Monday, November 25, 2013

The Giving of Thanks

      Happy Thanksgiving Week!  As most of us who do the cooking know it doesn't happen in just one day.  The preparations for the feast are already planned and have begun in earnest. 

     There are only two of us for dinner this year and yet I've got quite a list of holiday chores to accomplish before The Turkey actually gets into the oven.  We do a small "spatchcocked" bird that roasts to perfection in about 70 minutes.  Along with the birdie we enjoy dressing loaded with butter, mushrooms, celery, and other veggies, and fresh cranberry sauce.   Pumpkin pie, yes indeed!  We usually have some for breakfast in fact. I love good food.
      Most of all I enjoy the feelings of gratitude that this week brings, feelings I like to hold onto and practice everyday.  You, my dear fellow knitters, are at the top of my list of blessings for which I am thankful.  Be good to yourselves, enjoy your days, let your knitting flow, and  have a joyful, warm and Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Double Refraction Shawl

      Yet another triangular shawl came off my needles for October's Knitaway in the Studio.  The Double Refraction Shawl, now up in the Ravelry shop, is one amusing piece of striped knitting fun.

     I might be prejudiced, but the pattern has gotten "thumbs up" from a great knitter (Maggie R you know who you are!) and I think you'll find it is pretty satisfying to watch it take shape.  Yarn overs and short rows are the techniques for this one, and while I like to think the variations in the Dancing Colors yarn helps (Double Refraction is a great showcase for hand dyed yarns), the shift of the angles is what gives it the visual bang.
      The name, Double Refraction, comes from a term used in optics to describe the visual "bending" of light as it passes through certain substances.  We've all seen refraction when a stick (or cooking spoon) looks like it has been broken or bent when stuck into water; pull it out, it's straight.  That's refraction in action.

         If you wear glasses, your prescription has a "refraction index" as part of it to account for the bending of the light rays as they pass through the lenses.  Glass is a liquid after all.  Refraction is everywhere!

Double refraction equals double vision!
        Now here comes the cool stuff.  Double refraction happens when light is passed through a specific crystal, optical calcite, for example, which actually bends the light in two different directions.  Why? because light is made up of two rays, a vertical ray and a horizontal ray, and the molecular structure of calcite forces the two rays to pass through it at different velocities.  Two different velocities, two different angles.  Double Refraction!  The angles in the shawl (to my eye at least) are very similar in appearance to this optical sensation. 

       The above photos are of my own personal piece of optical calcite (which has been recently mistaken, most humorously, for an ice cube) purchased right before October's Knitaway, when I visited the Rock Hut in Leadville, CO.  I got it simply because I like the way it makes rainbows.  I hadn't a clue about the Double Refraction link at the time.  Serendipity!
        All this explaining is just by way of indulging my inner geek and for that I beg your pardon.  To make a Double Refraction Shawl, no scientific knowledge (beyond your already wonderful knitting skills) is needed.  Its all garter stitch, change colors every two rows, remember your yo's and short rows...done!  One thing I'll tell you now, though.  The second "wing" is worked in purled garter stitch.  Has to be done so to get the "wings" to mirror each other.  Knitting has it's mysteries too.
      And for those of you who also have inner geeks, check out this great, and geeky, video.
      Double Refraction indeed!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Autumn of Shawls

      The Thistledown Shawl,  which has to my delight been included in the collection, Dreaming of Shetland, was released this week as part of the third installment of the marvelous eBook. 

       The eBook includes gorgeous designs by many well-known designers, and is a funding project for Deb Robson's dream of following up her work published in the amazing Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook with research on sheep and wool in the Shetland Islands.  Having myself fallen in love with these islands when I taught knitting there in 2001, I was excited to think of Deb working in that enchanted place to bring us, in her inimitable way, more information on the history, wool, and spinning.  Plus I've got a Thistledown Shawl workshop going on Sunday, December 1st, at Knit Knack in Arvada.  Join us!
       More shawls in the news include the many sample Faroese Shawls that will be present at the Faroese Shawl workshop this coming Sunday, November 17th, from 10am-4pm. Knit Knack!

There is a seat open for the Faroese workshop and if you haven't knit one of these brilliantly shaped shawls, come try it out with the in-class project miniature shawl. The Faroese is a traditional triangular shawl that is shaped specifically to stay on your shoulders.... as I said, brilliant!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Downover Shawl

      At the Knitaway® in the Studio  last month we focused on triangular shawls and specifically on knitting in all directions and with many shaping methods.  The project for the workshop was the Downover Shawl, the pattern for which is now up in the Ravelry shop.  

Downover gets its name from a non-traditional construction, being made of one triangle that is knit from the top DOWN and one triangle that is knit up and worked sideways OVER to the tip.  Downover is knit in garter stitch with two-row stripes which highlight the shaping of a shawl.  While it sounds very straightforward, it got to be a curious knit when I encountered what appeared to be a mathematical anomaly, a hitch in the arithmetic, of figuring out the relationship of the picked up stitches in Triangle I to the knitted row in Triangle I.  Let me explain.
      One of the beauties of garter stitch is that it is square in a very good way; the number of stitches  equals the number of ridges in the fabric.  You could point out that a ridge is two rows and so the actual gauge is twice as many rows to the number of stitches in an inch, and I would have to agree.  The gauge of garter stitch is not square, the fabric is.  Due to the fact that garter stitch pulls up and condenses itself so nicely, two rows equal one ridge and therefore the number of stitches is the same as number of ridges (rows divided by two) in any given inch.  Makes life so easy when designing garments with garter stitch.  Need to pick up stitches along an edge?  Well then, picking up one stitch per ridge will give you the perfect number to create a proportionately fitting match;  there's none of this pick up two-thirds or three-quarters of the stitches, as is necessary with stockinette stitch, in order to avoid having a ruffled border or gathered sleeve.
    Knowing all this, I merrily picked up the stitches for Triangle II along the ridges of Triangle I, getting exactly the same number of stitches as the number of ridges, and figuring that if I decreased one stitch per ridge at the bottom edge, I'd end up with a symmetrically shaped shawl, knit in one piece and in two directions.  So neat, so tidy.  So wrong.
     As I decreased along, one stitch per ridge, Triangle II began to disappear much too quickly and at a disconcertingly steep angle.  Bummer. Rip out, Try again.  Where the decreases are placed can affect the shaping, even in good old square garter stitch, so I tried a couple more times, altering the placement and rate of the decreases.  Nope, not working.
      Ripping out once more (which comes with the territory of designing on the needles) I went online to consult with Pythagoras.  My reasoning was sound and my planning was confirmed by that ancient Greek master of triangles.  Then it dawned on me.  The edge I was picking up along was indeed made up of garter stitch ridges but these were ridges on the bias.

 Bias is a weird monkey in woven fabric and so it proves to be in garter stitch.  With this new realization, I used a sample piece to try out a couple more ideas for stitch number and decrease rate and found that the solution was simple and beautiful, elegant in fact, in a most scientific sense.  Are you ready?  Pick up the same number of stitches as rows and then decrease one stitch at the bottom edge every other ridge (every 4th row).  With the two-row (color "A" and "B") stripes, that means all decreases are done in the same color, making it even easier to remember where to decrease;  there is only one option, decrease at the beginning of the row every time you change to color "A".  If this sounds complex, worry not.  The knitting of Downover is a breeze.

Mini Downover Shawl from Knitaway® workshop

      Triangle II ended up with a lovely slope and a dramatically long tail.  Most importantly it had a fabulous fit and feel.  It was not what I expected, but it was more pleasing than what I had imagined and is a perfect example of why "designing on the needles" often creates more interesting detail than just designing on paper.  I am constantly amazed at how beautifully things work out when you allow them to become what they can be and refrain from forcing them to be "just" what you envision them to be.  Better than a nice symmetrical triangular shawl, Downover is asymmetrical and much more interesting.  In addition, the tension of the stitches picked up along the bias edge also adds a most flirtatious curve to the center back.  Another serendipitous gift.
      So by chance and through persistence a shawl was born.  I've got more ideas and designs brewing from this as garter stitch on the bias intrigues both my shawl-loving self and my inner geek.  Hope you enjoy it too, in the Downover Shawl.