Monday, February 13, 2006

Fanfare for the Common Knitter

When I cast on for my Olympics project, a sample-size Orenberg lace shawl, it struck me that here I am, an American knitter, pursuing Olympic gold using a Russian technique.

An action shot of my first row:



I'd like to draw your attention to the needles. They were a surprise gift from my grandmother, who doesn't knit. Apparently they belonged to my great-grandmother, Mary Hudak, who did. They, along with a few other needle sets, were destined to be thrown away or sold at a yard sale until Grandma heard that Susan and I had taken up knitting, so she decided we might like to have them. Susan took the larger sizes and I took these.

The Orenberg Method So Far

Pure genius. The little shawl begins with a mere seven stitches, and the first thing to be knitted is the lower center border. Then, you modify what you're doing at the edge of that border slightly, and whammo, you've turned the lower right corner. Then you knit back across the piece and pick up the bottom half of the cast-on stitches (seen above on a stitch holder), knit a slightly modified version of the border in the other direction and whammo, you've turned the lower left corner.

Behold:



From this point, you knit upwards in one piece until you reach the point where it's necessary to turn the upper right corner and begin the top border. The center of the shawl occupies the space between the markers. The left and right borders are knitted at the same time with the same yarn.

I had read Galina Khmeleva's instructions (in Gossamer Webs) for this project over and over before I cast on, but it wasn't until I was actually at work that the genius of the method struck me. The simplicity is magnificent, given the apparent complexity of a true Orenberg when it's complete.

I've progressed about two inches beyond the picture above, but before I began I truly did stop for a minute and bless the memory of the generations of women, knitting by oil lamps or candlelight in tiny cottages, who were clever enough to work this out. What a gift to the knitters who have come after them.

27 comments:

ck said...

I think about that myself...how DID they ever figure that stuff out. Looks great so far!

Aidan said...

What spectacular work! You are definitely Team Wales' "Flying Tomato"! We look forward to seeing your progress Tuesday night!

kathy said...

Lovely homage to your mother knitters. I went to a friend's blessing way yesterday and we too took a moment to pay respect to our mothers before us. THank you for taking me back there again and the shawls already looking gorgeous!

Rachel said...

I often find it isn't until I am actually working the pattern that the rhyme or reason of the instructions finally comes into focus. You just have to sort of blindly forge ahead and hope it all turns out the way it is supposed to -- as it appears to be doing. What a lovely bit of work :)

Anonymous said...

Franklin - I think you've inspired me! Although I have Gossamer Webs and have done a lot of lace, I have to admit that the instructions confused me. I think I'm trying to understand too much. I just need to cast on and start knitting in blind faith. Perhaps that will be my next lact project.
Dorothy
http://www.missouristar.typepad.com

Kathy Merrick said...

Amen, my brother. But then, I was always certain that the man I love who knitted a Latin motto into his FIRST sweater, and absolutely killed that lovely garment would surely be a natural at the complexities that are Orenburg knitting.
I smile with joy at you, hen.

Lucia said...

Blindly forging ahead... yeah, I need to do some of that myself. Your knitting is splendiferous as always.

bluecanary said...

Well said, Franklin! This confirms my belief that knitting is not a highfalutin skill, but rather something that was done as a way of life, as a way of creating garments, and a way of creating beauty accessible to everyone. Rock on with your bad self, man!

Sean said...

I've been thinking I need to get that book...now I REALLY need to get it. I love interesting and innovative techniques. Great work!!!

Yvonne said...

That is just gorgeous, as others before me have said. It is also inspiring -- as in you've inspired me to knit one, also -- sometime in the future.

Rabbitch said...

Splendid!

Hey, how come your lace doesn't look like a bucket of boiled ass? I was told it was ALL supposed to.

I think I'll sit in the corner and pout and knit on my shawl for a bit now if you don't mind.

Tres said...

Nice!

I love starting a project that doesn't quite make perfect sense, but beautifully reveals itself as you progress.

What a thrill!

Jon said...

Are there yarn details?

June said...

I love the Orenburg concept of knitting the borders with the length of the piece. I chose that construction method when I did my bridal veil.

Pamela said...

So nice for you to have your Great Grandmother's needles. I have my Mother and Grandmother and Great Grandmother's needles. I feel connected to them when I knit with them. Lovely shawl pattern, it looks really good on your rug.

Rosane said...

Hi Franklin,

Do you usually read in advance the pattern you'll knit? I rarely ever do, and was wondering what others do.

Btw, your mini Orenberg looks good already.

Rosane.

Geogrrl said...

I usually do read through the pattern ahead of time. I do my best to *ahem* visualize what the pattern-maker is talking about, decide whether or not I like their method, then make changes to construction or technique as I see fit. But that's me--I find it simpler if I have the whole thing "mapped" out in my head first. Sometimes I rewrite the instructions in my own words.

judy said...

Very nice. I just found this blog and I AM enchanted. Wonderful cartoons.

snowballinhell said...

I've been meaning to buy the Gossamer Webs book, and now I remember why. Gorgeous work.

Franklin said...

Oh, I most certainly fall into the "read ahead" group of knitters. I tend to be more about process than product, anyhow, so before I decide to make something I want to gauge how much I'll enjoy the experience.

This is also a holdover from the way I was taught to cook I think - that one should always read the recipe several times, and prepare all the ingredients in advance (mise en place). It tends to make the process calmer for me. And I need all the calm I can get.

Daisy said...

Hi Franklin,

Love the drawings and the lace. Is this pattern in Gossamer Webs Design Collection or in the book by Carol Noble called Gossamer Webs as well. Thanks.

Rachel said...

Amen, Franklin! It is for the industrious, creative, and beautiful heritage of knitting that I am willing to stand up to the jerks who offer me "Five bucks to go get a sweater at WalMart!"

Franklin said...

Daisy, the pattern/method for the sample shawl is in the Carol Noble/Galina Khmeleva "Gossamer Webs." It's really a terrific book - highly recommended, as much for the history and cultural chapters as for the techniques and patterns.

Ann said...

Hello, Franklin. I too found your blog today, through Brenda's podcast (a warning to others -- don't listen to the Stash essay while you drink your coffee). The cartoons are wonderful. And I too enjoyed the homage to earlier generations of knitters. I'll wait to see your lace emerge -- and so wonderful that it comes from your grandmother's needles.

Rabbitch said...

More proof of how we were not separated at birth. Me? I see a pattern, like the finished product, check how much yarn I need and then start.

Part-way through I realize that I need six more pieces of equipment (stitch holders, crochet hooks, etc.) and I don't know how to do several of the stitches required.

I think I thrive on drama.

Ellen in Conn said...

You "read ahead" in patterns? Are you also a Unitarian? We read ahead in the hymnal in case we might need to change or omit a word, depending on our own personal thealogy (I mean thealogy).

Felicia said...

I also love the work.

It must be a great honor to knit with those special needles!