Casting on

Check out this lovely yarn:

Isn’t that something special?  It was a birthday present (for me!) from a great friend.  Not only is it yarn – not only is it hand-dyed yarn – but it is hand spun, too.  That, my dears, is a gift and a half.

It’s a three ply structure, roughly Aran-weight, alpaca and bamboo, and dense in the way that only handspun can be.  The colours – greys, browns and a muted purple – wash across it delightfully.

I knew immediately – or so it seemed – what I was going to knit with it.  A shawl.  A chunky, snuggly shawl for tucking into the collar of a jacket, and warding off the last of Winter’s bite (or, of course, the first nibble of Autumn).  A shawl pattern, furthermore, that I’ve wanted to knit for aaages.  It seems a very long time since I’ve done some knitting ‘just for me’, and I am really relishing the excuse.

Can you guess what it is yet?  And even more tantalisingly, do you think I’ll have enough yarn?

86) Retreat into knitting

I've had a very lazy weekend.

Well, not really; I ran the regular 5k on Saturday, then followed it up by spending a few hours behind a friend's stall at the craft fair I thought I was going to be attending myself.  But after that, it was lazy all the way.

I regularly overwhelm myself with huge bursts of inspiration and enthusiasm, and almost always set myself up for failure by way of a huge list of lofty goals.  Case in point: I didn't manage to get a Saturday Giveaway post up this weekend.  [Thus falls my new 'tradition' (though I will be carrying on with it.  Just not this week).  Indeed, I haven't even mailed Robocass her parcel yet (sorry!) – though it will be heading out tomorrow.]

When the current giant plan proves itself unmaintainable, I almost always go into hermit-mode for a few days.  And so it was for Saturday evening, and pretty much all of Sunday.  No phone calls, no internet browsing, just quiet.  And, this time, knitting.

The upside is that I have passed several big milestones on my Peacock shawl!  I have now:

  • knit over 20,000 stitches since October 28, when I started this metrics-based madness;
  • moved onto the final chart in the pattern!
  • not only caught up with my goals, but overtaken them:

Yes.  I am now 2 days ahead of schedule.

85) Shawlwatch continues

For those UK-based readers who are fans of ‘Autumnwatch’, I’d love to be able to present this blog post in the style of a conversation between Bill Oddie, Kate Humble and Simon King.  Sadly, my attempts at conversational caricature have proved somewhat feeble, and besides, I’m supposed to be working right now, so please feel free to imagine an exchange of dubious wit, good natured teasing and enthusiasm about the deer rut.

The important news, though, is that the shawl progress has picked up a bit since last week’s feeble showing:

As always, the vertical red line represents ‘today’.

A slow start early in the week can be attributed to the fact that I thought I was going to be attending a craft fair this Saturday.  Sadly, or perhaps fortunately, that has fallen through, and for the rest of the week, I’ve been performing more-or-less parallel to the target line.  (Last night’s poor showing is due to a sudden and desperate need to clean out the fridge.  It’s best not to ask.)

Clearly, though, I have a lot of ground to make up before the early-December deadline.  Can I catch up by this time next week?  Will there be an actual progress photo?  (All my efforts this week are of the ‘blue ramen blob’ variety).  Stay tuned to find out!

78) Shawl-based geekery, and the Maths of Completion

It's been a slow week for the Peacock Shawl; I'm on row 157.  Given that I was on row 147 last time I posted, that's around 2 rows per day.  Since the shawl now consists of 234 rows (plus crochet bind-off), I have 77 rows remaining – and only 38 days until the last Rampton meet of the year, when it is 'due'.

Well, 38 x 2 = 76, so we're good, right?

Maybe not.  For a start, that plan contains zero contingency, which is not a comfortable scenario for us planny types.  Then, there's the blocking and drying time.

But, most importantly, there's also that wretched increasing-row-size thing.  A row currently contains 314 stitches; by the time I finish, it'll be more like 470.  So, the rows are getting longer as we speak…

So I made a spreadsheet.

Well, what else are you gonna do?  It worked for my Dad's Fair Isle, right?


So, allowing 30 days to finish the knitting allows for a few days contingency, and a few days to cast off, and to get round to washing and blocking the thing.  Terrifyingly, I've worked out that there are 30,420 stitches remaining (not including the cast off), so I need to average 1,014 stitches per day to finish on time.

I haven't done too well on production knitting over the last year or two; what do think the odds are for this project?


75) The Peacock’s Progress

It's been a slow but intense couple of weeks for the Peacock Shawl.  Two important milestones in a shawl's growth have been met:

  • It now looks like an amorphous blob on the needles (though the colours are still just lovely; and yes, this is another Bad iPhone shot – both overexposed and out of focus, sorry!):


  • Each row now takes Quite Some Time to complete.  Getting 'just one row' done in an evening is no longer a feeble effort.

It's a hallmark of 'increasing' shawls that they seem to go almost too quickly at first, but slow down exponentially as you continue.  When you've finished half the rows, you're only a quarter of the way done – which is one of the reasons why estimating the yarn requirements can be so tricksy.  (The other is that this is handspun, and therefore not guaranteed to have the same grist throughout).

I did a careful weigh-and-calculate when I got to the crunch point, and found that, far from having nearly enough yarn to complete the shawl, I had about the right amount if I cut two rows of feathers from the middle section.  So that is what I am doing – I am now on row 147 out of what will be 234, so I'm about two fifths of the way there; reassuring, because I haven't started the second (larger) ball of yarn yet:


(An almost acceptable iPhone photograph?  Actually, I think it just looks half decent in comparison to the others.  It's still very flashy, not exactly in focus and has a strange yellow/green colour cast.  Ahh, well…)

The transition into the next shawl section has been slow going.  This is partly because I'm having to invent the edges of each row.  Because I've 'skipped' sixteen rows, and the pattern is a twelve stitch repeat, the motifs aren't in the same place, relative to the edges of the shawl, as they are in the original design.  In short, I have four (or is it five?) extra stitches to deal with, four times in each pattern row.  Four times because there is the beginning and end of each row, plus the pattern is interrupted for the central 'spine' in the pattern.  I could just knit them, but that's not my style; I'd rather incorporate them into the pattern in the best way possible.

In at least one case, I got it completely, spectacularly wrong (well, I was out by a stitch), and had to tink back three quarters of a row and re-knit.  I'm nearly back where I was.

Last night I dreamed there was a third ball of silk to use. I was quite disappointed by the time I woke up.

70) The peacock shawl and the joys of handspun

I mentioned that I'd finally got started on the Peacock Feathers shawl, right?  I snapped this quick picture before I travelled off to North Yorkshire, knowing that it was the end of the first section, and that the work would grow pretty quickly from here on:


Excuse the horrible overexposure: this is one of the first shots taken with my new camera (thank you, eBay), and the flash options are different to my old one.

Anyway, I was right: the shawl grew quickly-quickly and I'm now nearly through the second section, which uses a motif which more closely resembles feathers, and which uses a double yarnover:

This is definitely a pattern which will benefit from a good blocking.  Two stitches are worked into the top of the double-YO, and they slip and slide and close up the hole a bit.  Experimentation proves that they will sort themselves out nicely, though, especially in this slippery silk.

Speaking of silk, I'm really enjoying knitting with my own handspun yarn (as always).  It's not as slippery as some commercial silk yarns I've used, but it is soft and drapey and luscious.  It's not perfectly even (not at all!), but somehow the fabric takes in all the yarn's imperfections and evens them out – or at least, transforms them into interesting 'features'.

I have to decide, soon, whether II've got enough yarn to try for the whole pattern, as written, or whether I'm going to drop one (or two?) of these middle-size motifs.  I have less yarn than the pattern calls for, but I'm working on smaller needles.  The quarter-point weigh in (after knitting half the rows – the magic of surface area vs. linear dimension) suggested I'd have enough yarn to work 249 rows, out of 250-plus-crochet-cast-off.  The middle section is probably the best place to omit a repeat, because it's a simpler pattern at that point, which makes me think maybe I'll drop one row of feathers from here – 8 rows.  However, that will mean the last motif lines up differently with the rest of the shawl, and with the centre-back point in particular, because the rows of mid-size feathers are staggered.  Even dropping two repeats wouldn't necessarily work, because the spacing of the feathers relative to the 'spine' of the shawl changes, repeat by repeat.

So.  The shawl finishes with about six rows of fagotting, and the aforementioned crochet bind-off.  Maybe I can drop a fagotting row?  Or the two plain rows that come between it and the bind-off?  I'm not 100% comitted to the crochet bind-off, either; it's pretty, but I'll bet its a bugger to block, and liable to catch on things, too.

So.  I think the long and short of it is that I'll weigh everything again when the crunch point is reached, and see how the numbers stand.  Because this *is* handspun, the grist isn't totally consistent throughout, which makes things somewhat unpredictable, but…  We'll just have to see!

41) Knitting update: Moor and Nightingale Wing, plus -a new project?

Today's plan was to tell you about the ultra-slow-progress stole I've been knitting since (errrm) Christmas.  It seemed like a long time since the last actual knitting update, so I went to check.  And realised that I haven't actually blogged about finishing Moor.

Good grief, I am the laxest of bloggers.

So, when we last saw Moor, I was snipping open the steeks.  That was in mid-February.

According to Ravelry, it took me another two months to knit the bands and sew down the facings.  But, really, it was all worth it:



I am very, very proud of this vest; it looks and feels awesome, 'not hand-knit at all' as one well-meaning friend said.  (I know what you mean, don't worry).

In the meantime, I started a new lace project.  Actually, I started this ages ago, back in December because Moor wasn't at the sort of stage where I could work in it in company, and I needed some Christmas knitting.  After about six months, Nightingale Wing is about one third complete:


Like so many of Anne Hanson's designs, this is simple, elegant, beautiful.  Please excuse my hasty 'spread out on a towel' shot; we all know lace doesn't look it's best without a proper blocking, don't we?

This pattern is lace every row, but even so, it really shouldn't be taking this long.  I think I've averaged less than one row per day – purely because I'm just not taking the time to knit.  For some reason, I've gotten it into my head that if I'm spinning, weaving or sewing, I'm being 'productive', but if I knit, I'm being 'lazy'.  Clearly, we need to break this association.

So, for the time being, Nightingale Wing is going into hibernation.  I'm accepting the slightly-crazy challenge just thrown down by Twist Collective.

I'm going to attempt to knit a sweater in two weeks.  The pattern?  Basil (Ravelry link), by Kim Hargreaves, in the Rowan Summer Tweed collection.  The yarn?  Summer Tweed, overdyed by yours truly this past weekend.

Larger gauge, simple stockinette.  A yarn I've worked with before.  A knock-out simple design.  Think I can do it?