Knitting all the time

I think that being a knitter is similar to being an artist, or a scientist, or a chef, in that as you go about the day, you don’t really ever stop being what you are, yet it’s not the only thing that defines your existence. As I ride the ferry, I always notice the knit items people are wearing, examining their construction, the fit, the lace or cable pattern, and in the same way that I look at paintings as if I had a brush in my hand, I wonder how I would make this thing, what I might change about it, and so on.

But mentally knitting, obviously, isn’t the same thing as physically taking needles and yarn and producing something, which is why I’m so delighted to have stolen moments here and there to make progress on a bunch of projects, old and new.

First, look what’s off the needles and awaiting blocking…

This is my Upstairs shawl/wrap/scarf, with which I am utterly enamored. I will go on (and on) about this project in its own FO post, but I will say that the thought of blocking it and having raggedly, pointy, stretched-out edges broke me down, and I bought blocking wires. I look forward to seeing how they work out.

I stayed with my family in New Jersey through Hurricane Irene, and the several days we were without power gave me quite a head of steam on a project I haven’t mentioned before.

This is a summery laceweight shrug knit in seafoam stitch, and even though it will probably be a while (like, the next three seasons) before I get to wear it, I’m pretty enthused with what I think it will become.

I pretty much always have socks on the go (I will do a whole sock catch-up soon), but these had been abandoned a while ago in my knitting basket. I can’t really remember why, save for the tedium of working with bamboo needles, but once I started them back up again, I whipped through a heel and have been moving up the leg.

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I love this snowflake lace pattern, and I keep thinking about where else I might like to use it (probably a cardigan or shrug?) since it is that perfect blend of organic and geometric, deceptively simple, and really quite lovely when stretched and worn (saving that for the FO post, again, soon).

Now I didn’t knit this, but this is a spectacular alpaca hat my parents picked up for me during their vacation to Peru in August.

I am so smitten with its colors, style, and decadent, soft warmth that I’m actually willing the weather to get colder so I can wear it outside of my apartment. My father bought my mother an insanely gorgeous alpaca cardigan, which I have to remember to photograph the next time I visit.

Mmmm, alpaca….

And saving perhaps the best for last, I have finally started a new sweater for my mother, which is technically her Christmas gift from ohh… 2008? This is not her gift this year, but rather something I’m going to try to get done soon because I feel bad promising people knits and not following through (I’ve done this with both parents and my brother, so yeah, bad habit of mine).

You may recognize it as the Cable-Down Raglan, a pattern I’ve admired for a long, long while. And yes, I have the yarn (and now the skills) to make one for myself too.

I had started a different cabled sweater for my mom years ago, but the more FO photos I’ve seen on Ravelry, the less I think that sweater will be particularly flattering for her, and it would make us both feel terrible to spend all this time knitting some elaborate cabled sweater that she never wears it because it looks bad. I admitted that this hesitation was most of why I’d stalled out on her super-belated Christmas gift, and she was relieved that I didn’t plug ahead on a feckless project. When I showed her the Cable-Down Raglan and photos of women with similar shapes and how wonderful they looked in it, she became enthusiastic and encouraged me to go forward with this one instead.

True to form, she picked out another heathered purple yarn, and I must say, I’m pretty pleased with the way it’s coming along. I really hope she likes it!

So these are but a few of the projects keeping my hands busy lately. I often think that if I focused on just one project at a time, I could whip out the FOs left and right, and this may be a strategy I can employ once I get some of the long-hibernating WIPs out of my basket and off my needles. But in the meantime, we’re coming into autumn, or Knitter’s Paradise, and I’m happy to have my hands full of wool again.

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.

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?

Shimmer

It occurs to me that if I wait to photograph and post each of the eight FOs I currently have waiting, or the staggering pile of WIPs I’ve started, I will succeed in taking the entire summer off from blogging, which really hasn’t been my intent.

Moving forward, I have become utterly entranced by this yarn.

It is KnitPicks Shimmer Hand Dyed, a lovely baby alpaca and silk blend that has escaped my attention until now. I originally bought it for a little laceweight shrug project, thinking the variegation would look nice in the stitch pattern. The color is Eucalyptus, a subtle blend of light greens and pale tones.

It wasn’t until I got it in my hands, though, that I realized just how special it feels. It is heavenly soft, a pleasure to touch. The silk gives it strength and smoothness that glides through my fingers, while the baby alpaca makes it weightless, with a delicate halo.

I decided this yarn needed to become something special, elegant, maybe even a little fancy. Also, I wanted to wrap myself in it. I searched Ravelry for an understated pattern which would showcase the beautiful texture and colors of the yarn, and I came up with the fabulous Upstairs Shawl.

I have this green Calvin Klein satin dress that I bought earlier this summer, which I’ve decided to wear to a wedding in October. I am excited beyond words to try to complete this shawl in time to go with it.

Man, I am a sucker for green lace.

FO – Flower Basket Shawl

I thought I would barely eke out this shawl when I only had 20 days to knit it. Then I had a break-up and moved over 100 miles away, so I thought I’d never get it done.

Perseverance and a long train commute can do wonders.

Pattern: Flower Basket Shawl by Evelyn A. Clark, from Interweave Knits Fall 2004 and available for purchase from Fiber Trends (here on Ravelry)
Size: approximately 63-inch wide triangular shawl, 31.5-inch long at center point
Yarn: Colourmart Silk 32/120NM DK weight 8-ply, color moss green, 100% silk; I used about half my cone, totaling approximately 80 grams/2.8 oz or 328.6 yards/300.5 meters.
Needles: size 7 (4.5mm) Knit Picks Options nickel-plated circular needle
Modifications: Changed yarn weight, added two repeats of Lower Flower Basket chart

Started: October 5, 2008
Finished: October 24, 2008

I think even if I weren’t driven to finish this shawl for an October 25 wedding, it would have gone pretty quickly.

The lace was intuitive and easy to memorize within rows. It still amazes me that such lovely shapes can be created with simple yarn-overs and decreases.

The pattern calls for holding lace-weight yarn double, but I decided I’d rather use a single strand of DK for neater lines. That gave me the opportunity to use this delicious silk, which made the whole project feel special.

I did get to wear it to the wedding, and I must thank my friends for unwittingly taking FO shots which I unscrupulously borrowed.

Note to self: learn how to wear shawls.

As you can see, the size is okay, but not quite as large as I would have liked. I thought part of it might have been issues with blocking, seeing as the only surface available the night before the wedding was my mattress, leaning against the wall in a hallway. I blocked it vertically, without measuring, trying to just stretch like mad, and I think I could have done a little better with that.

Still it was passable, and I am suitably charmed by turning a green blob in a sink into an adult-size shawl (or shawlette, whatever).

The yarn was as luminous and lovely as I thought it would be. It was a tad splitty, I suspect because it is actually a lot of very thin singles plied but not really spun together. I’ve never knit with pure silk before, so this might be a common experience, but it certainly wasn’t enough to deter me.

The color is a fantastic, delicate spring green that makes me happy every time I see it. I think it is now listed as “pistaccio” on Colourmart’s site (their spelling), but there are so many delectable shades of silk there you really can’t go wrong.

The whole cone, of which I used about half, cost $20 including shipping, so I will definitely be able to make something else with it too. That’s a pretty great value for such a special-feeling project.

I would enthusiastically recommend this pattern for beginner and experienced lace knitters alike. While I wish I’d made my shawl bigger, I am still happy with the finished project and look forward to many more lace shawls in my future.

Previous Entries on this Project:
Lacemaking
Another new home