Saturday, March 15, 2008

This week, I 'ave mostly bin makin'... lace.

(Apologies to the Fast Show for mangling the catch phrase!)

I used to think I couldn't knit lace. My friends Mandy and Marilyn make the most beautiful cobweb lace shawls, the kind of thing you can pull through a wedding ring, and I was, and am, completely in awe of their abilities. Mandy gave me a selection of practice balls of cobweb yarn, and I struggled and sweated over them, eventually producing enough mangled and holey knitting to act as net curtains in my terraced house for the Homes and Gardens display.

I have drooled over many shawls, in patterns and on blogs, bewailing my dodgy eyesight and pudgy little fingers. I kept on trying to produce something lovely, only to produce something slightly grimy and of a rather more freeform design than I had intended.

A year or so ago, I had a bit of a revelation. For years I have been making crochet lace, both in thread and in yarn. (Apparently, according to Doris Chan, crochet lace worked in yarn is called 'exploded lace'. I just call it 'being able to see what I'm doing'...) If I could use yarn for crochet lace, then why not for knitting? And of course I could, as squillions of knitters have discovered before me. So, with a ball or two of Debbie Bliss Cathay, and needles that were visible to the naked eye, I set out on Lucy Neatby's 'Cloud Scarf' as a runner for my Welsh dresser. This is a very civilised pattern, as the edging is worked at the same time as the main piece :)

I loved working (slowly) on this, but I could only do it when I was feeling really awake and competent; understandably, therefore, the whole thing is still less than halfway finished, and has been completely frogged several times. After the first two froggings I learned to use lifelines, but then I got the lifeline tangled up in the unpicked yarn, and had to have the resultant mess forcibly pried from my shaking and tear-stained hands.

I have to be quite clear here, and say that this is not Ms Neatby's fault! I was working from her written instructions, but had to count every stitch across the row as I knitted it, because of my foggy brain. Thus I could never look ahead and see the structure of the entire piece in my mind. I struggled on, a row here and a row there, enjoying what I did, but achieving very little.

I really wanted to use some lace on a forthcoming commission, so I dug out the instructions for Feather and Fan (the only lace pattern I knew I could manage) and sat down to swatch. After a few repeats I was terribly bored, and felt like the whole thing just wasn't growing as fast as I'd like. I rooted around in my own notes, and in my stitch dictionaries, looking for lace patterns with only one or two lines to them. I found a few, and tried some of them out.

I separated each repeat with a stitch marker, as I do when working cable patterns: it saves a great deal of sanity if you can catch an error within a group of stitches, rather than getting to the end of a 100-stitch row and finding you're one stitch off....

I was still making heavy weather of following the patterns, so I thought I'd be brave and try using charts. I quite happily follow charts for Fair Isle, cable combos and knit/purl patterns, so why I was so worried by lace charts I don't know. I think it was all those squirly symbols.

Anyway, I set up my cast-on row, positioned my markers, took a deep breath, and... worked a flawless set of 15-stitch repeats right across the row. This had to be a fluke. I moved my chart marker up one row, and worked all the way back. And again. And again...

I was knitting lace :)

And honestly, that's all it's taken for the whole thing to click. I am still making errors, but it's so much easier to see how to pick up dropped stitches when you have a picture in front of you showing which stitch is above which other stitch. I am now working a 15-stitch 8-row repeat lace for the commission, a 25-stitch 28-row repeat in another yarn for a small group within the Knitting and Crochet Guild, and my Cloud Scarf is, excuse the pun, sailing along.

I don't know why it took me so long to take the step of using charts. I know the knitting community divides pretty sharply between chart lovers and written pattern users, but I had already used charts in other areas.

I love being surprised by unexpected abilities :)

And so to cat photos. I've been meaning to show you this one for ages - Vicki took it, to prove not only that I really do have two cats, but that they occasionally deign to share the same space:

Tigger & Chloe

Tigger says, "Don't be fooled. I have her trapped under this duvet now."