Lace lessons: the Leticia Shawl

After a month and a few days of (slow) knitting, the Leticia shawl is done!

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Designed by Reiko Kuwamura, Leticia is a crescent-shaped shawl that is worked in sport weight in 2 stages: the shawl begins with a lace border, followed by the reverse stockinette ‘body,’ shaped using German short rows. The ‘sheerness’ of the shawl is achieved by a technique called ‘condo knitting,’ or working garter or stockinette using two very different sized needles on alternating rows (the mix of little loops and big loops = fun see-through fabric that is super easy to make!).

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Condo knitting (US 6 and US 11).

This marks my very first introduction to lace-knitting, and I found the pattern excellent and very straightforward. It includes a video short rows tutorial, as well as a formula-page for re-adapting Leticia to any size. If you want to liberate your inner lace-knitter, Leticia is the one (I now need to do more lace, very soon).

As seasoned lace-knitters know, lace needs to be blocked. As a lace newbie, however, I was unaware of just how huge the difference between pre-blocked FO and blocked FO can be! I thought I’d share some first-time thoughts on the lace-blocking process below.

Pre-blocked underwhelm

When the shawl first came off the needles (following a bind-off which took an hour and a half), I was a little underwhelmed. This “finished object” looked nothing like the nice Ravelry pictures. It had no drape; I couldn’t make out the crescent shape; it was puckering at the ends; and the lace edging was curled up and indiscernible. In fact, it looked so different from what was expected that I considered re-doing the shawl in a different needle size, worried as I was about that puckering (whose origins baffled me).

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As you can see, the shawl looks about as wearable as a deflated balloon that has lost all of its air and has just hit the pavement (which was kind of the state of my heart after casting off and realizing this was the product of a month’s work).

I held off on any rash decisions, though. I could hazard a frogging, I told myself, but only after giving blocking a try. Lace teaches one to keep hope alive.

Blocking : Stitches in Suspense 

In my pre-blocked-lace dismay, I decided to use points on a rewards card to get 9 bona fide blocking boards and a set of T-pins. My usual “pin to the ironing board” methods were just not going to cut it with the Leticia shawl: it had an over 5-foot ‘wingspan’ and picot-edging with 105 ‘points’ that needed to be pinned out for shape!

I started by pinning portions of the top of the shawl in a straight line, tugging and pinning the shawl down at every other picot (not enough pins to do them all). The garment started to take shape, relaxing from its curled up state into a symmetrical, pucker-free form.

I ended up short by a single 12″ x 12″ blocking square. I blocked the rest of the shawl, left that section behind, then re-wetted and pinned it down after the first portion was dry. Having a modular board that was easily re-arrangeable was key. Apparently, this worked ok (excuse the blurry pictures):

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The difference between pre-blocked and blocked Leticia is like night and day. It was a marvelous feeling to take the fresh-blocked garment off the boards after a day or two and see it hold a completely different shape: the lacework edging had opened up, the shawl was ‘breathing’ and beautifully sheer, and instead of curled up, it was soft drape-y magic!

Learning lace, I’m realizing, is certainly a good lesson in patience–the hours of stitching are rewarded by still more days of pinning out and waiting. But, it is also a lesson in  transformation. Or, better yet, revelation, with all of the magic, surprise, and unexpected emergence of the extraordinary that the word suggests. In the realm of lace, what you see is not quite what you get!

You can read more random notes on the knitting process on my Leticia Ravelry project page. Thanks for reading!

Do you love lace? Or have any memorable lace projects? Do tell!

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Robert Henri on the song within

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What a month June has panned out to be. Between writing and a summer job, it’s been a busy one. On the making front, other than finishing up a Leticia shawl (unblocked…more on this soon), I’ve been enjoying The Art Spirit, by painter and portraitist Robert HenriOriginally published in 1923, The Art Spirit is a collection of Henri’s notes, letters and lectures to his pupils and proteges on the creative life. For the devoted student of painting, there’s lots to sink one’s technical teeth into: painterly lessons on colour theory, composition, the importance of keeping a clean palette (I always lapsed there), avoiding the overuse of ‘white’ to convey value (I did that), and cultivating the powers of visual memory.

But this little collection shines most brightly, I think, in how the fragments come together to convey a message on the ‘art spirit’: the joyful cultivation of vision and imagination. For Henri, ‘art’ (a term which he does not take too seriously) comes from enchantment with life. Part of the labour of making, he suggests, lies in developing self-knowledge through our imaginative sensibilities — allowing ourselves to be touched and moved by the things around us, rendered sensate, and finding exuberance and discovery in our worlds of feeling. Several times in the text, he suggests that the object is not to ‘make art,’ but to live — and to allow what we make to be a trace of that living.

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Image source: The School of Life’s The Dangers of Being Dutiful (a delightful Youtube video on precisely that).

This is a familiar message. But I enjoy how Henri articulates the idea, in different ways, with his own mix of wonder, warmth, and the ardent desire that budding artists learn, beyond technique, to recognize, value, and find tremendous joy in their ‘inner sense,’ and in painting as a modality of life.

You’ll find some of the Art Spirit moments that I found interesting below (I’ve gone ahead and feminized the masculine pronouns).


The real study of an art student is more a development of that sensitive nature and appreciative imagination with which she was so fully endowed when a child, and which, unfortunately in almost all cases, the contact with the grown-ups shames out of her before she has passed into what is understood as real life. 

On the experience of creative insight:

At such times, there is a song going on within us, a song to which we listen. It fills us with surprise. We marvel at it. We would continue to hear it. But few are capable of holding themselves in the state of listening to their own song. Intellectuality steps in and as the song within us is of the utmost sensitiveness, it retires in the presence of the cold material intellect… yet we live in the memory of these songs… They are the pinnacles of our experience and it is the desire to express these intimate sensations, this song from within, which motivates the masters of all art. 

Cherish your own emotions and never under-value them. We are not here to do what has already been done.

Find out what you really like if you can. Find out what is really important to you. Then sing your song. You will have something to sing about and your whole heart will be in the singing.

From a letter of criticism to a student:

Your education must be self-education. Self-education is an effort to free one’s course so that a full growth may be attained. One need not be afraid of what this full growth may become. Give your throat a chance to sing its song. All the knowledge in the world to which you have access is yours to use…Don’t bother about your originality, set yourself just as free as you can and your originality will take care of you. It will be as much a surprise to you as to anyone else.

The end will be what it will be. The object is intense living, fulfillment; the great happiness in creation.

And one last one, for now, from a painting critique Henri wrote to a student: “I like your work and have only to ask you to go on your own interesting way with all the courage you can muster.”

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Worldwide Knit in Public Day + a little lace

World Wide Knit in Public Day
Image source: wwkipday.com

Hello. I hope the start of June finds you well! This is probably old hat to the seasoned knitters, but first things first: this Saturday, June 9th is Worldwide Knit in Public Day (WWKiP). Started in 2005, this annual event is the largest knitter-run gathering on the globe. The idea is to join up and meet your local, fellow-knitters for some quality stitching time. Given the often solitary nature of a craft that is mostly performed in (and commonly relegated to) “private” spaces and spheres, WWKiP brings fiber arts into public space and gives crafters a chance to meet/reunite with like-minded folks, share some tips, and enjoy some community-building through the fiber arts.

WWKiP has been steadily growing over the years, with 1125 public knitting events around the world in 2017. That’s a lot of public knitting. If the prospect of some quality time with yarn, sunshine, WIPs, and nice people sounds good to you, the WWKiP website has a worldwide directory of events.

I can think of no better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.


Ok. Now for some lace…

I’ve been busy, this month, working my very first lace-knitting project: Reiko Kuwamura’s Leticia shawl.

© Reiko Kuwamura, Image source: Ravelry.com.

This induction into lace-knitting comes late, a little over a year into my return to knitting at the end of 2016. I can see the reasons for this. I was never a lace-wearer myself, and felt it easier to focus, at first, on the “hardy” practical knits – the mitts, the workhorse socks and scarves, a blanket here, a hat there. It has taken time to discover and appreciate this lighter side of knitting. My coming into lace, in other words, is quite like the process of lace-making itself: a little slow-going, and needing time and the right conditions to “open up” (as lace does, only after a good block).

Leticia

Folks, I love this pattern. It is worked in 2 parts: the lace border is worked first (it uses a 4-row repeat and includes a picot edge), and the body of the shawl proper is worked afterwards, by picking up border-stitches. The first step – still in progress – has been lots of fun: after about 30 repeats, I felt I had finally memorized the lace pattern and could safely turn it into TV & podcast knitting with the help of a counter (to track my place in the repeats) and good old paper and pen (to keep track of the number of repeats completed). Very analog.

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I love completing the border’s repeats. I can never quite stop at just one – the mind wants another and another, and with that, the lace lengthens.

I love the spidery feeling of working something finer and more delicate than stockinette or garter under my fingers, having the fabric coax my hands into learning a new nimbleness.

And I love the fragile architecture of lace, the way it holds together while letting the light and the air in, as if lace were meant to convey the elements. In the photo above, I’m imagining what it would be to sit underneath a huge lace rooftop or canopy and be mottled by little pools of lace-worked light.

Lacework has captured my imagination!

I hope you are making up a storm this week. Until next time!

 

 

A short update

Where has all the time gone? I was just posting about my little Afmaeli cape and before I knew it *poof* two weeks. Gone.

I’m happy to say that the capelet has worked a little bit of good magic. I don’t wear it for all my writing-times, but I keep it close by, on a stool. And something about having made it, and seeing it, has helped me continue to establish my good relationship to the writing work at hand. I think it reminds me that things are possible which I don’t and can’t always anticipate at the outset. It nudges me towards building up a liiiiiittle more tolerance each day for the unknowns. It reminds me to stay attuned to the thing in front of me, and to the process, which is like the weather: full of changes and differences and odd turns and more or less conducive days. The less conducive days don’t erase the good work done on the days before it; neither do they doom all efforts afterwards. Getting intentional about process, it turns out, can be a very good anti-dote to my tendency of getting sidelined by the hopes and horrors of product. Let the product be a document or artefact of process — all those individual, variegated days of commitment held together…. like stitches! (Knitting metaphors for the win!).

So. The cape has become my writing emblem. I recommend making a special garment or outfit to clothe and emblematize your maker-self!

And speaking of time. I celebrated a birthday last week and ushered in a new number. It was a sunny day. And sunshine and new numbers warrant an ample serving of sangria at the local watering hole, and some sheep-ish grinning.

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Ok. Enjoy your weekend!!!

The Writing Capelet, Part II: Colour work

afmaeli composite png.pngafmaeli cape 1-1-1If you recall last week’s post, I recently tried (and failed) to design a DIY capelet. As you can see above, a new capelet has been designed and is done. It had its very first outdoor wear during a recent trek through the woods. The day’s ample sunlight also provided the perfect opportunity to capture some of the capelet’s colours. The next step is to don it during a proper indoor writing session; I hope this garment will help me to produce many words.

A big thanks to Andrew for the photo help and company on the hike, and a big thank you to Donna at Yarnify! (my not-so-local LYS) who helped me choose the green you see here (Cascade 220 in the Lake Chelan colourway).

If you feel inclined, I’ve included some sections on the capelet’s making and design process below (a few more details can be found on the project’s Ravelry page).


The Idea: A Garment Mashup

After frogging my first try at this garment, I took to Ravelry for ideas. I came across the classic Afmaeli sweater and knew that I had to use this yoke pattern (I have been swooning over it for more than a year). Not long after, I came across the Boden and Sweetie Pie capelets, respectively.  Working from the reference pictures, I decided to combine the three garments’ different design elements: the Afmaeli yoke, the hemline and fit of the Sweetie Pie, and Boden’s loose and flattering neckline.

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Left: Afmaeli © Istex;   Top right: Boden © Nice and Knit;   Bottom right: Sweetie Pie © Loop Knitting Ltd.  Image Source: Ravelry.

Adapting the Afmaeli Yoke 

To adapt the Afmaeli yoke for capelet purposes, I started by noting that the yoke’s colourwork chart uses a pattern that repeats over 16 stitches. I made sure, then, to choose a stitch-count that was a multiple of 16 (a trick I picked up while reading Andrea Rangel’s Alterknit Stitch Dictionary). I was knitting with worsted weight at a gauge of 19 sts over 4″ / 10 cm. At my gauge, my magic number was 192 sts. This would produce a cape-width of around 40″ around the hemline.

Modifying the Yoke Decreases

I first assumed that I could work the Afmaeli yoke exactly as the pattern directs to produce a capelet, but I came to learn that these aren’t interchangeable! Because I was working fewer stitches than the actual sweater-pattern called for (16 sts fewer, to be exact), working the original pattern ended up producing a triangular, funnel-like, neckline, rather than one that fell neatly on the shoulders. “Icelandic funnel” was not quite the look I was going for.

I frogged the latter half of the yoke and found that it worked best to perform the cape’s decreases at 2 critical points: a) 1 row of evenly spaced decreases, a few rows into the stranded yoke (as directed by the pattern), and b) successive rows of decreases over, roughly, the last 7 rows of the yoke before the neckline. This produced a much better shape: the cape begins to ‘taper in’ only where it’s needed, on the shoulders (no funnel!).

With 84 sts remaining, I finished off the neckline by working 2 rows of purl, then ~5 rows of k1 p1 ribbing. Regular bind off in-pattern.

Modifying the Colourwork Chart

Because I decided to bypass some of the original pattern’s yoke decreases (to keep the width of the capelet more or less constant until the shoulder decreases, as described above), I ended up with more stitches on my needles than the pattern called for on the last few rows of the yoke. This is the area of the yoke where the tiny ‘tulips’ are. The original tulip-pattern called for a 12-stitch repeat; at that point, my stitch-count was still a multiple of 16.

My stitch-surplus required a little bit of tinkering with the chart. Using Stitch Fiddle, I adapted Afmaeli’s original 12-stitch tulip-repeat by adding 4 extra stitches to make a 16-stitch repeat. This little bit of problem-solving was lots of fun.

Afmaeli chartI did have a blunder (or two) working my tulip pattern, however. Two tulips at the beginning of the round, in particular, had some trouble making the transition into the new version of things.

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The one on the left seems to have started melting, and the tulip on the right has decided to break into full on Pacman mode. It’s ok. They’ll stay that way.

A final thought on blocking 

Recall that a common source of stranded knitting trepidation comes from the very real potential for puckering. As I was working, this anxiety seemed all but confirmed. There was plenty of pucker apparent on the WIP, especially at the transition where the colour work led to a section of regular knitting. Stranded knitting does tend to knit up tighter than straight stockinette:

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This looks like smocking.

I charged ahead, however. I am glad for it: a lot of that apparent pucker came out after blocking! I performed a light steam block with a coloursafe cloth over the steam iron (and some light, low-heat pressing on the colour work). It was eye-opening to see just how much steam alone relaxes stitches and evens out the fabric. Until blocking happens, apparently, what you see is not quite what you get in the realm of stranded knitting (I imagine that a full wet block might have evened out the fabric even more).


Phew. Between the mods, the frogging, the work on tensioning, and experimenting with different yarn holds, this capelet-mashup was a knitting workout! There was a lot of trial and error (and more error). And, it helped to treat the mistakes with a light touch. Knitting, after all, is partly the business of providing others and oneself with a little warmth and comfort; the process ought to mirror the product, no?

I hope that this week, however the weather, finds you enjoying something fun – project or otherwise!

Do you have a favourite DIY design garment? I’d love to hear about your design adventures in the comments!

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