Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On the Edge: Answering the Million Dollar Question

which is... Do I have enough yardage to finish my shawl???
First, some snowflake spoilers. This is what December looks like. 
 And THIS is one of December's motifs with a nice, wide edge, knitted on that oddball blue Jaeger Trinity DK I showed you a couple of weeks ago. Awe-inspiring, how simple knitting can acquire the finesse of a heirloom with a simple border. And this is also a preview of my upcoming baby wrap/shawl which will be part of the KnitPicks IDP program pretty soon! Any of you have a special little one coming for Christmas, or want to make a special shawl for a treasured friend? I will be wanting test knitters soon!

First, a little musing about edges.

1. Edges take a lot of yardage. They are thin, but they are very long, and before you know it, you actually had to cover a lot of distance to make an edge all around a border. I have learned the hard way that a nice sized edge can take anywhere from a 30% to 100% of the yardage of a center panel, even more if we are talking about epic-sized borders.

2. The bigger the edge, the most yardage it proportionally takes. That is because a large edge takes a lot more to turn the corners. A narrow 12-row edge will take proportionately less repeats to turn the corner than a large edge with the same 12 rows. Therefore, an edge half the size will not take half the yarn to be completed, it will actually take less.

3. Because corners must be turned... Different edges use different techniques to turn corners. Edges that are picked up and knitted from the center out often need a specific border chart, which has unpaired increases or mitered increases to turn the corners. Some shawls knit the edge separately and sew it on, gathering at the edges. With sideways-knit edges, there are two options: short rows, and multiple joins. I will be using the multiple joins method, where the edge stitches are knitted on as you go to stitches from the cast on/off edge or picked up from the sides. At the corners, the center panel stitches are joined with the edges more than one time per stitch, forming the fanning effect that allows for a gentle, curving edge. This technique is easy and adaptable, and very apt to fudging without having to deal with fickle corner charts or wrap-and-turns. This is the technique I will be teaching you in this sort of extended tutorial, and we will apply it to our dishcloth and later to the shawl.

But first, the questions you have all been fretting about: Do I have enough yardage to finish the shawl? And what kind of edge should I make?

Accurate Yardage Calculation
Unfortunately, a good yardage estimate takes a little elbow grease. However, unless you have a plentiful supply of yarn, and given all the variation afforded by yarn, needle size and personal gauge, it is really worth it to invest a couple of hours doing this. Specially since you don't want to find that after days or weeks of making a border, you are a dozen yards short!

we start with a swatch
First, make a swatch with the same yarn and needles you plan to use. Make 2-3 short repeats of the edge in question. Do not cast off. Cut the yarn tails short. 

 and yes, you need a pattern for that. Here is the Aspen Leaf Edge, which we will use for the dishcloth, and also as the narrow edge portion for the shawl. For sample purposes, work the last stitch of the WS rows as a knit.

Now, find a nice cushy surface, like a carpeted area, a mattress, a couch that is not too soft,  an ironing board, or, like me, your trusty blocking foam tiles. Using a measuring device such as a tape or yardsticks, stick two sturdy T-pins or large pins  half a yard apart, (or 50 cm apart for metric folks).
The high tech yardage measure gizmo
Now, take your sample off the needles. Tie the yarn end to one of the T-pins and unravel the yarn, gently s making a loop between the two pins, as shown.
My pretty sample all unraveled
 Since I placed my pins half a yard apart, each complete loop is one yard. I completed 12 loops for two repeats, or 6 yards per repeat. I used the expanded border, and I think the narrow border will probably need about half as much yarn or even less. But it is best if you do the math yourself with your own yard and needles!

So now we only need to know how many repeats of the edge we will need to complete the border, and multiply it by our calculated yardage per repeat, and voila! a pretty accurate estimate.

My initial calculations show that, if you followed the shawl instructions without adding or deleting rows, you will need:
- About 138 reps of the narrow edge x 3 yd/rep = 414 yards
- About 141 reps of the wide edge x 6 yd/rep = 846 yards (wowza! that is as much as I have used in the center panel! I told ya!)
That, again, is an estimation for MY yarn, using MY needles, with MY personal gauge, for MY shawl. I suspect the yardage is probably less using the narrow edge so I really encourage you to do your own calculations. 

Math, math
The calculation of the actual number of reps needed for your shawl does take a bit of math and a bit of fudging. There is no proven-and-tried method. You will have to use the worksheets, and again, a little elbow grease. I will release the worksheets soon enough, so for now work on your swatch and your yardage-per-repeat.


And just to make you jealous, look at this tour de force: Kate from Dragonfly fibers labored hard to try to match my Cayenne dragon lace. Which was a one-off colorway. Eventually, I looked at all her yarn photos (it was so hard! she has so many lovely colors) and I found another colorway called Mad Love that was very, very close. She dyed one mother of all skeins for me, and here is, 2500 yards of soft merino lace goodness. If it is not the twin of my skein, it certainly is its sister! So now I can make a lush, lovely wide border which will help balance the occasional pulling of the edges in some clues.

Next: The infamous worksheets. Get out your calculator, a pencil and plenty of erasers for the next frogblog edition.

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