Monday, July 31, 2017

Knitting Through the Year - July

When you set out on the annual family trip naturally you have to take your knitting; something has to keep you sane in face of the possibly quite ferocious situations you will be up against in the next two weeks. Try a shawl. Do not scoff; it is perfect travel knitting. A round shawl, in fine wool, on a circular needle, is my invariable companion when space is limited, waiting-around probable, and events uncertain. ~ Elizabeth Zimmermann, Knitter's Almanac 

It just so happened that our epic camping trip (epic for its distance, rather than its length) was scheduled for July. Naturally I went yarn hunting so that I could take this project with me as EZ recommends. However, my quest for "fine wool" was a little more fraught than hers. I wanted to buy some from a local store because I had left things a bit late and I couldn't be sure that an online company's shipping would be fast enough. I went to Joann Fabric where I am so well known that if I get a haircut, the employees compliment me on it and vice versa. Joann's has a respectable yarn department, though not exemplary. By which I mean that they have yarn that contains actual wool, with a small but solid selection in wool, wool-blends, and cotton. They also have more acrylic than all the other types of yarn combined, but I am mostly willing to overlook that. However, on this occasion, I came up empty. I was looking for a fingering weight yarn, which is the weight used most commonly for socks and all their selections were striped, which looks charming on socks and would very strange indeed on a shawl. Shawls get progressively bigger from their starting points; socks do not.

The next day Mei-Mei was in need of an adventure, so I carted her off to Genuine Purl, a shop in Chattanooga that has delightful yarns. However, no solid fingering weight anywhere at all. I had no idea this would be such a difficult thing to find. The only lace weight (smaller than fingering weight) yarn they had was extremely fine, and my goal for this shawl was that it would be actually useful for keeping me warm in winter, not just a thing of delicate beauty. Besides which, you cannot knit as quickly with very fine yarn, which makes me impatient. It seemed, then that the only choice was to go up, which I did reluctantly, because it felt like I was straying rather far from EZ's instructions. But I found some Berroco Vintage DK yarn, which is a good basic yarn, very economically priced, particularly for Genuine Purl, which tends towards the gorgeous and expensive.

I can't believe I have talked so long about picking out a yarn. I hope you're still reading.

EZ's circular shawl is fascinatingly simple. Starting with 9 stitches in a circular cast-on, you follow the theory of pi, "the geometry of the circle hinging on the mysterious relationship of the circumference of a circle to its radius. A circle will double its circumference in infinitely themselves-doubling distances, or in knitters' terms, the distance between the increase rounds, in which you double the number of stitches, goes 3, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96, and so on ..." 

Get it? The first round has 9 stitches, then you double the number of stitches by increasing between each stitch and you have 18 stitches. Then you knit 3 rounds and then an increase round, and you now have 36 stitches, and so on.

There are amazing things that you can do with lace patterns with a circular shawl, and many have done so. Go look at this one, or this one, or this one. They are works of art created from sticks and string. Which is lovely, but ... not what I was looking for. A circle is perfect for creating a beautiful design, but for wearing? I am not sold. I am convinced that I would look like a granny in her rocking chair before the fire, wearing a circular shawl. I could be wrong, but on a project this large, I was disinclined to take chances. I decided, instead, to do a half-circle shawl, still using the pi principles laid out by EZ. In addition to being more wearable, a half-circle, it seemed to me, would take half the time of a whole circle.

I trudged through miles and miles of plain stockinette, wondering on occasion if I was knitting a maxi dress, or perhaps a table cloth. When I finally got to the end, I took EZ's advice to knit a sideways lace border. The edge of a circular shawl must be very very stretchable. In knitting a lace border you cast on more stitches for your border, which you knit back and forth on the border and every other row you knit one stitch from the shawl and one stitch from the border together. It takes an AGE. But it makes a nicely stretchy edge and it's a pretty way to finish off a plain shawl.

You are a very loyal and patient reader, to listen to me for so long, so I shall reward you with pictures. It starts out looking rather insignificant ...

How is this ever going to be a half-circle?

... and then you block it, by wetting it with warm water and pinning it flat, and magically, it turns into something very worthwhile.

Do you see the pi?

Peculiarly, I found it extremely difficult to block this into a perfect half circle. It seems as though the edges are much more willing to stretch than the body. After blocking, I decided to put a garter stitch border on the straight edge because it was wanting to curl. This meant that afterwards I needed to block just the top edge when I was finished, and it being late in the day in July, I naturally decided that it made the most sense to block it outside, on couch cushions. Otherwise, I would have had a large, damp shawl taking up the half the bed for the next several hours.

What? Don't YOU have knitwear drying on your lawn? On couch cushions? In the middle of summer?

Here I am wearing it in the traditional manner ...

... and here I am wearing it in the blanket-as-scarf style.

I think I will get a lot of use out of it, come wintertime.

Someday, when I am very rich and have large walls to fill with art, I want to knit a lace circular shawl and frame it. At the moment, a 72" piece of art would take up rather too much room.

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