Saturday, May 12, 2007

Playing around with colours and yarns

While I was reading some of my lace knitting books recently, I came across a comment from the author about the choice of yarns and colours to be used for knitting lace. According to the author, lace should be knit in either white or ecru mercerized or plain crochet cotton, an equivalent white or natural fine linen thread, or with 1 ply or fine 2 ply wool. Yarns with conspicuous colour, or a polished surface -- e.g. silk, or rayon -- are definitely to be avoided as they are not part of the lace making tradition.

I think I'm in trouble.

I've been breaking the rules.

None of the lace I've been knitting lately has been white, natural or ecru.

Some of it has been shiny in appearance, or even downright fuzzy.

I've even deliberately used yarn which is heavier than lace weight.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, very little of the yarn I have earmarked for future lace projects could be described as white, natural or ecru, and most of what I do have will be dyed before it is used.

I'm obviously a deviant and a rebel.

Oh, well. It's far too late to go back now.

So here is a list of some future transgressions I have in mind.

A few years ago now, I jumped on an already overcrowded bandwagon and knit a Charlotte's Web Shawl for myself. It was quite an interesting experience, mostly because I was unable to locate anywhere locally that stocks Koigu yarn, so all of the yarn had to be ordered from online stores. Ordering different colourways of hand-painted yarns based solely on small photographs on a computer screen with a view to having five of them co-ordinate with one another in some way is insanity of course, but that's never stopped me before. So I went ahead and did it. The shawl that resulted from this experiment -- after three attempts to get the yarn order right -- is lovingly referred to by my eldest daughter as my hippy shawl, and for anyone who is interested there are some photos of it here.

For various reasons, I've always wanted to have another go at this project, but, if anything, obtaining Koigu has become even more problematic since the Charlotte's Web craze died down -- certainly, there seems to be much less available online now in the darker, deeper, cooler tones of blue, green, purple and red, which are the colours I tend to lean towards.

Anyway... I received a few more hanks of Koigu 'Painter's Palette Premium Merino' yarn in the post last week, so I decided it was time to take my box of Koigu PPPM yarn outside so I could play around with different combinations of colourways in an environment where the light was better -- I'm sure my neighbours where amused by this, but at least they were able to continue to resist the urge to have me hauled away by the men in white coats -- at least for now.

I took some photographs of what I consider to be the better combinations -- and I've layed them all out in the order they would be used in the shawl, just in case it isn't obvious. Apologies for the colourways which have already been wound into balls ready for use, but turning them back into hanks just for the photographs was way too obsessive even for me. ;)

I think this one is my favourite...

... and perhaps not surprisingly it features purples and greens.

From left to right,

Colour P217 Lot 27
Colour P305 Lot 267
Colour P609 Lot 87
Colour P528 Lot 22
Colour P429 Lot 29
Colour P609 Lot 40

I included an additional colourway beyond the number specified in the pattern in this one because I've noticed that my original Charlotte's Web Shawl has a tendency to relax and lose some of its size quite soon after it is blocked, and I'd quite like to have one that is a little larger. Plus I just had to take advantage of the fact that I actually had six colourways in my possession that looked like they just might play nicely together.

And as I actually started out trying to put something together that features some red...

From left to right,

Colour P426 Lot 320
Colour P426 Lot 221
Colour P102 Lot 174
Colour P428 Lot 82
Colour P408 Lot 65

My camera has given this one a bit of a pink tinge that wasn't there in real life, but you'll just have to take my word that in reality it's redder than it probably looks in the photograph. Just for my own information... the blue hank was included because it seemed a little flat without it, and because I haven't been able to find any suitable deep, dark red colourways anywhere.

Just by way of comparison, here is a photograph of the colourways I used in my original Charlotte's Web Shawl...

From left to right,

Colour P426 Lot 221
Colour P417 Lot 3
Colour P428 Lot 82
Colour P405 Lot 108
Colour P217 Lot 27

One thing I did notice while I was playing with my Koigu yarn on the table outside was that several of the colourways are now a lot lighter than they were a few years ago, which was something I had already suspected from the difficulties I've been having finding the fully saturated colourways that used to a trademark of the Koigu dye artists a few years ago. Note in particular the two examples of colourway P609 in the first photograph, and of colourway P426 in the second. In both cases, the very much lighter version is the more recent offering. Just in case any of Koigu's dye artists ever accidentally stop by here, I know things move on but I'd really appreciate it if there could be a few more deeper, darker colourways in cooler toned colours put back in the range -- and if there could be a dark, moody Goth-inspired colourway with purples and blacks, my daughter would finally be able to have the socks of her dreams knit for her. Of course, it's also possible that these colourways are still available, but they're just not making it online where I can find them...

Anyway... That's enough of that, and it's time to move on.

When one of the local yarn stores was closing down, I bought some yarn at a very good price during their final sale...

It's nine skeins of Rare Yarns Rare Fire 'Jewel' yarn, which is a 14 ply 50% Australian alpaca, 30% mohair, 20% super fine merino yarn, which is actually made up of a mix of the four 'Cool Jewel' colours (Jade, Amethyst, Sapphire, and Topaz) from their 'Essentials' range.


What have I decided to knit with this yarn?

Why, 'Claddach' from Alice Starmore's 'In the Hebrides', of course!

Having seen how this yarn looks when used to knit simple lace stitches in some of the 'Rare Yarns' patterns, I really do think this should be a match made in heaven, even though the yarn is a fair bit thicker than the 'Scottish Heather' specified in the pattern.

And having seen this description of the inspiration behind the design and the meaning of the name...

... I think the colourway is a really appropriate match too.

Note to myself... As the yarn label specifies 7.00mm needles, 8.00mm needles might be a good place to start as the lace fabric for the wrap will need to have a softer drape than normal. And as this yarn is chunkier than the original and will be worked on much larger needles, eliminating two of the 9 stitch repeats would probably be a good idea too.

As if this project isn't deviant enough, I'm still seriously thinking about knitting a Hap Shawl using the ColourMart lace weight smooth silk yarn.

As the pattern I would like to use is the 2 Ply Grey Shawl pattern from Heirloom Knitting...

... and it uses four co-ordinating colours, I've acquired two more shades in the 3/50nm smooth silk yarn...

... which I plan to knit with two strands held together, exactly as I've been doing with my 'Candle Flame Shawl'. From left to right, the colours are 'Pale Silver', 'Pale Steel', 'Pale Navy 2' and 'Dark Navy 2', and I can see these working together really well in this shawl. :) I know knitting it in silk is a really decadent idea -- particularly in view of the history behind Hap Shawls -- but I do think Sharon's beautiful pattern is more than worthy of this luxurious yarn, and that the silky softness and added sheen will make for quite a spectacular finished shawl.

One of my ultimate goals is to acquire the necessary skills to be eventually be able to knit Heirloom Knitting's Wedding Ring Shawl. I already have the pattern...

... and also have a few possible contenders for the yarn to knit it with sitting in my stash.

Predictably, none of them is white, as in the back of my mind I'm picturing something truly ethereal in nature -- whether this is a good idea or not, only time will tell.

As ColourMart's cobweb weight cashmere and silk yarn appears to be almost identical in appearance to one of the yarn samples included in the envelope with the pattern, these are my current front runners.

Perhaps one of these two...

'Grey' on the left, and 'Navy' on the right.

Or possibly one of these two...

'Ocean Blue' on the left, and 'Violet' on the right.

I realize I've posted these two photos in earlier entries on this blog, but I've included them here again just to have everything grouped together in the one place.

I keep changing my mind as to which of these colours to go with, but as I think it will still be a while before I'm worthy of attempting this pattern, I still have plenty of time to think about it before a final decision needs to be made. I'm actually a little curious as to whether other people have a tendency to lean towards projects which will help bring them a little closer to being able to knit a special project, as this is always in the back of my mind when I choose a new project to knit? I have quite a history of over-thinking things, and I'm suspicious that this could well be a more long term example of that.

As a companion to the Wedding Ring Shawl, I also have my eyes on the Princess Shawl as a future project, but that one has the added complication of the pattern not being currently available.

I've also bought some dyes, which I will be auditioning soon on some samples of the yarn I plan to use to knit my sister's Hanami Shawl...

There's a few more than I mentioned in my earlier posting, as several people have advised me that the cashmere and silk blend might turn out a little paler than I want it to be, so I bought a couple of darker shades as well to test out on the yarn -- they're all shades I'll use anyway, so none of them will go to waste.

The shades I chose are all from the Gaywool Bush Blends range, and I bought them from the Virginia Farm Woolworks, who had them on my doorstep in practically no time at all. :) Just in case the labels are hard to read in the photograph, the colours are 'Willow', 'Meadow', 'Cypress', 'Iceberg' and 'Sugargum'.

If anyone has any advice to offer as to how best to get a nice even result, please let me know as I'd like this shawl to turn out well for my sister. I'm also thinking I might buy myself something like a crock pot for my dyeing, so I can set things up in the laundry away from the kitchen -- Is this a good idea?

After a photograph of a Hyrna Herborgar shawl was posted on the ColourMart Forum recently, I just had to have this...

It's 'Three-Cornered & Long Shawls' by Sigridur Halldórsdóttir which apparently is a near-legendary Icelandic shawl book, and fortunately for me it's accompanied by a booklet with an English translation as my Icelandic language skills really aren't what they should be.

And while I was ordering it from the Schoolhouse Press website, this fell into my shopping cart too...

It's 'Stahman's Shawls and Scarves' by Myrna Stahman, which is a book I've been wanting for years.

And while I'm on the topic of books...

From some of the postings on the Heirloom Knitting Yahoo group, I recently learnt of the existence of a specialist Russian book (with an accompanying DVD) on Orenburg Lace. I eventually tracked down a review of 'The Orenburg Down Shawl' on the wabi sabi blog. I'm not sure I'm quite ready to enter the wonderful world of sourcing obscure knitting books from Russia yet, but if somewhere in the West is ever able to take this book on and add it to their catalogue, I'll be among the first in line to buy it.

And while I'm on the topic of Orenburg shawls... Sharon Miller now sells a Gossamer Mohair yarn, which appears to be the closest yarn to the best Orenburg yarn which is currently readily available.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Friday, May 11, 2007

Left-Handed Knitter?

While I was browsing through some of my knitting books the other night, I stumbled upon this little gem...

... which I really have to take issue with, and couldn't let pass without comment.

As someone who doesn't knit 'the right handed way', it's my experience that there are very few patterns that need any alteration at all to the instructions as written, mostly due to the symmetrical nature of the human body, and just about any object you are likely to want to knit. For the most part, I just follow the instructions exactly as they are written, or read any charts provided as if I was going to knit it 'the right handed way', and everything works just fine -- after all, does it really matter if I start knitting each row at the left-hand edge instead of the right-hand edge, or that the piece I knit from the pattern instructions is the right front instead of the left front, as long as I'm aware of this and attach it to the correct side when I sew the item together, and remember to put any buttonholes on the appropriate side for the sex of the recipient? In general, the only time I bother with altering the pattern instructions in any way is if there is a motif in the design which really needs to be worked so it faces a specific direction -- an alphabetic character, for example. I actually quite like that some of the things I knit are mirror images of what everyone else is knitting as it gives them a bit more individuality, even though you'd have to be very familiar with the original pattern to appreciate that individuality -- I look on it as the knitter's equivalent of an in-joke. ;) In any case, I have serious doubts that there are patterns that will be impossible to knit, simply because you are knitting your rows in the opposite direction.

I also take issue with the idea that the problem for left-handers is all to do with controlling the yarn, and that simply choosing to work using the Continental method will solve that problem. My experience is that no matter whether you choose to knit using the English or the Continental method of holding the yarn, it will be the right hand that is actually doing most of the work if you knit 'the right handed way', which, when all is said and done, is why right-handers knit in that direction in the first place. It is only by switching things around so that you're working in the opposite direction that the left hand becomes the dominant working hand when knitting, which for me feels a lot less awkward and far more natural than knitting 'the right handed way', and was well worth the extra effort it has taken me to learn to knit that way.

The one thing I do agree with is that a knitter who does decide not to knit 'the right handed way' will inevitably have to face the fact that how to knit instruction books are almost invariably written and illustrated from the point of view of right-handed knitters -- 'Knitting Through the Looking Glass' is actually a bit of a dig at the large number of knitting instruction books where the only concession to left-handers is a note telling us to view the illustrations provided through a mirror -- and that most of the knitters they will meet will knit 'the right handed way', so any instructions received from these sources will need to be switched around. In my own case, I was lucky enough to have a left-handed aunt who helped me get started by showing me how to work the knit stitch when I was having difficulties learning how to knit 'the right handed way', which gave me both a starting point and an understanding of what would need to be switched around when learning something new from a right-hander or from instructions intended for a right-handed person. Thank you, Auntie Lois! :) Without your help I'm sure I would have given up on knitting long before I worked out that simply switching the direction around would make everything far less awkward for me.