Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms – Oh damn!

March 24, 2011 § 4 Comments

I’ve been taking full advantage of the beautiful spring weather. It’s been a balmy 15°C with lots of sun and barely a cloud in the sky, so yesterday while I had the Armada pinned out on my bed I went to the park with Saskia, to soak up sun and eat delicious Middle Eastern snacks while wearing a skirt, a t-shirt and ballerinas. After we had enough of the park we had coffee in front of our favorite café just around the corner from our house, and I didn’t even mind going back home because this is what greeted me when I stepped into my room.

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Turned out it blocked out to slightly bigger than 1.20m, but I could pin the slack down on the side of the mattress. Thank god for the aluminum rods! Using them on all four sides would’ve been too fiddly (not to mention the injuries I probably would’ve suffered from tripping over the two protruding bits) but two sides was perfect.

What I love about lace, apart from the general and obvious gorgeousness, is how small it folds. Even hairsprayed into oblivion (I’m paranoid when it comes to blocking and like to fixate with a bit – or half a can – of hairspray before pulling out the pins), it was still barely bigger than my Moleskine calender.

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And then today, I grabbed Saskia by the hair and dragged her down to the canal and forced her at gunpoint to model the shawl for me. I might have been more of an asking-nicely thing than brutal blackmail, but, y’know. Anything for a dramatic hyperbole.

Anyway, she did a beautiful job, and oh my, I’m so in love with this yarny monstrosity. It’s like the Big Green Monster v.2. I don’t even know how to wear it. But it’s amazing.

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So this is it. Spanish Armada by MMario with an edging by Utlinde (I’d love to link to the PDF, but I got it from her personally and it’s neither in her nor in Mmario’s patterns). This shawl measures approximately 127 cm by 127 cm (about 4’2″ by 4’2″) and was knit in 81 days with an entire skein of Filatura di Crosa Centolavaggi (100% merino, 1400m/100g, color 151), mostly on 3mm bamboo needles. I say mostly because for the last quarter of the edging, I gradually switched down to a 2.25mm DPN and one 3mm tip of the circ because yarn was getting scarce and I was getting scared.

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In the end, I was more than glad I went down a couple of sizes because I finished with nothing at all left over and a half-corner that consists of about half the short rows normally required. ‘Tight squeeze’ doesn’t even come close. I spent about a week frantically weighing and re-weighing the little ball of yarn that got even smaller at an alarming rate, and the adrenaline rush when I just barely made it had me woozy for at least half an hour.

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I cast on with Fleegle’s Cast-On For Circular Shawls, which is insanely difficult if you do it wrong and a revelation once you hold the yarn the way you’re supposed to.

[UPDATE: I saw that people have been searching my blog for a good way to cast on for this, and I’d like to add that while Fleegle’s Cast-On is awesome and I’ve used it many times to great success, TECHknitting has a disappearing loop cast-on that works the same way, only you can cast on an even number of stitches, eliminating the need to sneak an increase in somewhere.]

Modifications: I added one ‘leaf’ repeat to the Print o’ the Wave. I wish the chart had lined up so I could’ve changed some of the k2tog to ssk to get nicely defined lines like in the edging, but spilled milk and all that. I think I added about a repeat and a half to the English Mesh just for the heck of it, and skipped the very last chart in favor of the sideways edging. It was originally for a triangular shawl, so I stared with the middle row of the corner chart after the provisional cast-on. After the first corner was unsatisfyingly loose in the middle, I started to wrap & turn and do a [pick up wrap, k2tog] row instead of the charted middle row for the other corners and they came out much, much better. I had to fudge away a couple of stitches here and there and I’m pretty sure the amount of scallops is different on each side, but there’s enough of them for me not to be too bothered by that. The entire edging took 35g, but with two or three grams more there would’ve been a lot less stress and a much smaller number of shortcuts.

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Now that it’s all nice and blocked, the ratio between the Print o’ the Wave and the English Mesh doesn’t seem as off as it did pre-blocking, for which I am intensely grateful. At times, the only thing that kept me from ripping back half the edging, the Mesh and the extra repeat of the Print o’ the Wave was the fact that I was on an already tight schedule, and it turns out it works just fine like this.

I think this has been my most challenging project to date. This was partly due to the pattern being difficult to grasp intuitively, so that I had to work each row with intense concentration and even more intense counting. But although I’d knit lightweight lace before, I’d never worked with yarn that fine before: my usual lace yarns run somewhere around 600m/100g, and even Misti Alpaca Lace is only 800m/100g, which is still 600m less than the Centolavaggi. The thing that had worried me most, the >800-stitch-long rows towards the end, ended up being the least of my concerns. I’m not a patient person by nature, but with lace I can scrounge up a surprising amount of the stuff. Also Centolavaggi is a thoroughly enjoyable yarn to work with, I’m intensely glad I have another skein (apple green this time) in my stash. I guess since lace shawls are relatively impractical by nature (compared to, say, socks), I turn into somewhat of a process knitter when working on them, whereas with socks I have the biggest trouble psyching myself up for the heel because it takes so long.

Now, after all this serious!knitter stuff, for the most famous reindeer of all:

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What’s come over me? Whoo! Here it comes again!

March 22, 2011 § 11 Comments

Warning: this post contains a thorough bitching-out of a pattern. on the plus side, shawl pictures!

The trouble with resolving to wait with blogging until something has happened is that knitting is such a slow type of magic that sometimes it takes forever for something blogworthy to happen. Especially with lace, the progress feels huge but it would have been perfectly tedious to constantly update you with pictures like this one:

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No, really guys! I totally just finished another repeat of the badly-charted Print o’ the Wave!

But the miracle has happened: today is not only the second day of spring, but also the day I finished my Spanish Armada Shawl (aka Fear and Surprise, Surprise and Fear). It was the first thing cast on in 2011, it’s given me tons and tons of grief over the course of the last three months, and after a week and a half of hair-raising, paranoid border knitting that drove me to the brink of insanity, it’s DONE.

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I’ll be blocking it tomorrow, and preliminary, cursory pinning experiments suggest that it’s just barely small enough to be blocked on my 1.20 m (4′) wide bed. I can’t wait! But at the same time I’m extremely glad I have my aluminum rods for blocking, because bending over for an hour to individually pin down all those scallops (on four sides no less) isn’t exactly my idea of a fun day, if you catch my drift.

I’ll hopefully be posting beauty shots of the blocked shawl tomorrow or the day after, so let me voice my nagging here and now:

The finished shawl is gorgeous. Truly stunning, a joy to look at and touch and fawn over. It is, however, not remotely as fun to knit. In fact I’d rather pull my own teeth out than knit this, or any other pattern by MMario again. This is not because the different patterns that make up this shawl (Spanish Tile, Print o’ The Wave, English Mesh Lace) are particularly challenging, although the Spanish Tile is certainly a smidge tricky at times, mostly because it patterns on each row.

The problem with this shawl isn’t construction errors, or tons of misprints in the pattern. It’s the terrible, terrible charts. If you can even call them that. I realize I’m being harsh, and I’m sure the author has put a lot of effort into this design. I know charts can be tricky, especially if the beginning of a repeat shifts, like with Print o’ the Wave.

But here’s the thing: to me, as a knitter, the main purpose and the biggest advantage of charts is that they show what the knitting is supposed to look like. How everything lines up. How it all fits together to make a congruent whole. To enable me to spot knitting errors at a glance and to spare me the frantic re-counting and wondering if what I’m doing is right or if I have to tink back the entire 800-stitch row.

And these “charts” don’t. Or rather, the last two of them do, and the one I did was a simple 6-stitch two-row mesh lace, and, yeah,  I could’ve done that from written directions. The rest is just basically the written instructions rendered in symbols, including brackets to indicate things like (k2tog, yo, k1) 3x – although the author substitutes k2tog with N in the written directions for apparently no reason at all, and yo with O. (At least that one got a laugh out of me, because there’s tons of KOK in the pattern and I let myself be immature enough to grin at that.) Also, rows that are knit plain aren’t shown, except when they are, and if you’re anything like me and pay much more attention to the actual rows than the row numbers, that means tinking back a perfectly executed lace row because there’s supposed to be another two plain rounds in there somewhere.

My point being, the charts manage to completely miss the entire point of charts, which is probably an achievement in and of itself.

The Spanish Tile being tricky to chart I can understand, because the stitch count fluctuates hugely between rows and it would probably ridiculously complicated to get that into a coherent chart. But the botched Print o’ the Wave chart? Really? Seriously? Chart-making isn’t that hard. Especially for a pattern that’s been done about thirty zillion times since the dawn of time, where you could go and look at somebody else’s chart to see how they did it. As, by the way, evidenced in the exponentially better edging chart by Utlinde, where it suddenly all makes sense and is easy to commit to memory.

I’d love to rate this in Ravelry, but I honestly have no idea which criteria to use. Is the result gorgeous? You bet it is. Even if I threw off the ratio a bit by making the Print o’ the Wave longer, which wedges a relatively narrow piece of English lace between that and the edging, but I can deal with it and it’s my own fault anyway. But the charts are catastrophically bad, to a point where I’d rate it somewhere in the ‘pretty difficult’ range but then again the patterns themselves aren’t difficult per se, but just, y’know, badly charted.

So that’s that. Spanish Armada, baby.

***
In related news, I turned 22 recently and among other things got amazing handmade gifts from Annelie. She sewed me a fleece-lined green cowl that I’m sad to probably have to put away until fall – the weather has been absolutely stunning – but the best thing ever is the knitting bag she made me. I’ve been using it for Armada, but I’ll certainly get a lot of wear out of it.

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It’s such a clever design: one short handle you can twist, and a long one to stick through the loop. Snag-free due to a pronounced absence of zippers and buttons, reversible (the inside is plain green to match the cowl!), and just the right size for a shawl or scarf project, or maybe half a sweater depending on the yarn.

I’ll be casting on an orange scarf for choir once I’m finished blogging, so that’ll go nicely with the green. This bag shares the title of best birthday present ever with the pie dish I got from Saskia. Looks like I’m up for the Housewife Awards again this year.

You’re just a cannibal

March 5, 2011 § 5 Comments

It’s funny how I constantly blog when there’s absolutely nothing going on, but as soon as I’m actually doing stuff, all my motivation for keeping a log just kind of circles the drain.

The long-overdue Berlin recap: Berlin was four days of walking in the wrong direction, getting lost, discovering wonderful things because of a total lack of a general sense of direction, and buying lots of yarn and even more books. I have no sense of self-discipline, I swear. Also, we totally discovered a pub called The Oscar Wilde, and had a drink in his honor there.

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(Also, I tweeted Stephen Fry about it, and he tweeted me back saying he already knew it. On the other hand, HOLY SHIT STEPHEN FRY TWEETED ME BACK.)

We visited a total of three yarn shops: Loops at Prenzlauer Berg, Fadeninsel in Kreuzberg, and handmade Berlin in Mitte. All of them were amazing; Loops and Fadeninsel carried many of the same yarns including two different brands of laceweight (always a surprise to find), handmade Berlin was just stuffed with luxury yarns. Oh my. It was amazing, tons and tons of cashmere and silk and alpaca and stainless steel and paper and Fiber Artist and Handmaiden and more cashmere.

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(and this is just one wall, in one of two rooms. Heaven, I tell you!)

My total haul (minus a little skein of purple silk that I bought for Saskia; it was so slippery we didn’t manage to wind it into a ball):

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(clockwise from the top: Handmaiden Casbah, Blue Sky Alpaca alpaca/silk, rosewood 4mm circs, handmade Berlin Yarn Edition Scottish wool/linen blend on the cones, Sheepland lace yarn, ggh Baby Alpaca, Kia Ora NZ merino/possum blend). I’ve already knit up half of the Yarn Edition (more on that later.)

However, on the whole I went rrrrrelatively light on the yarn, because we discovered not one, but two full-size English bookstores: one inside Dussmann, and another one right across the street from Loops which happened to be a used-book store that was crammed full to the stucco. It was amazing.

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We went there twice, and I bought a total of eight (I could’ve sworn nine) books there, the most expensive costing €7 (that’s the Wilde bio), the others all under €5. The clerks were stupendously nice, and the beat-up chesterfield was the comfiest sofa I’ve ever sat on.

The downside: dragging it all back to Leipzig.

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Berlin also has a button shop that isn’t hard to find if you don’t first walk a kilometer in the wrong direction (guess how I found out). It’s also crammed full, which seemed to be an ongoing theme that I heartily approve of. It’s also very convenient to know there’s a button shop in a city closer to me than London.

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My special favorite are the two Aslan buttons. I almost keeled over with joy. The big horn one’s already on my Girl Friday cardi, and the three little sunburst buttons are also already on knitwear. (again, more on that later.)

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**

So that was Berlin. Since I came back, I’ve made some considerable progress on the Spanish Armada, I’ve finished the sock I started for Berlin and got regrettably little knitting time on while actually there, although I couldn’t yet be arsed to cast on its twin, and I’ve knit a pattern that is well-loved by many, and as I find out, for a reason. And that reason is that it’s so. damn. clever.

I’m talking, of course, about Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Baby Surprise Jacket. Annelie recently found out she had a knitting neighbor, who loaned her a couple of EZ books. And one of these books, I discovered to my endless delight, has the BSJ pattern in it. Hallelujah! After the disappointment of the Knitter’s Almanac not featuring it, that was a real miracle right there.

And the BSJ is kind of ridiculous, if you think about it. Actually, it’s ridiculous the whole entire time you’re knitting it, because you’re making this… this misshapen piece of fabric. Which looks so unlike a baby garment that the pattern specifically states, “Work will start to look very odd, indeed, but trust me, and PRESS ON.”

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The whole time I was knitting it, I was trying to figure out how to fold it, and only on the last third or so did it approach something approaching sensibility. But when you’re done, and you’ve cast off, the magic happens. You fold it…

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… and fold it again, and sew up the shoulder seams, and attach a couple of buttons, and holy shit it’s about the cutest baby jacket ever.

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It’s so cute that when I was done making it up and photographing it, I pulled out another ball of fingering-weight yarn and started casting on another one… and then gently reminded myself I had more pressing projects. I still see a couple more of these in my future though. SO CUTE. Both of my flatmates, upon entering the apartment and seeing the BSJ drying on the rack, dissolved into helpless squeeing. While sewing I occasionally caught myself cooing embarrassingly at the thing. It’s terrible.

So there’s that. BSJ, and I’m currently reconstructing the pattern of a shawl Annelie’s great-grandma knit way back in the day. It’s garter stitch, and my first try was knitting the center triangle and then knitting on the edging in two pieces. Turns out, when I was staring at it during breakfast at her house just after I’d proudly shown off my swatch, that it’s all in one piece, and still every bit as clever as I thought. Good times.

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