Summer Solstice Lace Shawl

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Hello again everyone! Yesterday was the summer solstice, a day I really love. The sun doesn’t go down until about 9pm here, the days are hot and the evenings are warm and beautiful… *sigh* I love summer.

On Saturday I finally finished a shawl I was working on way back in February. I actually cast off the shawl in February, but I didn’t consider it finished—it was all white, and I knew I wanted to dye it. Saturday was the perfect opportunity to do that. My spinning/knitting group has an annual dye day in the summer up at the alpaca ranch, where we all bring various things to dye, usually yarn and fiber, and go crazy. Handpainting, kettle-dyeing, ombré… it’s all there. Naturally, I brought my shawl to work on.

Here’s the “before” picture, with obligatory cat photobomb (Tigger and Maggie like to drink out of the faucet, and they’re always hoping I’ll turn it on for them.) I gave it a quick steam-iron block just to see the size and drape of the shawl. Not bad!

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This is step 1 of the dyeing process. At home, before dye day, I kettle-dyed the shawl using a Jacquard acid dye in the color “brilliant blue.” When in doubt, use brilliant blue! I’ve used it a couple of times and it is truly brilliant. I overdyed a handwoven scarf once with it, and it practically glows.

The kettle-dyeing process is the most lazy of dyeing methods. Essentially, I mixed up the dyestock (a cup of boiling water + scoop of dye powder), poured it into the dyepot full of water, and tossed in the shawl. As the water heats up and simmers for a while, the dye strikes the fibers. I did stir the shawl around a little, but mostly I ignored it. This is how the uneven mottling of the kettle-dye is accomplished—if the dye can’t reach all the fibers evenly, it will strike in different concentrations. If I’d been aiming for a solid color, I would have had to make sure the shawl was fully immersed and had room for the dyestock to penetrate fully and evenly (with more stirring.)

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(Some of the visible mottling is from the dyejob, some from the tree-dappled light.)

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And this was the final result. I handpainted on a Procion (?) dye called “Twilight”, which is a darker blue, starting at the top center and lightening gradually toward the edge. Then I added a little shading on some of the “V” shapes at the edge. The result is something beautifully shaded all over. It’s hard to get this in a yarn-dyed process; this sort of big-picture color manipulation is best done after the object is constructed.

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Once the shawl was rinsed and mostly dry, I steam-blocked it with my iron. I do sometimes do a full wet-block with lace, where the piece is soaked and then pinned out, but this shawl does well with only a steam block, and I didn’t need it to be much bigger (a benefit of wet-blocking.) The scallops are done by ironing towards the edge—you want to use a fair amount of pressure to push the edging out, and a LOT of steam. It gets almost as good a result as pinning the scallops, with a lot less effort. Also, steam-ironing is great for lace—it gives the piece an incredible drape that you don’t get any other way. Even when I wet-block, I also steam iron to get that drape effect.

How to iron out the edging scallops:

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Result: ironed on the right, unironed on the left. Remember, no matter how you do it, always block your lace! The yarn needs to be opened up to show off the pattern.

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I’m very pleased with the result of this shawl. It’s large enough to be comfortably warm, has lovely drape, and is my absolute favorite color. (It’s what color my hair is supposed to be—but the blue in my hair fades much faster than the shawl blue will!) Of course, a wool/cashmere shawl is not the most suitable garment for the summer solstice, but it will be great to have on hand when things start cooling down!

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The pattern for this shawl is Vernal Equinox. The yarn is Knit Picks’ Capretta (80% merino wool, 10% cashmere, 10% nylon) originally in cream.

Harry Bear

This is one of those projects that demanded a lot more blood, sweat, and tears than anyone could rightly expect. However, I think it’s cute enough to be worth it.

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Fortunately this worked up quickly. It’s a gift for my coworker, who is leaving this week to go on maternity leave. A while ago—maybe a year or so ago—this coworker came up to me and asked me to teach her how to knit. She picked it up pretty quickly, despite the fact that she was only doing it to kill the time and wasn’t inclined to be a yarn addict as such. She set herself to making a baby blanket for her new baby, and finished it last week, and it was fabulous. With that in mind, it seemed only right to knit her something.

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Because I am a procrastinator, “something” turned out to be a bit of a trick. It couldn’t be a sweater, because that would take too long. A blanket was out of the question, of course. (Not just because she was making one already—I refuse to do a blanket on a short deadline.) Hats and things didn’t thrill me, especially since I knew she would be having a BIG baby in what has been a very warm winter. Warm stuff wouldn’t get a lot of use before it was grown out of. So, a toy. Toys are good. Toys aren’t sized. They can be carried around for a long time.

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The pattern is Harry Bear by Berroco. The yarn for both the bear body and the scarf is Lion Brand Homespun (the brown is LB Homespun Thick & Quick, the red is standard LB Homespun.) I HATE THIS YARN. Don’t knit things out of this yarn, please, if you know what’s good for your hands and your soul. It’s one loose fluffy “roving” ply around one thread ply, and it’s nearly impossible to accurately pull stitches through without catching your needle on, or more likely through, bits of another stitch. It is aggravating and frustrating. The worst part is, I knew it would be. I’ve knit with Homespun before. But the Thick & Quick is even worse. And I chose it anyway, because the texture was necessary for this project. Still, next time I’m picking a different yarn.

The pattern was nice. Pretty easy to execute. I did this version exactly as written, two pieces in the flat which are then seamed together, because I’d left starting this until Wednesday and it needed to be done by Monday, and I didn’t want to have to think or fuss with the pattern on top of fussing with the yarn. Next time I’d probably do it in the round, though. The scarf is a simple 4-stitch wide single crochet thing. I’m still not great at crochet, but let’s not look too closely and it’s fine. Once I had tied on the scarf I tacked it down in the front and back to keep it from wandering away and getting lost. The eyes and nose were embroidered in black embroidery floss. The whole effect is, let’s go with “charmingly lopsided.” Hey, the kid won’t care.

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It’s always a good sign when your mom wants to take it home. :)

Harry Bear

Pattern: Berroco

Yarn: Lion Brand Homespun Thick & Quick in “Natural Stripes” (brown); Lion Brand Homespun in “Candy Apple Red”

Needles: US 6

Hook: I (aka “the blue one”—I have three crochet hooks total, and one is for beading, not crochet.)

Time to knit: 5 days

Ravelry project page link

Summary: soft and squishy.

Meanwhile, I’m working on a few projects that are much more elaborate… hope to post these in the coming weeks, but here’s a preview if you’re curious what’s happening behind the scenes.

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Hats and Cats

Lately I’ve been working on some knitted hats. They’re great projects for when I don’t feel like thinking about anything too much, because the patterns tend to be fairly straightforward, and they’re finished quickly. They’re also easy to grab and go, and I don’t have to worry about needing complicated notions. Sometimes I don’t even need to grab the pattern.

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(Graham by Jennifer Adams)

A friend of mine works at a cancer research hospital. They have a hat box for patients to take hats from. I had some time where I didn’t want to commit to starting a major project (or finishing one… there’s a sleeveless cabled sweater sitting around that definitely isn’t going to get done before it warms up), plus I wanted to make a stronger effort to give back and think about others. So I knitted some hats to put in the box.

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(Turn A Square by Jared Flood)

Apparently they were well received. I used my favorite workhorse hat yarn, Ultra Alpaca by Berroco. (I can never remember how to spell Berroco right! I have to look it up every time.) It’s a sturdy, worsted-weight wool/alpaca yarn in a nice range of colors. It’s not too expensive and, despite not claiming any merino in the content, it’s not itchy. (Or at least, no one’s complained to me about it being itchy.) It’s my go-to for “manly” knits, or if I need the yarn to be warm but not fancy.

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(Lucky Seven by weezalana)

Nothing was too tricky about these hats, except that Lucky Seven (which I’ve made before) turned out really small (…again.) I’m not sure what it is about the pattern—I guess it must be some combination of ribbing (which does stretch) and cables (which don’t stretch much.) I made my last hat of this round on the same number of stitches, 96, and I even used a larger needle on Lucky Seven, hoping it would help. It didn’t. It can compensate a bit in width since it has extra length, because it’s designed for a flip-up brim. I hope it goes to someone with a small head, but since I didn’t make it for a specific person, it should be fine.

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(Windschief by Stephen West)

No, that’s a lie. I did originally make the Lucky Seven hat for someone, but decided to put it in the donation pile after it turned out so small. Then I made Windschief for the original hat recipient. It was made for a coworker I’ve worked with for ages and become good friends with. He asked me for a hat quite a while back, and I told him I wouldn’t make him one, but reconsidered shortly after. I wanted to have this done by Christmas, but my wrists were in a very bad tendinitis flare-up, so it didn’t happen. Now it’s done, and it should still be useful for a while this season before the winter disappears. (Not a moment too soon.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I finally got some high-quality pictures of Miss Luna. This was on account of finally bringing my camera gear home (I shoot product photos for my dad’s business, so my kit had a long holiday at my parents’ house.) This picture really illustrates why I call her Dragon Eyes…

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Yes, her eyes really look like that in person.

And this is why I call her Grumpy Face.

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To wrap up, let me show you something that ties everything together. This is a little kitty hat I originally made for my cousin, but it turns out babies have much gianter heads than you’d expect! so I made a bigger one for my cousin and put this aside. Then my best friend had a very tiny baby, and they like cats, and they even have a white cat! Match made in heaven.

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I have some sewing coming up to show you all, but I need to get that aforementioned camera gear out first. Until then… may your heads be warm, and take all the sleeps you can get.