White and Strange – part 2

The Frozen Leaves shawl is one of a familiar construction to me. When I say “familiar” I mean that it is one that I have knitted, and with success, in the past. My very first shawls were of this construction and more have followed: Swallowtail (I made 2), Cascading Leaves, Icelandic Poppy Lace, A Handsome Triangle, Bitterroot, Blue Haruni, and Gail. All are made in the same way – and yet I do not really understand, at a gut level, how they work.

It appears strange at first, to knit a triangle top-down but beginning from a point? Typically a short cast on of two to 8 stitches. I mean, if you haven’t done one, it just makes no sense. When I made my first Swallowtail I was in complete denial – how could that curved edge at the bottom, genuinely be the top border of my shawl? Even having done several, I still find it difficult to really visualise how it works.

Well, no more! Frozen Leaves is helping me in a big way. This simple pattern seems somehow to allow me to grasp the notion of the shawl burgeoning out from the centre and pushing out and down. I think perhaps the lack of a centre stitch is helping here but there is also something about the leaf pattern itself that is enabling me to read it. The double yarnovers at the centre are visualised by me as little bubbles where the new leaves are erupting.

It’s funny but I really truly thought that I had a grasp of this, as I lay in my bed thinking about it. It cannot be true however as I am finding it difficult to write down clearly. If I truly had absorbed it, I would be able to pass it on.

Come, let us work through this together! Diagrams are required…

1 – The cast on forms the centre of the top (neck-edge) border § You are not knitting upwards from a bottom pointing triangle.

2 – Each row thereafter includes stitches at both edges, typically two or three garter stitches each side, that form the growing top border † These are the stitches that are usually shown at the extreme right of the chart, and are repeated at the end of the row. You can picture them, yes – a vertical column of two or three plain knit stitches that come before all the fancy squares on your chart? (click for bigness)

Counter-intuitively, the top (neck edge) border runs up the sides of the chart

3 – The increase rows push the body of the shawl outward from the centre ↓

Get the picture? Click for bigger view

4 – At any time, the stitches on the needle comprise one row of the neck edge on each side of the centre, plus an ever-increasing V of the shawl in between.

Knitted in a V-shape

5 – The cast-off forms the outer edges of the shawl, from one top corner, down the V to the point, and back up the other side to the second top corner. It is great fun to watch the shape unfurl as you go.

(For the life of me, I cannot find a photograph of a cast off in action)

6 – In a body stitch pattern such as Cascading Leaves, or Frozen Leaves, your (well, mine does) brain sees that you are knitting the leaves upright. In the finished shawl they orientate somewhere around South West and South East. It’s magic…

6 – If you can’t believe it, you just have to maintain faith. It will work!

Here’s the current piece, on the needle – shaping up exactly as described above (apologies for the poor photography), leaves pretty much vertical for now.

On the needle

and here is an even shakier photograph, this time with the current piece off the needle and on a lifeline. I’ve kept  the same orientation

Off the needle

You can see, despite the naturally lace blobbiness (and my shaky hands), that the thing immediately leaps into shape. The straight, neck edge, is at the base and the growing sides run from base to tip at the top. It looks curvy for now but will block to a point later. See how the leaves have naturally pushed their way outwards from the centre line?

Strange, but true. Sheer knitting magic. Actually, it’s my favourite part of knitting – the sheer ingenuity of the engineering.