I’m not usually very good with New Year’s Resolutions. If I ever make them, mine end up abandoned long before the dreary dregs of winter have gone. The start of this last haul through the gloomy cold months is just not the right time to instigate policies of self control or self denial are they?
This year I thought I’d do things a little differently, and instead of promising to give up chocolate after 9pm or take up yoga again, I promised I’d give knitting a shawl a try.
Shawls seem to be a little bit like socks in the knitting world, in that there seem to be groups of people who make them endlessly. They casually refer to designs by name to one another and create pieces of intimidatingly awesome complexity while joking about how the cat kept sitting on their work while it was in progress. Another group have never tried knitting them, and have no intention of doing so as they don’t see how they’ll ever have use for them in their wardrobes.
When it comes to socks, I’m somewhere between the two camps, veering nowadays towards the latter. While I love the sweetie-counter effect of the 4ply/sock section of yarn shops and admire the technical expertise that goes into patterns, I’ve made a couple of pairs, got very bored by making the second each time and never really worn them.
As for shawls, I’ve never really got on with stuff that drapes around my shoulders but could see myself wearing them more like scarves. What scares me is the idea of tiny needles and skinny, skinny yarn (I’m a DK+ girl in general) not to mention the fact that whenever I’ve glanced through patterns in magazines I’ve been unable to make head nor tail of them. Nonetheless, being a curious knitter who likes to try out new things and also quite stubborn about resisting intimidation by scary-looking pattern, I decided that despite my qualms, in 2012 I would make a shawl. It was mainly a matter of finding time and a reason.
This was the reason. Or one of them. This ball of gorgeousness is Skein Queen 4ply Squash yarn in ‘Fairytale’. It’s a superwash wool that came into my hands as leftover from a yarn tasting my knit group did recently. I adore the colours and was going to use it for my Beekeepers Quilt. However, since I had nearly a full skein it seemed a shame not to make a whole item with it. Then it occurred to me that it was a dear friend’s 40th birthday coming up later in the year…and a reason to keep my resolution appeared.
I’ve chosen (on the recommendation of those friends who name-drop shawls) Liz Abinate’s Traveling Woman Shawl. I’m told it’s an easy one to begin with, and it looks lovely. So far I’ve begun on the ‘set up rows’ and already I can begin to see how shawls work. It might sound dim, but I didn’t even know where you began with a shawl- top? bottom? one of the corners? It’s the top, apparently (or at least, it is with this one). I’ve yet to hit the lace yet, when charts, repeats and multiple stitch markers will kick in, but so far it’s not been as bad as it looks. I may never become fluent in shawl-speak, but I think I’m going to keep this resolution. I might also add that, even without a resolution, this year I’ve taken up running…
Hey everyone, look at my Sheep Heid! Ooh, yes, I’m happy with this one. It’s no surprise really that Kate Davies comes up with the goods yet again with this design- it’s not as if I’m the only one who loves Owls and Manu after all. However, it still deserves to be said that she writes a damn good pattern- not just a pleasing design, but she manages to make the prospect of quite a large chunk of fairisle in 9 (!) shades of yarn not nearly so daunting with her mix of clear, well written instructions alongside touches of her own personality and humour.
The nine ‘sheepy’ shades of Jamieson & Smith yarn used were definitely part of the joy of this project. It seemed so right to be using the yarn that’s produced in the same place that the knitting style sprang from and developed. Everything from the names of the colours- gaulmogot, katmollet, mooskit, shaela, sholmit, moorit, moglet- to the springy, textured feel of the yarn made me feel connected to Shetland and its generations of craftspeople somehow, even though I’ve not been there- yet!
This wasn’t the first time I’d tackled fairisle- witness my Fyne Vest from a few years back. However, this was my first time doing it in the round- arguably the way you’re ‘meant’ to do fairisle. I did find that knitting stranded colourwork in this way felt a lot easier. For a start you can see what you’re doing all the time, rather than having the back of the work facing you on wrong side rows. It’s also easier to keep tension even- the challenge in all such colourwork projects. The other factor that improved my tensioning was using the ‘two handed’ method, where you hold one colour in the right hand and ‘throwing’ it when you knit that colour, while holding the other colour in the left hand and ‘picking’ it when you knit that colour. It didn’t feel in any way natural at first, but I found I built up speed quite quickly, and as you can see from this view of the wrong side of the work, it produces a pretty neat result.
I may have successfully got to grips with two-handed colour, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. Work went on while two small children swarmed around me, while I was a passenger in a car negotiating snowy motorways and while I was recovering from a 24 hour bug, amongst other things. However, none of those were necessarily the reason why I seemed to have to go back and frog an inordinate amount of times. Sometimes it was because I started in a wrong but very similar colour- even though I carefully made a reference sheet with scraps of each yarn matched to the colour key beforehand. Sometimes it was down to good old-fashioned miscounting the stitches, other times, who knows? On all but one occasion I went back and sorted it – the ‘stickiness’ of Shetland yarn and the use of nine different colours of yarn loses its appeal somewhat when attempting this- but when I finished the band of ewes for (I think) the third time and realised that one sheep had only half a face (see pic above, it’s the one in the middle) I decided to just leave it. I could have Swiss-darned it afterwards but in the end I’ve decided it’s my own unique little stamp on it, so it stays.
There’s a lot to love about this hat design, but one of my favourite things is the colour gradations at the crown. They really show off the beautiful colours of the yarn and the beautiful rhythm of the pattern, as this shot (right) shows.
With all the colour changes and a slight problem I had keeping the beginning of rounds even, this was a project where washing and blocking performed a particular magic. Kate Davies recommends soaking the finished tam in warm soapy water for 20 minutes before shaping, to allow the fibres to plump up and even out. It made a big difference- it was on my head more or less as soon as it dried and has been helping keep me cosy on every cold day since. Those shetland sheep know a thing or two about keeping warm!
Well, hello there and welcome to my new home on the web! Maybe you’ve found your way here from my previous haunt on Blogger, or perhaps you’re a whole new visitor. However you’ve got here, welcome, make yourself a cup of tea…
Once I’ve got to grips with it all I’m hoping these pages will look a bit better and have a few more features than my old ones, but while I’m learning, please excuse any glitches.
Note also that my progress on getting this space sorted will be hindered by my current preference for working on a new design (sneaky peek above), while BBC4′s ‘Transatlantic Sessions 5′ is on iPLayer in the background . I blame the weather, which is still too cold and too grey and makes me need to play with colour.