Salad Days

Salad Days

A little background...

We released Salad Days as part of the 2016 Pairings Club. One of my fondest memories of this project is that when Barb knit hers, we blocked it together on the boat during the Alaskan cruise we went on (I was teaching workshops and she was my guest.) We had so much fun and she wore the shawl to dinner on several evenings ;)

Shall we begin?

Where better to begin than with starters? Shakespeare, in his play Antony and Cleopatra, coined the phrase “salad days” to describe a time of inexperience, youth and new beginnings, carefree existence, and enthusiasm. I enjoyed the idea of using this theme for the first chapter in our newest club adventures.

I think the majority of us would agree that as knitters, we find new starts deliciously tempting—so much so that we tend to indulge in more of them than we can ever follow through on. Even the ones we abandon still serve a purpose. However, they take the edge off and wake our taste buds, allowing us to try this or that technique with a variety of yarns and stitch patterns to prepare for those bigger, “main course” projects - the ones that we can stick to.

And summer can be a dangerous time for catching startitis; hot sticky weather can quickly thwart one’s appetite for wooly projects, causing us to graze the stash, picking at this or that option in search of alternatives. Not to mention how travel interferes with progress on that big fall sweater. What’s needed right now is a nice temperate fiber choice and a deliciously fun, quick knit that is highly portable and does not require being married to a chart throughout

With that in mind, I turned to my favorite summer yarn among our Bare Naked Wools collection—Hempshaugh, a cool blend of hemp and silk with a touch of combed merino. Erica tracked down the perfect companion yarn—Dragonfly Fibers Dance Rustic Silk to go with it. This 100 percent tussah silk yarn has just the right amount of tooth to keep it from sticking like slick silk does. Its character marries well with Hempshaugh but provides a bit of contrast too, with a smoother, 3-ply construction and matte finish. They set each other off beautifully.

We went with the Buckwheat shade of Hempshaugh because we know you love gray as much as I do and because I wanted a shade that would tone down any harshness in the color I had in mind—a bright, citron yellow-green. To me, this color is the very emblem of summer—light, fun, and unexpected. It’s fun to work with (even in a dark room) and a color that works surprisingly well with most complexions and hair, though many people may have doubts. If you do, I urge you to give it a try; you may be pleasantly surprised at your ability to carry it off!

As for the project, well, it had to personify light, airy, frilly SALAD. Therefore, lace topped my list of design ingredients; its open curlicues and shaped edges would illustrate the key components. And stripes—I can’t think of anything more summery than bright lemony stripes to add the zing that a summery salad needs. 

I got to work pulling together motifs to make the design. I wanted the overall effect to feel like the atmosphere in my kitchen garden—lively with sunlight dancing through the sprinkler’s shower, abuzz with the sounds of bees, birds, and falling droplets. My approach for the shape was decidedly circular, like a big bowl to hold all of that goodness. Aware of my yarn supply, I went with a crescent that was carved from a full-circle shape. That’s when I began calling the design Salad Days in my head.

I liked the idea of starting at the outer edge to obtain the most deeply scalloped hem, then decreasing in a “pi” progression, so that the patterned areas can be worked without shaping. Decreases are performed only a few times and all at once so that the stitch counts take sudden leaps down in number.

My only sticking point in creating the final design was settling on a hem pattern—I wanted something very open and deeply scalloped, but was not finding what I wanted in my stitch books. I eventually designed one just for this shawl. Finally I was ready to cast on and knit, yay!

I have to say that I was quite surprised by several aspects of knitting that first sample. First, despite a long cast on edge, the hem knits up very, very quickly. Followed by a big decrease row, the stitch count was soon tamed and before I knew it, the next section was complete after maybe half a day’s work. I had to put it down to do some other work at that point, but was stunned to discover myself finishing it up halfway through the next day (and believe me, I do not have lots of time to knit.)

Inspired by the speed of that first sample, I decided to follow through on a thought that flickered through my head as I knit . . . this would be adorable as a triangle shawl too. By necessity, I usually try to squelch these kinds of distractions as I really shouldn’t let myself get off schedule by adding projects to my timeline. But with all that extra time to spare that I didn’t use on the crescent shawl, I felt liberated to throw caution to the wind and go for it. Besides, a second pattern name had taken hold of me and I wanted to use it—Frisée. It’s the name used for curly endive, but is also used to describe a mix. 

I sat down while the crescent soaked and worked up some shaped charts. I blocked the crescent quickly, then ran over to the shop in the middle of that night and grabbed a single dip to cast on. I worked the first two rows while we watched bike races into the early hours, then put it down and went to bed. The next day, I got through the hem and insert sections by early afternoon and worked on some of the striping that evening. By the middle of the following day, it was done.

The speed is not at all in my imagination; this really is a quick project, especially if you are enjoying the yarns (which I was.) It makes sense though, as it has all the right components for a speedy knit—lots of pattern changes, color changes, and a decreasing shape. Once you get past a certain point, it’s hard to put it down.

Another surprise was how big a shawl I could make with just a single dip of yarn. I mean, the crescent is absolutely generous, even in the petite size. These yarns need to be blocked rigorously, but you will be able to stretch them a lot, so don’t hesitate to strong arm that fabric.

For those of you with an inner designer just crying to be let out, this is SO your project! The patterns—especially the triangle version—include variations throughout for lengthening, moving the stripes around, and putting your own touch on the design; have fun with that and be sure to share with us in the Ravelry Clubhouse. My only caution would be to keep an eye on your yarn supply by weighing as you go; that will help you decide how to use your colors. The hem and insert for both my shawls (petite size) used about half of each color. That helped me a lot when deciding how to use the rest.

And of course, for those that are not so brave or motivated, there are exact instructions for knitting the shawls as shown. You are free to take a vacation from innovating and simply follow along with the proven instructions.

Some of you may wonder about yarn ends and how to handle color changes. For the large areas of single color, I broke the used yarn and left an end to weave in, as these are few. In the striping sections, I carried my yarn up the side taking care not to yank it. By picking up my new color from underneath the previous color, the carries are well hidden in the garter edges.

Soaking and washing a two-color project can be fraught with anxiety about whether the colors will run and stain each other. I highly recommend using a color catcher product when soaking colorwork projects in preparation for blocking. This can be found among other laundry products in the grocery store or from an online source. Always soak color projects in cold water, adding a little white vinegar to the bath to discourage dye run. Keep an eye on them and remove them from the bath as soon as you start to see color leach into the water. You can usually soak up to 20 minutes without a problem.

In the case of this month’s projects, the Endive yarn did lose a bit of color in my first experiments with warm water and soap, but did not stain the Hempshaugh yarn (vegetable fibers and silk don’t pick up dye as readily). For soaking my actual finished pieces, I used cold water, wool soap and a few tablespoons of white vinegar, allowing them to stay in the bath for a full hour. The water had a faint tinge of yellow afterward which did not stain the hemp blend.

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