Saturday, March 16, 2013

Never Say Never

You know I'm making this shawl:
Guernsey Triangle pattern by Jared Flood - this is my version...
It's a really gorgeous pattern - all 12 pages of it - which comes with a whole freakin' section of instructions on knitting the gauge swatch! Honestly, Jared Flood has written these instructions masterfully. Everything is crystal clear. From the swatch to the blocking (which also has its own page), this pattern is a joy to follow.

The yarn (Brooklyn Tweed Loft), however, is a strange beast. If you'd asked me before I started the shawl, what I thought of it, I'd have been pretty ambivalent. It breaks easily (though not if worked with consistent tension). It's laden with bits of "vegetable matter" (as the peeps in the biz like to say). It's scratchy (though much less so after blocking). It's variable in thickness (one spot very thin, another plump and nubby). It's not cheap (though not ridiculously expensive) - 14.50 USD  for 275 yards before shipping. Once shipping is added the cost jumps to 17 bucks a skein. 

(On that topic: The shipping charges on this yarn are quite reasonable and it arrived quickly and was not stopped at Customs. However, the worsted weight variety of this yarn (Shelter) is quite a bit pricier, all things considered at 12.50 USD, pre-shipping, for 140 yards per skein. To make the smallest size of the Stowe cardigan, one needs 11 skeins. That'll cost over 150 bucks once the shipping is factored in - and there's probably no way to send it but in a box that may potentially stand out at the Border, given volume.)

Anyway, I started with the fingering and a shawl to keep my investment to a minimum. Remember, fingering yarn is generally the most cost-effective because you use much less of it, by weight, to make any given item than you would using a thicker yarn.

I had no idea (though not for lack of clear explanation in the instructions - which increasingly make more sense as I go) of how this shawl was going to come together. Not being an expert on triangle shawls, I'm not sure if Mr. Flood's method is standard or of his own design. If he came up with it, let me tell you, he's very clever.

Essentially you provisionally cast on (and BTW, this isn't hard - there are 8000 possible ways to do it) 13 stitches (which turn into 12 on the first row) and that forms the flexible centre bend point, of the long edge of the triangle. Then, you knit width at the same time as you knit length towards the pointy tip. Eventually, for the large version of the shawl, you end up with upwards of 300 stitches on the needles. These are knit on in batches of 4, interspersed, every other row.

The genius of this pattern is that it looks super complicated but it's nothing more than knits and purls. It does take focus because the pattern changes to mirror image along the centre spine of the triangle. And, natch, you're increasing stitches on every RS row. Having said this, there's enough consistency in the pattern so that you don't have to continue studying the instructions, except to confirm what you're doing at the beginning of each row.

I finally understand the need for stitch charts. Every other pattern I've ever knit, that comes with a chart, has also come with written instructions. In those instances, I've ignored the chart (for the most part) and focused on the language because, seriously, those things seem like a form of alien-being communication. Mind you, for this pattern, to write each row would have taken pages on pages of text and would have been far more difficult to interpret than the visual representation.So, I sucked it up and figured out how to read the picture (right to left on the RS, left to write on the WS - taking care to recognize that the SAME symbols represent different stitch types depending on what side you're working). It sounds bad but one quickly establishes a groove and there really isn't much alternative for a design like this.

A word on my impressions of the yarn at this stage:

It really is compelling. Never have I encountered a fibre with so much natural spring. On Twitter, a while ago, I likened its spring to that of a trampoline and I have to say, it is as light as a freakin' cloud. Nonetheless, there's a density in the stitch definition that defies its texture. And it is very beautifully dyed. When I knit this yarn I can sense the vaguest smell of hay (maybe it's in my mind cuz it only comes upon me when I'm not trying to find it by actually sniffing the ball of yarn). I feel close to sheep, close to the land, close to nature when I'm knitting this. (And, given that, till last week, I didn't realize wild boar was actually a kind of pig, you can see that I might benefit from a bit of getting back to nature.)

I like it enough that I'm half inclined to buy 11 skeins of Shelter (the worsted gauge) but, in light of the cost, I'm more likely to knit another project in the Loft (fingering weight) and throw in a skein or two of the Shelter into my order to see how it compares. I have a feeling that I'm going to enjoy wearing this shawl (even though I'm not a "triangle shawl" type) to such an extent that I will be knitting with this yarn again.

Live and Learn

I never imagined that my appetite for fibre would expand to this extent. I have so many ingrained perspectives on how yarn should feel (soft, even) and look (monochromatic, halo- and texture-free) and this yarn challenges them all. For sure, I've grown in this respect, I've now worked with variegated and textured yarn on a couple of occasions and I'm beginning to appreciate the kind of refinement one can find in the right kind of rustic.

Don't misunderstand. I cannot foresee that I'm ever going to gravitate towards nubby open-weave items with excessive drape. I'm not going to love muddled palettes and gritty wool.

But here I am knitting a gritty, nubby, tweedy, "inconsistent" fibre in a shade that is so neutral one might say it borders on bland. And I actually think it's beautiful. 

Go figure.


  1. So funny - I really prefer the chart to the written out patterns. It helps me "see" the patterning better and wrap my head around the logic behind it.

    "Compelling" is such an interesting word choice for the yarn. Now I'm curious to knit with it. I've been toying with the idea of one of Bklyn Tweed's sweater patterns lately.

    1. I totally see what you mean, now that I've encountered this kind of pattern. But in general, I prefer words. You should totally try the yarn! What pattern are you considering?

  2. I'm somehow not surprised . . . .I was mesmerized watching a shape emerge from the first triangular shawl I knit (the Rowan Birch shawl). And I suspected that your refined aesthetic would "get" a more "earthy" yarn if you worked with one of this high calibre. I'm similarly smitten by Rowan's Felted Tweed -- and really looking forward to trying one of the Brooklyn Tweed flock . . .Thanks for such an articulate description of your experience with the fingering shawl -- I do think you'll enjoy wearing it. I have an alpaca triangle shawl (Miriam Felton's Icarus) and though I would have sworn at one point that just wasn't me, I wear it at least 30 days each winter. Enjoy yours!

    1. Every time I deal with new wool, out of my comfort zone, I imagine you laughing at me! (Good-naturedly, of course.) I really can't keep it straight with what I like in the knitting department.

  3. I love how you articulate your experiences of yarn, fabric, lingerie, whatever. You really bring it to life. I love Jared Flood's aesthetic and the yarns, but they are outside my budget at the moment. This should change in the not too distant future and I'm really looking forward to exploring them. I love yarn that smells of the outdoors. It really gives you a connection with the whole process of sheep to yarn to garment. Which is a connection I love.
    Needless to say I think your shawl is stunning...and not remotely bland!

    1. Thanks Evie! What a lovely compliment! I know what you mean about the yarn being out of the budget. I want to make that new worsted sweater, but I don't think I can justify the cost right now. You know, what with my lingerie habit. :-)

    2. Absolutely! ;-) A girls got to have her priorities straight!

  4. It looks beautiful, and your descriptions of the various fibres helps me better understand what I am looking at when I see beautiful knitted garments on other people. Thank you for coloring in the details of our visual worlds :).

    1. Thanks Susan. You know, now that I knit, I look at every knit garment in a totally new way.

  5. I know what you mean. I used to be a 'cashmere girl' but am now so much more interested in the infinitely different qualities of other types of fibres...there is just such VARIETY.

    Even in the same sheep type in the same country but in slightly different regions. It is fascinating.

    I met a woman at the Wool Week yarn thing I attended this weekend who was spinning Suffolk yarn from her own sheep that she had shorn, combed, dyed, and was spinning before my very eyes. It was crunchy, springy and was the most amazing thing...the process, the yarn. I would never wear it next to the skin, but it just opened my eyes to the beauty of it.

    There was a life there that is sorely missing in commercially prepared plain jane merino...and that is being lost because of the commercially driven demand for softer than soft yarns. It is a shame, really.

    Sorry. My yarn-nerdy-ness got away with me there. ;-D

    1. It's easy to like cashmere, don't get me wrong! I want to go to a wool week somewhere to have the sheep-to-yarn experience. All of the complexities of yarn thrill me too. But I don't think of it as nerdy. It's artisanal!