Friday, 8 May 2015

Making Stitch Markers for Lace Knitting

I was told last year that lace knitting is not intrinsically difficult and have found it true that lace really does only use a limited range of combinations of stitches and forms of yarn over to draw in parts of a row of knitting and leave spaces elsewhere.  While the craft is simple, one lapse of concentration, one yarn over missed and everything thereafter is thrown out of kilter, scrambling into chaos instead of building harmony.  The second lace scarf I completed had me fascinated, despite the 
amount of time I spent unpicking it.  I'd say the art lies in imagining a new pattern, creating balance and intricacy within the final shape of a piece. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Which means following lace knitting instructions is a discipline leading up to the thrill of a result that cannot be fully anticipated. The plasticity of knitted lace amazes me.  Even when you have finished knitting, the lace effect cannot be properly appreciated until the piece is washed and blocked to stretch out the web. 

I have heard about 'life lines', where you run a thread through all the stitches of a row you are sure is correct, so that if you go wrong later, the work can safely be unravelled back to this level.  Somehow, I never could be arsed to set a life line up.  Luckily for me, I saw a friend's Dragonfly Wings scarf and thus discovered Boo Knits patterns.  The one above is called Sweet Dreams from the In Love Collection.  I call mine 'Root Map', because I started it on a road trip to Glasgow, changing from one shade of madder dyed yarn to another, every time we changed motorways.  Boo patterns not only come with reminders about how to do the stitches and yarn overs, but also advice on placing stitch markers.  These can be used to divide up the stitches into pattern blocks.  When you know there should be twelve stitches between markers, spotting an error tends to happen while working within that small section and if it doesn't, counting back soon shows where the problem lies.
First off, I just used safety pins or little loops of wool in bright colours as my markers.  I worked so slowly that the extra few seconds spent transferring each narrow safety pin or wiggly, knotted bit of wool from left needle to right didn't slow me up appreciably.  Then I was given a couple of pretty wire loops with beads dangling from them and I realised how much easier they were to slip across.  Only problem was, tiny jags of wire around the beads tended to catch in my loosely plied, low twist handspun wool.  So I asked Mum for some plastic, safety pin shaped markers for my birthday and they were a big improvement, though awkwardly rigid and not aesthetically pleasing.  It is a joy to use tools that combine elegance with function.  When I saw this truly beautiful oak yarn bowl on the HillTop Cloud stall at Wonderwool, I decided buying such a thing was not self indulgence so much as becoming a patron of the arts.  I said this to my companion, Elinor Gotland.

"If that bowl was art, there would have been an extra couple of zeros on the price tag and it would be up on a pedestal, not sitting on the carpet with your wool in it."
That ruddy sheep thinks she can play the cultural guru, just because she's actress.
"Elinor, if I call it art, then that is what that bowl is." 
"Ooo, who's come over all avant garde?  I'm afraid Grayson says that kind of statement only works if you are the person who made the thing and other people agree you are an artist."
"So a pile of bricks can be art, but my lovely, useful bowl can't?"
"Well, Beaut, it could be art if Mr Perry had made it, but HillTop Katie's dad hasn't won the Turner Prize.  Or been on telly."

 I myself have been suffering creative torment with the button machine, attempting to express myself through the medium of the stitch marker. I discovered that the little bar can be twisted out of the back of the button shells, leaving two holes for a loop to be threaded through, so the knot is covered once the top of the button gets clamped on.  My prototype was made with a fuse wire loop, like the beaded markers, but the knots in the wire unwound
themselves or broke after I flipped them about while knitting. Silk, wool and cotton loops do stay tied, but they are a bit too floppy to slide the tip of a knitting needle through quickly. Short loops keep the button head too close to the stitches and long loops are a pain to fetch back over on a purl row. By trial and error, I ended up with 2cm loops of necklace cord, the 1mm diameter kind is stiff enough to keep loops open and doesn't catch on the working yarn.  With a padding of cotton interlining, scraps of plant dyed silk cover the tops, each one different and all of them lovely.
"This is not a production line, Elinor, it's a limited edition."
"Well, Beaut, I'd believe that if I didn't know the bead shop just changed hands and became a dog grooming parlour.  You just keep up the artistic struggle and I'll find you another necklace cord supplier online."
"Ooo, could you get me some in white?  Or maybe green, to match the silk?"

I've now got two dozen pretty much perfectly functional stitch markers, light weight on the needle, yet substantial enough to shift about easily.  It takes that many to divide up the long rows at the end of the New Beginnings pattern.  This is undemanding lace intended for worsted weight yarn and I thought the instructions looked boringly repetitive, but suitable for the dentist's waiting room, where I have been spending far more time than I'd choose. The version in the photo on the right has the alternative ending with the lacy tips and I'm calling it 'Root Work'.  The cumulative effect of the simple structure pleases me immensely. So much so, I made another one straight away with more of my practice at handspinning straight from the end of Bond wool tops.  Which still isn't much finer than double knitting weight.
This one has the plain edge and it's for a bloke who makes silver jewellery and big forged sculptures.  I consider him quite enough of an artist to wear a bit of lace and I name the scarf 'Metal Work'.  Some of the copper wire he gave me is now bent into a holder to keep all my best stitch markers together.  

"What do you reckon, Elinor?  If I hang them on the wall and call them 'Neogenesis', does that make them art?"
"Maybe.  But you'd have to shave your head, get some facial piercings and never, ever let on about the knitting."


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks very much for reading this and for writing the patterns.

  2. You write so beautifully, the sentence 'becoming a patron of the arts' made me chuckle