A while back, Carol of Black Bunny Fibers and I had a short exchange about the challenges of knitting lace with handpainted yarns. Generally, I’m dissatisfied with the appearance of lace garments worked with yarns carrying a lot of contrasts and changes in colour: the lace pattern gets lost in all that colour! Carol offered to dye me up some yarn to experiment with, I suggested “reds”, and a little while later a beautiful skein of “Ted’s Reds” dropped into my mailbox.
I wanted a lace pattern that would test the colours, in that they should contribute to creating a visually interesting fabric without distracting an observer’s eye from the lace patterning. I decided to use a pattern based on a stocking stitch fabric, because lace in stocking stitch is more visually complex than in garter stitch. You can create obvious lines by repeating a decrease in subsequent rows-- think about what happens in the shoulder shapings of a raglan sweater. In garter stitch, those same lines are weakened by the texture inherent in the fabric.
I remembered the very nice design, “Dice Blue”, by Lois Young in the Spring 2004 issue of Knitters. The shawl is a triangle that starts at the bottom point, and the shaping increases are worked in the centre of the piece. In the magazine, the shawl was presented in a fine mohair yarn in a solid colour; quite a contrast to the yarn I had: a smooth 2 ply merino laceweight, handpainted with a variety of reds. So I was working with a different palette of colours and a different character of yarn. The piece might not work. I also wanted to simply follow a set of instructions without trying to make any changes. I cast on, and swore an oath on my copy of “Knitting Without Tears” that I would follow the instructions exactly as written. I am pleased to say that I did. For 9 rows. (I believe this is a record, and have noted it on the calendar.)
One of the things about working in a fuzzy yarn is that you lose stitch definition in the fabric. Or perhaps the other way of looking at that is when you work with a smooth yarn, you can get wonderful stitch definition in the fabric. When I looked at how the diagonal lines were created in this garment, I wondered if maybe I could strengthen the visual effect of the diagonal lines by refining the way the decreases were made. Here’s a close-up of the sample.
The upper points of the diamonds are created with a double-decrease. Lois used a centred decrease, working “slip 2 together knitwise, knit 1, pass 2 slipped stitches over”. The problem with it is that the tips of the diamonds have a tendency to lean or get distorted, Further, the top of the central diamond forms the base of the V of overs, but because of the decrease used the left side of the V isn’t as visually strong as the right side. With Lois’ original mohair yarn, this wouldn’t be as noticeable as with my smooth merino.
In addition, when you work a decrease, the way the stitches layer on top of each other give the stitch a directional lean. If you repeat a decrease immediately above itself, you start to create lines. “K2tog”, for example, leans to the right. “SSK” and “slip 1, knit 1, pass slipped stitch over” both lean to the left. The double decrease “Slip 1, knit 2 tog, pass slipped stitch over” leans to the left. (A double decrease reduces 3 stitches to 1.) “Slip2 together knitwise, knit 1, pass 2 slipped stitches over” is a centred double decrease and doesn’t --or shouldn’t -- have any lean, making it very valuable in some circumstances. But in this shawl, the overall use of that centred double decrease interrupts the diagonal lines created by repeating the left or right leaning decreases.
So I tinkered with the decreases, and came up with this.
If you compare it with the original sample, you’ll see I’ve used 3 different decreases for the tops of the diamonds. Firstly, for the diamond at the base of the V, I replaced the double decrease with a single decrease (3 stitches to 2). This gave 1 stitch on either side of the base of the V of holes, so there’s better symmetry there. How do you work this decrease? Easy. “Slip 1 purlwise, knit 2, pass slipped stitch over”. (s, k2, p)
Secondly, I replaced the double decrease on the diamonds running up to the left with “Slip 1, knit 2 tog, pass slipped stitch over” (s, k2tog, p)
Thirdly, for the diamonds running up to the right, I wanted the mirror image of what I used on the left. Take 3 stitches, and label them as A, B, C, from right to left. Work SSK with A and B, creating AB. Pass AB back to the left needle, and pull C over it. Pass AB back to the right needle. (ssk, s, p, s) When you are passing AB between needles, be sure that you don’t twist it.
Here's the same image of my changes, with the decreases labeled.
Anyway, a nice lace shawl with some fiddliness and some learning about yarn choice, details and decreases. The shawl turned out smaller than Lois’ specifications, because the gauge is snugger than the pattern specified. (With all the fuzz of a mohair yarn, you can work looser gauges and still get a good effect.) The piece is not difficult to work and would be a good project for a knitter with some experience. Carol had sent 880 yards of yarn, I didn’t use all of it. I’m sure if you asked, she’d be delighted to work out a colour with you. I took it to show at KnitterNight on Thursday, and Maryann decided it was just lovely. I'll take it to Rhinebeck so Carol can see it.
Note: Of the 90 or so pictures I took of this shawl, the only one that really captures the colours is this one of Maryanne wearing the shawl. The yarn really is a tomato-y red colour. It’s just beautiful. Can anyone recommend a good information source for "How to Take Pictures With a Digital Camera So That The Colour Comes Out Right"?
In Other News
I’m knitting socks. As I do a few things a bit differently to what you’ll read in the books, there may be a post about them.
Have a good week.