Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pick-Ups Without Hiccups

With all due respect to Mr. Aesop and his one-note tortoise, I'm not entirely convinced that "slow and steady" always wins the race. I can report, however, that it will get you through a long stretch of lace knitting. That leafy nuppy number from Nancy Bush's book reached a turning point on Saturday when I finished row 3,246,782 of the center. As Nero said after he broke a fiddle string, taa-daaaaaa.

Center, complete

Time for the edging. However, Tom and I had plans to go hear a little Rachmaninoff down at Millennium Park. And while the setting, the weather and the music were all gorgeous,

Pavilion at Night

Michigan Ave.

they were hardly conducive to the next step: evenly picking up about 800 stitches all the way around the panel. So I set it aside and–I can't believe it–sat through the entire concert without knitting. But my mind kept drifting to the task ahead.

The short ends were straightforward. One was already live stitches, the other was created with a provisional cast-on that could be easily removed to reveal live stitches. It was the long sides that would be a challenge.

Out of curiosity, I went over to Ravelry to see who else had made this shawl and how their edgings had come out. The results were telling. Among 20-odd finished examples, easily half had no edging, or kept it to the short ends. Nothing wrong with that, of course. One should knit what one wants to knit, however one wants to knit it. But me, I liked the look of the full edging and would simply have to buckle down and make it happen.


Occasionally we knitters will refer to a maneuver or technique as "scary." I know I've done so. At such a moment, it helps to step back for a fresh perspective. So I pulled out at a few photographs I made earlier this month of people in the park spinning fire.

Jam 16

Jam 15

Jam 14

Yes, spinning fire. They quite deliberately set bits of things ablaze, and then whirl twirl and toss those things around their heads and limbs. For fun.

Jam 03

Jam 01

Jam 17

Upon reflection, I decided that picking up stitches evenly is not the scariest thing a hobby can throw at you.

On the other hand, getting to the end of the long edge for the third time in two hours and finding you're supposed to have 274 stitches but you only have 236, or you've overshot to 286, could make a person consider setting himself and/or the project on fire.

Divide and Conquer

I might be typing this from a bed in the Burn Unit if I hadn't remembered a sewing technique shown to me long ago by my seamstress grandmother. She didn't invent it, nor did I, and for all I know y'all already know it. But I don't recall seeing it online recently, so here's a little demonstration.

When you're faced with picking up stitches evenly along an edge, you may get lucky and find that the ratio is (for example) 1:1, meaning that for every slipped stitch or garter bump or whatever, you need to pick up one stitch. Easy.

Often, however, you will have a number of edge stitches or bumps that bears little or no relation to the number of stitches you need. Nancy Bush, bless her, gives a clue for this project: about 3 stitches picked up for every two slipped stitches. Not all designers are so thoughtful, alas. Or it may happen that you are the designer, and have nobody but yourself to rely on.

In such cases, break your lengthy edge into smaller segments. Here's how Grandma did it, and how I do it now.

1. Clear off a flat, level work surface large enough to comfortably support your project at full length. (Hint: not your lap.)

2. Procure an ample supply of coil-less safety pins, or stitch markers (shown) that open and close like safety pins. (The pins make fantastic markers, but can be tough to find. Schoolhouse Press is a good source.)


3. Lay your project on the table and smooth it out. Then, carefully lift one end and fold it, creating a single fold line halfway down the length of the edge you'll be marking. Place a marker at the fold line.


4. Pick up the folded edge and fold the project in half again, in the same direction. Your new fold marks the quarter points. You'll see that this time there are two layers. Place a marker in each.


5. Continue to fold and mark in this way until you've divided the length into as many sections as you deem necessary. In the case of this shawl, I did one more fold so I'd have eight equal parts.


6. Unfold the piece to full length, smooth it out, and check your markers. They should be placed evenly along the edge. You can adjust them if you see great discrepancies, but I find that it's not necessary to be incredibly precise. Your eyeball should work as well in this instance as a ruler.


Now, instead of having to consider the whole edge at once, you can divide the number of stitches you need (in this case, 274) by the number of segments you marked off (in this case, eight).

I figured out that I needed 34 stitches in seven of my segments, and 35 in the eighth.

After that, it was easy to pick up according to Nancy's suggested ratio and check my progress every time I reached a marker. If I needed 34 stitches and had too few, I'd back up a bit and add more. If I'd picked up too eagerly, I'd back up and drop a few.

I kept track of the count for each segment on a sheet of paper, which allowed me to stop without hesitation and resume without error whenever I was interrupted by the telephone, or by Dolores falling off the sink and into the toilet. (Don't ask.)

When I was finished with the full circumference, I had exactly the proper number of stitches, and it was all done in under half an hour.

Thanks, Grandma–what do you know about spinning fire?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Idle Questions of a Fevered Brain

While I await the return of my film (yes, film) from the lab so that I can do a proper post about this weekend's rip-snorting good time in Austin at The Knitting Nest, I offer the following points to ponder, transcribed from a page written in a shaky hand at 30,000 feet somewhere over Arkansas.

Q. If I were going to take down an entire jet plane with something in my knitting bag, what would be the best thing to use?
  1. Single metal dpn (fuchsia, US size 2) from Boye. (Have never, that I can recall, purchased set of fuchsia needles in any size.)
  2. 4-foot tape measure shaped like laughing sheep. (Squee, etc.)
  3. Scrap of paper with mysterious note in pencil to "yo2, k2tog, k6 at next m, dammit."
  4. Small plastic box containing eight two-inch-long T-pins for lace blocking demonstration.
(The TSA's answer is number four, because that's what they confiscated at the O'Hare security checkpoint.)

Q. Which of these is incompatible with lace knitting?
  1. Eating a BBQ Breakfast Taco from Salt Lick.
  2. Waiting for next available urinal in crowded airport men's room.
  3. Looking badass while seated at airport sports bar.
  4. Avoiding the attention of woman at Gate 17 who wants to talk to somebody about the emotional and gastrointestinal consequences of her Pomeranian's separation anxiety.
  5. All of the above.
Q. Which of the following is the best way to cope with the following announcement from the cockpit: "Folks, I need everyone including the flight attendants to be seated immediately, because we're heading into atmospheric conditions I haven't seen in twenty-five years of flying."
  1. Grip both armrests very firmly in order to hold the plane up in the air.
  2. Promise the Almighty Whatever Is Out There that if flight lands successfully, you will stop screening phone calls from Auntie Helen.
  3. Cast on Sharon Miller's Princess Shawl since it's something you've always said you'd like to knit before you die.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Are they nupps? Or acne?

Knitting lace, I have noticed, is like raising a child. You begin the undertaking with an equal mixture of trepidation, excitement, and anticipation. About halfway through, it's a bedraggled and incoherent mess. It's not at all what you had in mind. You would throw it out–but you've already invested so much time. So you keep working, determined that perseverance and discipline will win out. When it casts off into independence, you feel proud, though you know perfectly well where every fault and fudge is located.

I've been knitting lace today–the Leaf and Nupp Shawl from Nancy Bush's lovely book.

Stole Progress

Maybe my lace parenting skills are improving, because this piece got through its awkward phase with a minimum of trauma. Indeed it seems to have raised itself, like one of those Victorian heroines who blossom into spunky, swanlike maidenhood in spite of having been tossed out of a slum and into the streets at age four with nothing but a crust of bread and a button hook.

When I picked it up this morning, I did a quick count of repeats and realized I'm only two away from finishing the center. This seems impossible. I've given it no special attention, as it has no deadline. I've knit a row here or there, in odd moments, usually with my mind on something else. I wondered whether Dolores might have been helping it along secretly, but she seldom does good deeds without trumpeting. (Last time she removed her dirty underwear from the floor without being told, she asked me to hire a skywriter.)

It's not quite ready for the debutante ball, mind you. A review of the instructions reminds me that there's a whole lot of picking-up to do around the long edges, and that's followed a border knit in long (long, long) rounds from the center outwards.

So. Will this shawl marry a rich-but-gentle peer of the realm and retire to a quiet life in the country? Or will it perish at the hands of Jack the Ripper after stumbling out of an opium den?

Time will tell.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Ruts and How to Avoid Them

I don't know about you, but I can't knit all the time. Not that the idea isn't attractive in theory, but in practice it doesn't work. Sore fingers, carpal tunnel, waking up with a merino hangover in a cold pool of your own worsted. Not pretty.

You know how farmers rotate crops to keep the soil fertile? I have to do that occasionally with my creative focus to keep my brain from turning into a dustbowl. Put down the needles, pick up the camera. Put down the camera, pick up the pencil. Put down the pencil, pick up tomatoes.*

The strangest thing is that all this stuff cross-pollinates, even when it seems impossible that it should. I was doing squats at the gym this morning and got an idea for a sweater. Had to run back to the locker room to make notes.

Lately I've been pulling out my toy cameras again. They're Holgas–cheap, all-plastic babies from China that shoot weird, dreamy pictures on medium format film. When I first bought mine, you could pick them up for ten bucks at a good camera store. Since then, they've become a vogue among prissy art students and will set you back fifty, but I still enjoy using mine.

Holgas are, to use a polite word, quirky. The limited focus mechanism has a mind of its own, and occasionally will decline to operate. The body leaks light. The back will fall off unless you tape the camera together. The film doesn't advance properly until you jam a piece of cardboard under the spool. The shutter doesn't click, it just emits a half-hearted "sproing."

BP BridgeUsing a Holga forces you to relinquish just about all your control as photographer. You choose what to point the thing at, but that's about it. You go out, you shoot a roll, you send your film to the lab and wait to see what happened. Sometimes nothing, sometimes fun stuff.

These pictures of the BP Bridge in Millenium Park–a stainless steel Frank Gehry production with a superabundance of curves–came back from processing not long ago.

I've taken quite a few shots of the bridge with my Canon, which has multi-point focus, a pro-quality lens, automatic everything with manual overrides–and yet these are the stronger images.

BP BridgeI was looking at them and it occurred to me that I need to do the same thing with one of my current knitting projects. It began with great excitement, then hit a wall as I confronted a million design questions at once. Should I zig? Zag? Both? Neither? I've decided to let go, the way I do with my Holga, and this morning I've finally finished the 4" x 4" swatch.

Only took me two months.

Back to Texas

Dolores, Harry and I are heading south for World Wide Knit in Public Day. The Knitting Nest in Austin, Texas has invited us to come down for the festivities, which at The Knitting Nest are always extremely festive, indeed. Last time I was there, they let me draw all over the wall!

Austin WWKIP Day 2009

(If you like it, it's available on shirts, bags and kiddie clothes here.)

From 11 am–2 pm I'll be teaching "Introduction to the History, Methods, and Styles of Lace Knitting" (visit the Web site for details) and for the rest of the day I'll be hanging around knitting in air-conditioned comfort. Stop by, won't you, and say hello to the visiting Yankees?

Double Dipping

The eye-popping Summer issue of Twist Collective is up, and I'm in it. Twice, actually. There's my usual illustration for Ann's and Kay's advice column, plus this. I love the Twist folks with all my heart. They said, "Do something. Whatever you want." So I did, and when they saw it they didn't send it back with a note reading, "Too weird. Try again." And what I did is pretty weird.

*For spaghetti sauce. Why, what were you thinking?