Reyna: My First Shawl (for me)

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Hooray for my first shawl (for me). I knit my actual first shawl last fall (read about it here) as a gift for my mom. After seeing the versatility that the shawl brings to an entire outfit – I set my sights on starting my own shawl collection. Reyna is what I would consider a classic beginners knitting pattern. A triangle shawl with simple increases, the mesh lace sections add manageable places to build skills in reading your knitting. The simplicity of this shawl made a perfect summer travel project. Reyna went with me to the lake, the pool, and the parking lot waiting to pick my husband up from work…

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I have something to admit though, about shawls. When I first started knitting… and until last year… I was anti-shawl. I had no idea why they were wanted objects. Why would I want to knit something I couldn’t wear? Also they have this reputation for being downright matronly and I am not a matron. I had to deal with so many granny comments already simply by knitting in public and adding shawl knitting to my list of activities would only bring on more old lady comments.

I was very prejudice. And discriminatory. First of all, there is nothing wrong with “matronly.” Except that it maybe conflicts with an American overemphasis on the values of youth and sex appeal. I’m actively working to destabilize that in my own life. An item doesn’t have to be youthful or sexy to be valuable (and to be honest sexy is never something I’m going for anyway). Second of all, sweaters will always be my first love – I seriously doubt they will be booted from the top of my knitting queue. However, the shawl is a useful and beautiful way to add more wool to my life.

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Reyna, while being a simple beginner shawl, has also made a serious contribution to my life. She has pointed out unfair prejudices that needed examination. She has allowed me to move past those prejudices into a much more open and beauty filled world. And she had given me knitting – the only gift I really wanted.

If you want to see the other blog posts about Reyna, you can find them here and here

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Set Up your SSK’s

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About halfway through my Reyna shawl I had an idea. Reyna by Noora Backlund (a free shawl pattern) uses knit two together (k2tog) and the opposite facing decrease (ssk) to create the lace sections.

The slow and jerky nature of slipping stitches to create the correctly leaning decrease started to annoy me. So I found a way to orient my stitches on the needles so they were already set up to ssk and k2tog without having to do any extra slips. This is a free pattern – so I’m not going to be very discreet with the pattern details. However I won’t be regurgitating the pattern in this post, so check out that pattern!

The lace sections in the Reyna shawl are simple – right of the marker is a yarn over + k2tog classic lace combo. Left of the marker is it’s counterpoint: the y/o + ssk. The trouble is, after the speed of the k2tog, the slipping portion of the ssk feels jerky and awful. But there’s a faster way.

The trick is in the purling. On the wrong side rows, I used two different purl methods to change the directions of my stitches. On the side that is going to be the ssk section (wrong side of the shawl, right side of the marker) I used the combination purl stitch. Combination purling orients your purl stitch so the first leg of the stitch is behind the needle and the second leg is in front of the needle. Basically, it’s backwards. Then, after the marker, in the section that is going to be k2tog, I purled in my normal continental style.

Here’s the break down:

Right side: k2tog on left side of marker. Ssk on right side of marker

Wrong side: combination purl, marker, continental purl.

Just for added clarity – I made some videos! (It’s my first knitting and video experiment okay so it’s going to be bad.)

This is how I combination purl:

And this is my awkward continental purl:

So when it’s time for the right side, this is what my k2tog + y/o looks like

And here is my ssk + yo, all set up with no need to slip any stitches.

That’s my trick to setting up my ssk!

I have a secret. That combination purling method? I do that all the time. I confess that I’m a combination knitter. So for this shawl, I actually figured it out the other way around – I had to remember my awkward way to continental purl to properly set up my k2tog stitches.

One of the reasons I’m a combination knitter is because my purling was so awkward and started to hurt my fingers and wrists! So I found another way. A quick google search for continental knitting hand pain brought me to handful of links about arthritic knitters and easier methods on the joints. After switching to the combination method – my joint pain has significantly reduced and I can knit for longer sittings. I’m a full on combination knitting convert.

There are more informed videos out there about combination knitting (I learned from this video). If you’re interested, I recommend checking them out!

In Progress: June Knitting

My summer of knitting has arrived.

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I’m very excited that I finished my #MeMadeMay18 featherweight cardigan. I’ll have a post about this soon. Though I’m sad I can no longer knit with this amazing yarn, this finished object has opened up space for a new cast on in my knitting queue!

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I have a tiny little hem worm of my Tegna sweater by Caitlin Hunter. I am so excited for this top – perfect for summer but suitable for cooler months as well. I am knitting my Tegna out of a silk/cotton blend I reclaimed last fall. I dyed this yarn at Alpacas of Troy with with Sumac berries and Indigo. The result was this lovely teal-blue with green undertones. I also experimented by dying this sweater in its machine knit form. The result was quite exciting, the dye is speckled evenly on the yarn which enhances the shimmer effect from the silk fiber content. This yarn looks like the waves of a lake on a summer day softly lapping the shore; not too much drama but just enough movement to capture my attention and lull me into relaxation.

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I had a little hiccup with my Tegna. I swatched three times to achieve the pattern gauge – starting with a US 5 and finally getting gauge on a US 7. I cast on for the medium, which would have given me about 9 inches of positive ease and knit half of the lace, I realized the bottom circumference of the sweater was far too large for my size. Even with the decreases in the lace, I would have been swimming in this top. Nine inches of positive ease on my petite frame is just a little too much. I also noticed that in my gauge on US 7 needles, the lace was already quite open. I thought this whole top could do with a downsize. I downsized my needles to a size 5 and, after some gauge math magic, cast on, again, for the medium size. This will give me a top with about two inches of positive ease which will probably be more my style. I’m hoping this all works out.

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I have two other projects that are probably going to travel with me the entire summer. The first is my Reyna shawl by Noora Backlund – which I’m knitting because my friend Kate in St Louis decided to cast this on as her first shawl project! After yarn shopping with her and guiding her through the first bits of the pattern, I realized that I really wanted one of these shawls for myself.

I had the perfect yarn – a gift from my friend Anna after her trip to Wyoming during the 2017 total eclipse. This yarn is the most amazing collection of purples. It’s Palouse Yarn Company Merino Fine in the Total Gravity colorway. This color is part of a special collection the dyer made especially for the eclipse and I think the dyer absolutely nailed it. The purples are so rich, but shift in tone from a lavender to an almost black. I’m really enjoying the color of this yarn.

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My second project is this little basic sock – made with a commercial Patons sock yarn I picked up from a reused craft store in Cincinnati. I have yet to find sweaters that I can unravel that are suitable for sock yarn, as I always prefer a tightly spun yarn for my socks. Most of the sweaters I come across in thrift stores end up loosely spun, if spun at all (especially if they’re blended fibers or have any sort of cotton content). Therefore, I keep my eyes out for any commercial sock yarn I can find at secondhand craft stores. One day, I would love to knit my socks without superwash or nylon content – but until that day I’m eagerly watching Mrs. M’s no-nylon sock experiment to glean from her research.

Usually, I knit my socks cuff down and use a heel flap and gusset, however, I started this sock toe up and will probably throw a short row heel on there just for ease. The short row heel doesn’t fit my foot quite as well as a flap and gusset – I have quite a high arch and instep – however, it’s been a while since I tried a short row heel and I want to double check the fit on my tighter sock gauge that’s developed over the last year since I’ve been regularly knitting socks.

I’m quite pleased with the projects I have on the go for June – my Tegna, Reyna, and my toe-up sock. The variety of these projects has kept me interested as I still mourn the absence of my sewing machine. Speaking of my wonderful sonata sewing machine, I’m beginning to miss it so much that I’m thinking about naming it! Naming is a skill that I seriously lack (if you only knew how long it took me to come up with a name for this blog – hint two+ years). However, I think my trusty machine deserves some attention while I’m away. Since my machine was originally owned by my mom, I’m thinking a name from her generation will suite it best. Something like Linda, Karen, Tammy or Denise. Or I might go super 80’s like Heather, Tiffany, or Stacy. As of now I’m leaning towards Stacy or Linda.

2017 Gifting: Open Waters Shawl

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Boy oh boy, what a project.

Back in September, during a phone chat with my lovely mom, I confessed that I was already thinking about Christmas gifts – making them, that is. I really wanted to get ahead of the last minute make-a-thon that usually takes over my festive spirit. Apparently, she was already thinking about gifts too – she knew exactly what she wanted. It went something like this,

I want a wrap for church when it gets cold that matches my kitchen backsplash.

After digging a little deeper, it came to light that she was talking about a shawl (not necessarily a rectangular wrap) and her backsplash was slate blue (very specific, thanks mom). So I set out to knit her a warm, slate blue shawl for Christmas.

I have never, ever, knit a shawl. Every time I think, “maybe I would like to have a shawl,” I always imagine how I could use that same amount of yarn to knit a sweater… and then knit that sweater. So this gift knit was necessary for me to break into the shawl knitting universe that I know so little about – and for that I’m grateful to my mom for her slightly weird request of a Christmas present.

I sent her a few patterns of shawl’s I liked, and ultimately we settled on the Open Waters Shawl my Melanie Berg in Making no. 2. I was drawn to the unique stitch pattern. It looks so inviting and creative. I also liked that most of the body of the shawl is in garter stitch and a smaller section in a more complex stitch pattern – enough complexity to stay interested but enough basic stitches to chill. The dream combo. This pattern is for an asymmetrical shawl, which includes increasing on one side (to create the wingspan/hypotenuse of the triangle). I know shawls come in a variety of shapes (words like crescent and half pie that make me think of baked goods, not knitting), and some folks have strong feelings about which shapes they prefer. My feelings toward shawl shapes are distinctly underdeveloped; I just don’t know which one is best.

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Finding the yarn for this sweater was a minor effort. I traveled out of my usual thrift shop boundaries to a suburban thrift store. After circling the sweater racks for 30 minutes searching for a slate blue fingering weight sweater with good fiber content to unravel, I finally settled for a less preferable option: multiple lace weight sweaters. The first sweater was a cornflower blue 100% cashmere sweater from Ann Taylor LOFT (I always find this brand has fantastic quality sweaters). The second was a graphite grey linen/silk/rayon blend from J.Jill (also good quality sweaters from the brand in general). Both of these sweaters were machine knit with very fine yarn (cobweb/laceweight). I knew unraveling was going to be a *t a s k* but I decided the right color (literally blue/grey) in quality yarn was worth the challenge.

And it sure was a challenge. The cashmere sweater was quite weak, snapped often, and produced a lot of fuzz. This is to be expected of a short fiber like cashmere, but still I was struggling to remain positive through this sweater harvest. The grey sweater was a whole other bag of worms – I didn’t notice that this sweater was machine knit with two separate strands of yarn, which unraveled at different tensions. So one yarn was always a little saggier than the other.

I’ve done most of my unraveling without a yarn swift, but halfway through endless winding of laceweight yarn, I gave in – I needed a yarn swift as soon as possible to finish this project. After maybe about 20 minutes of research one weekday morning I decided to buy an amish style swift. By that evening, I walked out of my LYS with the ChiaoGoo Amish Style swift at a price that just fit within my monthly craft budget (no extra yarn for me).

The yarn swift is a game changer.

I sped through the rest of my unraveling, washed the yarn, stretched it gently to remove any knitting kinks, and was ready to start knitting.

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The pattern calls for a US size 2.5 needle, which I do not have… so I decided a US size 3 metal circular needle would have to do – and my swatch turned out okay, but again, my first ever shawl, so I really didn’t know what to expect.

This shawl was strange to knit. My yarn combo did not want to knit nicely, it was both slippery and stiff. The main part of the stitch pattern is small sections of bound off stitches – this was really difficult to do with my yarn + needle combo. The knitting process felt like it took ages! I’m used to garment projects with their different sections, sleeves, button bands, and the like. This shawl was one large piece of repeating patterns – a new style for me. Once I finished the last pattern repeat I rejoiced at the thought of binding off. But I knew binding off wasn’t the last step of this project. It would need a serious session of blocking to help the stitch pattern shine. I was generally intimidated by this step so I put off blocking for two weeks to try to build up the courage to stretch my knitting.

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I’m pretty unsure about the finished look of this shawl. Generally in the middle. After blocking, the fabric turned into something light and airy. I don’t know if it will actually keep my mom warm, which was a crucial part of her request. I do know that it hits slate blue straight on the head. However, I do worry that I stretched the fabric out too much and that I should have added one more strand of yarn to add a little bulk to the shawl. But, alas, these are all lessons learned for next time. I do think I’ll knit a shawl again, and probably one of Melanie Berg’s designs. For a first ever shawl, I think this turned out just fine.