The Countess of Landsfeld

The Countess of Landsfeld: a lace shawl for those who don’t enjoy or have not yet tried knitting lace, or who struggle with the wearability of shawls.

Worn like a cozy, cozy scarf

Worn like a cozy, cozy scarf

countess of landsfeld back shawl (2)

Worn like a cozy, cozy shawl

Like many people, I do much of my knitting in public. I have a large handbag, and whenever I have a few minutes free I get knitting. Sadly, this situation means that anything requiring concentration generally gets neglected.  As a result, my designs lately reflect a goal of creating garments that look complicated (because I am apparently very, very needy and adore astonishing people with my mad knitting skillz), but are actually really simple – easy enough to do while yelling “Clear! Clear! HONEY YOU’RE OFFSIDE!!!” (ask a Canadian) or while watching subtitled Norwegian thrillers (Hodejegerne – fun movie! Watched while working on the Countess! Even the scenes with the astonishingly handsome Nikolaj Coster-Waldau were watched while knitting!).

The Countess of Landsfeld Shawl is the happy result of my attention-deficit and attention-seeking knitting. It is named in honour of Eliza Gilbert, a woman who famously took shortcuts to get what she wanted. Lola_montezRather than submit to her 19th century choice of either a suitable marriage or genteel poverty, she ran away from family and convention, changed her name to Lola Montez, and presented herself to the world as a Spanish dancer – despite not speaking Spanish or, apparently, being much of a dancer. She blazed across the theatres of Europe, Australia, and America, counting among her admirers and lovers King Ludwig of Bavaria, who was so smitten that he ignored all advice and gave her the title of Countess of Landsfeld. Well, yes, this granting of a title did indeed lead to his eventual abdication, and, well, yes, the revolution of 1848 too, but my point is this: taking short cuts and breaking rules can sometimes be a really efficient means of getting what you want.

The Countess of Landsfeld is a celebration of shameless knitting shortcuts. The short cuts begin at the bottom with a no-tail long-tail cast on (never guesstimate your long tail ever again), and a traditional lace pattern – a 4 row variant of feather and fan – that forms its own scalloped edge, so you don’t have to fiddle about with more than one lace. This lace consists of a repetition of 3 rows of easy-peasy stockinette and one simple, rhythmic, unchanging row of repeated yarn overs and decreases. Well, yes, stockinette in which every 14th stitch is always knit or purled through its back loop – but it’s still easy. Afraid of missing that stitch? Use stitch markers – easier still.

Close up of lace detail, and picot cast off at the top of the shawl.

Close up of lace detail, and picot cast off at the top of the shawl. Seriously, that gorgeous lacy complexity is created by 3 rows of stockinette and one unchanging row of yarn overs and decreases.

This is lace that is, in truth, easy enough for a first lace project, but looks complicated enough to amaze and astound all those who see it. The whole thing is finished with nothing more than a picot cast off. This cast off is applied the top as well as to stitches picked up along the sides. It was chosen because it provides stretchiness and visual interest without distracting from the gorgeous complexity that is the main lace. You and your gift recipients don’t want to look as if you are wearing a doily, right?

Now that I have convinced you this is a mad easy shawl, suitable for beginners or the constantly distracted, I should probably let you know it does involve 4 to 1 decreases – but don’t panic! The pattern includes some mad easy solutions to the decreases that drive other, less plucky knitters away screaming in fear. Really, you should be happy these decreases are here. These decreases probably prevent this lace from being more widely known, so not only will you come away from this shawl with new weapons of mass decreasing in your knitting arsenal, but you will have a finished object that will make knitters gather round you, wondering how you did that.

countess of landsfeld back

The one row that does all the work (because the other three are always stockinette – amazing, right?) involves decreases that are typically referred to as k4tog and k4togtbl. To those who see these abbreviations and, quite rightly, say “Seriously? – those are really, really hard to do – I cannot get my ding dang needle through 4 stitches at once. Are you crazy? You said this was easy!” I say “Hah! The pattern explains no less than 5  alternatives that produce exactly the same results, and are way, way easier!” Indeed, with all the power invested in me as some random person with a blog, I propose a re-christening of the knitting terms k4tog and k4togtbl.  I dislike these abbreviations because they prescribe a technique (which I reject on behalf of all tight knitters with splitty or ungiving yarn, or unslithery, non-ninja-like needles, or fading eyesight, or arthritic fingers) when really, what the terms should describe is an outcome: namely, a decrease reducing 4 stitches to 1 that slants to the right (dec4R) and one that slants to the left (dec4L). How you get there should be your choice.

countess of landsfeld side view (2)

The yarn used in this project is minkyarn.com’s 70% mink, 30% cashmere 4-ply DK Chamonix. This yarn – which is made with brushed mink (they just brush them! The mink are fine, and live long, happy minky lives!) – was chosen for its delicious warmth, softness, drape, halo, loft, stitch definition, and best-ever-gift-giving-properties. This is yarn that makes you excited about the approaching cold weather. And really, don’t you think Lola would have wanted mink? Having said all that, of course, substitutions are fine.

Like my Sweet Spot Socks, the Countess of Landsfeld was created to keep me amused, and relies on a standard knitting model (in this case, a short row bottom up shawl) with a standard lace stitch, freely accessible in myriad stitch dictionaries plunked in. In other words, “Hurray! Another free pattern!” With that in mind, I am not precise in the yarn amounts. Working amounts out precisely would require some test knitting, and then it would be work, and purchasing of more yarn, and then I would have to expect payment.  I know it took me about 2 and a half of the 230-yard DK skeins, which would be about 600 yards. It is fairly long, so if you would prefer to be a bit more frugal, go for 460 yards and just cast on fewer of the lace repeats.

Click here to open the pdf: countess of landsfeld – Oct 2013 update 2. If you decide to make one too, let me know. I look forward to seeing some Countess of Landsfeld Shawls around!

My friend Suzanne - world's best shawl model ever.

My friend Suzanne – world’s best shawl model ever.