Scarves, continued: more recent versions

Talking about scarves and knitting and evolving, here are a couple of more recent scarves, finished in the last three years or so:

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(Just Enough Ruffles by Laura Chau – Malabrigo Silky Merino in Cumparsita)IMG_1808

(22.5 Degrees by Martina Behm in Done Roving Yarn’s Frolicking Feet in Robin Eggs)

I like these scarves much better than the previous ones. Partly that’s because they’re not a decade out of fashion; we’ll see how I feel about them in 2022. But there are a bunch of differences between this and its predecessors.

First, the yarn: To begin, it isn’t fuzzy! And I’m moving away from the super multi-colored yarns, because I’ve come to realize how limiting they can be. Colors that look gorgeous in the skein can look like unicorn barf when knitted; something more moderate may be less overwhelming. I’ve also come to realize that wearing a gazillion different colors at once is a bit busy for my personal style.

Having said that…neither yarn is a solid, and the Done Roving sock yarn (the blue) especially still counts as variegated (I would call the Malabrigo more of a tonal semi-solid). But they’re still moving away from the first two choices.IMG_1809

Ironically, both these scarves would work fine with even more variegated yarns than those I chose here, because the stitch patterns are simple – the one is simple stockinette, and the other is garter. In fact, the garter stitch scarf was designed expressly for multicolored sock yarn. And the plum scarf would look fine in something fuzzy (the blue scarf wouldn’t be bad, but I think the fuzz would obscure the yarnovers down the spine, as well as the looped edges).

IMG_1612And I’m still picking yarn that I think is cool (because of course; why knit with yarn you don’t like?). But I think maybe I’m learning how better to match patterns with yarn, rather than treating them as entirely independent decisions – that, or I’m just getting luckier in my choices.

IMG_1815These scarves continued to add new techniques to my repertoire. The plum scarf is shaped with short rows, which I had to learn, and the ruffled edges are made with knit-front-and-back increases. The blue scarf also uses on increases – knit-front-and-back and yarnovers – as well as the little scallops on the edge, which are formed with sort of mega-increases. None of those things are hard, but I had to learn them. (Which meant teaching myself via videos online, mostly.)

So, my knitting continues to evolve. And I’ve finished enough scarves that they make quite a pretty pile of fabric, lined up next to each other.

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More of how I got here: scarves, evolving

The next item I remember making was also a scarf:

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This was the Wisp scarf out of Knitty, so it’s an actual pattern, and it’s even lace (though very simple lace). The yarn is Rowan Kidsilk Haze, though I don’t know the colorway anymore.

I was visiting my mother, and had little to do, so went to the local yarn store. There I fell in love with the yarn, bought a ball, and decided I would make something, so went back to my mom’s house and searched the internet for free patterns. I completely can’t remember when I made this, but Wisp came out in 2007, so after that; the internet tells me it was probably right around when Ravelry was born, but I certainly didn’t know about it yet, and just googled free knitting patterns.

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I used a pair of aluminum straight needles borrowed from my mom (so probably dating back to the 60s or 70s, if not earlier). I’d never knit lace before – and I haven’t knit much of it since – but I just looked up the stitches I had to learn and plugged onward. I did ditch any idea of working eyelet rows and decided I would just skip adding buttons. This makes me laugh now, because the eyelets/buttonholes were simply yarnovers, which I knew how to do because I had to figure them out to work this lace pattern. But the idea of working eyelets every 5 rows while also following the lace pattern blew my mind, so I decided to ignore them.

I did block this (not brilliantly, a couple of years after I finished it), but without the buttons to hold it in place it’s still a sort of odd length/width for me – both short and wide. The mohair’s also incredibly itchy. To be honest, I don’t think I ever wore this scarf, and it, too, has been living in the laundry basket since we moved here.

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It’s interesting to see what’s similar to the previous scarf and what’s different. In both cases I fell for variegated yarn that looked so pretty and magical in the skein, without really understanding how it would look knit into fabric. This was actually fine for my 2×2 ribbing scarf – the stitch was simple and any appeal the final item had came from the look of the yarn, not what I did with it on the needles. But the variegated Kidsilk Haze didn’t do my second scarf any favors – the open lace didn’t show off the colors very effectively, and the color changes obscured the lace stitches.

I also clearly had a thing for fuzz, or to be more knitterly about it, yarns with a strong halo. Maybe this was just more in fashion at the time? Because I certainly don’t find myself reaching for fuzzy yarns now. It seems part and parcel of the impulse to choose variegated yarns, though – like the colors, the fuzz is very obvious in the skein; it stands up and yells at you to notice it; and both variegation and fuzz lend some distinctive quality to the final project that doesn’t really require you, the knitter, to know or do anything.

I think, at this stage in my knitting, before I knew how to do much more than stockinette, I relied on the yarn to make a project beautiful, and notable, rather than the combination of yarn and pattern. Kidsilk Haze is a beautiful yarn, still going strong, and many people use it to spectacular effect. For instance, I think each of these three projects takes excellent advantage of the yarn’s fundamental lightness and airiness to create exquisite but very different finished objects. But when I used it, I hadn’t yet moved beyond “pretty yarn = pretty item,” or realized the limitations in that blunt equation.

Of course, I’m still learning how to match yarn to pattern. But at least now I’m aware that doing so is a thing.

The biggest difference between the scarves is that I went from 2×2 ribbing to lace. It’s about as easy lace as you can get; you only need to know how to yarnover and knit two together. But it was new to me, and was a step away from the “knit a rectangle” scarf. I was also using a pattern. I think (meaning no disrespect to garter stitch or ribbed scarf knitters) that I wanted to make something that was a “real” knitting project.

I hadn’t realized till now that it was seven years between the two projects. Probably kind of useful to keep in mind that it took me that long to move from one step to the next.

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How did I get here? starting with scarves

When I was sorting through my previous blog to find the few posts I knew I’d made about knitting, I found one back in the very distant past: December 2004, in fact. In that post, I talked about getting back into knitting, and buying these:

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That’s close to the start of me knitting as a grown up. It was the first time I can remember that I’d been in a real yarn store, rather than a general crafts store like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby, and it was amazingly seductive: all. those. colors. and. textures. It was beautiful, and I was smitten. In particular, I was dazed by the beauty of all the colors of yarns together in one place – which is still my problem in yarn stores: the displays of all the different colors together dazzle me, but then I have to pick just one, and whichever one I take home invariably falls a little short, sitting on its own, taken from its colorful context.

Anyway, I think this must have been during that time people were lured into knitting by the glitz and glamor of novelty yarns, because they’re what I seem to have noticed most. I wrote:

All the pretty colors! Fuzzy yarns and furry yarns!  There was one that was literally furry – it was one long narrow strip of purple suede with purple fur. (Can’t even imagine how my cats would respond to that.) Sparkly yarns! Soft yarns! Velvety yarns! Yarns made up of silk ribbons!

It’s kind of funny to read that, seeing how far novelty yarns have gone out of fashion, but they suckered me in, as I’m sure they did others.

The yarn I bought that day was relatively low on the novelty-spectrum, being (I think) mostly mohair of obnoxiously vibrant colors, and bulky and fuzzy rather than of some unusual construction. The nice lady at the store helped me decide on making a scarf, which was basically casting on a bunch of stitches and knitting 2×2 ribbing until I had a length I liked, and then finishing it with a fringe. I dug it out of the laundry basket where my winter accessories currently live:

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Isn’t it sad? I tried to take a pretty picture, but it’s dark here and the lighting is bad and I couldn’t pull it off. Even putting it in a prettier setting wasn’t going to help, though. Being crumpled in a laundry basket since we moved here hasn’t done it any favors, but I don’t think I ever blocked it, the 2×2 ribbing curls inward, that fringe… and bits have rubbed and felted since I finished it. Because I wore this, and happily, with pride. (To be fair, I still love these colors.)

Doesn’t everyone start with scarves, though? They’re so unintimidating. You don’t need to worry about gauge, or making sure you have enough yarn – you just knit a rectangle for a while, until you get the length you like, or you run out of yarn. They’re practical (for most climates), and not quite instant gratification, but your progress is pretty clear (especially if, like me, you use bulky yarn on really big needles). And even a not-very-good scarf does a great job of keeping you warm, bundled up round your neck under the collar of your coat, where no one can see any mistakes anyway. Scarves are great. I’m sure many knitting careers have been built on their long, skinny foundation.