I knit shawls. Well, I knit lots of other things as well, of course, but I do enjoy knitting shawls. They are the perfect vehicle for those eye-wateringly expensive, really tempting, lusciously hand-dyed skeins of silk, cashmere, alpaca, baby camel…
(Sorry, I drifted off there. Ahem.)
I wanted to make a scarf or stole using one of Mary Thomas’s lace patterns. I was already knitting Evelyn Clark’s triangular leaf-lace shawl, but I found another leaf pattern I liked lurking in the Book of Knitting Patterns, so I knitted up a sample and then fiddled about with it, testing the effect of small changes.
It’s her ‘beech-leaf lace’.
Unfortunately I used some anonymous stuff from my stash which turned out – but only when I blocked it – to be a well-disguised acrylic. None the less I liked it; despite the flatness, it’s just about possible to see that the leaves have rather unusual 3D veins. Next time I’ll do the ‘setting fire to a piece of yarn’ test* and make sure I’m not blocking something that won’t block.
For my sample I added two garter stitches for the selvedges, and I’ll do that for the stole / scarf; two worked well. The final piece will also need a simple edging or border at the top and bottom.
The biggest problem I had with the pattern was resisting my urge to count, check and adjust. If you try the pattern, it’s what’s sometimes called a travelling lace – Mary Thomas calls it a ‘plus pattern’. So you start with a 14-stitch repeat, which increases to 16 for several rows before going back to 14 again. It comes quite late in her chapter on lace knitting, which means it was originally designed for people who had carefully and systematically worked their way through the earlier patterns, including the chapters on eyelets and faggot stitch. Hmm.
Now for the next fun bit. Following my injections and the enforced rest, my hand is gradually improving. A couple of nights ago I knitted two lines of plain vanilla stocking stitch, the next night I managed four, and last night I did six – and all without my hand locking up in the Dreaded Claw. So I can begin to contemplate the shawl. I think I’ll do five or six repeats, but in what yarn?
I’ve narrowed it down to a choice of two.
On the left is a luxurious mix of baby alpaca, silk and cashmere, hand-dyed by Artis-Anne; it’s soooo soft, as you can imagine.
On the right is a merino and cashmere mix, also very soft and this time dyed by Nimu, which I bought at Wonderwool Wales last year – and less than a month to go to this year’s Wonderwool, hooray… I injured myself not long after last Wonderwool, which is why I’ve still got stuff left.
(Who am I fooling? I’d have needed eight hands and no sleep whatsoever to have knitted up everything I bought.)
Both of the yarns are 4 ply – aka fingering or sock yarn – so I’m not sure Mary would approve of them. As she says in her introduction to the chapter on Lace Fabrics and Lace: ‘These fabrics make the most delightful garments and, being lace fabrics, they should always be light and dainty.’ I have a feeling that 4 ply just wouldn’t have been ‘dainty’ enough.
* Why you should sometimes set fire to your yarn:
Over a sink – that’s important – light the end of a length of yarn with a match. Acrylic lights easily, burns quickly, stinks while it burns and carries on burning until you extinguish it, or drop it in the sink with a mighty yell. Wool smells a bit of burning hair, is hard to keep alight and will go out by itself quite easily if you’re lucky.