Saturday, July 28, 2007

Indigo Flowers IV

Earlier this week, I dug Indigo Flowers (not yet forgotten!) out of my stash and resumed the work. What really surprised me was that the flowers literally flew off the needles--must have been due to the training that I got from the complicated laces!

Here's the back--aren't the ripples and wavelets lovely? And, is it quite different from what you have expected? Not so wild, not so bold…

I actually stopped at six rows before the bind-off row so I still have a chance to tweak the neckline a bit. Once again there's a dilemma. On one hand, the wavy neckline should get fixed. On the other hand, a fancy collar won't work since the vest is supposed to have a simple cut. The fact that it will be paired up with a shirt/blouse should be considered as well. What do you think? Shall I finish the vest with a few lines of garter stitches along the back and the front neckline and let them fall back leisurely, or shall I do an I-cord bind-off?

With Indigo Flowers sitting quietly aside, I picked up my tiny little lace needles--oh how am I obsessed--to cast on a few stitches with my new favorite yarn (THE silk). Yup I am trying a new design, no I have not figured it out completely yet, but that's why we like knitting and designing so much ;-), correct?

Finally, having seen how beautiful this (Non-)Pencil Sketch had turned out to be, I thought it might be a good idea to modify the pattern and expand the size range--just give me a little more time!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Diving Into Lace

I can't help it. It's summer--how natural it is to pick up a pair of sleek and cool lace needles and a cone of equally sleek and cool thread and embark on a swatching session?

See what I've got:

The pattern's A Harebell Fichu, from Jane Sowerby's Victorian Lace Today. I found a few super fantastic finished ones here. Well, if you haven't recognized it right away, it's probably because I used a super fine yarn--ColourMart 2/28 silk. The photo upstairs was taken when the swatch was still wet.

As it dries, the yarn starts to shine:

The Sl1-K4tog-PSSOs were quite fun to do, and the resulting nubs look so pretty to me! I would modify the pattern a bit and add some more of these. Another modification I have in mind is to make the picots larger. What we have here--they are at the left edge--are formed with CO 2 sts, BO 2 sts. I'd go with more than 2 sts.

Right after I finished the swatch, Fleegle tempted all lace knitters again (!) by posting outrageously attractive lacy designs by Lene Holme Sams√łe. Unfortunately I cannot justify the >$40 shipping rate for now. To compensate, I played with my lace needles and Zephyr to make a lacy tree.

The other half of the inspiration came from Norah Gaughan's Knitting Nature. Remember her Phyllotaxis-themed designs?

Oh and I went to Vogue Knitting's website last night--they've just updated it (Fall 07 is VK's 25th anniversary issue) and there are many free patterns to download! I love the colors! And once again Norah showed us what she can do--amazing. I'll definitely go pick up a copy.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Needles Excellency

Readers beware: "the Needles" contains no custom-made praise for our beloved dpns or circulars.

The Needles Excellency is a funny little book first published in 1631. The first one third of the 42 pages carried a long poem titled The Praise of the Needle, written by John Taylor (1580-1653).

The first page looks like this:

See how boring it is already? After a long list of fiber sources, Taylor used a little imagination and described how miserable our life would be without needles--so many types of clothing and home accessories would disappear (gasp!):

And thus without the Needle we may see

We should without our Bibs and Biggins bee

No Shirts or Smockes, our nakednesse to hide

No garments gay, to make us magnifide

No Shadowes, Shapparoones, Caules, Bands, Ruffs, Kuffs

No Kerchiefes, Quayses, Chin-clouts, or Marry-Muffes

No Crof-cloaths, Apron, Hand-kerchiefes, or Falls

No Table-cloathes for Parlours or for Halls

No Sheets, no Towels, Napkins, Pillow-beares

Not any Garment man or woman weares

The impressive list was then followed by many pages of general descriptions of the importance and the glory of needleworks...until Taylor turned to the ladies of the English court and specifically described their virtue, which had supposedly been exemplified by their fine needlework.

The poem for Catherine of Aragon:

and Queen Elizabeth I:

Whether his intention was to persuade women to pick up needles or to identify with the ladies, these poems turned out to be rather irrelevant...

Anyway, what I really liked were the printed patterns that followed the lines. Maybe a woman would not fancy the poem, but would pay for the charts?

Here are a few familiar patterns. Further study is certainly required, but I suppose that these embroidery/lace patterns were later borrowed by knitters? Please correct me if I'm wrong ;-).

My favorite from the book:

I thought this one's got full potential to become a beautiful border on a fine-gauge sweater, so I played with it a bit:

What do you say? The effects are quite different--Norwegian vs Fair Isle?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Historical Knitting, Part I

It all started from a free pattern for a stunning (and simple!) stole. If, like me, you visit Elann often, then you certainly would agree that Shui Kuen Kozinski is a master of lace. Most of her exquisite patterns begin with a few lines of poem, as lovely as the patterns. This time, however, Shui Kuen started her Voyager Lace Stole with a quote, taken from a book published 150 years ago.

The lace pattern for the stole, like some of her previous designs, was adapted from another historical pattern extracted from a book named Home Work, A Choice Collection of Useful Designs for Crochet and Knitting Needle. Out of curiosity, I looked for the book online and found it in no time.

Home Work
was an impressive collection of crocheting and knitting patterns--well over 300 pages. As if these were not enough to persuade a frugal woman of nineteenth century to purchase it, the author/editor generously threw in a chapter of formulas for home-made skincare and makeup products: face powders, glycerin cream, rose cold cream, hair wash, etc. This "favorite of Marie Antoinette" caught my attention:

...a wash distilled from half a dozen lemons cut small, a handful of white lily leaves and southernwood infused in two quarts of milk with an ounce and a half of white sugar and an ounce of rock alum...
...the face at night was to be bathed with this water, which gave a beautiful purity and liveliness to the complexion.

Let us take a scientific look at the recipe: Lemon, lily leaves and southernwood are good sources of vitamin C, a natural brightener; they work as antiseptics as well--no acnes or pimples! Milk proteins work to tone and plump up the skin; and rock alum had historically been used as a topical astringent and styptic. Judging from the proportion of the ingredients, the wash should be mildly acidic--exactly what human skin wants. Really, this night toner should work wonders!

Now back to the needlework contents. I have yet to try crocheting so I cannot comment on a larger part of the book. A closer look through the knitting pages surprised me--I realized that many of the stitch patterns had been made available online before, and that I have fondly tried out several of them with good results.

So you may ask, can we use Home Work directly for our knitting? Probably not.

First of all, only written instructions were given for the patterns. There were not schematics or charts, and illustrations were sparse and not of the highest quality. Given that the author/editor focused largely on lace panels, inserts, and edgings, the lack of charts or clear illustrations, needless to say, could easily dampen a modern knitter's eagerness(1).

Even if you are feeling lucky, there is another problem. Precise descriptions and symbols that we use today had not appeared then. For instance, in the book, right-slanting and left-slanting decreases were indistinguishable--Ssks and k2togs were both referred to as "narrow"(2).

Although I would not knit directly from Home Work, this book is full of historical interest. It reflected how knitting, as a traditional craft, had developed during the past century. Why can't we see any serious Fair Isle or Aran knitting in the book(3)? Because these two branches joined the mainstream only after the turn of the century. A comparison of this book to any knitting book of today can show us how knitting charts, diagrams, symbols, abbreviations, formats, etc, have been standardized over the last hundred years. Not only can we flip through pages full of clear illustrations and beautiful photographs, but we can click the mouse for inspirations and resources. And not to mention the cornucopia of commercial yarns, needles, and gadgets!

Looking back, I have to hold the author, and the knitters of her time, in great reverence. And once again, I was reminded that I am a tiny part of a great traditional craft that's called knitting.

The preface of Home Work takes only a minute to read and I highly recommend it(page 1 and page 2):

...Home Work is a useful book. It is published with the hope that it will provide a pleasure and a help in very many homes...

Usefulness and pleasure--could anyone have summarized it better?


(1) Do you remember to whom Victorian Lace Today was dedicated? the pioneering Victorian women who wrote the first knitting books and to the more adventurous women who knit from them.

(2) According to Jane Sowerby, the word "narrow" in early knitting instructions was equivalent to "k2tog". "ssk", or left-slanting decrease, came much later.

(3) Some simple Aran stitch patterns did appear in Home Work, such as the Raspberry stitch (or Trinity stitch).

Monday, July 16, 2007

Huron in the Sun

The past Sunday was Huron Park Day in our little town. I have never seen so many people in the park, or so many boats on the river! The wild geese population seemed to feel the same. Nonetheless, we managed to take a quiet walk through the woods and by the beautiful river.

All the white dots are water lilies--aren't they beautiful? Totally different from Monet's sentimental ponds, this one is full of sunshine, almost tropical.

The wooden bridge led to a hiking path into the woods. Anyone knows what fruits are these? Are they edible? Semi-transparent and plump, they looked like polished coral beads.

Another shot:

We got a tiny piece of prairie as well:

Ah I almost forgot to show you this--it's a good one.

Looking out of my window, there are trees and shrubs, and a vegetable garden kept by our neighbors. Cardinals and cats frequent the tomato vines and the herbs in the evening; they always bring a smile to my face. Squirrels check me out from time to time--see that cute buddy?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Glove and a Swatch

Nope, the vest hasn't become a FO yet! The good news is that I'm half way through the back, and the bad news is that I don't have a picture of the WIP. You know, a lacy piece has to be blocked to look smart ;-).

I received my first order from ColourMart last week. I'll just say that all the good things I've heard about them are true; it took less than a week for my cone to arrive, and the yarn is gorgeous.

I got 150 grams of 2/28 silk in a crisp and clean color named Sky.

The funny thing is that I don't know what to make with it so I just played with it a bit. To my satisfaction, it didn't pill or snag at all even after several rounds of knitting and frogging.
Here's a tiny piece, knitted on size 3 needles and blocked. The purple yarn is Zephyr--you can see how thin the silk is.

Here's another(!) fingerless glove. I'm making a pair for a non-knitting friend, and I'm sure she's not reading my blog ;-).

Because I used size 3 needles and a fingering yarn--it's Elann Baby Silk, the lace doesn't look as lacy . No problem, I'll cover the lace with glass beads!

What I liked most about this glove is the new bind-off method I used. You just have to check it out here. Thank you Fleegle! The finished cuff looks relaxed and sort of nubby (like picots), and the method, as Fleegle has suggested, is easy to remember--it's a combination of K2tog through back loop and K through back loop.

And have you seen this beautiful Pencil Sketch WIP? Mine was merely a stash-busting project, and this one is a beautiful piece of art!

Finally, thank you my friends and readers--your comments always make me smile or blush ;-)!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Two Free Patterns

At the beginning of April I decided to document my knitting and designing life. What a decision it was! Through this blog I have received warm encouragements and informative feedbacks, and interactions and friendships have been established. I just want to let all of you know that I feel extremely grateful--I know how lucky I am, and will always do my best.

I had planned to put together something for the three-month-birthday of the blog. However I caught a cold a couple of days ago and didn't find time to do this. I didn't even finish Indigo Flowers Vest. Fortunately, Connie told me that two of my patterns, Birdie and Jellyfish, just appeared on MagKnits. So here they are!

Birdie is roomy enough for a book and a bunch of pencils. I used Filatura di Crosa Millefili Fine, a silky smooth 4-ply/light DK weight yarn for the bag. For a chubby bird, I used a worsted weight yarn (Reynolds Saucy). In case you are wondering, the book is Someday, a moving essay with unique illustrations.

Jellyfish is made from one skein of Lana Grossa Baby Kid and bordered with Knit Picks Andean Treasure. The shrug is now my favorite piece to wear to garden parties and weddings. To my disappointment, no one asked if I've made it myself :(

Finally, thank you for all these thoughtful suggestions on Indigo Flowers, I appreciate your help, and will get back to it soon.

Have a great day!