Thinking about lace

This summer I am taking intensive courses in Organic Chemistry, which as you can imagine, takes up an enormous amount of time and energy. I’m doing things a lot differently than I did the last time I attempted summer classes, though, taking great care to be much more organized and live in a better balance. I’m making time to enjoy the gorgeous weather, to see friends and attend events in my beloved city, and to be a happier, calmer version of myself than I think I’ve ever been.

I draw almost every day in my sketchbook (on ferry rides to and from Manhattan, mostly). I notice it is making me much more attuned to organic shapes, curves, the forms and substance of nature, growth, and the magical little processes happening unassumingly all around us.


(Shadows like lace, on Water Street, in lower Manhattan)

I’m currently working on a second bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, a subject I find intensely inspiring and fascinating in elaborate and wonderful ways. A lot of the study of chemistry is recognizing patterns of behavior, which are based on the underlying structural tendencies of molecules that give rise to functionality. In essence, things act the way they do because they are what they are. I find that incredibly beautiful.

I also decided I’m going to minor in Mathematics, in part because my degree already requires all but one or two of the courses for the minor, but also because, like chemistry, I feel like math is this extraordinary way of unraveling the mysteries and intricacies of the universe, as a means to discover even more incredible ones.

The combination of these fields has me finding and accepting this system of order that governs the way things work, and it’s so effortless and elegant that it would be easy to miss entirely. Systems seek balance, but not homogeneity. Functions have inverses that aren’t opposites. And on and on, it’s just exquisite.

When I think about knitting, it’s a fantastic binary system. Knit or purl, basically, though I am inclined to also include yarn-overs, increases, and decreases as one’s knitting alphabet. Even these five elements seem totally manageable, if math can wrap itself around integers, fractions, positives/negatives, exponents, negative exponents, imaginary numbers, trigonometric functions, infinities… you get the idea.

When you put these elements together, you form much bigger and more ornate systems that have their own properties (similar to molecular functional groups comprised of only protons, neutrons, and electrons). Even very simple combinations (2 hydrogens and an oxygen, say) make a significant impact in a design. This is to say nothing of the properties of fibers, color, the way the yarn is spun, and so on and so forth, which expand in this seemingly infinite array of combinations and possibilities.

I’m knitting the Upstairs wrap/scarf, which I am finding extremely pleasurable. As a pattern, it demonstrates such satisfying elegance: each patterning section is constructed with a decrease, a yarn-over, and a combination of knit stitches that add up to 7. The yarn-overs move sequentially back and forth across the section, a perfectly-balanced little staircase. Can it get lovelier?

And yet the swooping, gorgeous shapes it creates as you knit are so much more evocative and organic than what are essentially zig-zagged lines. The delicate colors in this hand-painted yarn dance about in intriguing combinations that remind me of Monet’s paintings of sedge grass under rippling water. I am utterly, intrinsically enthralled with this project.

My first Fair Isle

I’ve attempted colorwork haphazardly before, but this is my first real Fair Isle project. As long as I’ve been knitting, the concept of stranded knitting has eluded me, seeming closer to wizardry than a fairly easily learned skill. It turns out there really isn’t any great mystery: you knit with one color, then the other, and you gently float the yarn you’re not using across the back. That’s really it.

Of course, maintaining an even tension that results in neither floppy stitches or excessively tight strands is its own gamut, but so far, I’m cautiously optimistic about my ability to do so.

As this is a beret (specifically Kate Gagnon Osborn’s exquisite Selbu Modern), I have some concerns about it fitting my gigantic Irish head. Looking at the many projects on Ravelry, I was charmed by all the color combinations. It took me a while to come up with these two together, but it really shouldn’t have, as lately I’ve been obsessed with magenta and yellow in everything I do.

Learning Fair Isle opens up a world of possibilities in multi-color knits. I am also utterly delighted by these tiny, lovely little stitches dancing together. This is a very joyful project, which is exactly what I needed in the middle of winter.

FO – Lotus Hat

To interrupt my spate of sock posts (I’m going to put another pair up today), I thought I should share this little lace hat.

While knitting it, I wondered about the purpose of such a hat, and then I found the perfect day to wear it, when it was sunny and almost warm, but still cool enough to want to cover my ears and (still wet) hair while walking the dogs.

Oh hi, I have thesis face and look like hell. But don’t you like my hat?

Pattern: Lotus Hat by UptownPurl at Third Base Line; my project is here on Ravelry
Size: one size, women’s beanie-style hat
Yarn: Knit Picks Comfy Worsted 10-ply, in color B990 Creme Brulee, 75% Pima cotton / 25% acrylic; I used 44.9 grams, which was approximately 97 yards/ 88.7 meters, just under one ball
Needles: size 6 (4.00 mm) 16″ circular and set of 5 size 6 (4.00 mm) DPNs
Modifications: added one chart repeat to lengthen

Started: January 17, 2010
Finished: January 17, 2010

I haven’t really worn this style of hat before. If it’s cold enough to wear a hat, I generally go for something thick and wooly. If I want something prettier, I’d go for one of several traditional tweed caps or felt cloches I have (is it in any way surprising that I love hats?). So this was a departure, and one I’m glad I took.

Do you do this? Contorting and torturing your poor photographer (thank you, Mom!) trying to get a shot of the top of your head? There were actually some comical out-takes from when I tried to do it myself, and my mother mercifully intervened.

What initially drew me to this pattern was the lotus flower shape made by the crown decreases (hence the name), and I think it’s beautifully written to take full advantage of the transition between the lace and this shape. The cross-hatch lace itself is lovely and very enjoyable to knit. It’s an intuitive, rhythmic pattern, and I liked watching its organic development. I knit this hat in just a few hours, and I’m sure part of the speed was how much I enjoyed working the lace.

I am head over heels in love with the yarn. It is heavenly soft, with just enough squish and bounce to have excellent stitch definition. It feels great to work with and even better to wear. While knitting this hat, I thought I should try to use this yarn whenever possible in future, especially for baby and children’s garments and anything that would be worn against the skin.

This project felt nice and serendipitous. This ball of yarn was leftover from a camisole I knit last summer (yeah, I should probably get around to photographing that too…), and I’ve been going through one heck of a yellow obsession, so it all came together nicely.

I was sweating the yardage the whole time, which is why I didn’t add yet another chart repeat, but I decided that if the hat were much longer, it would start looking silly for a spring cap, and I didn’t want it to be puffy on the top of my head.

I can’t explain it, but I have a bit of a compulsion to wear my hair in braided pigtails with this hat – I’ll have to let you know how that works out.

FO – Vine Lace Scarf

When I was thinking of something to knit for my boss’s birthday, I thought about her preferences and decided that something green and sparkly was absolutely the way to go.

Pattern: my own (still coming), using Barbara Walker’s Vine Lace stitch, learned from the Jellyfish shrug; project page here on Ravelry
Size: scarf size, approximately 6″x54″
Yarn: Patons Brilliant 69% Acrylic 19% Nylon 12% Polyester, color 3232 Glitter Green; I used 1 ball, 1.75 oz/50 g and 166 yards/158 m.
Needles: aluminum 9-inch size 10.5
Modifications: same as my first

Started: December 4, 2008
Finished: January 10, 2010

I had been wanting to knit another Vine Lace Scarf for a long time, since my cousin’s wife Yvonne loved my first one so much and it looked so cute on her. My boss is really into accessories, the shinier the better (I think this is part of why we get along so well).

I actually started this project for my boss’s birthday last year (her 2008 birthday) and then again for her 2009 birthday, but I didn’t give it to her until I gave the rest of my lab their extraordinarily belated Christmas gifts in January. The actual knitting time was about a day, as vine lace really flies by.

Vine lace is one of my favorite stitch patterns, as it has a big impact for easy, intuitive knitting that my hands seem to know how to do automatically by now.

I love lace scarves and the way they flutter and shimmer in the breeze. This yarn blocks remarkably well for an artificial fiber – I soaked the finished scarf in soap and warm water, then ran it over with an iron on low heat (my iron’s Nylon setting) to block it into place.

I really couldn’t be happier with the way this scarf came out. It was a lovely little gift – my boss loved it and pointed out how nicely it contrasted against the black top she was wearing. She also thought it would work tied in her hair or as a belt.

I’ll probably write a quick little pattern at some point (surround two repeats of vine lace with garter stitch, knit until you run out of yarn…), but I’m sure I will knit another one of these scarves soon.

Previous posts on this project:
But what about December birthdays?

FO – Hello Kitty Hat

My labmate and dear friend Penelope is fairly obsessed with Hello Kitty. When I was brainstorming her Christmas gift, I thought something playful and well, adorable, was in order, and so I made her a Hello Kitty hat.

Pattern: Official Kittyville Hat (Ravelry link) by Kitty Schmidt, free pattern on Kittyville
Size: adult size hat
Yarn: Caron Simply Soft 10-ply aran weight, colors White and Raspberry, 100% acrylic; I used about half a skein of the white, which was approximately 165 yards/ 151 meters and a small amount of the raspberry
Needles: Susan Bates size 7 (4.5 mm) 16″ circular and Knit Picks nickel-plated double-pointed needles, set of 5 size 7 (4.5 mm)
Modifications: Knit hat as written; added bow from the Hello Kitty Hat pattern (Ravelry)

Started: January 12, 2010
Finished: January 13, 2010

I saw a number of almost unbearably cute Hello Kitty hats on Ravelry, but I decided to go with just the bow and ears attached to an otherwise serviceable white hat, as a kind of homage to Hello Kitty, a hat in the spirit without being a literal depiction. Also, this way Penelope could actually be Hello Kitty, and that is way, way more fun.

The pattern was great: straightforward, fast, and easy, making for a very satisfying and enjoyable project. I loved the I-cord and had to refrain from making 3-foot long tassles. The pom-poms look sweet now, but they were quite a hassle to make. I’ve read before that acrylic makes lousy pom-poms, and I think it was only through sheer obsession that I got these to a state I am happy with.

I love the way the ears are constructed from picked-up stitches, knit in two layers that are sewn together for stability and structure. Having the seed stitch echo the lower band and ear flaps was a nice touch. I really like the way the seed stitch looks on this hat, and it didn’t occur to me until I was almost done with it that it’s really no more work than K1, P1 ribbing.

Of course, what makes this project is the bow. My goodness, am I smitten with this bow. It’s such a simple construction (garter stitch rectangle with a smaller rectangle cinching it in at the middle and sewn together), but it comes out utterly adorable. I sewed it down at a coquettish angle, and the hat came alive.

I had so much fun making this hat, and I loved giving it as a gift. Penelope was totally thrilled and looked ridiculously cute. I’m so happy!