Use it before you lose it (knitting)

So, to continue my notes on the class, here is what stuck with me on the knitting portion of the class.

Shetland lace knitting was, and is, production lace knitting, so the whole format is based upon the idea of getting it done fast and well. For example, casting off is to be avoided in favor of grafting, there is no purling, only knitting, and decreases are generally only knit2tog, never worrying about the slant of the decrease.

The most important note for me was the structure of the basic lace shawl forms, and the order in which they are created to avoid the grafting. This struck me as strange when she first explained it, but I think that is because I do not always have great success in grafting and sewing together. And when I think back to the sheer chore of casting-off my first lace shawl, I think I may see the point.

So, what is the order of the form? Edging, quarters (borders), and center are the different parts. Interestingly, this is exactly the opposite of how many modern shawls are made, but I think it addresses one of the problems that modern shawl construction has, which is the stretchiness of the outer edge.

The lace edge is done in one long strip. Note that the length of the strip dictates the final size of the shawl, so you need to make a decision then. No extra or difficult stitches are done to allow for corners, since the corner turn is achieved through the joining of the quarters and the stretchiness of the wool. If you are not using wool, it is a little less simple. I can’t remember for sure, but I think you do not graft the lace edging together until the end. Just make sure you start the edging with a provision cast-on of some sort and keep the end of the edging live until you are ready to graft them together.

Next you do the quarters, also known in modern parlance as the borders. You can do each one individually and join at each corner, or you can do two sections together. Truthfully, I believe you could do all four sections together as well, but the teacher’s comment was that it would be a really long row, which is true. It depends, I guess, on if you are willing to deal with a really long row in order to avoid the sewing that would otherwise be necessary. These would be joined not with grafting, but with feather stitch. However, the joining together would also wait until after the entire shawl had been knit. I’m not sure if it is necessary to wait, but probably it would be easier to do the rest of the work before sewing together all the different parts. Once you finished the quarter section, do keep the final row of stitches live for the center work.

The final section is the center. It gets picked up from a quarter section (probably the first one, just to be orderly about it), and is knit up to the opposite quarter and grafted on, then grafted to the sides.

Each section where sewing or grafting is to take place will need to have a stitch that makes that easy. For example, the edging will often get a yarnover start in order to create a hole for easy picking up. The other easy-to-pick-up beginning for a row on the edging is to slip the first stitch as if to purl every other row. There may be others, but those were the two that were discussed. For the quarters, the sides where picking up is to take place will get a similar yarnover beginning to make sewing together easy as well. And of course the beginning and end of the lace edging are kept live.

If you do a shawl this way, you really don’t have to cast-off at all. Now that I think of it, that is really amazing.

Other structures are the rectangular shawl (this is apparently the only one that is actually called a shawl on Shetland) and the triangular shawl (not sure what this is called, but the square shawl is called a hap, which is apparently the Shetland word for shawl). They are similarly knitted so that casting off is avoided and grafting is encouraged. I really liked the triangular structure.

The triangular shawl starts at the bottom point and works up to the long top. The edging is knit as part of shawl, not a separate section to be picked up. The top section is kept live once it is finished, because then the lace edging is added across the top, joining to the live stitches as you go, and then grafting them together at the top center.

The rectangular shawl/stole shape is started from the edging, a border, adding the side edgings as part of the knitting, continuing on to the body, then stopping and keeping those stitches live. You then cast on an edging and border again for the opposite end and join the two together with grafting. A scarf is a similar structure, just without the side edgings, although apparently you could do it the same as well, just in a slightly smaller size.

The teacher also demonstrated the use of the traditional knitting belt of the Shetland Isles, which was quite interesting. I tried one out while we were there, but did not find it to be appealing enough. However, I can see how it would have sped up knitting on the long sections, since it encouraged small movements to maximize productivity. After trying it out, I looked again at my own knitting and realized how much I moved my hands, constantly changing the angle of the knitting needles. This is not really bad, but notably less efficient. I’m going to try to modify the way I hold my knitting needles to see if I can improve things. I think it might be more comfortable in the long run. Who knows? I may go back and decide to get one of those belts to try again. One trick that she showed us that looks very helpful is to use the belt to impose a slight tension on the knitting in order to open the stitches of your active row, thus making it easier to knit. You can use a normal belt for that trick, and I’m going to see if I can’t figure out something to achieve that.

In picking up the stitches from the lace edging for the quarters, I got confused about what direction to start from, especially since I think it depended on which of the two edges had been used in knitting the edging, YO or slip as if to purl. The YO was easy to see and pick up, but the slip as to purl pickup required a bit more care, since you want to pick up from the side that would leave you with a purl bump on each side of the shawl, not two on one side and nothing on the other. I’m going to hope that some of my classmates had a better explanation to share here.

Right now, that’s all the details I can think of; I’ll contemplate more to see if I can add anything later.