Sunday, April 10, 2011

From start to finish

The warm weather is here, apparently to stay.  And after polishing off a complicated beaded lace shawlette and two pairs of socks in the past few weeks, I'm craving a real summer knit -- something I can wear on the hottest days as I walk to and from the office.

Rather than knitting in my leisure time for the last couple of nights, I've been researching what pattern to make, what yarn I have in my stash that will work for it, and how to make it work.  I kept coming back to some 100% linen yarn I've had since snagging it in a sale bin some years ago.  After settling on a pattern, I went back to some posts I'd noticed about how to work with this fiber.  And that's when I went down the rabbit hole.

Linen is a fascinating thing.  Despite not being easy to work with, the flax plant yielded some of the first perfected woven fabric.  Beginning to think about knitting with it, I find that it presents problems of coarseness in the working, difficulty in maintaining tension, and biasing -- that is, the fabric leaning to one side so that what's intended to be a square ends up as a parallelogram.

So I woke up today looking forward to finding out something about the project I've selected.  I found the yarn in my stash, tied it in a couple more places to keep the skein together, and soaked it for about half an hour to soften it up, then waited for several hours while it dried in the sun.  Then it was time to wind it.  I enjoy this step with my yarns and always wind balls from the hank by hand, getting to know the yarn.  Which was important with this unfamiliar fiber; it wound into a small, compact ball, with zero squoosh or stretch, and correspondingly no relaxation and expansion.

Then and only then could I begin to swatch.  I had read that the twist of the yarn made biasing in stockinette stitch inevitable, but I had also come across some claims that half-plaited knitting (twisting stitches on every other row) has the potential to pull against the desire of the fabric to lean.

So toward the end of the day, I was finally ready to knit -- but not my project.  No, just a swatch, trying a new technique and seeing what kind of fabric it makes.  And when the swatch is done, I'll be laundering it.  Only then will I know a little of what linen is all about.

It's a wonderful luxury to have a day to start on such a lengthy road and take several steps down it.  Time is an element that cannot be circumvented: time to wash, dry, wind, swatch, and wash again.  Time to become acquainted, to experiment, to fall in love or not, as the case may be.

At this time in the semester, everything is so fragmented; you rush from one task to another, doing them all in tiny segments, pushing each counter forward just enough so it's not at risk of falling off the table and then running back to the start of the line to catch the ones that have been neglected the longest.  Spending time with linen today reminds me of what I love most about my research and my vocation (including the avocations I've managed to make a part of my everyday work): the promise of living within them for lengthy stretches, integrating myself into their world rather than trying to chop them up enough to fit into mine.

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