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 2

Last night I watched the Devils demoralize the Rangers in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by scoring a goal late in the 3rd period to win 4-3. The Devils had jumped out to a 3-0 lead, scoring 3 goals in the first period, but the Rangers came back in the second period with 2 goals and tied the game early in the 3rd period. But the Rangers are not a high-scoring hockey team and rarely score more than 3 goals in a game. And, sure enough, in front of their home fans, they were unable to score a 4th goal.

For those of you who aren’t hockey fans–Why isn’t everyone a hockey fan? It’s the most elegant sport in the world, and, folks, the players are wearing ice skates! Come on!–the Rangers are based in NYC and play in MSG (Madison Square Garden), the most famous sports venue in the world, and the Devils are based in Newark, NJ. Both teams have won The Cup before–the Rangers are one of the original six NHL teams–and they both play in the same division (along with my beloved Pittsburgh Penguins, so I hate both teams). Both teams have players I like as well as players I don’t like, but I find that I am cheering for the Devils. I’m shocked by this. The Devils are notorious for playing the most boring hockey in all the world. They try to score the first goal, then put everyone, including the opposing players, to sleep with the trap. Ugh! But the Devils have a new coach, Peter DeBoer, and he has totally changed the Devils style of play. They are more physical and more offensively minded. Dare I say it? The Devils are actually playing offense!

But that’s not why I find myself cheering for a hated rival of the Pens. No, I’m not cheering for the Devils because they are playing a more exciting brand of hockey; I’m cheering for them because I love their goaltender, 40-year-old Martin Brodeur. It’s hard not to like Brodeur. Although he’s an old guy (for a professional hockey player), he is still one of the best net-minders in the NHL. I just can’t help but pull for him and his team.

The series now stands at Devils 3 games, Rangers 2 games, with game 6 to be played in Newark on Friday. Can the Devils win the Eastern Division championship and the coveted Prince of Wales Cup at home? Stay tuned.

Of course, during last night’s game, which was, by the way, quite exciting, I worked on The Spider Queen. She’s coming along at a rapid pace.

Spider Queen

The Spider Queen progress 5-23-12

The J & S cobweb yarn is wound on a large cardboard core, and unwinding the yarn is a bit of a PITA. I decided that a Lazy Kate would make the unwinding easier,

A Lazy Kate

but I don’t have a Lazy Kate. So I improvised. I stuck a knitting needle through one side of a box, put the needle through the “spool” of yarn,” and stuck the knitting needle through the other side of the box. Voilà!  A Lazy Kate!

My improvised Lazy Kate


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!