Monday, August 06, 2007

Knitting my Shroud

You all know about my fixation with alpacas. During the first visit to the farm of long-lashed will-destroyers, I purchased from the farm store a beautiful hank of dark turquoise fingering weight alpaca yarn spun from the animals at the farm with a shimmery metallic thread plied in. I debated long about what to knit with it, as it was very expensive, $36 a hank, and I wanted to make something particularly lovely and worthy of the cost and effort. I couldn't decide and couldn't decide and kept buying more and more of the yarn every time we'd drive to Bellingham to visit the IL's and would stop at the farm (well, I'd take the exit without any say from Christian as I usually drive and he is at my mercy). No one else was buying it, and it was all one dye lot, so I kept accumulating it at $36 a pop until I had four of the five hanks available, which equalled 1,460 yards of yarn. That's a lot. I just couldn't bear to knit anything boring with it, so I kept swatching and frogging and setting it aside to think on it.

Late last year, while reading one of the many knitting magazines that litter our bedroom floor and make me twitch either with disgust from the hideous waste of perfectly good wool or with lust over yarn I could NEVER afford, I came across an article on knitted lace. There were pictures of the most incredible shawls I'd ever seen, straight out of Queen Victoria's dress wardrobe. Catherine the Great would have gone to war over some of these pieces (she apparently was given a gift of a spectacular wedding-ring shawl from the Hebrides and had the eyes of the knitter put out, ugh, so she couldn't knit any more, but the knitter's daughter had learned the craft and passed down her skills to following generations, bless her). Anyway, I really wanted a good project to be portable and beautiful, so I found a pattern I liked from (as they had really jumped on the lace train (snork)), the candle-flame shawl pattern, and brought it on the plane with me to England last January. I only finished about a few inches on that trip as we were so busy, but I had lots of time this last Spring in which to knit and finished the body in about three months. It wouldn't normally have taken nearly so long, but I had to periodically set it aside to work on other projects, like hedgehogs and sweater sets.

Once it was done, though, it seemed a little drab. I had purchased second hand a book on traditional knitted shawl patterns and the author had charted out some beautiful edges. She also included instructions on how to actually knit the edging onto the body of the completed work by picking up edge stitches every other row. As I really wanted to make this damn thing spectacular (I had visions of walking into a performance and hearing everyone gasp with awe and admiration of the sheer gorgeousity of the thing), I picked a wide border that I thought would compliment the overall pattern of the body. I had also, unfortunately, read an article about beading your knitting, and HAD to buy Czech glass beads in the same color as the yarn to add to the yarn overs in the edging. Yeah. Just a little mad.

So, I threaded on all the beads and started to knit, and it took a really, really long time. I fortunately realized fairly early in the trim knitting that I'd run out of yarn and had to ask the farm to send me the final hank of yarn that had, fortunately, not been purchased. I was getting so close to the end by the last week of July that I spent six hours knitting last Monday while Shelly and I watched the Thin Man movies I had received from Christian for our anniversary (thanks, honey!). Well, after seven and a half months, 5,470 feet of yarn and 1,500 pre-strung beads, I finished the damn thing. And boy, did it look terrible. However, it's supposed to. Lace knitting looks like a pile of twisted ass when finished, as it has to be aggressively blocked to lie flat and look proper. I read all the lace blocking instructions on reputable sites and decided to make my own blocking frame out of PVC and eye hooks. It took about five hours last Friday night to cut the pipe, drill the holes and screw in the hooks. This is what it looked like (and it's modular so I can take it apart to store and make any size to allow for varied garment blocking):

I had to soak the shawl in warm water and mild detergent, and then gently press out the excess water with a towel. Bask in the lumpy shrivellness:

To get all the little edge points to stick out and get the body to lay flat, I strung each point with twine and ran the twine through the hooks:

Christian helped me, and once all the twine was in place, I pulled it tight and began to see the incredible definition of the lace pattern in the body and on the edge:

I cannot tell you how this sight made me feel. It was so lovely and graceful-looking that I could barely believe that gallumphing me had knitted it.

When I took it off the frame after it had completely dried, it only sprang back the tiniest bit. All of the edging peaks stayed peaky and the pattern definition stayed defined. The pretty beads make a wonderful clacking sound when they hit together and give the piece a lovely drape, so my efforts were rewarded.

The final measurements of the thing top 9 feet long by 3.5 feet wide. Should provide me with plenty of coverage, if I can only think of something worthy with which to wear it. Maybe I'll have to make a dress. Hmmmm...

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