I speak lace

I love learning and speaking foreign languages. I am fluent in Spanish and Italian, and I’m working on French. I love picking up fundamentals of grammar in other languages, and I genuinely enjoy discovering the quirks and peculiarities of a given culture’s modifications to a base structure.

One of the things I love best about languages is the way they stick in some part of the brain, whether used or not, and come up to the surface as needed, Italian words and Spanish idioms rolling into conversation naturally and comfortably. I find that lace-knitting is its own language, and I love that I am becoming slowly, modestly fluent in lace.

I had started my Wakame Lace Tunic way back in early 2010, over the holidays when I needed to take my mind off of an emotional situation (that’s always the way with me – I bury my feelings in lace). I put it aside just after establishing the sleeves on the back, when I got too busy with my graduate thesis. I packed it up when I moved to Staten Island, and I only just took it out again the other day.

Luckily, I speak lace. I’d left myself all the information I needed with the amount of stitches on the needles, and I was able to read where I was at in the first sleeve repeat. With a quick perusal of the pattern, I came right back up to speed, and I’ve been just chattering away with this gorgeous tunic since then.

I’m enjoying it immensely, and like most lace projects, it’s a great comfort for me during another emotionally trying time (I’ll talk about that once it’s all settled). I can’t get past the cleverness in the construction of this garment, and I look forward to making more progress as I zip up toward the end of the back and get ready to start the front.

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.

dscn3377

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.

FO – Fern Pattern Socks (Farnmustersocken)

When I photographed the last five pairs of socks I’d knit in one session, my father apparently asked my mother, “Just how many pairs of socks has she knit while procrastinating her thesis??” While I clarified that those were socks spread out over the past year or more, I also had to sheepishly admit that yes, there were two more pairs.

As my love of green lace is extensive and well-documented, I have to say, I really don’t see myself getting tired of it.

Pattern: Fern Pattern Socks (Farnmustersocken) by Diana Harrison, from the German magazine Wollke7; my project is here on Ravelry
Size: US women’s 9
Yarn: Knit Picks Gloss Sock 4-ply fingering weight, in Jade, 70% wool / 30% silk; I used 83.7 grams, which was approximately 367.4 yards/ 336 meters
Needles: Knit Picks size 2 (2.75 mm) DPNs, set of 5
Modifications: worked toe-up with a short-row heel

Started: February 7, 2010
Finished: March 14, 2010

I knit these as part of the Under-appreciated Patterns challenge for Sock Knitters Anonymous on Ravelry. The criteria for this challenge included that there must be less than 15 projects at the time of cast-on for a pattern to be considered under-appreciated, and in this instance, my project was the third.

I figured the reason it was obscure was because it was written in German, though I’m surprised more German-speaking sock knitters hadn’t picked up on it. Because the lace pattern was charted out, I found a very helpful German to English Symbol Knitting site that made quick sense of it, which combined with Google Translator helped me sort out all the relevant details. No longer will I be put off by patterns written in another language, with the internet here to help me!

This pattern has a lot of pluses for my personal preferences. The repeats are simple and short, yet long enough that you only need to work a few over each round. The fern shapes are built by two 8-row sequences of essentially the same pattern, shifted left or right, so the stitches and sequence of working them are almost the same. The only even remotely tricky part is that at the start of the 15th row on the chart, a stitch must be moved from the previous needle to make the pattern work. I wondered how that was going to work out, then just did what it said, and I had my answer: effortlessly.

In addition to being great fun to knit, this type of lace also has a strong visual impact and dimensionality without getting too distracting. I enjoyed working it in a solid color so that from a distance, they’d be sort of sedate, but up close you could really see the stitches, unobscured.

Working on larger than my usual needles, with the somewhat beefier Gloss yarn, made these socks move pretty quickly. I knit most of them while I was in bed sick with bronchitis (yuck), but even through a codeine haze I could tell I was going to be happy with the finished product.

I worked my standard toe starting with a figure-8 cast-on, then a short-row heel. I have to say I really love the way this yarn works at this gauge, as it makes for really neat structural elements that feel great on the feet.

I look forward to wearing these often and continuing to spread the love for green lace socks.

Previous Entries on this Project:
Neue Socken

Grape Lace

In what I’m sure will come as no surprise to anyone, I’ve started a new pair of socks. These are special because they’re not the usual sock, so much as lace stockings, and well, I have reason to believe I’m going to love them.

So you’ve seen Bettie’s Lace Stockings from the Spring 2009 Interweave Knits, right? As soon as I saw them, I fell in love and was certain I would be making them one day.

Among the numerous points that attracted me to this pattern (beautiful lace! size 2 needles! not a lot of yarn but you end up with knee socks! fast! stretchy! ribbons!!!), the fact that they are designed toe-up jumped out and made me extraordinarily happy. Toe-up is, to my thinking, the most logical and comforting way to knit socks, and I’ve noticed that the fit is much better than the top-down socks I’ve knit.

I changed the cast-on to my usual figure-8 (not a big fan of unpicking provisional cast-ons) and increased to 48 stitches, then got going with the pattern as written. Then I started feeling a little disconcerted.

(This is actually the bottom of my foot.)

The elements of this design are essentially a wider central pattern of lace, flanked by two narrow eyelet panels. Eventually there will be calf increases and what all built into these elements, but on the foot, it felt very strange to work three sections of lace, two of which were split on the bottom of the foot. I tried to think through the logic on that, but when I realized that there would be a short-row heel interrupting the lace up the back of the leg anyway, I wondered if it wouldn’t be better to knit the sole in stockinette?

I hemmed and hawed about how well they would wear with sole lace, and whether I felt like knitting two extra repeats when I was only interested in the one on the top of the foot. When I noticed how many times I’d flubbed the eyelet panels (from losing track at the start of the row at the middle of the sole), I took it as a sign, frogged back to the toe and started over.

I am so much happier now. I have the wide panel of bee pattern lace centered between two narrow eyelet columns on the top of the foot, with the sole knit in plain stockinette. I’ll work a regular short row heel, then follow the pattern afterwards for calf increases and so on. It’s moving way, way faster, and I’m not so annoyed feeling like I’m putting a lot of effort into something that will get bedraggled in my shoes anyway.

If you’re interested in making this change (and heck, for my own future reference when I inevitably forget what I did and need to match the second socks), it’s quite easy.

Cast on using a figure-8 or Turkish cast-on, Judy’s magic cast-on, etc and increase to 48 stitches. Or do whatever provisional toe-up cast-on you like, so long as you get to 48 stitches. When you switch to 3 needles (one for the top and two for the bottom), slip the first stitch of needle 1 and the last stitch of needle 2 to the bottom needles, such that you have 13 stitches on each of those and 22 stitches on the top needle.

P1, work a repeat of the narrow eyelet lace (in the pattern it is called Feathered Fagoting), work a repeat of the center bee lace (Narrow Gathered Lace), p1, work a second repeat of narrow eyelet lace, p1. Then knit the sole stitches in stockinette. Much easier, faster, and it retains the stretchiness of the pattern, with the sturdiness of a stockinette sole. Now these are socks I will love to knit as much as I’ll love to wear them.

FO – Fancy Merino Socks

That Nancy Bush, man. She can really design a pair of socks.

Nancy Bush is one of the only designers for whom I will happily knit socks from the top-down, and I’m really happy when I do.

Pattern: Fancy Silk Sock for a Child of 5 or 6 Years by Nancy Bush, from the book Knitting Vintage Socks; my project is here on Ravelry
Size: US women’s 9
Yarn: Knit Picks Stroll 4-ply fingering weight, in Glacial, 75% Merino wool / 25% nylon; I used 71.9 grams, which was approximately 332.6 yards/ 304.2 meters
Needles: Knit Picks size 1.5 (2.5 mm) nickel-plated DPNs, set of 5
Modifications: added one lace repeat to lengthen the leg, otherwise knit as written

Started: January 2, 2010
Finished: February 17, 2010

I’ve wanted to knit these socks for a while, and the January Sock Knitters Anonymous challenge featuring Nancy Bush as a designer provided the perfect opportunity. While knitting, I wondered why I enjoy Nancy Bush patterns so very much, and I think it’s the utter clarity of design, which is carried through in the directions. Every stitch is accounted for, with patterns that are logical and intuitive, with clever transitions and connections among motifs, as well as ways for keeping track of progress that aren’t tedious, such as counting the selvedge chains on the heel flap.

A lot of the sock patterns I’ve seen are essentially some stitch pattern plugged into a basic sock formula, which is what makes them so easy to convert to toe-up. I like that Nancy (yeah, we’re going to be on a first-name basis now) really thought through ways to incorporate the vintage shapes into an overall harmonious flow of stitchery that results in not just a sock, but really a bit of artistry.

And yet, these delicate little tulip shapes blooming up the leg, as well as the dancing lace between them, are incredibly easy and fast to work, which of course I have to love. This portion of the design could have been worked upside-down, but I don’t think it would have the same dimensionality and rhythm.

I’m completely in love with the yarn. It is creamy and squishy and soft, yet strong and durable, making for a lovely sock that feels great on the feet, but holds up to wearing with shoes. I have great love for Knit Picks, and this yarn is one of the ones I’d most highly recommend.

Oh, and the color. It’s this agonizingly beautiful minty bluish greenish color, very accurately named for its similarity to glacial ice (which I will be seeing a lot of on my upcoming trip to Iceland). It also conjures a particularly delightful chapter in the D.H. Lawrence book Women in Love called “Crème de Menthe,” along with general mint green frostings and creamy, decadent things. It may be weird to associate this color with romance and indulgence, but I picture it somehow with cushy white spa robes and crisp white sheets, gentleness and tenderness and all kinds of mushy things.

My only misgiving of sorts, with these socks, is that the lace cuff at the top is a little tight, which prevented me from lengthening the leg as much as I wanted to. I’d read recommendations to work it with a larger needle, and I meant to, then forgot at the last minute and went at it with the 1.5 size. I figured I should be alright since I’d already gone up a half size from the recommended size 1’s, but this is a common issue for me with top-down socks. I can probably fix the cuff with some aggressive blocking (though weirdly, I can’t find my sock blockers anywhere!). Still, these are long enough that they don’t bother me, and their loveliness makes up for anything else for me.

Previous Entries on this Project:
For the Love of Nancy Bush