Swatching Walker – a beginning

Like many knitters, when I choose a lace project it’s often a response to admiring a stitch pattern in the design or seeing a finished shawl or scarf.  Call it a response to the “ooh pretty – must make” impulse.
Sometimes I get part of the way through a project and realize that I’m either bored to tears — the rhythm of the stitches doesn’t have a good flow or I’ve chosen the wrong yarn weight — or the pattern is too complex and requires more time than I have to devote.  The question when I discover I’m in any of these situations is either to frog or to finish.  For non-knitters, frogging is the process of ripping (what does a frog say? rip!) out a section or even an entire project and rewinding the yarn.  It can be very cathartic or very sad.  It’s often done under the influence of chocolate or alcohol.

I’ve done a lot of frogging lately and have come to wonder if I’m choosing my projects wisely. My recent failed design attempt is an example. I found that the needles and yarn worked great for the center design but weren’t appropriate to the leaf stitch I was hoping to use as a border for the stole.

Last year at some point in the summer I told Chris the only thing I really wanted for Christmas was one of the Barbara G. Walker Treasury of Knitting books. The first volume was published in 1968 and the most recent volume, Number 4, came out in 2000. The Treasury of Knitting stitch dictionaries (stitchionaries in knitting parlance) are beloved throughout the knitting community.  Ms. Walker has catalogued thousands of stitch patterns in the Treasury collection, and even has a new book on Mosiac knitting which was published in 2006.  She is also widely known for her feminist writing, and years before I learned to knit I discovered her work in books covering mythology and spirituality for women. 
As fall turned into winter, I reminded Chris of the books once more.  On Christmas morning I was thrilled to find not one, but all four of the Treasury of Knitting volumes that have launched legions of knitters into a better understanding of knitting.  I’m a lucky woman, of this there is no doubt. Sitting in front of the wood stove blazing with fire, I flipped through my new personal treasury of books.  Throughout I saw stitch patterns I have knitted in one project or another, designs I’ve seen as components of projects that I’ve queued, and stitch patterns to which designers have simply added some border stitches and claimed as an original design.  (As Seinfeld would say – not that there’s anything wrong with that).
I also quickly learned how little knitting I’ve actually done.  While I’m confident with my lace skills I sincerely want to take a small step back and learn more about the many lace stitch patterns, how they work together, and what difference color and fiber choice plays. 
For example, as anyone who follows my blog or looks in my Ravelry project file knows, I knit two Aeolian shawls last summer and fall.  The first in fingering weight alpaca, the second in lace weight silk with beads.  Beyond the first few garter stitch scarves and some basic socks, I can’t say that I’d repeated a pattern until then.  I’m very glad I knit two vastly different Aeolian shawls.  Choosing a different fiber and adding beads taught me the possibilities of a pattern, even when the stitches remain constant. It also taught me how dramatic a difference a fiber can make to the drape and visual effect of a shawl.  Recently I pulled those two shawls out and spread them on my bed and looked at how the blocking had held up.  Admittedly they both need re-blocking, but the silk held its shape extremely well after repeated wearing.  The fingering alpaca, because of the resiliency of the fiber and thicker weight, doesn’t have as fine of points – although is much warmer to wear. 
Enter the plan –
Each week, or thereabouts, I’ll be swatching one stitch pattern or combination of similar patterns – such as a series of faggoting stitches — working my way through the lace sections of the Treasury of Knitting books, just as Barbara Walker must have done. Each blog post relating to this project will be tagged with the label Swatching Walker, followed by the book number for easy reference. I’ll start with the first book — the blue one if you have the newest incarnation from Schoolhouse Press. 
I’ll be switching between silk, merino, and alpaca – all lace weight – during the project., and maybe even repeating swatches in multiple fibers. Fiber color may change but will always be solid or mild tone on tone, never multi-colored. It’s my personal opinion that busy yarn with color changes, while great for socks, obscures stitch definition in lace work.
Because of a recent RAK (random act of kindness) from another knitter who was generous and sent me a gift certificate to Knit Picks, I purchased Harmony straight needles in sizes 4US and 5US, which will be my needles of choice for this learning adventure. 
Honestly I have no idea how long this endeavor will take, but I hope readers will follow along as I attempt to learn more about my own knitting and the concepts of design, color, and fiber from one of our great knitting and feminist historians, Barbara G. Walker.
First Swatching Walker post will be later this week.

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4 thoughts on “Swatching Walker – a beginning

  1. Oh, I'm excited to see how this goes!
    It will be great to see the swatches in different yarns.
    I have my new Knitting Lace book which is mostly stitch pattern photos and charts, I'm wanting to combine them in a design.
    How lovely to receive the gift cert!
    I love my Harmony circs. I'm buying one or two pairs at a time of interchangeables, they're so smooth and sharp.
    Hope it warms up where you are

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