Find the Right Tension for Making Chain-Stitch Shawl

My relationship with fiber began with crochet. I had a long affair with quilting, then knitting. I enjoyed dalliances with spinning, weaving, and felting. We're all still friends.
So, when I recently faced a challenge with my first love, some of my other fiber arts came to my side. Crochet and I had a really basic misunderstanding: I found that my chain stitch was, well, inadequate, for a particular project.

The whole thing actually began at The National NeedleArts Association trade meeting in Columbus, Ohio. There, in the Interweave booth, I came upon a gorgeous garment whose stitches almost defied definition. Was it crochet? Knitting? Hairpin lace? Some other fiber craft I didn't even know about? Turns out it was crochet: the Shawlette in Chains by Kristin Omdahl, from Crocheted Gifts, edited by Kim Werker. I checked out the pattern and found it's made up almost solely of chain stitches. Easy peasy. Wee panels of triples are linked by thousands of chain stitches. (I won't tell you exactly how many. It's kind of scary.)
As soon as I got back to my stash, I pulled out some laceweight and got to work. The disagreement started up pretty quickly. I discovered that my style of “close” tensioning—I hold the yarn in my left hand close to the work—was not going to work. I have seen Kristin make chains in person and, boy howdy, she is fast! I am not fast. And worse, my chains were floppy and uneven. They are perfectly serviceable for medium-weight yarn with few chains. But this laceweight called for another method.
So I taught myself how to tension the yarn to make perfect little chains. It was something, learning all over again to make the most basic of stitches. And helping me were tricks from quilting and spinning—really! It surprised me too. Turns out a little tension is good for a relationship.
For details on how these arts all worked together to mend this slight rift, as well as pictures of my tensioning methods, check out the blog.


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