black death - a knitted shawl

Black Death

Naming a knitted shawl after a devastating plague? These are the depths to which inspiration takes us. You should read the designer’s story, but not until you’ve finished reading this post. 😉

When I moved to Brighton, I was very excited to find that there was a yarn shop within walking distance. It took me a month or so to get down there, what with the move, the job-hunting, and the usual lazy. I finally managed to trot down there on a fine Tuesday, and was greeted by a large sign in the window saying CLOSING DOWN.

Well, shit.

I consoled myself by buying a couple of skeins of Noro Yuzen, a blend of wool, silk, and mohair, in a sort of pleasingly grungy mix of pink, gold, and teal.

cake of Noro
om nom cake

I knew almost immediately what I wanted to do with it; I wanted a triangular scarfy-shawly thing, relatively plain in the body, but with lacy pointy edges. I left it to brew in my stash until such a time as I could be bothered to do the maths.

casting on for black death, from a lovely cake of Noro
casting on for black death

But then Black Death broke out. I mean, it appeared as part of a make-along in one of my groups. I immediately drew the connection between the pattern and the skeins of Noro in my stash; I also made the pleasing mental connection between Black Death, the plague that wiped out 20% of the world’s population in the 14th century, and Norovirus, devastator of cruises in the 21st century.

Noro – the yarn – is also the devastator of knitters. It’s self-striping, with long stretches of colour that blend smoothly into the next. Except for when they don’t.

knot in a skein of Noro
My first Noro knot.

I was forewarned. I had seen many a CAPSLOCK wail of frustration from a knitter finding a knot in the middle of their skein, and tales of complicated jigsaw puzzles with multiple skeins, trying to get the colours to match and preserve the stripe pattern.

Limited as I was to the two skeins, I didn’t bother with this. There were knots in both skeins, but one of them meant the colour transitions skipped the colour I liked least, so I figured I wasn’t in so bad a situation.

knitting on the beach
black death on the beach. no not like that.

I spent some quality time knitting on the beach with Black Death. I finally made another mental connection; a triangular piece of fabric attached to a sturdy but flexible wire doesn’t half catch the wind. Fortunately, knitting does not resemble food, so I was at least safe from the gulls while I fought against the wind.

black death, knitted shawl, unblocked
Black Death, unblocked

I did have some struggles with the pattern, mainly because I was a bit blasé and didn’t swatch or really pay attention to anything as I was knitting. As the silk content in Yuzen is so high (34%?), it’s not very flexible. This meant I was knitting very loosely (as I’d killed my hands on teeny needles for murderpigs), so my gauge was huge and I my skeins began to look very stringy before I was anywhere near finished.

I mention a lot how I am stupid and stubborn when I don’t want to think about things. I knew I didn’t have enough for the border, but I went ahead and knitted the whole main section, and then acted surprised when the skein ran out half-way through the border. Then I half-heartedly thought about it, ripped back, and knitted it again. This time I ran out of yarn half-way through the bind-off. I think I had another false finish due to a yarn-hungry bind-off before I finally managed to get the damn thing off the needles.

flipping the bird at a blocking shawl
“Block aggressively”

The instructions said “block aggressively” so I hurled a few expletives for good measure. First outing for the blocking wires; verdict is that they are GREAT. I’ve got some really nice sharp corners on the… uh… corners, and being somewhat violent with the blocking is much kinder on the freshly knitted object as the stress is spread through the wire instead of yanking on a few stitches.

black death - a knitted shawl
black death shawl

And so, the finished object. It’s a very simple pattern, which is exactly what you need for a self-striping or variegated yarn. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the Noro, and it will look terribly with my tweedy winter coat, but I can see it working really well in autumn when we’re still having office air-conditioning battles and I need something, anything, to preserve some warmth.

Black Death
Pattern: Black Death, by Hoxton Handmade
Yarn: Noro Yuzen
Black Death project page on Ravelry

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