I am a bear of very little brain, I am slow and can’t count. This thwarts my knitting ambitions. Although to be strictly truthful, I haven’t really done ambition for a while. Whilst the past calls to me, I’ve always had trouble facing the future and find it hard to envisage it in concrete terms which makes it nearly impossible to set goals or to make definite plans. But without them, you just end up drifting.
I think sometimes the problem can start in childhood, maybe it’s an outlook that some parents actually encourage. If the future means your children growing up or away from you, why focus on that? Especially in those early years, everything happens so fast and parents really can’t be blamed for wanting to make the most of those times and stages. But we need to see a future as that its what helps drive us forward as people, it motivates us and encourages us when times get tough. I’m not a sailor, I had a pretty rotten time in a row-boat this summer and that’s the closest I’ve come to any boating, but it makes sense that you don’t jump aboard a dinghy without knowing what you’re doing (otherwise it will quite quickly get rather hairy, trust me). A captain of a ship is expected to have certain knowledge, to know his vessel, his destination and his route. His route may not be rigidly fixed and may have to be adjusted for hazards and bad weather but he knows where he wants to end up. Are we captains of our ships? Or are we letting other people sail our lives for us? Maybe we’ve cast off from shore with little sense of where we want to head or what we want to get out of the journey.
This returns me to ambition. Ambition is an ugly word in my mind, it smacks of pride and self-vaunting, it suggests an egotistical desire and motivation, of racing up ladders whilst trampling other people. But I’m struggling to find another word. Dreams are good but they can be airy-fairy, gossamer, dandelion clocks of the mind. Sometimes real life demands real goals, it has to be concrete not just some boater’s pipe dream of circumnavigating the world (personally, I’d just give for getting ten metres from the bank without capsizing). We have to sit down with the charts, the compass, our experience and knowledge and plan. What are we truly capable of? What do we truly want? Where do we truly want to be? What will the obstacles and hazards of our route? How can we navigate around them?
I’ve had enough of drifting or of living by other people. I’m starting to also find the strength to see a future, maybe, small things to begin with, but still things that I would like to reach out and achieve. Nothing big and nothing very concrete just yet. Knitting is often a sort of lens or mirror in which I can explore and express various metaphors as well as broader concepts in life. It’s in the knitting that I find the proof of my growth and confidence too. Therefore as I dare to dream a little, it’s natural that the first ones are expressed through this medium. A kind of testing ground, I guess, knitting is a fairly safe zone for me too.
I’ll tell you a couple of those goals, more like dreams, little snatches of ideas that call to me and egg me on at times. I want to knit a shawl. I’ve had a little tentative go, it was more of a scarf or kerchief (scarves are firmly rectangular in my mind nor would it be right to admit to it being a ‘scarf’ when husband is being so insistent that it is one), all in stocking stitch and it didn’t even reach fifty stitches. I also want to participate in something known as a Knit Along (KAL). The idea is that, enabled by the internet, knitters (crocheters do CALs) sign up/volunteer/talk themselves into/get talked into working a specific pattern within a specific timeframe. It’s fun to be part of a group working with a common aim, it’s lovely to see so many people working on the same project wherever they are all at the same time, it’s amazing to see how all those knitters making the same thing make something so unique and special to them from the same pattern. It’s also a great way for a designer to road test a new pattern.
Now, my confidence suggested that these were fairly distant dreams. Then things started to fall together. Over on Susan B Anderson’s blog, which I read and follow and which has done wonders for my confidence, she designed a beautiful shawlette. It’s gorgeous, no? Then she made the pattern available. Now, Susan writes a good pattern; a good pattern in my world means understandable and possibly even achievable. Or at least Susan dares to me think that might be the case. Even for little idiosyncratic knitters of very little brain. I started wanting the pattern. Then she announced a KAL.
Can you see where this is going?
I didn’t until I started thinking very daring thoughts. Thoughts that just rushed into my head and, at times, really scared me. So I signed up. Which meant that I suddenly had to acquire yarn, beads and the pattern in order to start on time. It just happened!
Beads? Oh, yes, beads. I’m not a beady person. The reason I own beads in any shape is because I’ve cut them off various articles of clothing (including about a zillion brown seed beads) or I’ve busted necklaces. I had to buy special beads for this project in order to have enough and for them to go with the yarn.
Although the pattern calls for the American ‘sport’ weight, an equivalent to barely existent 5 ply, I decided to go down a ply and use 4 ply. A standard weight in this country and pretty easily obtainable. The Butterfly Stripes set was worked in this weight. Unfortunately, there was absolutely no way I could afford the recommended yarn at this time even if I could get my little grubby paws on it. I decided that I would go back to that same trusty brand and blend that I used for the baby set but in the colours that had originally tempted me but had to be regretfully turned down because I was knitting for a baby boy.
Through some wrangling and near-misses, I managed to make it into my ‘local’ yarn shop in time. I bought the two colours of yarn then found out that they don’t ‘do’ beads either. I wasn’t really in a position to authoritatively explain exactly what I needed and ‘size 6’ beads didn’t really mean anything to anyone, including me. I explained how I was going to add them to each stitch with floss (I’ll get to that, don’t worry) rather than threading them onto the yarn beforehand. They thought then said that they had beads for up to DK weight. This was good.
They produced four small plastic bags of beads. Four. Just four. Incy, wincy bags. One in primary blue, one in primary green, one in primary red … yes, my heart and hopes were sinking … and one mysterious colour combination of pink inside then purple core surrounded by blue ‘glass’. That would work! I quickly bought the beads.
I was ready!
Quaking in my DMs sort of ready.
The first day was the Sunday that I went to the beach. I saved my energy for that little expedition and started a day behind on Monday. I was a little worried about that because I am slow! But it isn’t a crime to not finish on time so I had to keep consoling myself with that thought at least. Though it wasn’t much of a comfort. I didn’t want to be the only one not to finish on time!
I started with my two colours.
However, I quickly remembered that I don’t like stripes.
Yes, I know.
So I kept knitting.
But no, I still don’t like stripes.
Stripes can be done well, you need a good eye, the right pattern, the right colours, the right yarn, the right recipient. I’m not really a stripe person. Except for socks. And in handknits, stripes can easily end up looking like trying too hard in a bad way. What I mean is that old school mentality of cheap ‘wool’ worked into something ‘fun’ and ‘bright’, you just add stripes. That’s what handknit stripes means to me. Especially in clothing.
It’s what my shawl was going to look like.
But I wanted it to be a nice shawl!
I had a serious discussion about the stripes with husband. Or as deep and meaningful a conversation you can have with him on the subject for, despite being the husband of a knitter, he does have limitations.
I didn’t mind not doing the stripes but the problem was that I wouldn’t have enough yarn, I only had one ball of each and I needed two balls to complete the shawl.
We don’t have transport. We don’t have a way to get to the yarn shop. It could be months before we’re back there again.
I wouldn’t be able to finish the KAL on time.
Beloved angel-husband said that he would cycle there and get me the extra ball. Especially if I could give him the ball band from the first one so he couldn’t possibly get it wrong.
(Have I mentioned that my brother offered to pick me up a ball of yarn during a previous emergency as he lives in that town? I told him I needed DK acrylic in beige. I told him exactly where it was in the shop. I added for his bloke-ish benefit that beige was the colour of his monkey‘s paws and the family car when we were little. He said that he understood exactly and went off. He returned with 4 ply, wool acrylic blend, in grey. Yeah, I wasn’t asking him again).
Then husband worked out that it was eighteen miles there and back. For a single ball of yarn. (I reckoned it was actually twenty but eighteen was enough for him to know about).
He got on his bike.
And got me exactly the right single ball of yarn.
He is a brick.
The KAL was back on!
(I had of course kept knitting from the first ball, don’t worry).
Almost immediately when starting this pattern, you encounter a particular challenge. The M1L and the M1R. These are nothing to do with motorways. (In English, not knitter, this reads ‘make one left’ and ‘make one right’ and they have nothing to do with dancing either). They’re increases. I know how to make a M1 because that’s the only version of M-anything used in English patterns. But no, there are more out there than I could ever nightmare up. If you want to be boggled, I suggest you visit this page. I was boggled. Although it does look like a rather cool project!
The M1L and the M1R are not entirely cooperative stitches either, they like to make little holes in your work whenever they can. It’s also a pain having to learn both at the same time because one moment you’re working one way then the next the other. Very confusing. But then have I mentioned that I’m slow?
For me the joy of knitting is taking a few simple (eventually when conquered) directions or stitches and it creating a form, a shape, as if by some magic. I don’t understand the magic, I have to trust pattern designers to fathom it out and pin it down in written directions for me. There’s no way I could ever write a proper pattern, I struggle to read them as it is. The greatest beauty of this shawl is the shaping, the way it’s designed to fit around the shoulders. I love that. And so simple. I like simple (eventually when conquered) things. What does that say about me?!
From a simple stocking stitch start, you go on to work a simple garter ridge stitch pattern. It’s deliciously simple. But with all those M1s, you quickly end up with a quite a few stitches beyond my comfort zone (thirty?!) on the needle. (Yes, needle, it needs to be worked on a circular because of the breadth). I can’t count well and really struggled to start with, knowing when to place the increases. I think that half the problem is that I don’t trust my counting either. I couldn’t get to grips either with the stitch markers (although I think I may have clicked the technique now that I’ve finished) as suggested. After a little bit, however, I cottoned onto the ‘formula’ and from then on, it was pretty easy sailing. I just needed to trust myself.
As you know, I haven’t worked on many big projects. The Quaker Ridge shawls knits up deceptively fast. You whizz along for ages and it feels like you could have it done in days. Then the rows get big. Really big. (For me, anyway). And it all slows down. You can’t even knit a single row in the odd five minutes. It takes years (in a hyperbolical sense of course) to knit a single row.
There are eight pattern repeats to work.
I did think about doing more repeats because of the lighter weight yarn and because I knew that I really had to use that second ball (guilt complex)!
But I decided against it. For several reasons.
After the eight repeats, I wanted to see how it sized up. The best way to do this is to hold the ends of your circular needle (or more efficiently, dig out your stoppers) and wrap it around yourself. The problem? A shawl is mainly on the back of you. I can’t see my back. I could ask husband to take a photo but it’s then a photo that I’m looking at not the actual shawl, besides trying to explain exactly what shot I want is awfully complicated and stressful.
We hit upon a solution.
I mentioned that husband is a brick. He is.
He also looks great in the QRS.
(Excuse the washing, but at least it’s clean).
I decided that it was pretty much the size that it needed to be (and I’m a head shorter than husband anyhow). (Although I’m not quite sure how that happened in a lighter weight yarn on a smaller needle, possibly my tension is as suspect as husband tells me it is).
I was also almost out of the first ball, I would definitely need to start the second somewhere along the ruffle.
And why did I know that?
Because there was a little instruction between the eighth repeat and the ruffle.
I hadn’t seen it before.
It made quite a lot of difference.
It said to increase every stitch.
Yes, double the stitch count. And we’re already in the two hundreds.
I didn’t do any more repeats. I couldn’t face any extra stitches. No way.
You end up with 492. Yes, 4-9-2. FOUR HUNDRED AND NINETY TWO. Stitches.
I can’t count that high.
Husband didn’t want to count that high.
Especially not stitches bunched up on a circular needle.
I trust that there were that many.
I’m not sure how I missed that little instruction. You would have thought after my experience with the crocodile that I’d be more careful. But obviously not. I’m clearly a slow learner.
There was another problem.
I had religiously counted out beads from the small packet based on the stitch count before the ruffle, before the doubling.
I had a funny feeling. It wasn’t a good funny feeling.
As part of the bind off, after the ruffle section, you add beads. I wouldn’t have really thought of using beads in my knitting because beads can be a bit girly and I’m not really a bead-y type girl anyway. It also seems suspiciously complicated and hard work. But when Susan B. Anderson writes a pattern and it looks good and you want that shawlette, you go with the beads. She does that to me.
The beads are added one stitch at a time. The idea of getting a bead onto a knit stitch (it’s a closed loop of yarn) is … well, different; it doesn’t seem to be possible according to my understanding of physics and the laws of the universe.
However, apparently, it is entirely possible.
I bow to higher minds.
Traditionally, this would be done with a crochet hook. I cannot manipulate a crochet hook. (I can’t say ‘at all’ because I did find one useful the last time I used a French knitting bobbin, it’s more comfortable than the traditional tapestry needle).
There is a modern method of beading, I alluded to it above. You need dental floss.
No, I’m serious. Every good knitter needs dental floss.
You don’t believe me?
In the land of opportunity and golden pavements that is America, they have a special type of floss which seems to mainly purchased by knitters. (Or at least the couple of hundred American knitters who are participating in this KAL seem to be buying it up left, right and Sunday). It’s like a chenille (caterpillar in English) and has a stiff end. My scout couldn’t find anything of the sort. I resorted to bog standard dental floss. Unbranded, naturally.
If you like magic tricks or any other flouting of the laws of the universe then I suggest that you watch the third video on this page.
Again, deceptively simple. When you know how.
I like that.
Floss it was.
I finished quite late Friday night but I knew that I would have no sleep unless I at least tried the beading trick.
And if it went wrong? Well then I could sleep on it and maybe fathom out a solution by morning.
I had to start.
I was itching to start.
Again, I have to thank husband. At bedtime, he was stop starting the video, talking me through step by step. I have poor motor skills and I find it very hard to learn new movements. When I’m Tired then I get very uncoordinated and clumsy. I wanted to make sure I was doing it properly and that’s sometimes easier when you can talk it through and bounce it off someone else.
The normal type of floss isn’t stiff. It was a little hard to work the beads as per the video. You certainly couldn’t work more than one bead at a time. Husband suggested that I use a sewing needle on the end of it to make it easier. I got along really well after that.
I suppose I could have reverted to sewing thread at that point but it just doesn’t have the same minty freshness.
I think I spent most of Saturday beading. It’s a very slow job.
And pretty soon that funny feeling became a full-blown refrain to accompany my work. ‘I’m going to be three beads short’.
I wasn’t. I was six. Six beads short.
(It was eight but then I found two in the folds of the sofa throws).
I wasn’t in the greatest of places Saturday evening. Figuratively speaking.
Six beads short.
And where was I going to get another six beads?
Just six of them!
There was a very remote chance that the yarn shop had got another packet in of identical beads in but even that wasn’t going to be a simple solution. Husband wasn’t so keen to cycle eighteen miles on the off-chance that they had the beads.
And there was another problem.
In trying not to run over a particularly dozy dog up the rec, he’d smashed his bike. (He wears cleats, you can’t leap free quite so easily so the only choice is gravity and the deck). He was fine, a scraped knee, some embarrassment and a lot of frustration at gormless dog owners who can’t control their hounds. It was an expensive incident. The bike was damaged. It was not fit to be ridden eighteen miles to a yarn shop on the off-chance that there were some more beads.
(The stoved front wheel is going into the bike shop (there is a fortunately one, a good one too, in this town) tomorrow but he also needs handlebars (I think that they’re called drop bars or something) and they will need saving up for). He is a very gutted little cyclist at the moment).
The KAL was off again.
There is a forum discussion for this KAL on Ravelry. Everyone is encouraging and egging each other on. It’s a great atmosphere. And there’s plenty of finished shawls already!
I mentioned the frustrating situation that I was in. Just six more beads!
Someone suggested an online bead shop, which they had used themselves.
The problem was that this was an American-based store.
But I had a little thought.
There must be English ones.
So I did a little search.
And found one with a huge choice and bravely typed ‘purple’ into their search box as that was all I knew about my beads.
You’ll never guess what happened next.
They had my beads!
The world started looking better again.
We decided that I could splash out and buy some more beads. It was worth it to get the shawl done.
I placed my order at 10h Tuesday.
And got very excited.
Husband was slightly more cynical. They may have taken the money but they still may not deliver the beads!
I got my invoice email and started hoping against hope for a dispatch one soon. The postage was second class so it could even take a couple of weeks for them to get out. But I dared to hope that sometime in the future, I would have the six more beads to finish my shawl.
Twenty six hours later I had the beads in my hand.
No, seriously. Twenty six hours.
We’re not sure how they managed to dispatch quite so quickly. Husband thinks they must have driven here themselves and passed them to the postman for a joke. I’ve not had that swift a service from even first class post for many a year.
But I had the beads!
(Which is why you get a link to their website even though I try to avoid product placement. Their service was impressive).
They are a little lighter.
So I left the two of the first batch until the end in the hope that it blends a little better, is a little less obvious. Maybe.
It took no time at all to finish the bind off.
I weaved in the ends.
Then I just had to block it.
I washed it first then pinned it on a towel to the sofa. The sofa is my blocking board. Husband doesn’t mind me taking over the entire sofa with wet wool because he’d rather that than the bed being used. And it was nearly bedtime.
It needed so many pins! I used three different sets!
I used the long pins that husband had free in a sewing magazine. They’re my blocking pins now.
I had to find my back up blocking pins, white-headed ones that were left over from the flower arrangements at our wedding.
Nope, still not enough.
I got out the standard sewing pins. We have a fairly good-sized tub of those.
(That is our black sofa, I took the throws off so they wouldn’t get wet. I was worried about them running because they’ve been redyed several times and that would have been a disaster that I couldn’t recover from).
That was last night.
This morning it was dry.
My lovely warm, snuggly, bouncy shawl is finished!
I am in love. It will protect me from the draughty corner that I often find myself in and I’m planning all sorts of outfit combinations just so I can wear my new shawl!
On Ravelry, you can see all the other amazing variations that other knitters in this KAL are creating with this great pattern. It’s mindblowing sometimes what can be generated from a piece of string and some sticks. Thank you Susan B. Anderson for sharing this beautiful pattern.
If you’re still here, thank you so much for sticking it out and reading this entire epic, I appreciate it and hope that you don’t mind being part of this journey.
Go eat chocolate or cheese. You deserve it.