Shipston Designs

Suspended Animation


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I am a positive person, really.  Sometimes I have to remind myself of that, sometimes I have to trick myself into believing it.  This is one of those times.  It seems my current project is determined to move in slow motion.  Sometimes reverse actually, not for long, but still oh so slowly.  It all began when I decided to knit a Pretty Thing by the Yarn Harlot, and then decided to knit in a pretty yarn, Lace Silk by Handmaiden, because I was bored with knitting the plain cotton I’ve been using for my printmaking knitting samples.  I know, I know, the cotton is better for the images I’m trying to create, but it has no life, or in this case colour or life.  So I caved, and decided it was important to try the fine silk because it might show the twist of the yarn even better then the cotton.

Next in my quest to slow life to a snail’s pace, I honestly don’t have an obsession with suspended animation, even if it may seem I do, I decided that a swatch was even more boring then plain cotton.  I mean really, the swatch was going to be 33sts over 30 rows, and if I knit the whole Pretty Thing, that was only 119sts over 61 rows around, only 7.33 times more knitting, and since that amount of knitting barely equals a hat, why not knit the whole darn Pretty Thing.

So that decided, off to find some needles, I’m looking for an open lace, lots of white space for the print, so I decided on 3.5mm, but the only 16″ circular needles I have are Addi Turbo’s, lovely, but a bit slick for lace using a fine silk.  I can’t justify going out to find new needles so I cast on, it will be fine, I am a careful knitter, I’ve knit lace far more complicated, with more stitches on Addi’s before, as much as I’d prefer bamboo, I’m ready to knit.

With the stitches cast on, and five rounds knit I set my knitting down to focus on something that seemed very important at the time, but which I can’t even remember now.  My memory escapes me mostly because when I returned to my knitting it was no longer on the needles.  Now the cats deny any involvement, but I know better.  At first I think I can save it, I am mistaken.  This yarn is like glue, it somehow ravels around itself in the same way the cord for my earphones do (no matter how neatly I leave them, why is that?).  I manage to salvage part of the yarn, but my patience forces me to abandon a few grams in a tangled mess.  Cast on again.  Eleven rounds this time, I am getting tense, so a break is in order, I place the knitting with my pattern neatly on the floor, no risk of the cats getting their paw or tail caught in it while jumping down off the couch this time.  What was I thinking, not clearly, and not enough.  Again, stitches dropped off the needle, and despite having picked up rows and rows of stitches for myself and others over the years, I just can’t make it go.  So I begin again.

Twenty rows, victory, or so I think.  Suddenly as I round the corner towards my marker I notice a strangely large hole about four rows back.  What is that?  Bloody hell, at some point I clearly dropped a stitch and it has come undone, I try to stay calm, but really, I’ve been so careful, I’ve been doing a count on every other row, how could I miss that.  By this time it has dropped several rows back, I try to do surgery, but my heart isn’t in it, and frankly, the yarn is defying the laws of physics, detaching and reattaching in ways that I’ve never experienced.  I hit rewind, and begin again.

This time I’m not taking any chances.  A marker after every repeat of the pattern, seems strange to do that on such a small piece, but I’m exhausted, and knitting shouldn’t be this tiring.  Within a few hours I am happily starting to cast off, and I believe that the world has started spinning at the correct speed once again, silly me.

Next up is preparing a zinc plate and transferring the image of the knitting to the surface for etching.  To the knitters out there you are probably thinking that you recognize all those words separately, but in a sentence, not so much.  Essentially I take a metal plate, in this case zinc, roll on a waxy medium called soft ground that is resistant to acid, place the knitting on top and put it through my printing press under a great deal of pressure to transfer the image of the knitting onto the plate.  I then put the plate into an etching solution, and the spots where the knitting made the impression etch to create the image directly on the plate.

So I spent the morning preparing the plate, putting on the soft ground, making the impression.  I can see already that the yarn is a bit soft, so I didn’t quite get the clear twist detail I was hoping for, but this is an experiment, onward and upward.  I take a break for lunch, and am eating my soup when I notice the cat looking out the window with fear in her eyes.  Outside is a dog.  Great.  Whose dog I don’t know, so I grab a leash off the coat rack (a cat leash no less) and head outside to see if I can catch the dog.  This turns out to be the easy part.  The hard part is finding the owner.  I walk to all the nearest houses, no one home anywhere, it is the middle of the day.  I bring the dog back to the shop, he’s very nice, obviously been rolling in something, because I am now covered from shin to mid thigh with a strange greenish substance from this affectionate dogs neck.  I’ve decided I am throwing those pants out.

The dog and I spend a couple of quality hours in the shop making phone calls to animal control, the local stores, neighbours, hairdressers, anyone who might know who belongs to the dog.  In between I try to carefully etch my new plate.  It goes okay, but just okay.  I’m still learning, so every time I do this I’m taking notes, was there enough soft ground on the plate?  Was it even enough?  Is the etching solution too strong?  Is it the right stuff for the job (apparently some acids/solutions etch straight down and others actually etch down and then to the sides, I need to read more about this), is zinc the appropriate metal for the type of detail I’m trying to capture, or would copper be better?  Where can I get copper plate locally, or how about ferric chloride for etching?  All good questions, and I have the Internet, books and fellow printmakers who will help me work through all of this, so I am still making progress, just slowly, with cats, dogs, limited local supply sources, slippery needles and careless knitting moments setting the pace.

Julie Rosvall
Wolfivllle, NS
(Where on a positive note I found the dogs owner three hours later, I learned a lot about the properties of etching solutions, I am on the downhill side of a stress (dog) induced migraine and as a bonus, last week my good friend Rosie took some fabulous images of that Pretty Thing)