As you can probably tell by the off-the-end-of-the pier style of my knitting and stitching projects here, not everything is fully swatched, graphed out, or perfectly planned before it’s realized. This may horrify some readers, but it’s the way I think. I prefer to learn on the fly, and don’t mind ripping back or starting again. For me, exploration is more fun than final product.
Case in point – the latest Wingspan. Let’s critique this thing to shreds:
Things I like:
- The basic Wingspan pattern
- The larger needle size/gauge for this particular yarn
- Using dice to determine hole size and placement
Things I don’t like:
- The color progression of this particular yarn
- This yarn in garter stitch
- The overall (near) finished look
- The combo of color, stitch and technique is too busy
One thing that made the last two Wingspans so dramatic was the long and gradual shading of the Zauberball Crazy. This was achieved by Zauberball’s dual strand ragg plies each cycling independently through their color ranges. In this full strand as opposed to ply-dyed yarn, color change is abrupt and the colors themselves are high-contrast. Speckles of the next color dot each block. (Now I remember starting socks with this ball, and not liking them either). The holes look less like airy bubbles, and more like the savaging of a demented moth army. And the eyelets, which work nicely in stockinette, look sloppy in garter stitch.
In total, I was Not Pleased. So this has been totally ripped back. I may play a bit with other stitches and this yarn, but in spite of it being a looonnnnngggg repeat, I am not confident that it’s right for a garter stitch Wingspan. However, the technique of placing eyelets in a fabric using a randomizing device to determine placement is still gnawing at me, as is thinking about other possible Wingspan variants. As a single project, this is a failure, but as a learning experience, it was valuable.
In other news, I’ve added to our house arsenal:
It’s a Korean-made sickle, sharp and sturdy. Similar ones have been used in Japan for centuries. They often figure in Anime, Samurai (and gangster) movies, both in their agricultural context and as weapons. We are close-in suburban here at String Central, and not out in the land of gentrified sprawl, so why do we need such a thing?
I cut the patches on the side and front of the house each fall, just after they bloom but before they scatter seed. I don’t want to be responsible for colonizing the neighborhood with the stuff, and I don’t want it to sit looking forlorn and frowzy through the winter. To date I’ve been clipping each stalk with a pruner, but that’s painful and time consuming. I am hoping that this tool will allow a swifter handful by handful harvest.
For those concerned with possible waste – I strip the leaves off the stems and re-use the stalks to build my bean trellis each spring. The leaves go to town composting. I also post about availability of (free) plant stakes each year on the local mailing list, and put them out on the curb for other gardeners to take.
The new band is marching across the bottom nicely, bringing a dark footing to the thing. Here you can see that I outline first, then fill in the voided long-armed cross stitch (LACS) background:
Trust me, it’s MUCH easier to work LACS inside an outline. I did it “feral,” (without outlines) on the large dark panel in the center of the left edge. Plain old cross stitch is easier to count than LACS with its braided surface texture. That one panel probably took twice as long to do in LACS as a result. This band is moving along much faster. Another two weeks tops, and I should have the entire bottom edge finished. An aside – there’s a mistake in the current strip. Pat yourself on the back if you can spot it!
In other news, The Resident Male has a project to showcase this week. In the spring we finally replaced our Carter-era washer and dryer with ones that work. Because we had to fit them into an existing alcove, and I wanted efficient front loaders, that took a bit of shopping around. Most front loaders on display in this area are giant capacity/top of the line units or are mini capacity apartment size stackers. Big ones wouldn’t fit in the space we had available, and with kids, we wanted more capacity than the smaller, stackable models. We finally tracked down some mid-size GE units, well reviewed with good repair records, and ordered them.
Now one problem with these front loaders is that the openings are knee height, and users have to stoop to put the laundry in. This is why the makers offer height-raising pedestals as options. Unfortunately, pedestals for our smaller size units are not offered in the US. So the Resident Male, freshly inspired by countless evenings of home improvement TV, tackled the project himself:
We now have two drawers for storage of once-a-year type kitchen impedimenta – like the big turkey roasting pan. And no more reaching in for that last sock on hands and knees! I declare this project a success. Now how does the new washer perform? It cleans much more thoroughly than my late 1970s/early 1980s vintage Kenmore did, even removing stains I thought were lost causes. The washer/dryer pair sip water, detergent, and energy, noticeably decreasing our consumption of each. And they’re quiet. We can now sit in the kitchen (behind the photographer) and have a conversation while the machines are running. But there are also a couple of minor drawbacks. Cycles take twice as long to complete; the mid-capacity model holds less than the old top loader, so there is one more wash per week; and for some reasons, sheets twist themselves into Gordian knots in the dryer, and do not dry well, unless I take the time to re-assort them several times mid cycle. Drawbacks aside, the new set-up is far superior to the old one, and the raised platform is the icing on the cake.
Slow going, not because working voided strips this way is slow, but because of work related time constraints. Still, I’m inching up on completion of the most current strip in Do Right:
Next is to pick out what will happen on the left, to balance the current strip, do a small bit, then extend the bottom strip across to cover the same width. I’m still not sure what exactly will happen there. Stay tuned.
And for long time readers here, I present the transformation:
Was: Is Now:
Over the past five years we’ve replaced the leaky roof and gutters, and the rubble driveway; removed the sheep-dip useless fence leading to the front door and the big spruce tree that was leaning on the house. We also had several near dead dangerous trees in the backyard removed, pruning the rest for the first time in three decades. We’ve pulled down the stucco-eating ivy and repaired the stucco, then had the house painted with a stucco-preserving finish to match the original color. We had the trim pointed in red and cream to emphasize the original lines of the house, and refinished the front door, painting it a matching red. We pulled out a flock of overgrown bushes, replanting new ones, flowers, lawn, or giant grass. We moved the mailbox and added house numbers, sawed off the gratuitous signpost (no sign, just a post); and restored the front porch.
Other improvements unseen in this shot include replacing the rotted out garage door, redoing the upstairs bath so that showers are now possible, replacing all of the wiring in the house (good-by knob and tube!), replacing the plumbing under the first floor bath so it too is now usable, insulating the attic and crawl spaces, installing attic vent fans, replacing the kitchen appliances with ones that work, replacing the furnace burner, adding a hot water boost pump so that the second floor receives heat in the winter, and relining the chimneys. All in all, the house no longer looks like some place the crazy lady up the street lives, although in fact the crazy lady up the street does live here.
Now FINALLY we’re up to the small aesthetic things – like painting and papering. And contemplating future upgrades, like restoring the front porch – taking those odd standard 1960s windows and shingle surrounds out and putting in some sort of modern non-insulated arched windows that fill the entire space, along with a period-appropriate front door. Or redoing the quasi-finished basement. But none of that until our financial capacitors recharge.
Some time back, I posted about having the perfect place for a tapestry, and contemplated the effort involved in stitching up a massive needlepoint kit. Examining my life, I finally came to the conclusion that eternity would in fact be involved. So I found a reasonably priced jacquard woven reproduction. This weekend past we installed it over the living room fireplace.
It’s a big fireplace – that tapestry is 52 inches across and could have been bigger. Even so, it works in the space, and we’re pleased.
To assuage my needlework hunger, I did score an interesting find. I dropped off Elder Daughter at her college orientation. While we were in New Paltz, NY we wandered through an antique shop in the town’s center. My find is a piece of stamped linen intended for embroidery. I found it jumbled in a pile of vintage kitchen linens. The design is clearly Stuart-era inspired, and is intended for working in crewel wool. The linen is thick, and of excellent quality. Although the fold lines are prominent, the linen itself is not damaged. Gentle steam (no pressing) will relax the creases.
Doing a bit of research, I suspect that my find may in fact BE a find. The tag says “An Embroidery Masterpiece by Needlecraft House.” On the flip side it reads “Stuart Series Design II, Design M751… Needlecraft House – West Townsend, Mass.” The style is strongly reminiscent of Elsa Williams work and her needlework school was located in West Townsend, but she is not credited.
There are no directions, and the label reads “These pieces are prepared for the embroidery who appreciates fine materials and perfection in design. There are no instructions or color diagrams provided for these pieces. You plan you own color scheme to suit your personal taste. All designs are adaptable to your own favorite stitches and may be worked in solid areas or in simplified detail….” Looking over the Web I do find that there is an Elsa Williams “Stuart I” kit with the number 750. Unstitched it’s offered for sale at over $80. Mine cost $4.00. The picture below links to the site where #1 is offered for sale. This is their photo, shown here to illustrate the general style of the work:
Elsa Williams was the author of Heritage Embroidery. She and Erica Wilson were two of the chief disseminators and proponents of the 1960s era Crewel embroidery revival. If in fact my printed linen is hers, I suspect that it was issued prior to the release of Williams’ book in 1967. After that point she was widely famous in needlework circles, and her kits and other publications all bore her name. She sold her business to JCA when she retired in the late ’70s/early ’80s.
So I now have a dilemma. Do I stitch up my kit, or do I flip it for a profit to the cognoscenti? Somehow I suspect the former… Eventually.
We had an entertaining weekend here at String, spending most of it cleaning up the debris of a New England winter and waking up the garden for spring. Now I’m not a very good gardener. In fact I stick to plants that in more hospitable geographic areas are rated as borderline invasive, because they are about the only plants I can’t kill. I trust in my own lack of skill and the odd deep freeze winter to keep them in check.
This weekend’s chores included moving a trillium and a peony to make more room for an aggressive hosta‘s growing hegemony; shuffling some day lilies out of the way; rescuing some tulips and daffs so courteously relocated mid-lawn by squirrels; planting three ultra hardy five petal rugosa roses in some newly freed up spots; and pulling dead leaves out of the giant grass stubble (aka elephant grass, or maiden grass).
How giant is our giant grass? It gets tall enough for its early September plumes to overtop the roof of our front porch. We cut it down before the seed sets and ripens in order to keep it from colonizing the entire neighborhood. But what to do with canes ranging from 8 to 13 feet? The first year we bagged them with the rest of the yard trimmings, for the town to haul off for composting. This fall though I had an idea.
I also attempt to grow what started out as an antique variety of big scarlet speckled runner beans. While I don’t harvest enough of a crop to eat, the kids get a big kick out of our sequential years of Mendelian genetics. We plant our Magic Beans for three springs now – some are still true to their parent’s form, some now look more like French flagolets/ Then we watch to see what color flowers appear (originally all red, now a mix of 25% white/75% red), and what color/form of beans result. They grow very fast, and require strings or a trellis to climb. Last year all we could find at the garden shop were puny 4 foot tall bamboo stakes. Not near long enough. So I decided to dry my giant grass stalks and store them through the winter to furnish the scaffolding for this year’s bean trellis.
It’s not warm enough for bean planting yet (final frost date is the second week of May here), but we did build the trellis and set it up against the sunny southern face of the garage:
On the whole, given the random length, lack of flexibility and fragility of the stalks, I’m amazed we were able to come up with anything at all. Yes, those are cable ties fastening the thing together. We’re nerds and proud! The structure is sort of pitiful, as if it were built by drunken orcs in World of Warcraft. I’m pretty sure that if they produced something this sad their players would be dunned a dozen experience points for failing so miserably in the attempt. But I like it. Covered in green with little flowers it will look grand. Provided it survives. Which is why we built it early. Better for it to collapse before beans attack it rather than having to disentangle them after the fact.
On the knitting front, I’m just about done with the entrelac socks. They turned out better than I expected.
Still a bit motley, but the four colors of leftover self stripers ended up complementing each other, mostly because all of them had green and brown in their mix. In person what looks like bright tomato red in the on-needle sock is more muted. Also, I divided the lot of leftovers into two groups – one that was mostly speckled with few or no solid stripes, and one that had firm solid stripes and spotty bits. The finished sock clearly shows the solids in the entrelac bits worked from left to right, and the speckled yarn in the entrelac bits worked right to left. All in all quite a satisfying project for something starting with such an unpromising quantity of leftovers.
I stole a bit of time today to get my brown/gray shawl pinned out and blocking. Lace is INCREDIBLY stretchy – or at least if knit from a good wool, alpaca, or other animal fiber – it should be. Here it is in an optically challenging presentation thanks to the rally check sheets I use as an alignment aid:
The checks make it very hard to see, but you can make out a bit more of the pattern now in the detail shot. I promise more pix tomorrow, and I’ll take those on a plain white background.
Now how stretchy is lace? My unblocked piece was approximately 39 inches across. See those checks? They’re 2 inch squares. My shawl is pinned out to be a square of approximately 60 inches on a side. My guess is that it will spring back somewhat after it’s dry. I’ll probably end up with something closer to 54 inches on a side (about 4.5 feet across).
We also made significant progress on the final stage of our bathroom renovation this weekend. Here you see The Resident Male exercising his inner artist. Before you write to me with safety tips, please note that we’ve got about 2 inches of closed cell camping mattress pad topped with another layer of bath towel underneath the no-slip tarp in the tub. The ladder is stable, and won’t mar the surface beneath its feet. Plus the ceiling is so low that no one has to climb above the second step to reach it.
As to the color – I don’t know if you can make out the difference given the variability among monitors, but the ceiling is bright white, and the walls are barely green. Not mint, not pistachio. Think three gallons of milk with one drop of food coloring. It’s my hope that they will contrast nicely with the white tile underparts and fixtures, echo (just barely) the green tile accent stripe, green stone sink top, greenish tint of the glass shower door, and make the green (rather than the yellow) in the stained glass window pop out more.
Even though it’s shrouded in protective plastic, you can see that the refinishing of the window and its replacement in the wall have both accomplished. A special merit badge for chemical management (with scrapers rampant) to he who did that work. Goodbye ugly mustard yellow enamel paint! And good riddance.
We’re having intermittent problems with the comments feature that screens out automatic postings. Sometimes if you go to enter your comments the little “type what you see here” box isn’t displaying. If you want to leave a comment please scroll down and make sure that you can see that box before you begin typing. If it’s not there, try reloading the screen. We’re not quite sure what’s happening, although we’re working on it. When he’s not elbow deep in brushes and rollers, The Resident Male (website plumber par excellence) is busy applying his biggest software wrenches to wiseNeedle’s pipes. Apologies for any/all inconvenience.
On the baby blanket, I decided to rip back the entire edging (about half-finished at the point of decision). I decided I wanted to re-do corner #1, plus I didn’t like the way that the joins along the first edge looked. I’d been reducing along the body, working roughly every six rows of edging onto four live body stitches. While the points were lying flat, the yarn I’m using is heavy enough to make the necessary decreases along the body look clunky. (You can get away with this in a fine lace, but not in the almost DK weight I’m using). Instead I’ve opted for a bit fuller edge with (perhaps) a bit of ruffle. I’d post pix, but they pretty much show the same blanket body as the last post, but with an arrow that says “edging used to be here.” More on this later this week.
In other news, I finally got to the post office to pick up the mail I had on hold over vacation week. There, perched on top of the pile was my July No Sheep secret pal package. The formerly mysterious (but now known) Melanie was kind enough to send this:
That’s two skeins of Schachenmayr Denim in a sunshiny yellow/orange, plus two tins of killer tea. I dance a dance of thanks! I’m looking forward to trying it all. On the downstream end, I finally made contact with my secret pal recipient, and am busy picking out the goodies for her.
And finally – progress on the bathroom front. Which is a good thing because washing one’s hair in the sink can get old after five weeks. The tile is now (mostly) up and grouted. Vanity, storage cabinet, fixtures and finish work are left:
From the top – the view from the hall door. You can see the cleaned, repaired and repainted radiator, the pipes for the bathtub, and the new window frame into which the original stained glass will be fitted. Next is the shower, followed by the view from the window. No I didn’t crawl out on the roof to take this – there’s a sleeping porch on the other side of the window. And finally, a close-up of the tilework’s green pencil line and chair rail – just for Kathryn, who has confessed to extreme bath envy.
If you’ve written to me in the past two weeks and haven’t had a response – apologies. I’m still munching my way through my inbox.
I posted a correction to the companion border for my shawl, previously posted a couple of days ago. To minimize confusion, I’ve updated the files on the original page, rather than re-post them here. I’m up to Row 15, and in working it – spotted an error mid-row. All fixed now.
On the home front, we’ve got walls and the beginnings of a tile floor now in our new bathroom. Everything is working along swimmingly. I’m happy just seeing the fresh hex tile on the floor in place of patchwork scuffed, curling, mustard yellow vinyl.
Next step is grouting and sealing the tile floor, then it’s on to the tiled wainscoting and built-in storage cabinet (on the partial wall, dead ahead in the left hand image, above).
No, I haven’t forgotten about the ongoing projects here. I’ve been a bit buried in the usual tumult of work-related deadlines, but progress is being made.
First, on the lace shawl, I finished the center square. When that was done, I picked up stitches all the way around the edges – taking care to pick up the same number of stitches on every side, and indicating the corner points with stitch markers. Then, taking a riff from the Spider Queen, I worked two knit rows, then a purl row, a row of wide eyelets [(K2tog, YO, YO)repeat], followed by another purl row (with P1,K1 in the double eyelets) and two more rows of knit. I interrupted that patterning with a standard odd row – YO, K2, YO/even row – all knit corner centered on each corner marker. I did this not only because I like the framing look of the big eyelet bands, but also because that row is good for disguising any oddness necessary that might arise in forcing equal stitch count pick-ups along all sides.
I’ve now got four equal sides, each 153 stitches long, with clearly defined corner points. Since it’s now on one big circ, it looks vaguely snood-like:
I’ve also got another conundrum. what to do next…
As I knit the center part, I was thinking of what borders might complement it. Because the basket weave was so geometric I wanted something that had similar lines, but that added a different movement. I found this in the new Duchrow book:
At first glance I thought it was knit from edge to edge, rather than longitudinally. I based this on the mirrored center. I thought that with a little play, I could map it to my project. But closer examination of the chart shows that it’s knit strip style – the long way. That’s one problem. Even though I wanted to work this bit center out, I was willing to bend the paradigm and work this pattern along the edge.
But there’s a second problem The graph offers up the repeat, plus a piece that makes the turn backs seen at the strip centerpoints (green indicator on photo above), but offers it for only one orientation – knit beginning at the center turn back and working back towards the corner. I can’t just take the graph and invert it to make that mirrored center. The spots where increases and decreases are formed are not direct cognates. For example, you can’t use a double increase in place of the K3togs that form the top points of the angles if you’re headed in the other direction. It just doesn’t look the same.
It may be that in the accompanying German there are directions on either how to get that flip, or instructions to knit eight half-strips, then sew them together at the centers and along the mitered corners (orange indicator on photo above).
So I’m back to thinking on what I can use on this next project stage, riffling through my stitch pattern and lace books. I think though I’ll end up rolling my own. I’ve played with lace and texture pattern design before. My design elements are pretty simple (four-stitch moving bars, interlaces, diamonds filling the interstices). Maybe I’ll be able to pull some of the elements from the Duchrow longitudinal piece and apply it to mine, but knit it side to side.
On the bathroom project, it’s one step forward, two steps back and recover. The crew had framed in the shower, but did it to the wrong dimensions (there would not have been enough room for the bathroom door to open next to the sink). Luckily we trust but verify, and pointed out the error in time for it to be fixed.
Moral of the story: I don’t care if they’re professionals. Confirm all measurements yourself as the project progresses. Ask for explanations if you note discrepancies. If the crew’s mumbles seem specious, escalate the issue to the foreman. And if answers are still mushy – to the business owner.
Next big interruption – another spate of work-related deadlines, plus a baby shower gift I didn’t realize would be needed so soon. Perhaps another Oat Couture Curlicue blanket… Stay tuned.
Incremental progress on two fronts here at String. First, demolition is now complete. Evil Upstairs Bathroom having been stripped to the studs now finds itself at the very beginnings of build-out. The new larger shower stall has been roughed in, and the electrical work has commenced.
You can see the back side of the lath and plaster hallway walls on the outside of the old wall studs. 1912 was deep in the pre-drywall and wallboard era.
And on the lace shawl, I’m over the half-way mark in constructing the center square. I’ve got only one or two repeats left before my proportions are correct.
I’ve also tinkered a bit with the base pattern, translating it to modern notation and changing the directionality of some of the decreases to sharpen the lines. Since I have changed it somewhat and recharted it, I present the result. Click on the thumbnail below to load a full-size image
The original lacy knitting pattern from The Knitted Lace Patterns of Christine Duchrow, Vol. 1 was presented as part of two complex garment designs – a blouse and a baby bonnet. There are a couple of complementary simple band patterns for cuffs and trim on those projects. Except for the introduction (which provides a helpful translation key for the symbols and some historical German knitting terms), the entire book is in the original German. From what little knitting German I’ve picked up I can tell that even the written parts aren’t quite modern German knitting prose. Like English knitting instruction writing, the conventions in German have changed over time. While I can work from the chart to make my own whatever, it would be an extreme challenge to knit up the blouse as described.
As the editors of this book report, Duchrow was among the first to try to present knitting instructions in graphical rather than prose format. Her graphs are idiosyncratic by modern standards and use letters and symbols rather than visual representations to represent the various stitches, but with a bit of practice her graphs are not difficult to knit from. Even though I can’t read a word of the accompanying text in Vol. I, I’ve ordered a couple more books in the same Duchrow reprint series. If you’re a lace and lacy knitting fiend, you’ll probably have as much fun with Duchrow patterns as I am.
I feel confident I can share the design because I have redacted it into modern symbols, included corrections, and made changes in the pattern as presented. While my graph is recognizable as a variant of the historical one, there are subtle differences. For example, the original graph for this pattern treats all double decreases identically, rather than using directional variants to reinforce the framing diagonals. It also didn’t continue the pattern into the edge areas as uniformly. It also didn’t show the even numbered row. But for all of that, the pattern works up quite nicely even in the original presentation. I share my redaction/correction as tribute to the original author and the editors of this work, to help other knitters bridge from modern instructions to historical ones, and to encourage others to seek out these patterns and knit them without fear.
Interesting conjecture – from the style of the blouse, it would not be a stretch to say that it was current around the time my house was built. For all I know, the original owner may have sat in the library 95 years ago, knitting the same lace patterns I am working from today.