Sunday, August 06, 2017

Lilac

As it gets hotter and  hotter and the world gets crazier, all I want to do is stay indoors and make pretty lacy things.

This one is Flieder, another Herbert Neibling design, but about three times larger than the Georg doily I made last month. Flieder is German for lilac. Neibling produced more than one pattern with this name, but I'm not sure how he saw anything bout lilacs in this particular pattern. The central flower has six petals, and little lilac blossoms have four. Still, it's Neibling's world and we're just living in it. Flieder it is

While shopping for thread -- and I got each of the three balls from three different craft stores in Austin --  I saw that Aunt Lydia's Classic Crochet 10 comes in a light purple, dare I say, lilac color. But that would have been a bit too literal and I would never have used it. White is the way to go with this, I think.

For those interested in such things, here's a little schematic of how this particular sausage was made.The central portion, marked in green, starts with 6 stitches in the middle, one for each petal that grows outward, knit in the round. After completing that, the two sections marked in, let's say, lilac, are knit flat (back and forth). After this, stitches are picked up around the purple sections along with the held live stitches from the remainder of the green so that the work is again done in the round. Four rounds of dense purling with the thread held doubled follow, and then 20 repeats of the pattern are knit up to the orange line. After that, the pattern shifts to 40 repeats. That's a lot of stitch markers. And a lot of stitches on the needle. By the end, there were 1,440 stitches on a 32" needle. I don't have a US0 (2mm) 47" circular needle. I wish I did. Things got quite crowded. I also experienced that weird thing with center-out projects -- the closer you get to the end, the slower your progress. It can be a bit maddening. Everything up to the orange line took 5 or 6 days to knit. Everything outside of that took an additional two weeks.

Please don't think that all this explanation is meant to impress, or to warn you off lace knitting. My point is that it's not nearly as hard you might think. I've made two oval examples, which are probably more fiddly than most. I would think that a square table cloth or round doily would be a bit easier, but just having a basic idea of the construction, using Google Translate, and finding some online German/English knitting glossaries is all you really need to get started. Then it's just a matter of not dropping stitches and not loosing one's place in the pattern. And time.

This fits our dining table perfectly, which was a fluke, really. I just lucked out on that one. I'll likely just use it for special occasions. This morning, I set out some of my Grandma Self's china on it to see what it looks like. The story in the family is that my grandmother didn't really even want fancy china, but my grandfather insisted that they get some while they were living Germany after WWII and had the means -- they'd been so poor when they got married during the Great Depression. It came down to me eventually. A scent I noticed as a I was pulling it out of the cabinet triggered a sense memory of my grandparents house and Thanksgiving dinners in San Antonio. And they look great together, I think, German dishes on a German-designed doily. My family has had so many connections to Germany -- my Kohrs and Weber ancestors immigrating from there to Texas in the 1850s, my grandparents and father living there 100 years later, and my brother's family making their lives there now.

Only 109 days until Thanksgiving!

 



Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Doily Chronicle

When I started knitting twelve years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of spending time and effort making a lace doily. But today, I finished my first one -- the Georg doily designed by Herbert Niebling.

And I say first one, because I'm going to likely make more. Yes, they're challenging and fiddly, but as a process knitter, theses are the things I kind of like about knitting. Seeing the symmetry inherent in the pattern gives a certain satisfaction. And observing how the squares and symbols on a lace chart translate into leaves and petals makes me want to keep going to see what happens next. Then, of course, there's the challenge of keeping all the balls in the air as it grows and grows. The first round of this project, started in the middle, had 8 live stitches. By the time I got to the cast off, there were nearly 500.

Here's a walk through how this thing is constructed. Starting at the pinhole cast on in the center, the central flower is eight repeats of the same motif knit in the round, creating the petals, with slight variations on opposite sides to set up the oval extensions. Those sections are knit flat (purling on the back side) out to the ends. Then, stitches are picked up around the oval extensions along with the remaining live stitches from the sides of the central flower.  A 20-round pattern repeated 16 times around the whole doily created the leaf points and lace edging.

Then, all that's left is the crocheted points around the outside. The first round serves to bind off the edges of the knitting and create little loops. The second round builds on those, plus pulls the ones opposite the leaf points together. I was intimidated by this part because my crochet fu is not strong, but I think I managed. It was a little tricky to figure out how do the attaching, but I just picked a method and stuck with it. I found myself really wishing my crochet skills were stronger as I finished this up.

I completed the crochet edging yesterday afternoon and went online to find out some blocking options. One was to mix some liquid starch and soak the whole thing, but the video examples I saw led me to believe that it would end up too stiff. I wanted it to have some structure, but I didn't want it stiff as a board, either. I decided to go a bit simpler. I soaked it in warm water (which left the water strangely murky -- this is just cotton, what was up with that?) then placed it flat on a towel draped over my blocking board. Then I got out the regular can of spray starch that I use when I iron shirts (ahem, which isn't often) and went to town. I pinned out all the outer loops to make points. This part was fairly tedious. Not sure I did the tidiest job, but it looks pretty good overall.

In the original design, the central flower, a few rows in the middle and the crochet loop points were all done in a black yarn (see below). Couldn't quite see the point in that -- I thought it looked a bit odd. But tastes change. Consider that one of the staging shots for one of the patterns in the book features an ashtray with a lit cigarette resting on a doily. Not something you'd likely see in a pattern book today!


I enjoyed this project way more than I had anticipated. I was surprised by the sense of dimension in the finished object. The way that the fields of stitches and lacy holes ran in different directions created textures and shading that I hadn't imagined. I'd always though of lace as being very two dimensional, but it doesn't have to be. I was so impressed at the thought and care that Niebling put into this design so that everything lined up and worked together just so. I want to knit more!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Doppelumschlägen



My latest knitting adventure involves intricate lace patterns. Written in German. Help.

For a while I've wanted to knit a fancy lace design by the German lace designer Herbert Niebling (1905-1966), a man who needs a Wikipedia page if anyone does. He churned out hundreds of intricate knitting patterns for tablecloths and doilies in the mid-20th century. Many of the designs feature stylized flowers and plants. Reading through their names is like reading a German botany book -- Eiche (Oak), Ahornblatt (Maple Leaf), Hängeblume (Hanging Flower), Löwenzahn (Dandelion), Erdbeere (Strawberry), Tannenzapfen (Pine Cone) -- the list goes on and on. Then, randomly, there are patterns with people's names attached to them. Some of these patterns are enormous and would take months of painstaking work. Some are just tiny little coaster-sized things. I kind of want to knit them all, but can't figure out how any human being could ever knit all these in a lifetime, much less design them, too.

I decided that for my first foray, I'd settle on something smaller than a tablecloth, but which I could still trot out as a centerpiece for nice dinners. Having something like this, I assume, will make me want to host nice dinners. I decided on a pattern called "Georg," which is oval-shaped and doesn't really have to fit over a piece of furniture -- it just just has to lie flat on top of it. Plus, a knitter in Ravelry had already made a beautiful example and had basically translated parts of the pattern for English knitters. Decision made!

I got some crochet thread and some size US0 (2mm) needles and got to work. And then started over. And then started over again. I was having trouble with the double yarnovers in the pattern and dropping stitches left and right. I finally managed to fall into a rhythm, but it was a bit of a struggle.

After finishing the 40th round, I finally dug around on some online forums to find out more about double yarn overs -- for non-knitters, this is wrapping the yarn around the right needle twice. Very simple. The effect is to create a hole in the fabric, which is kind of lace's thing. But working these loops on the next row is another matter. I just knit into them again, which created a strange string that draped across. Since the row after that involved decreases that pulled the previously-created holes to one side or another, I didn't really think anything about it. It looked okay to me. But reading today, I found that everyone one in the lace-knitting universe knows that you don't just knit into those two loops. You either knit then purl, or purl then knit, or knit then knit into the back of the next loop. But one thing they all agreed on: one simply does not knit into a double yarnover twice on the next row. See the triple-strand ladders running between the honeycomb-like holes in this detail? That's what happens when you do what I did. Why didn't anyone tell me this?

Well, apparently, Herbert Niebling did. Right there in his instructions, he says Auf jede Musterrd. folgt 1 rd. rechts, in der man nur aus den Doppelumschlägen 1 M. link 1 M. rechts strickt, which Google Translate kicks out as "On every pattern follows 1 approx.(?) on the right, in which one knit 1 st on each side from the double turn." I've learned that the German words for knit and purl translate as "right" and "left," so "knit one stitch on each side from the double turn" is basically knit and purl into the double yarnover.

So now my favorite new German knitting vocabulary word is Doppelumschlägen (double yarnover)And now I know what to do with these. So it looks like I'll ripping back to row 11 again. In the meantime, I need to get back to lurking on the forums to see what other tidbits about lace knitting I don't know. Nothing like learning a whole new language in a whole new language.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Taking the Wraps


After the challenges of the Marius pullover, I was ready to work on something a bit more calming and mindless. Nothing for that like knitting quadrilaterals.

First up was the Sommerbrise Schal, the yarn and pattern for which I got from Heidi, the proprietor of Maschenwerke in Frankfurt last summer. Andrea from The Fruit Knitting Podcast had graciously taken us there to see her beautiful shop, and while there I saw a beautiful scarf that Heidi had knit using two kinds of Ito yarn, Gima 8.5 which is a sort of cotton ribbon, and Sensai, a mohair/silk blend. So out of my wheelhouse, yet so light and airy that I thought I'd give it a try. Of course, I went for some darker colors than Heidi, but she helped me select a dark navy Gima and an electric blue Sensai that worked well together.

I cast on for this in November, but I didn't really get started until a month or so ago. It's a relatively easy pattern, with the two different yarns held together for much of the project, but then using only the dark color for stripes that gain in frequency toward one end. It was beautiful to knit with, and a real lesson in working with fibers and yarns outside one's comfort zone. It was a fantastic exercise. It's only 50 inches long, but can be bunched up around the neck nicely. Not exactly my cup of tea fashionwise, but I'm thinking of taking it to a silent auction that a professional group I work with runs in the fall. I'm hoping it will raise some money for student scholarships.

Then, after knitting with friends on Saturday a few weeks ago, my friend Jene and I headed over to Hill Country Weavers' new location and talked each other into knitting their free A Biased Scarf pattern with some Freia Handpaints Ombre lace yarn. I choose a dark gray that slowly morphs into a bright acid yelllow/green. It's a pretty easy pattern - cast on 80 stitches, increase and decrease one at the ends of each right side row, and purl the wrong side rows until you run out of yarn. I started with the dark end. Although the pattern was simple, I enjoyed the slow gradient shift toward the brighter end. Since it's knit on rather large needles for a laceweight yarn (US 6, 4mm), it has almost no curl after blocking. It really is quite beautiful and drapey. Again, though, not really my style.

That's why I'm giving it to our friend Rhonda. She and her husband David have become such good friends in the last few years and I wanted to do something to show my appreciation for all they've done for me and Jeff. I think she likes it and it looks great on her.

Up next in the world of things you wouldn't imagine I'd want to make -- a lace table runner. Weird, huh? I've always thought they were beautiful, and I've lately become obsessed with the intricate designs of Herbert Niebling, many of which are named after plants and flowers. I'm particularly enamored of one called "Georg" which is oval shaped. I think an oval-shape would require less "fitting" around a table. Also, it wouldn't cover the whole piece of furniture. I've never done anything quite this intricate before, and I have the feeling I'm not fully aware of what I'm getting into. First of all, there's tracking this pattern down. It's been reprinted in at least one book since it was produced in various pamphlets in the mid 1900s, but that book is hard to come by. I'm trying to get it through interlibrary loan at the moment. If that fails, I may have to bite the bullet and see if I can get a copy from an online auction, although they are rather expensive.

On top of that, there is the fact that this requires very thin cotton crochet thread, and very tiny needles. I'm not really scared of either of these things, but I'm aware the potential for frustration is quite high. Then there is the issue of translation, although other people who have knit this say the German isn't too difficult and the charts are pretty easy to figure out. Here's hoping.

So that's on the back burner for now. In the meantime, I've ditched the socks I'd had on the needles forever. I'd gotten started on them, got uncharacteristically distracted by something else, and then set them aside and the mojo was lost. So instead, inspired by Janelle, I'm using the sock yarn to make a Sockhead Slouch Hat. I've wanted to do one of these for years and it's the perfect placeholder to keep me busy until I can track down Georg. I know he's out there somewhere...

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Multifarious Marius Precariousness



It ended up being way more complicated than it needed to be, but at last my Marius Sweater is finished.

When I last checked in, I had realized that my gauge had changed once I started in on the patterned portion of the body of the sweater and had ripped that section out and started again on larger needles. This absolutely did the trick. But then, after re-knitting about 2/3 of the black-and-white portion, I realized that my yarn dominance was off.  This means I was carrying the wrong color in the wrong hand. Ultimately, this doesn't really matter, as long as one is consistent with which color is carried in which hand. But I really wanted he white color to pop, and I had my yarn configured so that the black yarn was dominant.

In the picture to the right you can really see what's going on in the striped steeks. At the top, I carried the black yarn in my left hand. At the bottom, I'd re-knit the same section with the white yarn in my left hand. When knitting with two yarns, the one in the left hand tends to stick out, for most knitters anyway. Usually, I consult my copy of Ann Feitelson's The Art of Fair Isle Knitting before starting stranded colorwork to make sure I get this right, but this time I was just sure that the dominant yarn is carried in the right hand. Oops. Wrong. So, I ripped back yet again.

The third time was the charm -- gauge and dominance were just fine. But I'd already knit the sleeves. With the wrong gauge and the wrong dominance. So I re-knit those, too. It really didn't take that long. The pattern in the sleeves is simpler, without the complex X motif of the body. When finished, I crocheted the steeks, cut the armholes open, and sewed on the sleeves. They fit really well, to my surprise -- I saw a lot of examples online that looked bunched up. And then I tried it on.

The sleeves were too short. About 6cm (2.5") too short. You can't unravel a cast-on edge. Well you can, but you'd go insane. So I picked up stitches just below (or above) the cuffs, snipped off the cuffs, added 6cm of stockinette and then re-knit the cuffs. And THEN I was done.

This really is a cool pattern, and not as complicated as I've made it out to be. I just got so excited to get started that I forgot a lot of the details that would have made this go smoother. If I'd been more thoughtful about gauge and yarn dominance, I would have had this finished in half the time. Fortunately, I'm a total process knitter, so getting it right doesn't bother me. And it wasn't like I was on a deadline -- I only had to have it finished by December, when I'm going with my family for a big ski vacation. Even if I just sit around and sip hot adult beverages the whole time, it will have been totally worth it.

Winter is coming!



Friday, April 07, 2017

De-Tension Slip



Now you see it, now you don't. Generous readers will assume that the bottom picture is the "before" picture and the top picture the "after." That's really sweet of you, but you're wrong.

I'd noticed in the sleeves that the tension tightened up a bit once I started the colorwork. This is normal and par for the course with multicolor stranded knitting. Yarn is carried behind the work and isn't interlaced with nearby stitches. This lessens the stretchy property of a knit fabric, which by it's nature should be flexible in all directions. You can see how it pulled in once the white yarn starts n the photo bellow. But I still thought it looked acceptable and likely fixable with a bit of blocking.

Then, while knitting a few nights ago, I noticed that the body of the sweater was pulling in, too. A lot. I noticed this when I was less than 10 rounds from finishing the body. So I stopped to think. And think. Here's what I concluded:

  • Blocking wasn't going to fix this problem. I'd have to be pretty aggressive about it, and the pattern would be too stretched
  • The fabric was too dense, with little drape to it. I didn't want to it to feel like I was wearing cardboard
  • If I just forged ahead and cut the steeks, I'd have a bunch of pieces of cut yarn and re-knitting would be a splicing nightmare

So, I unraveled it back to the start of the colorwork. Sigh.

Here's what happened. The pattern called for knitting a gauge swatch, but didn't specify to knit it using the pattern. I suppose any experienced Norwegian knitter would know to do this. I would know to do this, too, if I were knitting a garment that was all stranded. But if not given instructions as to how to swatch, I usually just do the first thing that happens in the garment, which is a big old field of black stitches. I'd had to go down a size, in fact, to get gauge. So now, I'm going to go back up a needle size to get a bit more room at the top.

There's no teacher like experience. But I'm not discouraged. Process knitters knit. It's what we do. I'm kind of excited, actually, to get another crack at this beautiful pattern. Back to it! And while I'm at it, I just might revisit those sleeves, too...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sleeves Achieved


I finally got the red yarn I needed for my Marius Sweater sleeves in the mail on Friday and quickly went to work finishing up the sleeves.

I'd wanted to get the sleeves completed first to make sure that I was making the armhole steeks the correct height for the sleeves. Several pictures I'd seen of knitters who have attempted this pattern show that the armholes are bit smaller than the sleeves, resulting in some bunching when they are sewn in. I'm thinking that if I know exactly how side the sleeve openings are, I can try and make my steek for the armholes match. That's the plan, anyway.

I'm pleased with how the stranded knitting portion looks. I was a little worried that the white/black combination might be too stark, but like most stranded knitting, it looks a bit better from afar. The fabric does pull in a bit where the white yarn starts, but that's too be expected. I haven't blocked this yet, so I'll be able to add a bit of stretch. I'll need to do that anyway before I measure for the armhole steeks.

I switched from the grayish green Petroleum color for the highlights, collars and seams to the more traditional red, and I think it was the right decision. The grey was kind of sickly looking and just didn't add enough contrast. The red, which is the traditional color for this part of a Marius sweater, is perfect. I was a little worried that it wouldn't pop against the black enough, but it does just fine. If it looks like the sleeves are a bit short, that's okay. This is a drop-sleeve construction, so the sleeve seems are supposed to fall a few inches down from the natural drop in a person's shoulder. I normally don't like this kind of sweater -- I prefer set-in sleeves -- but it's kind of what you have to put up with for stranded knitting. It's possible to do a capped sleeve in fair isle, but way more complicated. And this, ultimately isn't that complicated a garment.

A testament to this is the two pages of instructions. They seem a bit sparse to me, with no schematics of how the pieces fit together. Translated from Norwegian and written in the mid-20th century, I think the designer made certain assumptions about the person reading this person -- their skill, competence, and knowledge of knitting in general. I've been able to follow pretty well, except for a strange few missing stitches toward the top of the pattern charts. Usually, this denotes that some sort of decrease has taken place, although there is nothing in the written instructions that would indicate I'm supposed to do that. After consulting with experts, I came to the conclusion that this indicated a re-set point. All the stitches are supposed to work right and left from a mid-point on the outer edge of the sleeve. You count out from that point to find out where on the chart you start and stop, depending on the size you're knitting. For most of the chart, that's based on a 10-stitch repeat, but for the last few rounds, it shifts to a 4-stitch repeat. So I just reset from that point to figure out a new starting point that resulted in the pattern matching across the whole grid. This is a bit difficult to discuss without showing the pattern, but I didn't want to do that. Trust me when I say that this took up a LOT of time trying to figure out, and that whether I'm right or wrong, I'm satisfied with the explanation I've told myself. At this point, please, don't correct me if I'm wrong! The reverse stockinette at the top is mean to be hidden when the sleeves are attached.

So now it's just back to the body of the sweater and inches and inches and rounds and rounds of knitting with black yarn on black needles connected with a black cord. I'm sitting under very good light, but it can be a bit of a challenge. I'm eagerly looking forward to the stranded portion at the top of the body of the sweater, which is similar to, but much more elaborate than those on the sleeves.

As I've tried to find out more about this pattern, I'm stunned at how ubiquitous it is and almost universally recognized in Norway.  So many cool things out there. I know things are warming up around here, but next time you have a cool snap, keep your eyes open!