Once in awhile I embark on a knitting project that stretches my abilities. I like to call it a “knitting opus”, although now that I type that out I’m not sure it makes sense! The last couple of these opuses (opi?) have come in the form of large circular shawls. Oddly enough, despite knitting for months on these endless creations, I am intimidated by the prospect of a sweater. This is a little strange since the number of stitches in these shawls, or for that matter an ordinary pair of socks, is actually less than a worsted-weight sweater, but I never said I was a rational knitter!
My latest “opus” is a giant lace creation called Memphis, from the book Ancient Egypt in Lace and Color, meant to evoke the pyramids of Giza. It took me about 6 months to knit it (in a beautiful silk/merino laceweight I got in Manchester), although half of that was spent in “time-out” after a particularly terrible counting error that meant I had to rip back half of the thing and start the section over. After all that knitting, all the tears and frustration and triumph, I had this:
Underwhelming, isn’t it? Kind of looks wrinkled, and chewed on? Definitely not worth 6 months of my life and most of my store of patience. (It contrasts nicely with my bright blue futon, though). Here is where the magic comes in, also known as “blocking lace”, one of my absolute favourite parts of knitting.
All knitting is transformation: you take a couple of sticks, a really long string, wave your hands a few million times and you have something useful like mittens or socks or a sweater. It does take time, though, and so is not quite as satisfying as it could be. Blocking, though, lets me take that mangled dental-floss (to quote the ever-brilliant YarnHarlot) and turn it into something beautiful.
Here’s how the magic happens. First, the shawl sits in a corner for awhile while I bask in the warm glow of finally (finally!) having finished the interminable edging. Then, it goes for a nice warm (not hot) bath with some wool wash.
(I don’t use the sink because I have a single sink and it is usually full of dishes. This bowl is pretty small though so I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I have to block a whole sweater).
Once its all wet through (20 minutes, or until I come back from whatever distracted me), I take it out, being careful to pick it all up at once so nothing gets stretched in a weird place. Then I put it a towel, roll it up, and step on it to get all the water out (that part I got from the YarnHarlot). This is incredibly effective, so effective that sometimes with lace I don’t step on it too hard in case too much water comes out and it dries before the next step is done.
This next step is to put the shawl on the bed or the floor (if it’s too big for the bed, which this was), smooth it out and pin and pin and pin until it looks exactly how I want it to look. You can get really nit-picky about making it exactly circular or triangular or whatever or you can just keep pinning until it looks good. I get out the ruler and measure at first, but whatever works is fine.
Can’t see the pins? How about in this one? Look really closely.
Every single point has a pin, as does each dip between the points. There are a bunch in the centre of the shawl too. It took me about an hour to get them all in and I was seriously stiff afterwards but it was Totally. Worth. It.
Here is the after shot:
It is difficult to take a picture of oneself (from behind) while wearing a circular shawl, but I managed somehow (small picture because I haven’t figured out how to make cropped pictures the right size yet):
I love it, even more because it is done entirely on faith. You have no idea when knitting it what exactly it is going to look like when its done, so you just have to put in the time and believe that the designer knew what she was doing, and that everything will (literally) come out in the wash. Blocking lace = total knitting magic.
I haven’t decided what my next “opus” is going to be yet, but I’m thinking it’s about time I took on a sweater. Since I don’t have any sweater-quantities in my stash, I see a trip to the yarn store in my future! If you want to see all the details for this project, my Ravelry project page is here (you have to be a Ravelry member, unfortunately, but it is free and also awesome).
PS. Remember my sock from yesterday? I found the purple.
Sock yarns are so weird.