Tiered Shrug

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My latest piece for History on Two Needles is based on the painting of Alexandra Amalie von Bayern by Joseph Karl Stieler.

The 1840’s were a unique time in costume history, the hair alone could be among the most strikingly un-flattering ever seen in the history of hair. Why every woman suddenly wanted to look like a spaniel is beyond me, but I’m glad I didn’t live then with my round, round face.

But Miss Bayern’s hair is lovely in this painting – lucky her! – but I was more interested in the top of her ball gown. The lace layers are striking in their simplicity, and I thought it would make an interesting layered shrug. I’m going to call it a “Ball-wrap” just to see if the name catches on.

It worked up VERY quickly in a lovely, lovely yarn. It’s Beaded Mohair by Artyarns, and I used some Ultramerino 4 to create the ribbed under-structure

Yes, as floaty as it seems, there’s an under-shrug upon which the ruffles are built. If the ruffles were structural, they couldn’t be so free. Many things that seems to be weightlessly floating on air are secretly supported and well grounded – a truism I learned in millinery and carry over to many other aspects of life!

And, because it worked up so fast, of course I have to change it. I’m going to remove the middle ruffle and move it to the bottom, thereby echoing more closely what is actually happening in the painting. Then I’ll add the sleeves and figure a very nice closure in the front, a pearl?, and one more project will be done!

Useful? Useless? Pretty? Who knows.

This is something I could see myself wearing on a cool summer evening over a sun dress, or on New Year’s Eve over a strapless gown. The layers give surprising warmth, and the yarn makes it like wearing a bit of shimmery snowfall.

Chart BIG!
Nothing makes me sadder than running across what might have been an exceptional book – except it isn’t.

I find this most often happens when a book is the product of a committee (design by committee are the words most feared by those of us who really enjoy good design) or when an unspoken goal of the book is a misdirected quest for “standardization” above intelligence or individual consideration.

All of these seem to play a part in 400 Knitting Stitches, a book by Potter Craft (a reworking of 400 Points De Tricot published by Marie Claire, 2007)

I was sent a review copy, along with some other Potter or Random House books. I’ve been giving them away on the blog – it only seems fair – and I’ll be giving THIS one away, too.

It’s a pretty book, the swatches are all worked in either off-white or dark (making contrasting patterns easy to read), and the size of the photos are good.

The charts are well designed – I really like the use of row numbers on the left and right sides to note the direction of the work – but the charts themselves are SO tiny they’re almost a joke.

When I looked through this book I felt such sadness at what MIGHT have been. I’m afraid common sense was the servant of a book design decision.

I like charts. I know some folks don’t like them and won’t use them – but even if you’re in the latter camp it must be acknowledged that charts are an amazing tool in knitting. They leap over a gap that language sometimes has a hard time bridging.

I think several things have combined to make our current surge of interest in knitting alive for 10+ years: the internet, sock knitters, fashion-forward designs and an embrace of different ways of creating knit fabric.

But – for me, at least – COMMUNICATION of knitted patterns is key to greater enjoyment in knitting. This has been accomplished by the [now] almost universal use of charts and schematics in a more visual route to comprehension.

I’m a fan of Edward Tufte and his books on creating comprehensive information storage using visual cues.

I find his work dovetails very nicely with my own thoughts on knitting & comprehension (I only wish I could afford to hear him speak when he’s in town!)

Charts are a visual representation of the Right Side (public side) of the fabric – nothing more, nothing less – and there can be variations on how charts are written. There are esoteric symbols that are only used once in a blue moon, and more common symbols that you see in just about any chart.

Some charts omit Wrong Side rows for space considerations (and as long as the WS row is all St st or Rev St st, that makes sense to me!) but this is usually made clear by the row notations along the right edge of the chart (the numbers would read 1, 3, 5, 7, etc.)

Learning to read a chart isn’t hard, but it IS a skill that takes a bit of time to develop. There are tricks (using post it notes placed ABOVE the current row, drawing arrows to note the direction you’ll be working in any given row, etc.) but just spending time with a chart is usually the best way to begin to wrap your mind around it.

Having said all this, if a chart is too small, it’s useless. Charts should be as BIG AS THEY CAN BE! Sometimes there’s a space limitation in pattern books and magazines, but one of the graces of the internet is that charts can be as big as they need to be.

When one is creating a book of knitable stitch patterns, charts are essential. Once a commitment has been made to include charts, they should be done well (big) and clearly.

I understand that a certain amount of white space is necessary in book design, but not at the expense of clarity. It seems to me that an executive decision was made that all charts should be based on the same size stitch cell, so that even if there WAS a nice space to make a larger chart, a smaller one was used to adhere to a not-very-useful book design decision.

Overall I give this book 3 stars out of 5. I’d give it 5 if the charts were bigger, and if it were ring or spiral bound. But one can’t have everything!

I’m gi
ving this book to a random blog reader who isn’t terribly fond of charts. Just leave your comment and whether you’d like to be in the draw, and I’ll announce a winner by this Thursday. If you’re the winner, email me and I’ll send the book right off to you!

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