A Grinding Halt
May 13, 2008
I don’t think I can properly capture exactly what has been going on in terms of my knitting recently. Actually, I have been reluctant to go into it, because it really does feel like I’ve been in a dark place. A little compulsive. A little too far gone. Even for us, and that is saying something.
Here’s the thing: I finished that Keava Fair Isle sweater; I wallowed around in the landscaping for a while; I folded and refolded the thing in various places around the house–you know how it is when you finish something and you want to see how it looks draped across every piece of furniture that you own. I thought that would be enough Fair Isle for a while. I thought I’d gotten it out of my system.
But finishing that one sleeve had been akin to taking a single bite of cheesecake. What delicious cheesecake. Need more cheesecake. Cheeeeeeesecaaaaaaaaaaake.
In the back of my mind I’m always carrying around Fair Isle patterns that I admire. Among the ones that floated out once I realized that I needed to find another project:
1. Meg Swansen’s Schoolhouse Shetland Pullover from Knitting in America. A simple stitch pattern and an ingenious shoulder construction. Straight-ahead knitting, with some wacky I-cord action in there somewhere. It uses only two shades of yarn, which will be just the thing at some point. But I was jonesing for a lot of color at the moment, so I decided to wait on this one.
2. Sarah Swett’s Kestrals Alight Cropped Kimono from the same book–the indigo and madder version. The hand-dyed handspun yarn in this project is what makes me go wobbly. So color shifty and subtle, I was forced to contact a woman with an indigo dyepot. This project will take ten years to get going, but it will, someday, be incredible.
3. Alice Starmore’s Donegal. Great, puzzley swirls. Just my thing. This pattern appears in three different places: The Celtic Collection (1992), In the Hebrides (1996), and finally on her website, Virtual Yarns. Each version specifies a different brand of yarn. You got your Rowan Donegal Lambswool (discontinued), your Alice Starmore Scottish Campion (discontinued), and your Alice Starmore Hebridean 2-ply (not discontinued).
Not So Easy Peasy
This is where things get dark. I could have simply ordered up a Donegal kit from Virtual Yarns and been at least ten inches into the thing by now. But I happen to know that the loveliest yarn ever made was Rowan Donegal Lambswool. (Go ahead, you can argue this with me but I will not back down.)
Circa 1990s, I’m guessing it went out production about five seconds before I first laid eyes on The Celtic Collection. I’ve been collecting the stuff for many moons, and every time I take it out and consider it in the bright light of day, it really is marvelous, ever-changing yarn.
Each shade has at least five other shades in it. Juniper turns blue or green depending on what’s next to it; ALL the shades change, wildly, depending on what’s next to them. It is the damnedest thing.
Which is why the Donegal colorway in The Celtic Collection is so very sublime. I decided, about ten seconds after emerging from the vinca in my back yard, that I would rig up a colorway using whatever Donegal Lambswool I had, and get as close as possible to the original colorway.
These yarns look close, but o! each had its fatal flaw: too dark, too light, too heathered, too solid. The more I looked at them, the worse they got. What was I thinking?
I spent a lot of time considering skeins of yarn, trying to decide if Elderberry could actually be substituted with Scottish Campion in Grape. I studied my shade cards, held up balls of yarn to the light, just about drove myself insane. Because I knew, even as I stared endlessly at all this yarn, that nothing I cooked up was going to work as well as the original colorway from The Celtic Collection.
After my best efforts, I concluded I was about five shades shy of the eleven required by the pattern. I almost gave up and ordered a kit. Then I discovered Susette.
Susette’s blog, Knitting Letters: A to Z is absolutely magnificent, and I don’t think I’ve said that about a blog before. She’s unionpearl on Ravelry. She is up to some very, very cool stuff, and she provides these black-hole lists of links that will send you off into William Morris, typography, and the Book of Durrow. This sort of blogging is a gift to us all. Really generous.
ANYway, it turns out that after ten years, Susette had recently FINISHED a Donegal using all the original shades. (Don’t you love how a project can take ten years? Isn’t that epic? Doesn’t that indicate a basic optimism about the universe, to keep a project in the wings for ten years?) Here’s her big reveal. It occurred to me that she might have leftovers, and if she would do some sort of trade with me, maybe I could have, for a brief and shining moment, a bit of all the original shades for Rowan Donegal Lambswool.
I think she understood my desperation. Her box of knitterly generosity arrived, and it really was a Rosetta Stone of yarn:
Rainforest? Rainforest is so dark that it’s almost black. But not quite. Elderberry? Much less eggplanty than I thought it would be. I have found no Jameison’s, Jamieson and Smith, Campion, Hebridean, nor anything that would substitute for these murky, unique shades.
(You see how far gone I was.)
So I cast on using Susette’s precious partial balls of yarn, immediately and without a blink, in order to see how the shades played out in the knitting. The true colors lie somewhere between these non-flash and flash photos:
To give you an idea of how nuts I was, I completed all this in two days. I don’t think I left the house. My children foraged like Civil War deserters. Hubbo would walk by, shaking his head sadly.
I knew, even as I worked that Tarragon into its destiny, that this wouldn’t last long. But I kept going anyway, wanting to see how much of the pattern I could squeeze out before the yarn disappeared.
At this point, I’ve scored some awesome Roseberry from Mary aka Divette on Ravelry, some Rainforest and Pickle on eBay, but it’s going to be a while. If anybody wants to deal with a desperate knitter, I’m willing to trade the guinea pig and/or beta fish for:
2 skeins #477 Tarragon
2 skeins #490 Elderberry
2 skeins #484 Bramble
2 skeins #482 Juniper
2 skeins #485 Bay
So here I sit, ground to a halt but itching to knit. Yarn, yarn everywhere, but not a foot to knit.