Jane Sowerby describes this pattern in Victorian Lace Knitting thus:
“While intense concentration is required in knitting this piece initially, it is not difficult once the layout is understood.”
She is not kidding.
This is knitted lace, not lace knitting. Lace knitting is patterned in one direction and then plain-knitted in the other direction. Lace knitting means if you make a mistake you can go back to the last ‘plain’ row and pick up from there. Lace knitting is easy-peasy. Knitted lace is serious business. Knitted lace is patterned in both directions. When you’re patterning (looping yarn over the needle, usually) both ways it is completely impossible to rip back – there are no ‘safe’ rows with complete stitches where you can just pop them all back on the needle and carry on. So if you make a mistake you’re faced with either having to ‘tink’ – knit backwards – to the mistake and fix it, or rip out the whole lot. What you see here is an acknowledgement that, actually, my concentration (however intense) and knitterly dedication are insufficient to the task.
A lifeline (the stripe of yellow yarn near the top). It became an obvious necessity after three times of frogging the whole lot before I’d knit two inches. The first frog was caused by an error I noticed three rows back, the second when I apparently could no longer count to eight and the third was after an exciting bit in the film I was watching (The Punisher, to my shame) that made me jerk the needles so that three stitches fell off. They couldn’t be picked up and that was when I decided to start using a lifeline. It acts as a ‘safe’ row – any screwups can be ripped back to there and picked up again because the line holds the stitches like a spare needle. You pull it out and reinsert it as you go, so you’re never too far from a safe row.
The thing that’s driving me really potty is that I can’t learn the pattern. I’ve got the middle section off pat, but I cannot get my head around the side diamonds – I always want to either increase or decrease in the wrong direction. Still, at least I can autopilot the middle, which is very necessary because I’ve been mainlining Gilmore Girls while I knit this. Three episodes just about equals two repeats of the centre and a whole repeat of the border. That’s sixteen rows. Yes, sixteen rows in about two hours. It’s slow work but I’m getting there – all other projects are on hold at the moment because if I don’t tackle this solidly it’ll just never get done and every time I leave it I forget the pattern all over again. The pattern specifies a certain number of repeats but I had more yarn than it called for so I bunged in an extra pattern repeat in the middle (five columns of rose-petals rather than four) and I’m just going to keep going until I’ve got just enough left for the end border. It is going to be pretty, though – lace never looks like anything special when you’re knitting it, but then you block…
When you’re in the throes of moving house, into what Americans call a fixer-upper and I would call a wreck, it’s possibly not the greatest time to start a lace shawl. The realities of spending days scraping off wallpaper, filling holes in skirting board, hands rougher than sandpaper and no energy in the evenings for reading lace charts mean that progress can be slow…
However, the cosmetic stuff that I can actually do (as opposed to the structural stuff that a builder needs to do) is nearly done for the meantime, so progress on the shawl is actually being made. I’d like one of those Ravelry progress bars to show that I’m on the last foot or so! I’m really loving this colourway – sometimes you just can’t tell how a handpainted yarn is going to come out when you knit it, but this is gorgeous. Violet Green’s lovely laceweight.
I’ve also got as far as retrieving the stash from the spare room where it’s been lurking amongst boxes of books for weeks, so there’s every chance that I’ll soon have too many things on the needles again. Which makes me happy.
While the sampler shawl is doubtless going to be very pretty, the knitting of it is boring in the wrong way. It doesn’t look like anything at the moment of course (because lace never does), but the colours are coming out beautifully.
The patterns are repetitive, but because they’re all infinitesimally different, you can’t just memorise and knit on auto-pilot. I’m nearly halfway through and I’m still having to read the charts every line or so. I’m never still reading charts by this point in a shawl. Because of the constant switching from one pattern to another very-similar-but-not-the-same pattern it takes quite a bit more concentration than I was bargaining for, without any of the satisfaction you get from radically different patterns. I think next time I do a sampler shawl I’ll use some of the awesome Estonian and Shetland motifs (which is possibly a terrible lace-knitting faux pas) – the lily-of-the-valley pattern in particular is calling to me.
The reason this is a shortcut scarf is because when you knit a scarf in a lace pattern, you can block the hell out of it and magically it ends up scarf size. Despite the fact that when it came off your needles it was neckwarmer size.
This was 43″ x 8″ when I cast it off:
And now it’s 59″ x 11.5″
which is perfectly respectable. Good thing too, because I ran out of the cashmere 2ply it’s knitted in. The yarn is from Violet Green (like nearly all my laceweight) and the pattern is basic feather-and-fan. Usually I adapt feather-and-fan by putting in an extra purl row (so purling all the wrong side rows) but a scarf needs to have less of a ‘wrong’ side and I quite like the ridged effect.
This is a present for my generous mother-in-law who gave me a nice pile of John Lewis vouchers for Christmas so I could go yarn-shopping. (Being on maternity leave and permanently broke is bad for stash-enhancement but good for stash-busting so, swings and roundabouts.)