Icarus Shawl (The big honkin’ FO post)

26 04 2008

Pattern: Icarus Shawl, by Miriam Felton. Summer 2006 Interweave Knits. (Also now in Best of Interweave Knits)
Cast on: February 4, 2007. Cast off: April 24, 2008.
Yarn: Misti Alpaca Laceweight, 2 skeins plus a bit. (Used enough of 3rd skein to do last 15+ rows and bind off)
Needles: 3.25mm circular, Knitpicks. (Very pointy tips, nice and smooth.)
Modifications: 1 extra repeat of Chart 1. Otherwise I would have used just the two skeins.
Finished Measurements: 70 inches x 36 inches (at widest & tallest points, after blocking)

(DUDE I AM FINISHED. HOLLA.)

On the needles

This was an enormous learning project for me, in so many ways I didn’t expect. When I bought the yarn it was a treat and something I just took the plunge on not knowing exactly what I was in for, but knowing was a pretty knit, something I’ve never tried before and that it would be a whole new challenge. Before this, the only lace project I’d tried was Branching Out. I knew the basics of lace and how to read a chart, and that for a triangular shawl you had to increase 4 stitches on every RS row, and that was about it. I had no idea people knit shawls. I had no idea people wore shawls. And here I was trying it out.

Talking to people and reading other knitters’ posts along the way helped me learn. It was also intimidating to learn as I went the kind of challenge I realized I was in for. I heard horror stories of people who ran out of yarn while they were binding off, or people who finished and blocked it only to have their cats shred it the next morning, or Rebecca who got to the tips only to find out she’d made a mistake deep in the centre rib. (Oh, hon.)

If I brought it along with me to a knitting night, experienced knitters would have something to say, and I learned things I didn’t find on my own. Tips like putting in lifelines (sweet Lords of Kobol, yes), and how to block if you don’t have blocking wires. The more I learned about other people doing laceweight shawls the more I learned how common and do-able this was, but I also felt like I’d found the tip of some tangly lacy iceberg. Knitters who hadn’t done laceweight before would ooh and ahh at the project and I’d get all mumbly. (Like Linz put it, people would think I’m a better knitter than I actually am.)

A metric ton of people have recommended this as a good beginner shawl. I’m still undecided. In terms of technique, I don’t think it would be any more challenging than learning fair isle. If you can follow a chart and, like Rochelle told me, if you can do yo’s, k2tog’s and ssk’s, you can knit lace. The hard parts were doing it all on laceweight for the first time, and doing it on a pattern that doesn’t always have a plain stockinette pattern on alternate rows. The Chart 1 sections were good once I got into a groove, but it took me 3 or 4 repeats to get there. Chart 4 was a whole lot of concentrating. My last rows were over 600 stitches long, and started to get hard on my wrists. Binding off took about 3 hours.

If I was going to sell other people on lace knitting it would be on cost. The knitting hours don’t make it a quick fix but the price certainly does: two skeins of Misti Alpaca is cheaper than most sock yarns out there.

It also helped to have other small lace projects to practice on as I went: the Small Capitals socks from Sensational Knitted Socks, the Gossamer Shell Scarf from One Skein Wonders, and Medrith’s Little Lace socks from A Gathering of Lace (still on the needles). I’d recommend trying lacy socks to anyone who wanted a starter project, because they’re small project and the charts have enough repetition to get you really comfortable with the stitches. Branching Out was helpful because it had a centre rib, just like a shawl, and enough complicated decreases to learn on, but learning the pattern was harder. In fact, I think the Medrith’s Little Lace socks were the project I learned the most on, and they were the ones I cast on toward the end of Icarus. Somehow, the charts and technique all clicked. For me it was more than about knowing the techniques but being able to read my knitting and understand what it was all doing.

But blocking, okay, blocking is pretty fantastic. They don’t lie about that. Anything that takes a squishy, matted blob and turns it into this, is awesome.

I followed the pattern’s alternate instructions and strung a piece of cotton (Patons Grace) along the top and centre rib. Gave it all a good soak, cotton and all, with Eucalan and spread it all out on the futon, covered with a sheet. To get it really tight I tied both ends of the cotton to the futon arms and pinned it straight. One pin for each tip. I left it out before bed and by this morning it was dry. Wore it out to the Knitter’s Frolic in Toronto to show it a good time. It was well pleased.

Now that it’s done I’m glad I can finally wear it and move on to my next project. I kind of can’t believe I actually… did that. For beginner knitters I feel like we always downplay the challenges of projects because if you don’t you risk scaring them off. This wasn’t easy but I learned and I worked and I did it and I’m pleased. There’s a whole subset of knitting that doesn’t scare me any more. So if you want to do Icarus (or any shawl, really), and you think you can do it, you can. It’s hard but you can do it. I think it might be that simple.

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15 responses

26 04 2008
Nicky

Congratulations! I feel this is as big an achievement as your thesis …. ok maybe that’s just in my head. But honestly, I think I would be more proud of finishing an Icarus than my thesis right now lol.

So again, congratulations, it is gorgeous and the blocking tips are very helpful. Thank you for a frank post about the project. The truth is necessary in projects that are going to take a year!

26 04 2008
Rebecca

that is absolutely stunning.

and maybe, just maybe, enough of an incentive to rip out (*sobs*) the mess i have hiding in the back of the closet and starting this over.

truly amazing achievement!!!

26 04 2008
Kim U

Congrats on finishing! It looks really beautiful, I love the color. Icarus was my first lace shawl too. I’m right with you on the lifelines – whoever came up with that idea was a genius.

26 04 2008
pdxknitterati

Gorgeous job! Beautiful yarn, beautiful knitting. Looks like a smashing success to me. Congratulations! (I found your post through wordpress tag search)

26 04 2008
Emilee

That’s beautiful!

26 04 2008
marianne

Ms.M, your Icarus is stunningly beautiful, absolutely lovely.
Congratulations… that is really quite the KNIT!

27 04 2008
Sarah

Fanfare time!

How wonderful is that shawl? So many congratulations.

I know what you mean about the temptation to downplay things but as you say if you want to knit something you can whether it is ‘easy’ or not. I also think many times as with life, the more you put in the more you get out.

27 04 2008
CanarySanctuary

That is stunningly beautiful. Congrats on its completion!

28 04 2008
Em

It’s absolutely gorgeous! Good for you!

29 04 2008
Trine

I’m so in love with the colour variations in that yarn!! It’s gorgeous!

I’m working on this right now, and getting through the stockinette portion is a nightmare. :P The first 3½ repeats went fine, but now I’m halfway through the 4th and I can only do a few rows at a time. Doesn’t help that the yarn (Zephyr wool-silk) sticks like mad to my Addis. Bah.
But it’s such a lovely colour though, and so soft and light… It’ll be great for summer!

We should start an official “I Hate Knitting Icarus, Please Help Me Before I Burn It” club. I’d totally want a t-shirt.

1 05 2008
Kim

It’s beautiful.

2 05 2008
ladyoctavia

YEAH *dances of lacey FO joy*

I looks amazing!

2 05 2008
Moggle

It’s absolutely gorgeous! Love the colour.

3 05 2008
Kelly

Well done! It looks great. you didn’t know what you were in for the day you bought that first skein of Misti, did you?

The Swallowtail was my first laceweight project, and it’s also a great learning pattern.

7 10 2008
From my stash to yours « Knitting to Stay Sane

[...] alpaca – in a pale purple shade which looks a bit darker here than it actually is. My sister did her Icarus shawl with this [...]

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