Monday, December 04, 2006

Questions on Lace

First of all, I am NOT an expert on lace knitting, just an enthusiast! Several people have left comments with questions or have emailed me with questions, so I decided to answer them here. I have mostly been interested in traditional types of knitting such as Fair Isle, Scandinavian/Nordic and Aran/Bavarian twisted cables. It shouldn't be surprising since I am a genealogist and historian and I love traditions! :o) Through the years, intermixed with those projects were various scarves or trimmings or dishcloths which incorporated lace stitches. In the 1990s it became more popular to chart all kinds of knitting patterns and for me this really opened the door to more experimenting. I read regular patterns just fine, however when there is a huge long list for each row, written out, I have a problem tracking it secondary to changes in my eye coordination/focusing post Pseudotumor Cerebrei ten years ago (A disease of unknown origin which involves increased spinal fluid, which wreaks havoc with your head and eyes! Since then I have had chronic severe migraines and difficulty focusing my eyes if there is too much "visual movement" on a page). But the point is that charts really opened the door for me to be able to knit lace.

In 2005, there was a secret pal exchange on the Ample Knitter's list (pansy link to the right under favorite groups). My pal sent me some Zephyr Wool/Silk laceweight and a pattern from Sivia Harding called the Shetland Garden Faroese Shawl and I knit it for my dear cousin Nancy (see the August 2005 archives) who died of Ovarian Cancer in September 2005. I mentioned this in my post earlier this month on why I changed the name of my blog. It was a turning point for me in lace knitting. Now I am in love with it! There is something magical about washing a "wad" of knitting and then pin it out to become a gorgeous, free flowing piece of art! It's like Cinderella magic! :o)

How do I do this with small children around...well, that is not always easy. Put your knitting up high! I learned this the hard way! Blocking is always done at night. It dries quickly so by morning, it is dry and ready to unpin...otherwise little grubby hands and feet would be all over it. All three of my kids are fascinated by my knitting. Because I have to block at night, I often put it off for a long takes a bit of concentration.

Things that can make knitting lace easier...lifelines...I have never used them, but probably should on new patterns. Maybe you can google "lifelines lace" and find some info on that, because I know what it is but have never done it, so I don't want to steer you wrong. Another really helpful thing is the magnetic boards often used by cross stitchers. You can place your pattern or chart on it and there is a straight line magnet which you lay underneath your current working line so that you don't get confused as to where you are. I think Knit Picks (link at right under Knitting Retailers) sells them. You can probably get these at JoAnn's or Michael's too. I have had mine for twenty years so I don't know how much they cost but it should not be too much!

Needles...well, this is a personal preference. I am an Addi Turbo fan all the way! In my opinion their imitations are just that...imitations which don't come close to the quality in craftsmanship or ease of use. That being said, for me Addis don't work for lace. The tip is too's great for not splitting wool, but not so great when you have to do gymnastics with tight stitches! LOL It depends on the yarn, but I don't generally like metal for lace. The one exception is a few pairs of circular needles I purchased in Canada in the 80s, a British brand, probably Aeros, which have a nice coated finish that has almost a waxy feel to them. One thing you do not want happening with lace, is all your stitches slipping off your nice slick needles! Some people do everything with metal needles and do just fine. If you like metal, then I would think that the new Knit Picks line (again, link at right) might suit the bill because they have nice sharp points...a little too sharp for my liking. And even though they get rave reviews, they feel "rinky dink" to me, compared to my Addis. I also do not like the rough feeling of where the cable screws in. It is right where you hold the needle and when stitches do not cover it, it feels irritating to my skin. I did order a pair of their circular needles in size 1 (not from their interchangeable set) and want to try those for two circ needle socks. Okay, these are just my opinions. I like Knit Picks in general. Loads of people love their needles so they may work for you. Most of the time though I end up using bamboo needles from Clover Takumi for my lace work. They are midway in price between the expensive needles and the Knit Picks needles and I noticed JoAnn's carries some of them now. One of the things I like about them, being a natural product, they develop a nice patina from your hand oils and the sheep oils if you knit certain wool yarns and they just feel good. They are not super sharp points, but I have not had a real problem with them. Personally I don't want the points too sharp because that hurts my hands too. Another benefit is that yarns will move along them but not too quickly so as to fall off.

There, you have my unprofessional opinion on needles! Ask ten more knitters and you will probably get at least five more different opinions.

As for lace patterns and books, hands down my favorite right now is Victorian Lace Today by Jane Sowerby. I also have Gathering of Lace and for Faroese shawls which have shaped shoulders, there is no question that Myrna Stahman's Scarves and Shawls is the best. Knit Picks used to carry it, but I couldn't find it. Don't bother with Amazon on this one. They only have old copies that third party people sell for $50 and up! She self publishes and it is $30. I found it here Schoolhouse Press which is Meg Swanson's site. Oh! I shouldn't have looked there as I saw several more lace books I don't have and they also carry Icelandic lace weight wool which I want to try...and they have the magnetic row finder which I mentioned above for $8.

For individual patterns I really like Fiddlesticks. Dorothy is a lovely person and her patterns are generally impeccable. That brings up a good point! I always google for "errata" or "errors" along with the name of the book or pattern I am knitting...better to find out ahead of time than to struggle through in misery! I knit the Creatures of the Reef shawl twice (need to block the second one!) and have the pattern and yarn for the Peacock Feathers Shawl thanks to my SP7 pal. I have also been eyeing the Paisley Long Shawl and hope to do that some day too. I usually purchase my Fiddlesticks patterns from Pat Kirtland and Kirtland's Yarn Barn...the link is on the right under retail knitting. Pat gives excellent customer service and I love to support home businesses when I can.

Another designer I like is Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer of Heart Strings. My friend Margaret carries her full line at Heritage Yarns. Check out her awesome hand dyed yarns! She sent me a beautiful tencel yarn in her Atlantic Moonglow and it is so incredible!!! The pictures on her site are fine, but when you see the yarn in person it is even more incredible! I will have to try and coax a picture out of my camera if it is still limping along, so you can see. My friend Eve at Divine Fibers also sells some of Jackie's patterns, hand dyed wools and beautiful hand dyed silk for spinning along with other fiber goodies. I can personally vouch for these two wonderful fiber ladies!

I always love to support Fiber Trends who got their start in my adopted hometown of Bellingham, Washington. They are now located in East Wenatchee, WA. They have lots of lace patterns including several from Evelyn A. Clark who is the designer of my recently finished Swallowtail Shawl. I am hoping that I can get good enough at spinning to knit Evelyn's Sheep Shawl which also comes from Fiber Trends.

It seems like I am forgetting one more designer than I have liked for lace. If it comes to me later I will post it.

I have done a couple items from Zephyr Wool/Silk. It is lovely for lace because of the sheen and it has a nice body while still being drapey. I have used Knit Picks Color Your Own merino laceweight. It's now called "Bare". I have used Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock and Merino sock weight hand dyed from Fearless Fibers on eBay. She has awesome stuff! I will be writing about her more in another post. I like using fingering/sock weight for me because I am a large person and it makes the shawl larger but is still delicate. The problem with sock yarns that are superwash, is that if you have to join, you can't get a good "spit splice" with them because they don't felt together! Okay, so maybe the recipients of your lacework don't want to know that you "spit splice"! LOL But I would much rather do that than have ends to weave in. I have not yet knit with cobweb or Icelandic laceweight but have those on my to do list. Oh, how could I forget, Rowan Kidsilk really is wonderful!

All right, I have exhausted my kids' patience and probably yours too! So, I will close and if I didn't answer one of your questions about lace knitting let me know. Thank you for asking questions and leaving all the encouraging comments. I'd love to know your lace knitting favorites too!

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