrome). 

I have been struggling in vain against the call of the lace shawl lately.  Specifically, Vlad

After some hemming and hawing, I got on the horse, cast on my stitches, and started up.  Things were going swell until my little issue with stitches popped up, somewhere in the second chart.  I winged it, like I mentioned earlier.  Added a stitch here, misunderstood that a double yarn over was meant to be purled into twice on the wrong side, rather than having the second yarn over dropped to make a larger hole.  I ended up with a cathedral that had the steeple tilting madly to the left like some sort of weird surreal/Cubist painting.  Like any good knitter, I turned to Facebook for help on whether or not to frog.  My friend nailed me right off the bat.  "Could you live with a lace shawl tilting that much?" she asked.  Knowing how much I revere and admire the precision of lace, I knew what I had to do. 


The thing that kills me about lace is that it's so hard to pull off the needles, rip back, and get back on the needles again, knowing where you are and how many stitches you ought to have at that point.  So there is a little invention called lifelines.  A lifeline is a length of yarn you leave at certain points in your shawl knitting that stay in that row as you continue knitting onward.  I've heard you can just leave a set of circular needles as a lifeline, but I don't have multiple pairs of the same size needle, but it's a neat idea.  It is a guaranteed save point in your knitting, like a back up drive for your shawl.  If it crashes, you can go back to your last "save point", reload your knitting needles in place of the yarn length, and continue on, without losing thousands of carefully crafted, perfect stitches.  This time I may have done a little overkill on the lifelines, but better safe than sorry.

My husband is a good man with helpful hands. 
I'm keeping all my lifelines in place, from the transition from the setup chart to the first pattern repeat, and for each successive pattern repeat.  If I remove the old ones, I can't be sure my rusty brain will remember at what part of the pattern I put in the last lifeline, hence rip.   On another note, the yarn here is Ella Rae Lace Merino and the colors present in this particular colorway (which I can't recall what it is, since the label is buried in the middle of my yarn ball right now) really remind me of a spectacular twilight/sunset.

My friend is also attempting to knit some lace.  When I talked to her earlier today, right off the bat she said she was doing something stupid.  "Oh really?" I asked.  "Yeah," she replied calmly.  "I'm trying to knit lace and watch "Game of Thrones" at the same time."  What was stupid about that?  She was having trouble knitting what she claimed was the simplest lace ever:  My So Called Life Lacey Scarf.  "All I want," she continued, "is lace to watch TV by."

That, and world peace. 


1 comment:

Judy H in NC said...

Thank you for making me feel a little less alone in the lace knitting world. I will try life lines now!

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