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A Final Word on Birch

Dear Kay,
When I finish a project, I like to make a 3 x 5 card with the top ten things I learned while making it. OK so I don’t make a 3 x 5 card, and I don’t actually sit around and try to improve myself. But it does seem that enough folks are trying Birch that I really ought to, in the Red Tent Sisterhood of Knitters sort of way, share. Most of these things were shared with me by knitters who actually know what they’re doing (including you, o psychotherapist), so I send warm positive thoughts their way.
Top Ten Things to Remember When Knitting Birch (clip n save!):
10. Make a swatch first, using a friendly and unfurry yarn. Study this swatch. Notice how the holes of the birch leaves line up. These holes are your landmarks along the way as you get started. Every other row generates a new set of holes. If your leaf holes aren’t lining up, you are in what we call “trouble.”
9. Use the brilliant chart by Rowanette Duc Ta. I could not have done this without the chart. I am in deep negotiation with Duc to somehow mooch this chart from her for everyone. I have offered her naming rights to Mason-Dixon Knitting and think this will tip her our way: “Duc Ta’s Mason-Dixon Knitting.” UPDATE: Duc Ta has kindly let us provide the chart, the KEY to Birch: Duc Ta’s Beautiful Chart. And we don’t even have to rename the blog.
8. Use needles with sharp points. The bamboo circulars I used were too blunt, and it was hard to do decreases because of them.
7. Cast on those 299 stitches early in the morning, after two or three cups of coffee, when your self-esteem is shiny brite. Kidsilk Haze is a weird yarn, thin and hairy.
6. Begin by knitting two rows of garter or stockinette, depending on which version of Birch you’re knitting. These two rows will make it easier to start the first pattern row. I did stockinette because I thought the pattern was purtier that way. But it does mean every other row is a long, long purlfest.
5. ::Controversial:: Use stitch markers for the first repeat of the pattern. I used a ton of them–one every ten stitches–because I knew I could never get more than ten stitches out of whack. The markers made it much fidgetier to knit, but after two failed attempts, I figured slow and fidgety beat fast and really screwed up. I ditched the markers after the first repeat and felt like a faith healer had taken away my crutches.
4. After the first repeat, you will feel a) frustrated. b) unproductive. c) hateful toward whatever animal it is that generates mohair. You will, however, see a bunch of little birch leaves, and this will spur you on. Yea! Only 26 more repeats!
3. Beware two bugabears: a) The dropped decrease stitch. There are many, many decreases, and Kidsilk Haze makes it easy to think you’ve knit two stitches together, when in fact one of them is not caught. You find the dropped stitch three rows later, patiently sitting there because the yarn is so fuzzy that the dropped stitch doesn’t go anywhere. How I fixed those dropped stitches is something I do not care to revisit at this time. b) Knitting two stitches together by mistake. The yarnovers in particular cling to the stitch beside them, so make sure they’re separated.
2. Finishing: The delight at finishing cannot be overstated. Whooeeeeee! At least one Stevie Nicks-style swirl is required.
1. Blocking: Some folks don’t block their Birches, and that’s just fine for them. But my Birch turned into something much finer after I put a sheet on the floor and used a zillion pins. I soaked it with my Rowenta spritzer feature, and let it dry.
Good luck, y’all. You have nothing to lose but your mind.




  1. How do you think Birch would do in a different yarn? I have some lovely merino/mohair (low on the mo, not fuzzy, just warm) from Schaefer yarns that I think would be pretty. Does the stickyness of the Kidsilk Haze “make” this project or does the pattern lend it self to other similar weight yarns?
    Beautiful shawl and great pic, by the way!

  2. Two versions? Uh-oh. Which mag is this pattern in, anyway? Remember, I’m only just deflowered by Smooch, so hardly a Rowanette.

  3. Maggi–Birch is in Mag 34, the most recent out of the House of Rowan. There’s a one-skein version, I believe, that makes more of a stole than a triangular Fiddler-on-the-Roof-style compleat deeluxe shawl. Don’t be fooled by Ann’s completion euphoria. It’s like those happy-hormones that flood the brain immediately after childbirth, a marathon, or a prize fight, blotting out agony and despair. Love, Kay, who doesn’t know what she’s talking about because she didn’t knit Birch and has no intention of attempting it.

  4. Ooops Kay ! No such thing as a 1 ball version.
    In 34 there are 2 versions,one is on a st st base,the other garter stitch.
    A couple of people on the Rowan International forum converted the pattern to a stole ,which will take 3-4 balls.
    The st st version uses just over 2 1/2 balls.The garter stitch version uses a few yards short of 3 balls.
    It really is easy to knit – just don’t pull the yarn too tight ! – just a bit tiresome until the reducing number of stitches becomes really noticeable.
    I think, Kay, that I detect lace prejudice.Lace is so much easier than it looks ,and the knitting of such a worthwhile skill to acquire.

  5. Yeah, you tell her, Emma. I think she’s chicken but I’m not going to SAY that.

  6. I freely admit to a mild lace phobia. This, when combined with the fact that I’m not too lacy in the wardrobe (visible or invisible), means I have only attempted the odd edging here and there (and I do mean odd). What I like about it is the rhythm you get going when, if ever, you memorize the pattern and can read it as you go. I don’t like knitting those yarnovers though. Rather slippery business. I bow to all the lace knitters as it is a special skill. As with socks, I’ll get there if I keep at it long enough, but for now the plainer knitting still has its challenges and attractions for me.
    Sorry for the misinformation about Birch versions. I think I had read that somebody made a rectangular scarf with the Birch pattern, and I think such a thing would be a pretty thing to tie around the neck, and about the right amount of lace for one just starting out (wearing it and knitting it). Hmmm, would a lace exchange cause a stampede for the exits? Mea culpaing all over the place, Kay

  7. Sweatheart,don’t beat yourself up ! We’re all chicken about something :0]
    Me ? Oh I just love having my picture taken by certain Polly type people,who then put it on their blog for thousands of people to see what a huge blob I am !
    I’ll get over it !
    Sorry.Where was I ? Oh yes ! I’ll knit you a little lace neck thing[if you can wait a-g-e-s for it].I have some nice silk,a pretty pattern… not too lacy or girly ! Never have done the invisible lace thing,even when half current bulk.A lace neck scarf thingy has a lot going for it though.

  8. Oh, Kay, you are NO FUN to tease at all. Waaay too gracious. And as for plainer knitting, I still can’t keep an 8-row sleeve decrease in my head.

  9. Ann,
    If one has already *lost* her mind, should she attempt Birch? Proof of loss of sanity: I actually SHUDDERED in awe, and a slight fear of lace knitting, in the LYS where a Birch is displayed, upon touching the shawl. Yet, I still found myself downloading and saving Duc’s chart. If that isn’t a clear case of insanity, I don’t know what is. I even bowed down to you and your Birchiness on the Digital blog the other day, and encouraged others to do the same, knowing I just am not enough of a knitter to do it. But apparently hope springs eternal….so I have the chart! Just in case I get meds and they work….:)
    BTW, Jacinta actually did and finished Birch, without telling a soul except about 4 of us. Can you imagine? Doing Birch in silence. I’d be crowing over every repeat I did right!

  10. hey…here to say no teasing of my pal kay!! she’s got way too many “gee bend” inspired blankets under way to get bogged down in lace knitting right now, not to mention some v. beautiful scarves and some fine sweaters!! she’s not letting on how much she is knitting, but i know, i’ve been to the knitting room, i’ve conspired with her on colour and form. ok, so, she hasn’t gotten around to lace knitting yet, all i can say is watch out for when she does!!
    i love y’all!!

  11. btw…i can download the chart, but it is not in language i can read….some kind of computer coded dialect. can you forward the chart to me?

  12. Er, Lis: Perhaps Duc’s chart is written in lace, a language we do not speak. Thanks for the spirited defense. I’m happy knitting along on square stuff and sweaters–‘Tis the gift to be simple! Kay

  13. Er’ kay…no, it is written in CODE, computer code that is, just a bunch of computer garbage. in other words, not readable.

  14. Lis–Our tech services department is working on the chart. If anybody else has a problem, call Bill.
    Or maybe just email me at ann@masondixonknitting.com and I’ll get it to you somehow.


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