Starry Night at the Ritz

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I am more of a process knitter than a product knitter. I want to try every technique all the time, but I don’t necessarily want to keep everything that I make. I just want my hands to stay busy. That’s why it’s a blessing in disguise that I have somehow become surrounded by a whole bunch of pregnant ladies at all times.

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HOWEVER. If anyone tries to ask me for this shawl, they are going to have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands. I am in love with this scrap of fiddly lace-and-beads nonsense, hence all of the goofy faces in these pictures.

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I bought this skein of Dream in Color Starry Silver in Starless Sky (tragically discontinued!) a very long time ago, not having any idea what on earth I would do with it. Sparkly socks are quite tempting, but I figured that this gorgeous stuff should be out on display, not hidden under shoes and pants. Sparkles need to be in the sunlight to achieve their true potential, yes? Yes.

But what shawl pattern could possibly be worth it? Well, when you’re zooming along on Ravelry, looking at shawl patterns, and one pops up that states that it contains 650 individually-placed beads, you get stoked. Glitz at the Ritz is a thing of such complicated, fiddly beauty that I couldn’t resist.

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As soon as I started the first lace pattern, I just knew that this pattern and this yarn was simply a match made in heaven. As for the beads? Toho Japanese glass beads, the clear glass with the silver foil inner lining, size 6/0 E.

I am particularly enamored of the way the large sparkly beads are picked out against the more subtle shimmer of the background yarn. It’s reminiscent of a fiber-optic star curtain, a reference that no one else will probably understand, but that made the lighting designers in the audience get real excited.

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In this particular pattern, the beads are individually placed with a tiny crochet hook onto each stitch right before knitting it, rather than having them strung onto the working yarn. This is really the best way to do it, in my opinion, for many reasons. Not only do you not have to be dealing with stringing a bajillion beads onto your fancy yarn and constantly moving them around and scraping up your delicate mylar threads, but you also get to feel like a mad scientist with your knitting needles in both hands and somehow also a crochet hook the size of a sewing needle balanced precariously within, attempting to not drop the bead or let your stitches drop off the needle (both of which might have happened to me several times).

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I mean, look at that bead action. It’s all worth it, even though when I try to vacuum between the cushions on my couch later, I’m sure I’ll find an awful lot of tiny glass beads that slipped from my grasp. Hopefully the cats didn’t eat any.

The best part of the knitting (although all of it was great, and I sincerely didn’t want it to end) was the bind-off row, hands-down.

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When you’re reading the pattern for that part, it seems insane. As you move along and knit it, you feel like you’re knitting each stitch 5 times over, but you’re really making the most adorable alternating picot bundles with beads placed in the ditches between. It’s utterly unnecessary and ridiculous and yet just a lovely and perfect finish to the whole thing.

As much as knitting it was a joy, pinning it out was even better. My blocking wires took care of the curved top, and as I stretched out each tiny picot edge bundle and pinned it, I just fell in love all over again.

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Dan said, when he saw it all pinned out, that it looked like falcon wings. He’s not wrong.

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Taking pictures of it was a bit of a challenge, due to the fact that the dark blues and purples shift color wildly in different light.

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Sometimes it’s purple.

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Sometimes it’s blue.

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Sometimes it’s lurking in the window, looking all shadowy and fancy.

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No matter what, it’ll make you feel like a goddamn knitting master.

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And a pretty, pretty princess.

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So get out there and get yourself some sparkly sock yarn, some beads, the tiniest crochet hook you’ve ever seen, and some never-ending patience so you can make your own. When you’re spinning around in the park feeling awesome with your new shawl, you’ll be glad you did.

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Azure Waves of Grain

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I haven’t gotten to knit much so far this year, mostly due to the fact that I am in my very last semester of nursing school, which entails a whole lot of paper- and journal-writing, preceptorship-ing, and NCLEX-reviewing. I actually graduate (YAY!) in the middle of May, and I am saddened to think that I will soon have to find new things to complain about, one of which, if you can judge me by what my priorities were during this last week of Spring Break, will certainly not be “not knitting.” I went on a rampage this past week and finished up a very fiddly and fancy-pants project that I’ve been working on for waaaay too long.

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I mean, look at all that lace! Miles and miles of lace-weight alpaca with perfectly lined-up columns of yarnovers. Looking at it all pinned out…I even impressed myself a little bit.

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The pattern is the simple and lovely Waves of Grain by Rosemary Hill, in the Fall 2008 issue of Knitty. In the pattern, she has these beautiful poetic musings about the amber waves of grain from “America the Beautiful,” but since I went with the blue and silver thing here, I think that Azure Waves of Grain is a delightful play on words. Just try to talk me out of a good pun. I dare you.

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With a project like this, where the lace itself is relatively simple and full of long runs of straight lines, blocking wires are a truly amazing thing.

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You can buy your own set here at KnitPicks, like I did. (Oh, and get those blocking mats, too, while you’re at it! They will also save your life over and over again.) You weave them carefully in and out of the yarnovers on the ends of the rows and pin them back, and voila!

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When it’s totally dry and you pull out those pins, you see these glorious super-straight rows that make you weep a little bit. For those unfamiliar with lace knitting, the piece that you end up with after the knitting is complete looks a bit like ramen noodles. No matter what kind of master knitter you are, the yarnovers are a million different sizes, the edges are wobbly, and everything is just a big mess.

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Blocking makes everything beautiful again. And blocking wires in particular prevent any weird scalloping or yanked-out corners and edges that destroy all of that hard work.

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This was also the very first time that I attempted knitting beads into anything, and this was definitely a good project to start with. In this particular pattern, the beads are not pre-strung onto the yarn, but they are threaded onto the individual stitch itself with a teeny-tiny crochet hook, right before the stitch is worked into the pattern.

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Toothless approves.

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I got these particular clear glass and silver-foil beads at Michael’s, and I waaaay overbought them, so someone needs to find me another project to use them up (or let me know if you have a dire need for them as well). Having the beads on the end of the shawl gives it a nice little weight and swing, plus the beads make a wonderful little clicking sound when you’re moving around with it.

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Lace in the sunlight always makes me weak in the knees.

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Now, I need to find an occasion to wear this, other than traipsing around the house and pretending that I am an International Woman of Mystery, but I think that it’ll be perfection for any sort of dressy occasion. And I’m graduating soon…hmm.