Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Knew It Was True, but I Just Had to Taste It Myself

Sometimes, materials surprise you. Imagine Carl Wilhelm Scheele, discovering a bunch of elements which became part of the periodic table, noting each element's characteristics, secrets, unique qualities, and (to his detriment) taste. Surprises from each and every one. When he tasted his last element (which eventually killed him), he probably said, "Well, how 'bout that."

I've been working on Hannah Fettig's Featherweight Cardigan, and, although it has been a long, laborious knit, it has been a delight, and a discovery of the true qualities of fabric and yarn.

The Featherweight is made with laceweight yarn with a gauge of 24 stitches over 4 inches. I managed to get gauge with size 7 needles, so I cast on and on I went.

First of all, when I started the project, the fabric I was knitting was too open, like the mesh that makes a plastic pot scrubber. Not great for a cardigan, and just, well... too weird for me. So, I went back to size 6 needles and did the math to convert the pattern to my new gauge.

I was scared as I knit the first few inches. The fabric was just so... light. And I could still see through it, but not too much. It was absolutely, positively different from any other garment I'd ever made from yarn. Wow... weird. I was positive this thing would stretch out of shape right away, get all slouchy and sloppy, which I hate. I like clean lines. I need to see where things start and where things end, especially when it comes to what I'm wearing.

Clara Parkes wrote a whole chapter in The Knitter's Book of Yarn about two-ply yarns (which includes most laceweight yarns), and how the resulting yarn is oval in shape, giving a firmness, and the ability to hold structure really well. This is really important in lace knitting - you want the open patterns to stay open, but retain a lofty drape. That is sound sense, said I.

And you know, she is absolutely right. It still applies in this project. The laceweight is giving a structure to this featherlight masterpiece, obliterating any thought of this thing being delicate and fragile.

A similar discovery occurred last week, when I got my first order of Elann's Sonata delivered. I immediately fell in love with the Burgandy Rose. I ordered it with one of Annie Modesitt's patterns in mind: An Affair to Remember from Romantic Hand Knits: 26 Flirtatious Designs to Flatter Your Figure. I wasn't sure if it would work, though...

I'd read a few reviews about Sonata, and was a little concerned when a few people said that it was rough, and rope-like, difficult to knit. I'd also seen lots and lots of gorgeous things made with it. I figured I'd keep an open mind - heck, it's such a good price, anything I make out of it will be worth it.

The pattern calls for worsted weight yarn held double, to create a bulkier yarn. Sonata is DK weight, and I knew I'd be doing more math to work with it. Undeterred, I swatched...

Oh my.

I LOVE the structure of the resulting fabric. Since it is cotton, it will have a bit more weight, but I think that the cabling that marks each panel will help to hold it up, and the lacework at the bottom will relieve some of the pull. Yeah, it's stiffer than merino, harder than mercerized cotton. But it'll work. It'll do what I need it to do. I can feel it.

But I wouldn't have known if I hadn't tasted, er, tried it myself.

So, I guess what I am saying is, if you end up with materials that you're not sure will work for you, at least learn what it can do, because it's useful for something.

There's a saying about that... something about lemonade...

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