Learning by Knitting

I love a pattern that teaches me something. Yes, sometimes I want to knit something that is not in any way new to me, just because it’s pretty or because I know exactly who would like it. But I generally prefer a knit that I think I can learn from. One very recent example—

Pea Vines Shawl by Anne Hanson.
The shawl

This knit taught me that
• Anne Hanson writes clear, clean, easy-to-follow patterns
• Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino makes a great shawl
• Pretty upper edges on shawls are so easy to work, that there’s no excuse for settling for plain old garter stitch edging
• Ditto for pretty spines
• Bottom-up shawls aren’t necessarily doomed to being unattractively stretched out at the nape of the neck
• I can rewrite charts to suit my own aesthetics.

I confess that I’m sometimes ambivalent about Anne Hanson’s patterns. There are some that I love, but a lot of them seem to be largely comprised of a single stitch taken from a Japanese stitch dictionary—and since I already have 5 or 6 such dictionaries, I’m not inclined to pay for a pattern that repeats what I already have at my fingertips. (For examples of such patterns, see the Alhambra Scarf or Coral Gables.) But when she combines stitches, she produces some lovely results—Pea Vines is just such a pattern.

This shawl is knit bottom-up and involves several kinds of cleverness. First, the number of decreases per row increases near the end, which prevents that odd diamond-shaping with an unwanted angle at the nape of the neck that one often gets with bottom-up shawls because the weight of the entire piece winds up hanging from just a few stitches near the end.

This piece also has a lovely top edging that’s knit on as the piece progresses. You can see it below. Having worked this pattern, I’ve committed myself to designing similar, attractive edgings for my own designs—there’s just no reason to settle for garter stitch. And look at the spine. Most shawl patterns either use a few stitches in stockinette for the spine or just skip the spine altogether and use double yarn overs. But this pretty little spine didn’t add significantly to the difficulty of the project, while adding a great deal to the attractiveness of the finished project.

Blocked shawl

Finally, if you look closely at the detail photo above and compare it with the sample pictured on Anne Hanson’s web site, you’ll see that our shawls differ in one key way. The original design has a sudden, visible break between the two lace stitches—you can lay a ruler along it and clearly see when the change occurs. I wanted something a bit more gradual, so that the “vines” thinned out a bit at the top, rather than looking as if an oddly compulsive gardener had trimmed them all off along the top. So, I took some time superimposing the chart for the first stitch onto the chart for the second stitch, so that the transition from one to the other was more organic. Most people will never notice this difference, but I see it, and my redesign pleases me.

My mom bought this pattern for me last fall as a birthday present, when we went to a talk on Niebling Lace at A Verb for Keeping Warm. She also bought me the pattern for Pine and Ivy. Having finished Pea Vines, I’m confident that Pine and Ivy will be an equally rewarding knit.

Just for the record, I have two more Anne Hanson shawls in my queue that I’m certain will be worth every bit of the pattern price: Birnam Wood and Maplewing.

One Reply to “Learning by Knitting”

  1. This is beautiful. Is that what you were working on when you were here? Your work is so amazing. I cannot wait until the weather here cools off a bit so that I can wear my shawl. XO

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