We’re off to Korea!

Monday, we got the call of all calls that every adoptive parent waits for:  we were told we could go to Korea to get MR.  It seemed the waiting had become so never-ending that we’d kind of gone numb, and just as when we adopted YM four years ago, the call came at a time when we had truly resigned ourselves to wait and we’d really stopped talking about it much.  Now comes the mad dash to pack and prepare for the trip, and deciding what to bring and what not to bring; list, after list, after list.  Packing and preparing has been seriously set back by the worst heat wave in local history, with this week having temps running up to 109° F/43° C.  Temps are usually so mild around here, that in Western Washington state, most people don’t have air conditioning, so it’s been quite unpleasant and hard to accomplish much of anything.  This morning, however, I saw the temp had dropped down to almost half that high temp (59° F) and it’s blissful.  Now, on with the mad dash to pack and all. We are SO EXCITED to be going!

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted about much of anything.  The wait for the call was weighing me down, the high school reunion that I was on the planning committee for was keeping me a bit occupied, summer activities with my son, the long-running heat, and the list goes on.  The reunion was a big success, although we came out a little short on attendance, so we committee members have to pay an additional $25 along with our personal admission fees. I guess I’m going to keep the blog I started for my graduating class, since everyone really liked it.  The good thing is that that blog won’t keep me as busy now that reunion is over.

And now, some knitting content (sorry, no pictures)…

After having spent a good week trying to get the right gauge, I’ve cast on for Shawl Neck Cardigan, and I ended-up using US 2/2.75 mm for the pattern stitch and one US 1/2.25 mm needle and one US 2 needle together for the garter stitch parts, because the pattern calls for two different stitch gauges.  I’m using Elann’s Peruvian Quechua, which is alpaca and tencel.  I like the combination of the soft alpaca and the silkiness of the tencel, I just wish I didn’t have to knit the cardigan with such small needles. I tried knitting this earlier in the year, and realized that my gauge was off and that I messed-up on the pattern, not that I’d gotten very far on it.  I’m not sure if this is a project that will see completion this year, but it’s good for now.

I’ve also picked up Bird’s Eye Shawl, but I may end up making it into a small shawl, because it’s taking too long to finish and to knit a row on it, I need a good half hour to do that.

Also, I was recently encouraged to resume Grand Duchess, my attempt at an Medallion Square Orenburg shawl.  The encouragement came from my dental hygenist from Moldova, who after asking about it’s status, was shocked to hear me tell her that I didn’t think it was worth finishing.  She encouraged me to continue with the project, telling me that as a girl she used to watch her best friend’s mother knit Orenburg shawls, and assuring me that though they are very hard to knit, the shawl I was knitting was exactly as she remembered them. I just don’t know when I will ever find the time to figure out where I was on that project….

So that’s it for now and will probably be for a while, although I may try to squeeze in a post from Korea. We are so EXCITED!

Grand Duchess in the Red

I did it! I dyed all of the Orenburg yarn for Medallion Shawl, a.k.a., “Grand Duchess”. It was a bit scary, and yet it was very satisfying. I didn’t really realize just how much I didn’t like the way the original colorway knitted-up until I watched it change to deep red and a feeling of happiness overcame me. The words “good riddance” kept coming to mind. The result is a beautiful shade of deep crimson to burgundy yarn that is a delight to look at.

The project was not without its perilous moments, though. Early on when I was trying to determine the right combination of crimson and jet black dyes, I was using an old soup pan I had lying around as a decor item to mix the dyes in, and I lifted it off the stove and discovered it had a crack in it: red dye across the kitchen floor and on a white cupboard. Luckily, I acted quickly and cleaned it up fast enough, leaving just a very faint hint of pink in the floor boards closest to the sink. Lesson #1: never use an 150-year old soup pot, and if you do, check really well for cracks before you start. It makes sense to check first, I know, but common sense just seems to elude me at times. I went to the thrift store and bought a stock pot for the project. Also, it’s hard to really know, but it seemed like the mohair portion of a couple of the skeins were just a bit too close to felting. I am a very inexperienced dyer, and probably should stay away from it altogether because I get impatient and lose my cool, so if the yarn started to felt, it is of little surprise to me because I had a few moments of panic in the process. I suppose mohair is a fairly sticky yarn to work with when dying, and either some yarn within the skeins started to felt together or they just stuck together because mohair acts like that. I don’t know, but I was able to loosen the strands that might have just come close to felting.

Preparing the original yarn in water prior to dying.

Dying the yarn.

One skein after dying, washing, and squeezing water out.

Portion of the shawl that has been knitted so far sporting the new color.

For reference, here's what the orignal colorway looked as a skein and knitted.

I had hoped to dye the shawl with its current skein attached, but the yarn is too delicate, so I had to cut the skein off and will re-attach it when I resume knitting it.

I’m quite pleased with the new color, and it’s quite vibrant and with the silk in it, it has a luscious luster to it. Because the original colorway had bands of different colors in it, the resultant color has bands of different shades of red, but I’m okay with that.  The best part is that I will be able to actually see the yarn better as I knit it.

I refuse to surrender! So far.

I continue to do battle for the Grand Duchess. It’s not that bad really, but when I mess up, what a rat’s nest it is figuring out where I went wrong, what I did wrong and undoing the error because of fuzzy mohair. Suddenly, my intention to do just one more row and then go to bed becomes an hour-long project when an error or two is at hand.

This week marks a milestone in Grand Duchess: I have successfully rounded not only Corner 1, but also Corner 2, and now am working on the body of the shawl. Make a mistake here and a row that would’ve taken about 30 minutes to complete suddenly becomes an hour fix-up job, but this doesn’t surprise me a whole lot. I’ve done lace before, although it’s been many years since I did anything of this complexity and size, and that was back when it was my first lace project, the Gibbie Shawl. Here I am, not having knitted the requisite smaller and easier shawls in the book before launching into the grand dame, just making Medallion anyway. Am I a glutton for punishment? Why, yes, yes indeed I am. Look at my other knitting projects: there’s Cabled Coat (a pain to follow the pattern for) and then there’s Bird’s Eye (which has become monotonous). And now Medallion in Orenburg yarn, which would be much easier if I’d just done it in some gossamer-weight merino or something and if the pattern were written with a little more explanation and charting that doesn’t add to confusion with one row being Row 2 on the right side of the shawl, but becoming Row 1 when you get to the left. It does make sense that the rows on the right are numbered ahead of those on the left, but only because of what happens at the beginning of the body, but this adds to confusion when looking at such huge charts. I can’t help but wonder if the first few rows should be numbered differently to accommodate the number shift, and then, once that point is past, the numbers on rest of the shawl (we’re talking hundreds of itty-bitty rows on charts) could be numbered so that the right is the same as the left.

What do I do to get around the fact that I haven’t done either the Diamond Trianglular Shawl or Pine Tree Pallatine Scarf, the introductory patterns it the same book, first? What do I do when I’m not sure about the instructions for Medallion, I go back and study that specific point in the other two patterns, both of which are written with more explanation and more charting than Medallion. It’s crazy, I guess, but I do stuff like this and end-up regretting it later. Hopefully I won’t regret it later this time. But I wanted to do Medallion and I wanted to do it in Orenburg yarn, and it will be a much richer experience for it.

As I knit, I imagine Russian knitters knitting just such a shawl, perhaps a 10-year old girl knitting her first one. I hear the voices of women speaking a language I cannot comprehend, perhaps I even smell a bowl of pelmeni soup with a dollop of sour cream in it as I go. Ah, I wax poetic. These are the things that come to mind when I do anything associated with a cultural tradition, be it making Armenian Easter bread , or Japanese okonomiyaki or sakura mochi, or pasta the way my Italian grandmother did, or French croissant: I hear the language, I see the country (or what I imagine it looks like), and for a moment in time I experience a brief culturel expedition, a mental vacation.

Sorry no pictures now. Sorry if my writing is rough no time for final proof.  Family emergency, check back later.

The Grand Duchess

I first read about Orenburg shawls while surfing the Internet about 6 years ago, and I knew I would someday knit one, however, I would have to wait for a while since Orenburg yarn was not available in this country then. At about the same time, I was admiring a painting in the Seattle Art Museum when I realized that a woman standing in front of me was wearing just such a shawl. I actually followed her for a bit like a celebrity-obsessed fan trying to sneak peek at her shawl, most of which was hidden underneath her raincoat, with the part covering her head the only part visible. I was too shy to ask her about it; a missed opportunity.

Fast-forward to today: I promised myself that upon completion of Wisp and Trellis that I would start an Orenburg, so I ordered Orenburg yarn. I’m kind of a traditionalist, in the sense that when I make something associated with a traditional method, I try to make the first one fairly true to the traditional pattern, and I wanted to find natural white Orenburg yarn, but searching the Internet, all I found was dyed Orenburg yarn. Not just dyed, but multi-colored. Not what I had envisioned for my first Orenburg. So I bought 6 skeins of Cherry Tree Hill Orenburg Yarn in “Spring Frost” from Discontinued Brand Name Yarn, figuring that if I can’t buy the color I want, I might as well get it at a discounted price. Ironically, I was talking to my dental hygienist last week, she’s from a former Soviet Union state, and she said that Orenburg shawls are considered very special, and actually were quite the status symbol to older generations. According to her mother, a Russian bride might wear a red Orenburg shawl as a symbol of purity in a traditional-style wedding, but that’s assuming she could afford to buy one.

I can’t say that I am delighted with the colorway, it’s kind of a dirty gray with pink highlights, but in different lighting, it takes on different qualities.

I call the shawl Grand Duchess and she’s rather demanding. Addictive. She requires close attention at all times.

And she requires really good light to work in: the yarn is so light-colored and so fine that in some places it’s hard to see. I bought Knitpicks Options Harmony double-pointed 2.25 mm needles just for this, thinking that with the multi-colored wood, I’d have a better chance of seeing the stitches, and they do help most of the time.

So far, the yarn is what makes the project tricky. Really tricky. The mohair is loosely spun around a silk core and is very fragile. You know how it is said that knitting with mohair yarn is said to not be easily undone? I can say that is very much the case with Orenburg yarn. Every time I have to undo stitches, I hold my breath. I was going great guns on the border pattern a few days ago when I found a big hole about 30 rows down, and there was no way to try to fix it with a crochet hook as I did with Wisp. The mohair is so delicate that if I don’t catch the silk core stitches come undone, and it’s easy to miss the silk core among the fuzzy mohair fibers. The instructions say not to put the yarn on a ball-winder and to hand wind it instead, but I wound it super carefully.

The pattern: Medallion Square Shawl from The Gossamer Webs Design Collection by Galina Khmeleva.