Tag Archives: knitting

imperfect but cozy; learning to knit lace with the hemlock ring

10 Jul

Hello Dear Readers, assuming you exist! Although it has been more than a week since my last post, I have a few posts percolating that I’m excited to share soon. In the meantime, so that I don’t leave you hanging too much, I wanted to share a knitting project that I completed this February.

sneak preview! hundreds of words about knitting this baby await : )

I learned to knit in a class that I took with a couple other girls when I was around eleven years old. A friend from church asked me to take the class with her; I’m not sure knitting would have crossed my mind as a potential hobby otherwise. As these lessons took place several thousand miles and almost 15 years ago, some of the details are fuzzy. But I definitely remember learning the knit and purl stitches, and completing my first real project: a red and green knit scrunchie complete with elastic inside. I gave it to my mom for Christmas in 1997.

In the years since my first knitting lessons, I broke out my needles only on rare occasions. My freshman year of college I caught the creative fever and knit scarves for my whole family. I spent hours in the yarn aisles of my local Joann Fabrics and accumulated a stash of acrylic yarns and a few different pairs of needles.

It took me a while to branch out from knitting only rectangles and variations on rectangles; I remembered how to do a few increases and decreases, so I was able to pull off a toboggan cap for myself and even a sweater for my parent’s maltese puppy. But it wasn’t until this winter that I decided to get serious about learning some new techniques and expanding my knitting possibilities. I joined a knitting website. I got excited about natural fibers. I used books from the library and Youtube tutorials and taught myself how to knit in the round (on a pair of mittens. For the record, I don’t recommend learning to knit in the round on a pair of mittens.), and perfected my cabling technique. I am by no means an advanced knitter, but I think I’ve safely progressed to the intermediate range.

One of the first popular Ravelry projects to catch my eye was the Hemlock Ring lap blanket, a pattern adapted from a vintage doily by champion knitter Jared Flood of Brooklyn Tweed. Since Flood published his instructions for the adapted pattern in August 2007, literally thousands of knitters have tackled this blanket in dozens of different yarns. I was struck by how beautiful the Hemlock Ring was, and many people on the Ravelry forums recommended it as a good project to learn lacework, since it is essentially a very large lace doily in a bulky yarn.

the nice drapey center of the blanket

just hanging out pretending to read, cozy-lap style

Knitting this blanket was a learning process, but it was much easier than I thought it would be given the complex look of the final product. It helped me gain confidence in my knitting abilities, and I am fairly happy with what I accomplished. The biggest hurdle I had was with the blocking process.

Lace is typically knit in natural fibers like wool. While it is being knit, it looks a bit like a blobby mess. But once you have cast off, you can wet your knitting and pin it into the shape you want it to hold. Damp wool is pretty flexible and can be shaped more or less as the knitter desires. For a blanket like the Hemlock Ring, getting that circular shape means hundreds of pins and quite a bit of time during the blocking process. It’s a lot of work, but the result is beautiful. Unfortunately, if you want to wash a wet-blocked wool blanket, you will have to pin it out and block it all over again.

I knit my Hemlock Ring with the hope to give it to some friends as a wedding present. Because of the intensive nature of blocking and reblocking a wool blanket, I did some research on knitting the Hemlock Ring in acrylic blend yarns. Hundreds of Ravelry knitters had used acrylic blends or even 100% acrylics and had varying degrees of success. Acrylic yarns can be blocked using heat, and although it isn’t always an easy process, once they are blocked, they stay that way. You can machine wash a heat-blocked acrylic blanket and it will retain its shape. That seemed much more appealing to me as a gift-giver, so I took a calculated risk and made my blanket using Lion Brand Wool-Ease, an relatively inexpensive blend of 80% acrylic and 20% wool.

I spent hours pinning and repinning my blanket and trying my best to block it. I just couldn’t get it to hold the flat shape of my knitting dreams, even after I tried “killing” the fabric. While the middle of my blanket has a nice drapey feel to it, I wasn’t satisfied with the scalloped edges and in the end didn’t feel it was giftworthy… at least not as a wedding present. So for now, my first lace project lives on the couch in my living room. I’m okay with that. I still feel proud of what I accomplished and now I’m better prepared for my next “learning something new” project.

Thanks to my dear friend Annie for the photos in this post.