May 27, 2010

While Waiting

I'm sewing up the sweater.  Sewing, sewing, sewing. It's magnificently boring, and I won't give you the details of how I do it because there's tons and tons and tons of great tutorials on-line and in books already.  (There's a great Norah Gaughan video on mattress stitch here, and there's a similarly awesome one here for how to set in a sleeve.  I'm doing the same thing.)  Instead of boring the lint off you with instructions that wouldn't be as good as theirs, I'm instead going to invite you to a debate. 

A few days ago Steven A wrote to me and told me about this.  It's a contest.  Essentially the yarn shop is challenging people to knit socks and lace for the summer and at the end of the time, they'll add up yardage knit and see who the winner is. Steven (who might be a tiny little bit of a competitive person. Just guessing, don't know him very well) is eager to participate in this challenge, but has taken umbrage with the shops definition of "lace".  Apparently the shop is using Elizabeth Zimmermann's definition, which is that lace is a series of yarn-overs with accompanying decreases used to make holes.

Steven would like to knit this sweater: The Whisper Cables Pullover (rav link, my apologies.) by Veronik Avery, and thinks that it should qualify as lace. He's outvoted by both the shop rules (which is probably what matters in the end) and by popular local argument. (I believe that his exact words were "everyone is against me.")

Now, his argument is (sort of loose) but he essentially says that if you're deliberately using larger needles to create "openwork" (on account of how open the work will be, because the needles are so big) that it's lace.  He thinks that the Zimmermann definition is too rigid, and that the field needs to be opened up.  He thinks that if work is essentially translucent (meaning that you can more or less see through it) that then it should count as lace.  Holes are holes, no matter how you get there, appears to be the central point of his argument. He's not the only one in the world to think that... I mean, Debbie New called one of her techniques "scribble lace" and it doesn't have a yarn over in sight... and I don't know if I'd argue with Debbie New.  (She's pretty smart.)  He also argues that the point (holes with decreases) is too narrow, and that other exceptions have already been made.  Like - a series of buttonholes created with  yarn-overs and  accompanying decreases fit the definition, but are obviously not lace - or that the yarn-over increases down the centre spine of a shawl obviously are, even though they have no accompanying decreases.

I'm not sure what I think.  My personal definition of lace is "a deliberately created series of  holes created for decoration" (or something like that) and Wikipedia says "Lace knitting is a style of knitting characterized by stable "holes" in the fabric arranged with consideration of aesthetic value." That definition seems to imply yarn-overs, since a hole created otherwise, like with big needles isn't stable - it can borrow room,  or room can be borrowed from it by the surrounding stitches.  The Lace Guild says "Perhaps the most striking feature is the part that is missing: lace is full of holes! These holes are formed as the lace is made..." which also seem to imply the creation of holes, rather than just the presence of them.  My dictionary (the Canadian Oxford Concise) says "1. a fine open fabric, esp. of cotton or silk, made by weaving thread in patterns and used esp. to trim blouses, underwear etc." which is obviously not a knitting definition (seriously. Underwear is mentioned but not a shawl? These are not our people) but may support Steven's argument - as unrelated to knitting as it is.
I suppose we could ask Veronik too... I mean, it's her pattern. Surely she has a definition of lace, and would be able to say that whether or not she thinks her pattern qualifies. 

It comes down to this. Steven is seeking support for his point of view, and I don't know whether he's going to find it - and in the end it doesn't matter much anyway because really, the people running the contest make the rules, no matter how the vote goes (I didn't remind him of that part yet.  He already seemed demoralized.) but I suggested a blog vote to see what the popular opinion is. The main points seem to be this: Is it lace if holes are present (like with a very, very loose gauge)  or is it lace only if the holes are created as the result of an action, like a yarn over. 

Your choices are:

A. Steven, I'm sorry, but lace happens when you deliberately create and place stable holes on purpose.  Suck it up and pick another pattern.  That's not lace.

B. You know what? We should loosen up.  Holes are holes man, and if you've got holes that showed up because you meant to get holes, than that's lace no matter how you got them. 

C. I sort of agree that maybe there's other ways to make lace than yarn-overs, but really dude. That's a cabled sweater, not a scribble lace scarf and you're stretched too thin on this one.  Try harder Steven, you've almost got me.

D. Something else.

Kindly leave your thoughts and votes in the comments - and Steven? You might want to crack a beer for this.

Posted by Stephanie at May 27, 2010 3:44 PM