The completed shawl measures approximately four feet across, including the points of the edging.
Design Sources and Inspiration
The design is my own adaptation of the "borders outwards" method of Shetland lace shawl construction, as described by Sharon Miller in her book, Heirloom Knitting. The same work, which has been my constant companion from the swatch stage to the final weaving, was the source of many of the stitch patterns in the finished piece.
In addtion, the following works were consulted and found to be most helpful:
- Creating Original Hand-Knitted Lace (Margaret Stove)
- A Treasury of Knitting Patterns (Barbara Walker)
- "A Lace Alphabet to Knit" from Piecework (May/June 1998)
Beyond that, Jean's good-humored descriptions of her own works-in-progress have also been an inspiration. An inspiration to not throw the knitting out the window or run it through the shredder on days when, for example, one of the sides somehow acquired three extra stitches...again.
Design Strategy and Themes
I knew I had to make this piece from start to finish on a tight schedule. It was, furthermore, to be my first large piece of lace knitting and my first piece of lace design.
I set myself a few limits. First, all motifs used had to have small repeats that I could memorize easily and work anywhere (including the subway) without a chart. Second, if at all possible all motifs had to alternate a row of patterned knitting with a row of plain knitting in order to save time and keep the level of difficulty moderate. Third, all motifs in the shawl center and borders had to read well on a stockinette ground, as I would be knitting in the round and wanted to be able to knit all the plain rows instead of purling them.
That said, I knew that shawl had to include motifs appropriate to Maine. I wanted it to have a certain robust beauty appropriate to the rugged terrain and the forthright people who live on it. Maine is breathtakingly beautiful, but the beauty is fierce. Odd as it may sound, I didn't want the shawl to appear too delicate.
And I knew I wanted the design to include words, a message of some kind to Abigail. The inspiration came for the final design came, oddly, from an afternoon spent flipping through photographs I took of inscriptions at Ostia Antica, the ruins of the ancient seaport of Rome.
I swatched everything, and there were still surprises both pleasant and unpleasant. However, swatching did minimize the unpleasant and definitely led to a better finished product. If you want to design your own lace, you'd better be prepared to swatch. If you just can't bear it, choose another project.
The Four Wishes
The edging comprises two design elements:
- Sharon Miller's double scallop shell edging, and
- four lozenges surrounded by faggot stitch, each containing a wish for the baby.
The wishes, written in Latin as befits a solemn occasion, are:
- SAPIENTA (wisdom)
- ROBUR (strength)
- MISERICORDIA (compassion)
- RISUS (laughter)
I confess that about halfway through MISERICORDIA I began to wish the Latin word for compassion were somewhat shorter.
Other Stitch Motifs
The center of the shawl consists of a square panel of the pattern variously called fern lace or leaf lace (Barbara Walker) or candlelight (Sharon Miller). It is closely related to the traditional Shetland "fir cone" pattern. Worked in stockinette, as here, the decreases create a diamond grid that surrounds the openwork. In Abigail's shawl, the motif is meant to represent the white pine cone - the state flower of Maine.
Immediately surrounding the central panel is a stockinette band worked with roses, although we're going to call them hibiscus as a nod to Abigail's mother's adopted home state of Hawai'i.
The four trapezoidal borders are filled mostly with diamond trellis. Around the outermost edge of the borders, inside two eyelet rows, are pine trees: once again, an homage to the state of Maine.
The roses and trees come from Heirloom Knitting; Barbara Walker collected the diamond trellis.
The Yarn and Needles
The yarn is a natural white silk/cashmere laceweight procured from Sean at Wolcott and Company. I cannot, cannot, cannot scream and yell enough about how much I love this yarn. The color gives the finished piece a warm, antique look that I prefer to the chill of pure white. The silk lends a sheen so subtle it's barely a sheen; it's more of a glow. The drape and softness are luxury itself.
The entire piece was knit up on an Addi Turbo circular, size US zero.
The Gift and the Recipient
Abigail seemed to like it. Four wishes for her, one for me: I hope to live to see her happy children wrapped up in it.