Still Life from Quimper

Still Life from Quimper
A shot of an almost-completed still life needlepoint

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So very happy you came to visit. Now, pull up a chair, pour a glass of your favorite beverage, and read on about adventures in needlework.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Some Knitting at last

So these past few weeks (OK, months) have been so empty on my blog, for which I apologize. Shortly after I wrote about my pillowcases, I announced to the local knitting guild that I would be closing down my shop, and to say that I was emotionally drained for a month is about accurate. It was wonderful to hear from everyone how much my shop (and my life's work) had meant to them, and I really felt like I had contributed something to the world at large. Which is what I wanted to do at least once in this life. We closed up shop on Saturday, Aug. 23, and employees stayed till I bought them dinner packing and organizing (all those plastic baggies full of Persian yarn!) so that Sunday's move would go smoothly.

And it did. It was wet due to the hurricane, but we moved everything big out of the shop, especially the custom-built shelves, and into the storage unit, where so much merchandise lives happily waiting for its inclusion onto the website. And as of this writing, I have had 2 real, live, bona fide, not-from-the shop orders for stuff that was just waiting for the right person to come along. Yay! My evil plot is working.

So onto the knitting. This shawl/scarf was my first exposure to Anne yarn (see Annetrelac entries at the beginning of the blog!), and I adapted a pattern for a lace shawl called "The Children of Lir" from the Lacy Knitting of Mary Schiffman published by Interweave Press. They do such an extraordinary job of bringing the history of all the needle arts to the world at large, and while I don't intend at this point in time to create my very own pattern for a shawl, I was intrigued by the relative simplicity of this pattern and its story. You can order this book from your local yarn shop; if you want to see what other great lace knitting titles Interweave has, visit their site here:

For those not familiar with Irish myths, the children of Lir/Lyr were 4 sons (if you link the sons with the 4 provinces of Ireland) or 7 sons (if you go for the mystical numbers) who had a younger sister. When their father re-married it was to an evil stepmother who grew jealous of the attention her husband gave to her stepsons and laid a curse on them: she turned them into swans. There is a brilliant re-telling of this story called Daughter of the Forest by Juliette Marillier that tells the tale from the sister's point of view. And names and gives personalities to all 7 brothers. Oh, and the sister? She must break the curse by harvesting nettles, spinning them into thread, then weaving each of her brothers a shirt from the nettles all without speaking until her task is done. And there are some tellings that say that she could not finish one arm of one shirt so that one brother always had a swan's wing. Ms. Marillier gives an excellent rendition of this twist in the story.


When I went to the PHG weekend in Athens in 2006, Plying the Arts, I took the course in the Elizabeth Zimmerman (I am not worthy) percentage sweater taught by an amazing teacher who pulled together all of the bits of knowledge I had learned from my dear G and consolidated it into an all-day class, complete with a notebook where I could put my notes for each percentage sweater I made. Which came in handy, but that's another story. Of course, there was shopping to be done, and I bought a skein of Anne yarn. Now Anne is a sock yarn (or lace yarn), and each skein is unique. You can specify that you have 2 skeins dyed for you, but I'm not that picky. Instead, I chose a darkish color with shots of plum, and when the lace books came into the shop the following winter I perused them with B's help. I settled on the Children of Lir shawl, knitted 3 different swatches as my percentage sweater teacher had suggested, keeping each swatch on the needle so that I could compare one to the other, and chose size 3's so that the knitted portion of the pattern would show against the lacey portion of the pattern. It's not blocked, but here are the pictures of it pre-blocking:

The lacey parts represent the wings of the swans in flight. And those plum shades! They hit at just the right point in the pattern. They're almost part of the pattern.

Oh, and another thing about this shawl? It was my first provisional cast on, learned at The Mountain, including the tip that it's best to use cotton thread, not wool yarn, for casting your stitches onto so that the wool yarn you're using won't grab onto the fibers of the scrap yarn when you pull it out. So I started in the center, in pattern (I recommend knitting a row first to make the picking up for the second half much easier), and just knitted repeat after repeat after repeat. I think I knitted 10 repeats in all and kept the stitches live on the first half to make sure I had enough yarn to do the second half. Like I said, each skein of Anne is unique in all the world. And in addition to the pattern, the ends of each half are bordered in a seed stitch like the sides are. So I knitted 10 repeats, put the live stitches on scrap yarn, picked up veeerrryyy carefully from the provisional cast-on, and went down the other side.

Here is a detail of the knitted pattern:

I'm not too concerned about the bumpy parts that you can see REALLY WELL on this close-up. They'll go away with the blocking. And for a knitted lace pattern, it was easy knitting. There was a k2tog and a ssk in each row, sometimes twice, and a good explanation for a double decrease (occurring 2x in the 14 row repeat). But really, it was possible for me to knit and watch TV after I had gotten through about 7 pattern repeats. The first few repeats, of course, I did in complete concentration and with furrowed brow at The Mountain, but I never got cocky with thinking I had memorized the pattern. Oh, no preciousss. That just wouldn't do.

Here's a picture of the edge of the shawl, and you can see where the center of the shawl is at the far right-hand side of this picture:You can see on the far right that the swan's wings begin to flow to the right rather than to the left. There seems to be a small hole there, nothing major like a dropped stitch (I checked!), but it's where the provisional cast-on was necessary to the flow of the pattern. You have swans' wings going down each arm as you wear the shawl so that it is matched on each side.

And I'm really glad I selected a yarn that didn't have a lot of color variation to it. Lace can be tricky, since you want to show off your skill as a lace knitter (also known as OCD or obsessed attention to detail, and for good reason) but you are also tempted to use a pretty variegated yarn because it's there. For this pattern, I like how the yarn's variegation accents the lace's pattern.

And one of these days, I'll start on my Anne sock, the one that got this whole thing started!