Friday, 16 November 2007

More Haste Less Speed, or to Fudge or not to Fudge...

Do you ever rush towards the end of a project and make a mistake that just slows you down? I've done this twice lately with my two lace scarves. This is the moment when you need to decide what kind of knitter you are...

In their rather weird but very fascinating book The Knitting Way - A Guide to Spiritual Self-Discovery Linda Skolnik and Janice Macdaniels talk about the need to let go of perfection and speculate that every experienced knitter practises the art of the "fudge" from time to time. You just need to be able to live with the consequences. With my recently completed blue scarf from the Arctic Lace book I discovered three rows from the end that there was a dropped stitch a bit further down. I honestly hadn't the heart to go back, so I fudged it, using some matching yarn to tack it in. I could live with that, I decided, rather than face unpicking when the finishing post was within my reach. Perhaps I was influenced by the fact that this scarf was one to be grafted together and so the fudge would be concealed at the back of my neck! But without that permission from Linda and Janet I'd probably have sighed, pulled it out and started over.

Sometimes, though, starting over is the right thing to do. I'm on the last section of my New Shale scarf and, having had a bad day generally yesterday, of course my knitting went wrong as well. I dropped a stitch and then botched picking it up so that the clear pattern of the lace edge has become blurred. So I'll be ripping out - I can't live with that. It will be visible as this is a "top to bottom" scarf and I think it's also because I haven't actually enjoyed knitting this scarf as much as the last one. I want more than ever for it to be perfect, to justify the effort. Strangely, it was a much easier pattern than the last - maybe I just got bored.

These two different approaches to discovering mistakes remind me that what I'm learning about knitting is that it doesn't work to "end gain". Whenever I start thinking things like "three more rows and I'll have finished that section", or "I'll be able to get ten rows done on my train journey to work", mistakes creep in or knots mysteriously appear. Maybe that's why I'm also coming to see my knitting as a spiritual practice: it's about turning up and doing it each day, without expectations and in whatever mood I'm in. And in my view the goal of practice is not, as the saying goes, to make perfect but rather to make progress.

This will be my last entry for a while as next Tuesday begins the great South American and Antarctic adventure. We fly to Santiago in Chile (hope they allow those bamboo needles on the plane!) and then it's down to Ushuaia in Argentina and onto the boat for the Antarctic Peninsula. After the 'ice desert' experience we have a few days back in Northern Chile, in the dry Atacama Desert. I'm taking Marcia Lewandowski's Andean Folk Knits along with me as it has lovely patterns and lots of interesting things to say about the knitting traditions of South America. And for those long days at sea I'm also going to take Sarah Don's Shetland Lace to see if I can begin charting those patterns. I'll probably take Arctic Lace as well just for the fun of taking Shetland and Arctic lace to South Shetland and the Antarctic. Read all about the trip next month...

Friday, 9 November 2007

Shetland Lace

Not sure how it's got to be 9th November already! I've finished knitting and grafting my Arctic Lace scarf but am waiting to wash and stretch it until I've completed another scarf, as it's just as easy to do two as one.

The new scarf is from Sarah Don's book The Art of Shetland Lace, in new shale pattern. This book, which is sadly out of print, is a treasure trove of the traditional lace patterns of the Shetland Isles. It can be quite difficult to use, though, because all the patterns are written out and inevitably there are one or two mistakes. I'm longing to try some of the more complicated patterns, such as Rose Lace, and Hexagon with Spider Pattern, but long lines of instructions such as K4, *O, T, K15, T, O, K1. Rep. from * to last 4 sts, O, K4 etc. etc. are rather daunting. I'm thinking about charting these patterns to make them easier to knit. Never thought I'd be saying that: until this year I was pretty anti-chart but Donna Druchunas' book Arctic Lace has convinced me otherwise. They definitely make lace knitting easier, like bamboo needles!

For this scarf I'm experimenting with different colours using Jamieson's Ultra: traditional Mogit (a mid-brown) for the background with stripes in yellow, Natural white, Sholmit grey and blue. The coloured stripes work really well as they create lovely wavy lines across the fabric. I've changed the pattern a bit to make a longer scarf which I think will suit the open lace design - this one is knitted on 4 mm needles rather than the more usual 3.25 or 3.75 mm.

There's something very special about these Shetland patterns, their long history and the way they reflect the landscape they come from. I've been lucky enough to visit Shetland twice this year, once in January and again in June. Watching waves break onto the beautiful long sandy beaches at St Ninian's Bay it's easy to see where the inspiration for traditional patterns like Print O' the Wave, Horseshoe, and Old Shale came from. The finest lace was knitted on very thin knitting needles called "wires" and a shawl could fit through a wedding ring. There is a lovely tradition in which the two mothers of an engaged couple would knit separate pieces that would be grafted together just before the wedding. It's great that these patterns can be adapted for modern use now that lace is fashionable again.