A Painful Tale of Process Knitting

Grand Duchess is progressing about as fast as paint peels.  That means about a row a day.  Let’s see, that would put a finish date at about late 2010, after you factor in taking my current average of about 2 days a week off from it. The good news is that I think I’m finally getting into the groove with it, and I can plan on about 20-30 minutes to finish one row that has patterning in it and about 10 minutes to finish one row with stockinette for the shawl body (the border always has patterning in it). There are a few reasons why it’s coming along better:  1) dying the yarn crimson makes it easier to see what I’m doing; 2) I’m using KA Bamboo circular needles; 3) I’m using dental floss for a lifeline.

I tried using various fibers for a lifeline, but none of them were very satisfactory, mostly because other fibers drag the mohair through the stitches, which makes it really hard to rip out if necessary.  I tried using nylon fishing line, but that was hard to see and it slipped out too easily.  So for all but the last 8 cm of the 24 cm (9.5″) I’ve knitted so far, I’ve gone without lifelines. And it’s been painful.  However, one day I was listening to David Reidy’s Sticks & String podcast (highly recommend it) and he mentioned using dental floss in his knitting, and what a huge difference it makes in Grand Duchess. The dental floss is soft enough that it just lays within the stitches, it has enough drag in it to so that it doesn’t slip out, but it doesn’t have so much drag as to pull the mohair through the stitches. And it’s minty-fresh!

I am now using KA Bamboo Classic circulars, but quite by accident. One day I had to break the yarn because of a snag, and being too lazy to get scissors I actually tried breaking the with my hands. Silk doesn’t break easily and by the time the yarn broke, I also broke my KnitPicks Harmony wood 2.25 mm fixed circular needles!  Digging around my stash of needles, I came across the KAs which I’d bought at Bad Women Yarn and were packaged (by the manufacturer) as 2.0 mm but miraculously turned out to be 2.25 mm (luckily I hadn’t used them on a project yet, although it probably wouldn’t have made a huge gauge difference in this project).  These are really nice needles!  There’s the durability of bamboo, very nicely crafted needle points and excellent cable joins to the needle, which turned out to be much better than the cable joins of the Harmony fixed circular on which the fine Orenburg yarn stitches kept getting stuck.  So the needle switch turned out well and besides, I didn’t like the Harmony 2.25 mm needle tips and feel that they could be better finished, and the red yarn against the mostly red Harmony 2.25 mm made it hard to distinguish the stitches, which took me back to the beginning of the whole project when the yarn was grey and I was using light colored metal needles.

Actual Knitting
In the pattern a typical stockinette row looks like this:  border pattern (ranging in 18-22 sts in width), 273 sts of stockinette, ending the row with another 18-22 sts of border pattern.  A typical pattern row for the body has yarnovers and K2Togs throughout and requires close attention to the count of the pattern.  A typical patterning of rows for the body of the shawl has two rows of pattern, followed by two rows of stockinette, and while the stockinette provides a welcome relief from the close attention to detail that the pattern rows require, it also means that mistakes can go unnoticed until as many as three rows later.  Noticing mistakes three rows later means ripping back rows to fix the mistakes if the mistakes involved dropped stitches or, if it involves just losing a stitch, then picking-up a stitch where the body meets the border or at some other well-planned location within the pattern (not easy to do because you can’t see how the knitting is coming along because it’s so fuzzy).  Ripping back a few as one row can set me back a week or two of knitting depending on how bad the mistake is (or how hard it is to figure out where I went wrong), because as I remove stitches, other stitches come undone with it, but that should be less of a problem with the addition of the lifeline.

Orenburg Yarn
Containing 80% mohair and 20% silk, Orenburg yarn is a sneaky little minx. Don’t be misled, the yarn is very slick to deal with so  that even the stockinette rows require fairly close attention. In fact, the yarn is so slick, I’ll rest my hands in my lap for a few seconds to look at something else or answer someone’s question, and pick the knitting up to find 20 stitches have conveniently slipped themselves off the needles, with a few of the stitches coming undone in the process.  Getting them all back in place is like creeping-up on our wiley formerly feral cat Zephyr when we have to take him to the vetrinarian:  “Shh, be very quiet.  Close the doors to the room he’s in.  Don’t breathe. Don’t move a muscle. Okay, get him!”  One false move, and I’ll be darned if more stitches come undone in the process of putting them back on the needles.  If I were to use a simple merino wool or similar low-fuzz fiber, this project would move along much faster for a few reasons: 1) it would be easier to see my mistakes before I get too far along, since the way the pattern works, I do not to know that I’ve made a mistake until three rows later when the pattern count is off; 2) I would be more able to fix mistakes without having to rip back rows by using a crochet hook; 3) I would be able to rip back rows easily without fighting the mohair to give up a stitch, causing me to damage the mohair in the process; 4) the unspun nature of the silk (there is no twist in the silk, so it’s just strands of silk lying together, loosely-wrapped with lots of fuzzy mohair) makes it easy to split the silk strands and the silk slips off the needles suprisingly easily; 5) the fuzzy nature of the high percentage of mohair makes it hard to see the fine silk strands, and if I don’t catch the silk strands, then I inadvertantly lose stitches because the mohair will not hold the stitches, and I often have not realized it until 1-3 rows later; 6) I have to knit the stitches in an exagerated manner, because if I knit in method and at the speed I normally do, I don’t catch all of the yarn with the needle or yarnovers simply slip of the needle without my even noticing it until, you guessed it, 1-3 rows later.  As a yarn, I don’t like the way it is spun, or lack there of, and the mohair makes the yarn slubby, so it’ll be smooth for a 3 inches and then there will be this fat bump of mohair (which later forms a ball of mohair when stitches are undone), so it doesn’t produce the fine shawl I’d envisioned. Finally, Orenburg really doesn’t like to be undone, and the more times it gets undone, the more the yarn develops lovely clumps of mohair along the silk thread, that require stretching and smoothing it out with my fingers just before it gets knitted.

What do I think about this project?
I can’t quite make my mind up about the project yet, and maybe I’ll know better when I’m done. I can visualize making another one of these, but only without Orenburg yarn. Would I try it again with Orenburg? Maybe, but check with me in 2010 when this project is all done. Would I recommend Orenburg yarn to other knitters? Not enthusiastically.