Tuesday, June 20, 2017


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...