Two years. TWO YEARS. That’s how long it took me to finish my Angelique shawl.
I originally had a separate page on this blog to document my progress this knitting project, but progress was SO slow, I gave up writing about it! Here is the whole saga of the shawl, condensed into one long(-ish) post. (And here is a link to the website of the very talented designer, Corrine Walcher.)
My friend Kristen and I discussed common blocks to completing fiber works in progress (WIPs) back in 2019, and even mentioned Angelique in our podcast on the subject. If you missed the original podcast you can find it here. Kristen’s also wrote a companion post where she dives into all 31 of the problems, and her suggested solutions for them.
Obviously if it took me so long to knit a shawl, I must have encountered some significant blocks along the way. So here is the story of Angelique told through that lens! Hopefully seeing how the 31 Problems impacted my knitting WIP can help others better understand their own personal challenges with seeing fiber projects through to completion.
In my case, blocks landed squarely into three main categories: #2 “Intermediate Problems”, #5 “Context Mismatch”, and #11 “Technical Mistakes”. (Not always in that order!) And problems lurked from the very beginning.
I chose a two-ply merino-silk-bamboo handspun because “two ply yarn is good for lace” (plus I had enough yardage for a shawl). Well – Intermediate problem – the yarn was relatively underplyed because I didn’t realize that the tightness of the ply also affects your knitted projects . Which sounds REALLY obvious in retrospect. But since I am primarily a process spinner, not a project spinner, I historically lack that degree of intentionality while making yarn. Because the yarn was so loosely plyed, I struggled even to cast on and then knit, because often my needle would split the plies rather than making a stitch. Or (more on this later) I would drop a stitch and not even notice because it blended in.
This photo shows just how loose that ply was!
Second challenge (also in the Intermediate category): I really, really wasn’t ready for a fancy lace shawl at this stage of my knitting journey. When I cast on in 2018, I had been knitting various types of projects for eight years, so surely I could handle a shawl. I’ve knit socks, hats, scarves, some simple shawls, even a few sweaters. How hard could it be? How little did I know….
First off – I never learned to read a chart, so I was trying to work solely from the written instructions. But the written instructions don’t let you “see” where your current row fits into your previous row, so you can a) notice when you’ve screwed up and b) fix it more easily. I already knew by ROW THREE that I had screwed up the lace pattern, but I bravely soldiered on hoping that a few extra increases here or decreases there would make it all work out and that no one would notice.
And then of course, there was the purling. I mentioned during the original podcast how I knit using a technique based on Russian knitting, where the purl is done upside-down (or backwards) compared to a Continental or English method. The stitches don’t twist the same, so any decreases have to be converted for the Russian approach, which I was a) sick of doing because b) I always got them wrong, so my lace never looked “right” compared to how it had been designed. So I made up my mind to purl the “right” way (rather than the fast way) going forward. This, by the way, probably counts in category #1, Newbie Mistakes. I mean, (re-)learning to purl after knitting for ten years??? I ended up with quite a few Technical Mistakes (#11) as a result, which also slowed my knitting pace.
Despite all the challenges, I soldiered on. But I quickly realized progress would remain slow because of problem #5, Context Mismatch. I even mentioned it in one of my blog posts. I can only knit a project like this when spread out on a table with few to no distractions. Thursday nights were perfect because sitcoms came on TV, the family all worked on various projects in the kitchen and living room, and I domineered the kitchen table and halfway listened to the shows. Eventually I branched out and even took Angelique to craft days, because I could listen to conversation and make idle chitchat without losing my forward momentum. But most of my life was not well suited for the amount of space and concentration I needed for Angelique. By July, I’d only made it as far as row 20.
That’s right. Seven months to knit 20 rows.
I already mentioned #11, Technical Mistakes. You guys, I kept dropping stitches. My notes from Fall 2019 revealed one sad story after another of tedious tinking to work my way back to a dropped stitch. And then by the time I reached it…. finding another even further back! I don’t know how I ended up with so many. Something in my newly-learned purling approach gone awry? The loosely plyed yarn making it hard to tell that I didn’t knit a decrease correctly leaving one little unanchored stitch to unravel multiple rows back? The world may never know. But the speed I gained by reading the chart was entirely offset by the technical mistakes.
Which might not have been such a big deal, except for my next Intermediate challenge. I didn’t know what a lifeline was. Whaaaaaa? You mean for a little extra work of running a thread through a row of stitches, I could have confidence that my dropped stitches wouldn’t unravel very far? And if I did have to tink or frog to fix something, it could just go back to a predefined point instead of me a) tinking and then b) struggling to figure out where I was in the pattern once I got back enough to pick up the dropped stitch? That’s CRAZY talk.
Finally in January of 2020 I’d hit my limit of frustration and. Frogged. The. Whole. Thing. A year’s worth of work, and I’d only made it to row 28. Eight rows short of finishing the lace section, in fact.
Lifelines at hand, chart at the ready, I cast back on and continued to make slow, steady progress. Mostly in January and February. Because what happened in March? COVID and stay-at-home / quarantine orders. Crafting get-togethers ceased and network TV programs ground to a halt as studios were unable to record new episodes. With them went most of my opportunities to work on Angelique. As a family, we succumbed to the series offered by streaming services, and these dramas were of course best enjoyed on the big screen from the couch, in the dark basement. I no longer had a context for knitting fancy lace shawls, and progress stalled.
(Dramas in the semi-dark are GREAT for supported spinning though. I spun LOTS of singles yarn in 2020!)
I finally finished the lace section in September… yes, 36 whopping rows in nine months! When network sitcoms had been on, I could get two rows knit in two hours of comedy each week. Afterwards, I was lucky to knit two rows in a month! Luckily, I knew about lifelines and didn’t have to tink or frog a single time so at least my progress never went backwards.
And then … then I read the instructions for working the body. The wrap and turn short rows. The what? Intermediate problems yet again. I couldn’t “wrap” my head around what the wrap and turn technique *really* looked like. I couldn’t visualize how it worked. And rather than, you know, doing an internet search or watching some videos or maybe even reading the instructions at the link included with the pattern, I just tucked Angelique away for several more months. (Think that’s silly? You should have seen me years ago when I was trying to figure out what a yarn over was. What do you mean wrap the yarn around your needle as though you were knitting a stitch but don’t actually knit a stitch? What voodoo is that???)
So. Come to find out wrap and turn is actually pretty simple. Once I made up my mind to really figure it out. (Stop laughing.) With the start of 2021, I got back to my needles and finished the body in just a few weeks. Since the body was primarily stockinette, I actually could knit and watch dramas Netflix (Hannibal, anyone?), although technical mistakes still plagued my poor shawl. Primarily unintentional yarn overs, which in retrospect is funny since it was so hard for me to figure out yarn overs in the first place. And now I did them so easily, it happened even when I didn’t mean to!
By late February I had cast off and woven in the ends. Normally I drag my feet at weaving in ends – borrrrrrrrring – but not this time. The excitement at finally being done helped motivate me!
At last, I was ready to block. Thankfully I did not encounter any blocks (haha) with this stage because I researched blocking shawls beforehand, and purchased blocking wires and mats early enough that even with USPS’s awful shipping they arrived in plenty of time.
Most of my knitting woes derive from one ultimate root cause: teaching myself, rather than working with a teacher or mentor to learn the ins and outs of the craft. This is my modus operandi for learning almost everything. I jump in, blunder around, spend lots of money on supplies and equipment and books, usually get frustrated and give up! This includes podcasting, blogging, and YouTube videos as well! Until I have screwed up a few times on my own, I don’t even know what questions to ask (or what internet searches to perform) to improve my techniques.
Knowing what I know now about my own personal blocks to completing knitting WIPs, would I do it again? Absolutely! Making mistakes is how I learn best, because pain (even emotional and mental pain) is a great teacher. Although I may indulge in “potato chip knitting” for a while first!