Ending a Shawl

Shawls have a tendency never go on forever when you’re knitting them. Particularly when doing a top down shawl, where every row gets longer, and when you’re half way through the instructions, you’re only a quarter of the way through the knitting. Eventually, though, you will find yourself on the very last row. Probably after a weekend netflix marathon of something that doesn’t require complete attention at all times. At the moment, that’s Grey’s Anatomy for me.

Hooray, you’re finished at last!

Except you’re not, you still have to get the darned thing off the needles. Best queue up that next episode, you’re going to be here a while.

My favourite teacher in school used to tell us there was more than one way to skin a cat. I assume that’s true, but I’m no skinning expert, and I’m guessing neither was he. Still, for most things in life, there’s more than one way to get the job done, and casting off a shawl is no different. Here are three ways I like, and some of the patterns I’ve used them on.

The Stretchy Bind Off Tight binds offs are a pain in most knitting, but when you’ve spent weeks on a lace shawl, a tight bind off will restrict that most wonderful of transformations, blocking. Sometimes it’s sufficient to be extra loose with the cast off, or cast of using bigger needles, but there are some specific ways of casting off that add a little extra stretch.

The one I use most of the time is from the Gail/Nightsongs pattern. I quite like this pattern, hence I’m on my fourth iteration, but I’ve used the bind off described in this pattern in a few other lace shawls. This is a free pattern, so you can check it out for yourself, but the basic gist goes like this: knit the first two stitches, slip both back onto the left needle (purlwise, no need for twisting), and the knit them together through the back loop. Now you have one stitch on the right needle, and a bazillion stitches on the left. *Knit the next stitch, then slip the two stitches from the right needle to the left, and knit them together through the back loop*. Now you have one stitch on your right needle, and a bazillion – 1 stitches on the left. Repeat the part between the * *, until you run out of stitches. Snip the end, pull it through the last stitch, and Bob’s your uncle, you’re finished.

Although this is one of the quicker methods, it still can take a while. If you do need to stop for a bit, I recommend slipping the stitch from the right needle back onto the left needle for safe keeping. That solo stitch can become loose when you’re not looking, and it’s jumped off the needle behind my back when I take a break on more than one occasion. I like this bind off for a number of reasons. It’s versatile, subtle enough that it won’t disrupt most patterns. It’s easy once you know it to fall into a rhythm so it can be brainless knitting. You’ll come across it and variations on it in a bunch of patterns, and it’s a great one to have in your knitting arsenal.

The Knitted On Border This has got to be one of the prettiest ways to finish a shawl. I’ve done some lovely patterns with knit on borders, mostly paid patterns, such as Evenstar, Paisley Swirl and Shoulder Shawl in Syrian Pattern.

The pros: So pretty, often doesn’t involve an actual cast off so there’s that.

The cons: They can take forever and sometimes they involve picking up stitches, which can be annoying. You may remember the fight the Paisley Swirl shawl put up when it came to its border, but it was so worth it in the end.

The only free pattern I’ve done with a knit on border is Par un Matin de Printemps. It’s a really beautiful pattern, but sadly was one of the most frustrating knit on borders I’ve ever done. It was only a few stitches wide, so I had to constantly turn my work, but it lacked the striking visual impact of other knit on borders, so it didn’t feel like an effort well spent for me. I would highly recommend the pattern, but not for this feature.

The Crocheted Cast Off

Oh, my current nemesis.

I’ve only done this one once before, on the Vernal Equinox Shawl. In this one, the right knitting needle is replaced with the trusty crochet hook. Basically you crochet a chain of a certain length, then crochet into the next stitch or stitches on the left needle, chain away again, and then crochet back into the next set of live stitches. In the case of the Vernal Equinox shawl, the crochet chains were always the same length, and either two or three stitches were crocheted together at a time. This is visually a great way to bind off a very open shawl, but it’s definitely one to file under a design choice. If the pattern doesn’t already call for it, it’s not necessarily the best way to cast off a particular pattern.

On the other hand, when it works, boy does it work. It gives a very light, airy edge to a shawl, and gives plenty of stretch for blocking. I’m currently casting off my half hexagonal Spider’s-Web Shawl with a crocheted cast off, and I am not enjoying it. It’s not too slow, taking days rather than the weeks that a knitted on border would take, so I’m hoping to have it finished before the end of the week, but the crochet is putting a lot of strain on my hands. I really don’t want to give myself a knitting/crochet injury (again!) so I’m taking it in short bursts. I keep promising myself it will be worth it.

Land(s) of Sheep?

New Zealand, it seems, has only half the amount of sheep it used to have. That said, I have been on a farm of 1250 acres with 15,000 sheep! The farm was also the set of Hobbiton for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to get up close and personal with the sheep as well as touring the various hobbit holes. Maybe next time! Similarly in Australia we didn’t meet many sheep apart from one or two in Taronga Zoo. It is lambing season here and plenty of lambs to be seen as we travel the country. I have made very few wool or yarn purchases so far – just some luxurious merino-possum-blend gloves as a present. I have seen a few yarn shops but they weren’t open as we passed so window shopping only.

The lack of yarn shopping is just as well since I’ve hardly knit at all since starting this trip. We’ve had very little down time, mostly while travelling and I’ve simply not had the concentration to knit. That and the weather in Northern Australia was too hot and sticky for handling wool. I do have most of one hat knit, which I must finish soon as the weather is getting chilly. The Talamh cardigan I’m knitting I was planning to wear hiking over the mountains on Friday, but I’m only starting the yoke. It’s a top down pattern so the body and arms must follow, but it’s ok because the bad weather makes the hike very unlikely.

I’ve been promised a trip to the LYS in Wellington for my birthday present. It’s the Holland Rd Yarn Company that sells exclusive New Zealand yarns including some lovely hand-dyed sock yarns. Fingers crossed we have enough time – it’s been a fairly hectic trip and show no signs of stopping up. If I’m very lucky there might be time to visit an alpaca farm or sheep farm on the South Island too.

Hope all your knits are well, I’m sad to be missing out on Knitmas this year and hope everyone enjoys it as much as would!

Thoughts on Socks

I’ve just finished one pair of socks for me, and I’m currently working on another for himself, so I’ve been having a lot of random thoughts on socks lately.

  • There are actually two socks in that photo. A sock, and a ninja sock.
  • Everybody always thinks I’m knitting socks for children. Which is odd, because all my shop bought socks are considerably narrower.
  • I’m not sure people are convinced when I stretch out the knitting that it really will be that big.
  • If you’re in a room full of very smart people, socks almost always impress them.
  • Before I got the hang of knitting in the round, I would knit my socks inside out. If I didn’t, I got random yarn overs at the joins.
  • I knit more socks than gloves because I can wear socks all year round.
  • I really knit socks more than gloves because socks only have two ends to weave in each. Gloves have more ends to weave in than I can count on two hands.That doesn’t seem right.
  • I’m a toe-wearer-througher, and a heel felter. My husband is a ball-of-foot-fray and back-of-heel-hole kinda guy.
  • I love sock blockers, they make socks look so pretty.
  • I wish I knew where my second sock blocker was.

Told you there were two!

A State of Flux

Allow me to summarise my recent life for a moment.

My work contract ended in July, with my next contract starting in November. I had three months of time to fill, and boy did I. I spent much of August at the Edinburgh Fringe, popping home to Dublin for a family event, and the This is Knit Yarn Tasting. During September I was putting together two more comedy gigs, along with getting a fair amount of knitting done. I finished my Owls, ran the last show on the 24th, and began looking forward to a leisurely October.

On the 25th of September, I posted about finishing my owls, popped over to the shops for dinner, and came home to an email with some news. That job, the one that I was supposed to start in a month? Evaporated! So now I’m the less fun type of unemployed person with the job hunting and the crushing of the ego.

At least knitting solves everything! I have managed to finish some socks for me. Lets gloss over the fact that I started them back in May, they’re finished now. I’m trying to work through my backlog of UFOs, but it is October, and that does give me license to cast one one little project.

Birthday socks!

It’s Stephen’s birthday in a month, so for the third year running I’m knitting him socks. I’m using some Hedgehog Fibres sock in Malice, which is lovely and dark, and the patter Athos. It’s tough to find a pattern that’s boring enough for his style, and yet interesting enough for me to not go crazy knitting. I think this one has a nice balance.

It’s just a shame I can’t put sock knitting on my CV.


Travelling Talamh

When I left for Australia last Friday I had to decide what knitting to bring with me. Trying to pack for 7 weeks of weather ranging from -13 to 30 degrees meant the suitcase was already quite full. Add on that I’m travelling around two countries that are the main worldwide producers of wool and it’s clear that I needed to bring just enough to do me, and still have space to bring wool home!

The first project was easy to choose- the Talamh cardigan I started that I had planned to bring with me to wear! Hopefully I will have it finished before we reach the colder placesIt the yarn is Malabrigo Arroyo which I accidentally fell in love with at the Yarn Tasting in This is Knit. It is a dream to work with but unfortunately the needles I had were not. So it was delayed until I bought longer tips.  I have admired this pattern for years and I’m delighted to finally be knitting it!

The second choice was easy too- some easy socks for the plane. I decided on some neon Opal sock yarn from stash. I tried to knit Rick from Sock Innovation with this yarn but it didn’t work. I plan to use a simple diamond lace pattern now. I say plan because I didn’t actually knit at all on the planes on the way here as I was too tired. Still haven’t knit a stitch in fact!

For the final two projects I decided to knit things I would need in Southern New Zealand when I get there. I hope I will have them knit on time! Ill be knitting a hat from some Malabrigo Rios. I need a warm cosy hat and have none so need to knit one. Also a light long cowl is needed and I’ve brought my prized skein of Hedgehog Fibres Cashmere in colourway Medusa for that. It even matches my coat :)

Before I left I managed to seam everything bar one tea cosy. And sew on about 28 buttons. Only 3 wips needing finishing on my return. Meanwhile wish me some knitting time and concentration :)