Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mayoi Knits Has Been Brought To You Today By The Letter L And The Number 4

Four skeins. I'd love to remember where and when I bought them. Ten years ago, at least, but where? It may have been a booth at Stitches or the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. It may have been in one of the very few yarn shops in the area back then, or I may have found it during one of my road trips to DC or York or Lancaster. I wish I could remember. And I wish someone had told me,

"Back off from the Euroflax."

Because I'm not loving working with this yarn. All I knew back then was flax = linen, the yarn described as sport weight and who wouldn't want a little lovely lightweight linen? Those four skeins in their bag looking all innocent and soft, lightly cream-colored and lustrous, who could refuse?

In my defense I sort of knew what I was getting into. I'd heard that knitting with linen yarn would be like knitting with cotton yarn in that it wouldn't have the "give" of wool. And the only thing I'd heard of someone making from it was string bags for shopping. Still, I did make the purchase. And then forgot about it.

Fast forward ten years and this spring the Euroflax finally made its debut, due more than anything to the fact that it was one of the first things I came upon in my stash reorganizing efforts. "Hey, I could use this for a shawl!"


I decided to check on the net for patterns and kept seeing comments like "Sure, it's like knitting with wire, but it softens right up after you wash it." I imagined the difference between a pair of jeans dried on the line vs. tumbled in the dryer and yeah, that made sense. But just to be sure, I opened up the skeins, added extra ties, popped them into mesh laundry bags and washed them on hot. And dried them on hot.

And the yarn was NOT SOFT, people.

Undaunted, I tried again. This time I hung the wet skeins over a rack and let them dry mostly there, then finished them up in the dryer. Still not soft. I tried again. And again. I tried four times altogether using different combinations of washing and drying. Then I gave up.

And I cast on.

The Kiri Shawl by Polly Outhwaite is a lovely design. I've seen it on knitters' web pages knit up in all sorts of yarn. Beautiful lacey shawls. My shawl would be a Kiri shawl. I rewound the skeins into balls, enlarged the charts and put them in plastic sheet protectors, got the circs and the Post-Its. Good to go.

So I cast on.

Now, the pattern is written very clearly (kudos to Polly), but the beginning is just a little fiddly for someone who's not done it before. This is entirely due to my own initial clumsiness and in no way reflects on Ms. Outhwaite's skills as a designer. I knit and ripped it out several times before I finally got it. And did I mention that, besides a few feather and fan afghans, this was my first lace project? More ripping and tinking. With linen yarn.

And it really is like knitting with wire. This yarn makes my hands hurt. My wrists and fingers are not happy.

I'm almost to Chart Three which represents the home stretch and I'm hoping that somewhere between the final wash and blocking the finished shawl the Knit Goddess will smile down upon my efforts. She will perhaps laugh softly, remembering all those other knitters before me who have gone the way of the flax. But she'll take pity on me. It will not be heavy. It will not look like an unfinished tablecloth.

And it will be soft.


I just found the following in an article, 'The Knitting Plant Freak Speaks' by Julie Theaker at

"People hate linen, and I'll tell you why. It's a bast fiber. The very toughness of the fiber that makes it so sturdy is what makes it such a you-know-what to work with in the first place. The fibers are very, very long, and they are stronger wet than dry. If you want something indestructible in the washing machine, this is your fiber. If you do knit something from linen, make it a classic that you'll wear forever, because linen is a fiber that needs to age.

And age. And age some more. Preferably over a period of decades. The more it is tortured, the softer it gets. At one point in traditional Irish linen manufacture, the linen is pounded with sticks to soften it. So cut the poor fiber some slack and don't be mad at it for being less than perfect right off the needles. "


"Knowing what I do about bast fibers, I have considered skeining hemp or linen yarn and running it through the wash ten or fifty times before trying to knit with it, to see if that helps. Can't hurt; the stuff won't die. "

I am somewhat comforted.

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