The Royal Arachnid

Lately I’ve been blogging so endlessly about spinning, one might think I have been neglecting my knitting. One would be incorrect. I most definitely have not been neglecting my knitting.

I have finished the Brown Garter Rib Socks.

Brown Garter Rib Socks knitted for my DH from Knit Picks Stroll Tonal in Kindling

My sock blockers are too small for socks I knit for the DH, but I think you get a pretty good idea of how great these socks turned out. And the most important thing is that the DH loves them. That’s really all that matters. 🙂

I’ve also started a new pair of socks that will probably be a gift for someone who is sock-worthy.

Show-Off Stranded Socks in Cherry Tree Hill Supersock in Birches

Yeah, that’s just the cuff in the picture, two inches of 2 x 2 ribbing instead of the one inch of 1 x 1 ribbing called for in the pattern. I prefer 2 x 2 ribbing on my socks, and I have settled on 20 rounds as being my perfect number. I actually have a couple of inches of the leg pattern finished, but I’m too lazy to take a picture of it right now, so you will just have to wait for an update from me. 🙂

Two great sock reports should be plenty of knitting content for one blog post, but I have more. Yes, MORE! The real star of my recent knitting is herself, The Spider Queen. The 3rd border is finished and the 4th begun.

The Spider Queen with three borders done

At this point, she looks like something the cat horked up. That is just the nature of lace knitting. It looks like a puddle of yarn vomit until it is washed and stretched to dry. That’s when the knitting gods and goddesses step in and, using a magic formula that I cannot begin to fathom, transform the knitting into something beautiful.

Of course, while I give the knitting gods and goddesses credit for the beauty of my knitted lace, it is I who does all the work, who puts in all the effort, who actually does all the stretching and pinning that makes the transformation happen. It’s my back and my knees that hurt during and after the process. Come to think of it, the knitting gods or goddesses don’t do jack. Everything that happens is the result of the metaphorical and sometimes literal sweat of my brow. Ha! All the credit goes to me, the knitter, the person who washes and stretches the lace! No gods or goddess are involved, no magic, either.

If you recall, I didn’t want to seam up the corners per the instructions for the shawl because I think the sewn seam looks, um, less than lovely, so I adapted a technique from EZ’s Stonington Shawl. I was a little worried that the corner wasn’t going to be stretchy enough, but those fears turned out to be groundless. Once the borders were joined, the corners stretched like crazy. All in all, I’m very pleased with the results.

The corner join unstretched


The corner join dry stretched

I don’t know whether I will have Her Royal Highness finished by the end of the month, but I should be darned close. I am enjoying making this shawl. I have yet to get bored with it, and that is unusual for such a large project. I think that working on borders individually and adding the edging as each border is completed breaks up the monotony of knitting seemingly endless rounds of border and rows of edging.

The Jamieson & Smith Shetland cobweb-weight yarn is wonderful to work with. It is very strong for such a thin single. My yarn has broken only four or five times so far, and only because I yanked on it way too hard. The knitted shawl is very, very, very stretchy. (Am I allowed to use that many verys in one sentence?) I am dying to get this shawl finished just so that I can see the magic transformation from hairball to lace happen. It should be a spectacular sight.


In A Quandry

I’ve been making good progress on The Spider Queen Shawl. I finished the first border. I dry stretched the border and edging and took pictures. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out,

Close-up of border #1

so I started border #2. I have completed 8 rows of the second border, and I’m suddenly plagued with doubts.

I didn’t want to have seams at the corners of the borders, so I decided to adapt a technique used in Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Stonington Shawl. For the Stonington, increases are made at the beginning of each row by doing a yarn over before knitting the first stitch. This creates loops through which stitches are later picked up and knitted together with a stitch from the adjoining border, eliminating the need to sew the borders together later.

This technique worked very well on my still unfinished Stonington, but I’m terrified that it’s not going to work so well on The Spider Queen. The corners of my Stonington are very stretchy and I have no doubt that I will be able to block Stonington with no difficulty when it is completed.

But the corner edges of my Spider Queen are not nearly as stretchy as I would like them to be. I didn’t really notice this when I was dry stretching and pinning the border for the pictures.

Border # 1 dry-stretched and pinned

But I did notice it last night when I gave the corner a tug.

Now I don’t know what to do. Should I just keep on working border # 2, then knit and attach the other two borders, trusting that I’m just being paranoid about the corner edges?

Or do I start border #2 over again using a different (and as of yet “un-unvented” technique), then rip out border #1 and reknit it using the “new” technique? I won’t know whether the edge is stretchy enough as is until I finished border # 3 and dry-stretch the shawl.

I’d hate to do all that work only to have to rip it all out and start over. But I sure don’t want to rip the first border out and reknit it needlessly.

What to do?!?!?!?!?

Spider Queen Continued

I’ve been working a lot on The Spider Queen. Last night I started working on the second border chart.

The Spider Queen in progress

I figure it will take me another 10 days or so to finish the first border and edging. I rather like the way the crowns look.

The crown pattern in the border

Some knitters have made fun of the crown pattern, saying that it looked like Space Invaders, but I just don’t see it.

The Spider Queen Part 3

Shortly after I started work on The Spider Queen, I searched on Ravelry and Google to see whether I could find any information on how knitters who had knitted this shawl had handled the borders. I found photographs of some very lovely completed Spider Queens, and several unfinished projects on Ravelry. But the most interesting finding was the blog of a woman who is fairly well known in knitting circles. Her blog includes a lot of very good technical advice, and she is quite inventive. I was excited to see that she had tackled The Spider Queen back in 2007 because I thought that she had perhaps devised a way to knit the borders without having the ugly seams.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this knitter seemed to hate this shawl. Not only did she think the border patterns were so ill-chosen that she designed her own borders using different patterns, she claimed that the instructions given by Hazel Carter, the shawl’s designer, are wrong, wrong, wrong. She had worked a gauge swatch using the spider pattern from the center of the shawl and following Hazel Carter’s instructions to the letter. She posted a picture of the swatch, and it looks pretty awful. The reason for this, she claims, is that she followed the instructions to always read the center chart from right to left. Now, normally a chart written for back-and-forth knitting, as opposed to knitting in the round, is read from right to left on the right-side rows and left to right on the wrong-side rows. So she knitted another swatch reading the charts in the standard way and got much better results. You can see the pictures of her two swatches by clicking here.

When I found this blog entry, I was quite taken aback because I had already completed most of the first spider section of the shawl center. I had followed the instructions to always read the chart from right to left, and my results were exactly as intended.

The “spider” pattern in my Spider Queen center reading the chart from right to left on every row.

I don’t know where the other knitter went wrong, but it wasn’t the fault of Hazel Carter or the pattern. In fact, the pattern is totally symmetrical, and every row (except 3, 9, and 15) actually reads the same whether one goes from right to left or left to right. If a knitter failed to read the instructions carefully and missed the part where Carter says to read the center chart from right to left on every row and simply knitted the chart in the usual manner, the pattern would work just the same.

I suspect the reason Carter instructs the knitter to always read the chart from right to left is because there are a couple of rows that begin and end with a single decrease (k2tog), but the pattern repeats are separated with a double decrease (sl1, k2tog, psso), so she uses a different symbol for the last stitch of the repeat.

Anyhow, regardless of the complaints of other knitters, I have been happily knitting away on The Spider Queen and after completing two repeats of the center

Two repeats of The Spider Queen center dry-streched.

I’m very happy with how my always-right-to-left spiders look.

The Spider Queen “spiders” knitted according to the designer’s directions.

The Spider Queen Part 1

Many years ago, I bought a kit for Hazel Carter’s The Cat’s Day Shawl from Blackberry Ridge.  Like many of Carter’s designs, this shawl tells a story, the story of the a day in the life of a Shetland cat. The lace patterns used in the shawl all represent elements of the story. A Cat’s Day was the first Shetland-type shawl I ever made, and much to my surprise, it was not at all difficult.

The Cat’s Day Shawl

The yarn is a nice heavy-laceweight wool-silk blend that feels good against the skin and that wears very nicely. I’ve used the shawl a lot, mostly as a coverlet. It is lightweight and  perfect to use when napping in air conditioning or for layering with other covers when it is cold.

I love this shawl so much that I bought several other Hazel Carter kits from Blackberry Ridge, including The Spider Queen Shawl, which I think is dramatic-looking.

The Spider Queen Shawl by Hazel Carter

The Spider Queen kit includes Blackberry Ridge’s Thistledown yarn, a cobweb-weight single. The kit marinated in my stash for a long time because I thought it would be difficult to knit. You see, the lace patterns used for the shawl are the type that have pattern stitches every row. A lot of lace patterns alternate a pattern row with a row that is plain knit (or purl), and I have little difficulty with this type of lace knitting. But the few times I have attempted patterns that include pattern stitches on every row, I have given up in despair. My Melanie Shawl has sat untouched for years because I found the going incredibly slow due to the difficulty I had getting the pattern correct. So I guess it’s understandable that it has taken me a long time to work up the courage to tackle The Spider Queen.

But the lace patterns aren’t the only difficulty I had with starting The Spider Queen. Another reason I avoided The Spider Queen was because the borders are knitted individually, then sewn up. The seams look awful in the picture on the pattern, and I know that mine would probably look much, much worse, being that I really hate sewing up knitted pieces. I have to come up with a way to knit the borders without having those ugly, ugly, ugly seams.

But in spite of these obstacles, I had an overwhelming desire to knit The Spider Queen, so I took the plunge. The kit includes Blackberry Ridge’s Thistledown yarn, a cobweb-weight single. I cast on in Thistledown and started knitting away. I got this far before I stopped.

Thistledown is a yarn with great variation in its thickness (or thinness, depending on how you look at it), and I was not pleased with how the thick sections looked.

The Spider Queen in Thistledown. The fuzzy thick sections of the yarn ruin the appearance of the pattern.

There was no way I was going to put so much work into this shawl using this yarn. I wasn’t about to end up with bunch of fuzzy places ruining the ethereal appearance of my shawl. So I decided to order some Jamieson & Smith cobweb in natural and start over. The Thistledown will be used for some other project somewhere down the road.

When the J & S arrived, I realized it was even finer than the Thistledown, so when I cast on The Spider Queen for the second time, I went down a needle size. The J & S cobweb is also a single that has variation in its thickness, but the variation is considerably less than the Thistledown. In comparison to Thistledown, the J & S is nearly uniform in thickness, and it knits up beautifully without the difference in thickness being noticeable.

The Spider Queen in Jamieson & Smith’s cobweb. No fuzzy thick spots.

I’ve knitted one-and-a-half repeats of the center pattern so far, and I’m amazed at how quickly it has gone. Even though nearly every row includes pattern stitches, the pattern is easy to follow and the knitting is easy to read. I’ve had no difficulty whatsoever.

The Spider Queen 1.5 repeats of center

The Spider Queen dry stretched.

I have even been working on this shawl while watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s my lucky knitting, bringing good fortune to the Los Angeles Kings, who beat the Phoenix Coyotes last night to win the Western Conference championship, the Campbell Cup, and the right to face the Eastern Conference champion (either the Devils or the Rangers) in the Stanley Cup finals. Go, Kings!

‘Tis The Season

Yep. Hockey season is in full swing. The Pittsburgh Penguins had a rough go of it for a while, sustaining a 6-game losing streak, but stormed back with seven straight wins before the All-Star break. It’s amazing that they can play so well and win so much with all the devasting injuries the hockey gods have dealt them. Sid Crosby, the best player in all of hockey, played only a few games before suffering a recurrence of concussion symptoms, and no one knows when he will be back in the line-up. Kris Letang, the Pens all-star defenseman, was out for weeks and weeks with a concussion, but he’s finally returned to the line-up and is playing so well that he was invited to the All-Star game. But Jordan Staal is still out with a knee injury after missing half of last season with a foot injury he suffered during the playoffs of the season before that. And many other players have missed a significant number of games this season due to injuries. Injuries are a part of the game. Although the Penguins have suffered far more than their share of injuries, the team has continued to play pretty well thanks in part to all the talent they can bring up from their AHL affiliate, the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins, aka, the Baby Pens. The Baby Pens play the same system of hockey that the Pens use, so when players are called up, they fit right in.

When I watch hockey, I knit. The two go together like peanut butter and jelly, like vanilla ice cream and Hershey’s chocolate syrup, like hamburgers and French fries. Why am I suddenly hungry? LOL But knitting while watching hockey requires the knitting to be of the mindless sort, something that doesn’t require concentration or much attention. The action in hockey is pretty non-stop, which is very different from, say, football in which a play is run, then there is a break in the action before the next play. In hockey, the action stops only if the puck goes out of play, a goal is scored, a penalty occurs, the goalie loses his mask, the net is knock off its moorings, or a fight breaks out. And for those of you who think that there is a lot of fighting in hockey, um, NO. The number of fights in NHL games has been dropping dramatically and will probably continue to do so. The teams are so competitive now that they don’t have room on their rosters for fighting specialists. I am hopeful that the NHL is moving toward banning fighting. Oh, I enjoy a good hockey fight as much as the next fan, but I really don’t think fighting belongs in the sport. The “benefits” of fighting are far outweighed by the detriments, in my opinion.

So, what qualifies as mindless hockey knitting? Last year, during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I made hats. Hats are definitely mindless knitting. The year before, I made socks. For the most part socks are pretty mindless. But this season my hockey knitting has been a lace shawl. Most knitters wouldn’t consider lace to be mindless knitting, but mindless is in the eye of the beholder, and some lace patterns are simple and repetitive and thus qualify as mindless.

I would put the Sheelagh Shawl in the mindless category, even when knitting it in black, as I am. The pattern is deceptively easy, made up of lace stitches that are a snap to work if you know how to read your knitting, that is, you know where you are in the pattern by looking at the stitches from the previous pattern round. Knitting Sheelagh has been a bit of a saga. I explained how I started the shawl in a previous entry. I started out with 5 full skeins of Knit Picks Gloss Lace yarn in black, a full 2,200 yards of yarn, and didn’t even consider that wouldn’t be enough to finish the shawl. The edging used up almost all of 2 skeins, but I was still certain I had plenty of yarn. Even when I had used up the 3d and 4th skeins, I had no doubt. But when I started working with the 5th skein, I got that sinking feeling. I realized there was no way I’d be able to finish the shawl.

No problem, I thought. I’ll just order another skein from Knit Picks. Heck, it will probably be the same dye lot since it wasn’t all that long ago that I purchased the yarn. So I go to the K-P website and click on Gloss Lace and get ready to select “Black,” when my breath is taken away by the words, “Available soon.” Oh, no! I’ll have to wait a couple of weeks and the dye lot will be different.” But still, panic did not sink in. I would just keep working on Sheelagh until there was just a little bit of yarn left, enough to work several rounds so that I could alternate the new dye lot with the old so that it would blend in. Every day I would check the K-P website to see when the black Gloss Lace would be available. I mean, “soon” is relative, right? Finally, just when I had reached the point where I had to stop working on Sheelagh, I checked K-P and saw that they had a date when the black Gloss Lace would be available again–May 25. May 25?!?!?!?!?!?! I simply could not even consider waiting that long to finish Sheelagh. If I put her aside, I might lose my Sheelagh mojo, and who knows when I might regain it? What’s a knitter to do?

Running short of yarn on a project and not being able to get more is one of a knitter’s worst nightmares. But we now have a wonderful resource called Ravelry. I searched on Ravelry and found a couple dozen knitters who had black Gloss Lace yarn in their stashes. Several had the same dye lot as mine, and one knitter had finished her project and had a skein left over. I contacted her and asked whether she would be willing to sell or trade for the skein. She replied almost immediately, and she was willing to make a trade. So we made a deal, and a few days later, I had the yarn I needed to finish my shawl in my hot little hands, and she had a couple of balls of a very cushy, soft sock yarn. We are both happy, and it all happened through the magic that is Ravelry. And thanks to her, Sheelagh is now a finished object.

Sheelagh Shawl

Sheelagh Shawl completed

Sheelagh Shawl

Sheelagh Shawl edging and borders

Sheelagh Shawl

Sheelagh Shawl borders up close

Sheelagh Shawl

Sheelagh Shawl center

Bobble Bobble

When I was a very little girl, my dad asked me at Thanksgiving, “How does a turkey go?” My reply was, “Bobble bobble.” So it became a standard part of our Thanksgiving celebration that my dad would ask me how a turkey goes and I would answer, “Bobble, Bobble.” Last Thursday marked the 5th Thanksgiving that has passed since my dad died. I miss him very much. And my DH continues the tradition of asking me how a turkey goes.

This Thanksgiving was one of the best ever. The boy and his sock-worthy GF drove in from the Burgh on Wednesday and didn’t leave until Sunday, although they did go with the DH to Morgantown on Friday to watch the Mighty Mountaineers of WVU beat the Pitt Panthers in the Backyard Brawl. The GF is currently a grad student at Pitt, but she’s a WVU fan all the way, which is just one of the many reasons why I love her so much.

I didn’t go to the game. There was just too much football to watch on TV, and hockey, too. And you know what watching football and hockey on TV means. That’s right. KNITTING!

I have some progress to report. First, I finished the Froot Loop Socks. This is a great pattern that is a lot of fun to knit. It never gets boring; at least, I never got bored with it. YMMV. I did adjust the pattern to suit me and knitted it on 84 stitches with 2.5mm needles. When I was ready to start the toes, I decreased to 80 stitches by leaving out 4 of the increases in the close loop toe pattern. Then I worked a round toe. The yarn is Sparkle from Draygone Yarnes in the Prom Dress color way. Unfortunately for us sock knitters, Draygone Yarnes is on hiatus at the moment.

Froot Loop Socks

Froot Loop Socks

The pictures always make the socks look redder than they are. They are pink. Very, very pink.

I have been trying to finish up some WIP, but I’m an abject failure at this point. I just cannot motivate myself to start working on St. Moritz again or to restart the knitted-on edging of my Stonington Shawl. I managed to work a couple of rounds on St. Moritz before setting it aside. I guess I have to be in the proper mood to do stranded color work from complicated charts. For the St. Moritz, I have to work from two different charts, and it’s a royal pain in the you-know-what.  And I’m just not in the mood for knitting that’s complicated.

As for the Stonington, I have tried two different edging patterns so far, and I don’t like either of them. So I have been searching for just the right pattern. I don’t know whether I’ll find it. I’m not very enamored of the Stonington technique. My shawl is going to be really small, and because of the way the borders are knitted, I cannot enlarge it by simply continuing to knit the borders. I’m considering ripping the borders back and reknitting them in the round, but that might be a little too drastic. Besides, the yarn I’m using is very sticky and ripping out is an even bigger pain than the St. Moritz charts. I’m mulling over the idea of picking up stitches around the edge of the shawl and knitting a second border, then doing an edging. But to be honest, I’m just not feeling this yarn or this shawl. At this point, I’m perfectly happy to let it marinate in its project bag and hope it improves with age.

But I do have the lace shawl itch, and it’s an itch I just have to scratch. I haven’t made a lace shawl in a while (Stonington doesn’t count), so I decided to start one. In black. Much to my surprise, I’m not finding the black yarn difficult to work with, even at night. Having settled on a yarn, Knit Picks Gloss in lace weight, I had to find a pattern. After searching through dozens of shawl patterns, I decided to try the Magickal Earth Shawl from A Gathering of Lace. I planned to substitute a different pattern for the unicorn section. I’m not a big fan of unicorns. I charted out my substitute pattern and even bought beads for it. I got out the yarn and needle and went to work.

The Magickal Earth Shawl is a square shawl that is is knitted from the outside in, that is, you knit the edging first, then pick up stitches along the edging and knit the rest of the shawl towards the center, decreasing as you go along. I’ve never knitted a square shawl this way; I have always started in the center or with a center square. It’s fun to try new-to-me techniques; this technique is actually an old one that was and still is used by knitters of traditional Shetland shawls.

I started to work on the edging, but I was having a difficult time following the chart. Normally I prefer knitting lace from charts, but this chart was giving me fits for some reason. The edging consists of two separate patterns, one of which is repeated four time, the other three times, combined into one chart. And maybe that’s what was throwing me off. But I think the main problem is that the chart is in really small type, and I was too lazy to scan it and enlarge it. Instead, I got out Gladys Amedro’s book Shetland Lace

Shetland Lace by Gladys Amedro

Shetland Lace by Gladys Amedro

because I knew she used the same edging on one of the shawls in that book. No, I don’t have a super-great memory. Shetland Lace was one of the books I looked through when I was trying to decided on a lace shawl to start. The directions in Shetland Lace are written, not charted, but they are written in a type of knitter’s shorthand that is very similar to how I break down row repeats in lace patterns. I have found Amedro’s pattern much easier to follow than the chart in AGOL.

The Magikal Earth Shawl edging happens to be identical to Amedro’s Sheelagh Shawl. And the Sheelagh Shawl

Sheelagh Shawl

Sheelagh Shawl

is one that I have been wanting to knit for many years. So my Magickal Earth Shawl has morphed into Sheelagh.

I am close to having 3/4s of the edging done.

Sheelagh edging

It’s always surprising how long it takes to knit the edging of a shawl, whether it is the first part knitted or the last, but I have been progressing rapidly. Once the edging is done and I have picked up all the stitches, the rest of the shawl will go quickly because it will be getting smaller and smaller.

Sheelagh edging up close

Sheelagh edging up close

So far I am loving the Knit Picks Gloss lace weight yarn. I made a sweater in Gloss fingering weight a couple of years ago and liked working with it. The sweater still looks good although the yarn has fuzzed a little. The Gloss is not quite as nice as Zephyr, but it’s definitely one of the better yarns in Knit Picks’ arsenal. The pattern calls for cobweb yarn on 3.0mm needles. I’m using 3.0mm needles, but my yarn is lace weight. This size needle results in a solid-looking stocking stitch, which is what I prefer. If the pattern were garter-stitch, I would use a larger needle. But only a small part of the edging is garter stitch. The rest of the pattern is stocking stitch. The edging is very stretchy, so I think I will end up with a large shawl even though I’m using lace weight yarn instead of cobweb. When I get the edging finished, I will definitely do the happy dance, but knitting it is quite enjoyable.

There’s a lot more going on, both in knitting and in football and hockey, so stay tuned. 🙂