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Missy Kenfield, Self-Taught Lace Knitter

Until recently, Texas hasn't been a hotbed of knitting. Crochet--sure, but not knitting. Missy Kenfield, a maybe 20-something knitter is helping to turn that around.

KBTH: How does a young woman from south Texas get interested in knitting?

MISSY: Three years ago, my aunt sent me a little "learn to knit" kit for Christmas. After struggling with it for a few days (what would I do with a garter stitch scarf, anyway?), I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a book of animal patterns. I flipped through their whole selection of books and couldn't fathom why I'd want to knit myself a sweater; being able to make a stuffed critter is what caught my eye.

KBTH: What sparked your interest in lace knitting?

MISSY: After knitting a pack of wolves, a school of clownfish, and a few sharks that appeared to have been mangled in a ship's propeller, I tried to join the rest of the knitting world in making sweaters or other wearable items. I quickly found that I couldn't wear anything I knit for 8 months of the year... unless it was in a particularly fine gauge. (those 4 sts/in cotton blends were just too much!) So I tried a shawl for something different and became hooked - the way lace patterns fall together just appeals to me in a way nothing I'd knit before had done. And hey, I could actually use shawls knit in laceweight wool most of the year to ward off overaggressive air conditioning! Since then I have wandered away from the notion of totally practical knitting, but that's what got me started.

KBTH: What's your biggest lace disaster?

MISSY: Short question, long answer! I think the closest thing to a disaster was a giant circular shawl I did last September. I had 1320 yards of fingering weight wool and a tablecloth pattern; I figured I'd get as far as I could on 2/3 of my wool and use the last 1/3 for the edging. First I found that the tablecloth pattern was riddled with errors; I had to abandon the original pattern and insert some different lace patterns in. When I had used 2/3rds of my wool, I started on the edging; 80% through the edging I ran out of yarn. (Planning ahead is apparently not my strong suit.) Instead of pulling out the edging and reknitting a smaller form, I just bound off what stitches were left. Then when it came time to block the critter, I found that the center was not flat but more of a cup shape. Apparently the weight of the tablecloth would pull that flat, but as a shawl it was just an unsightly wart in the center. I cut the center out of the shawl and reknit it to be flat. For the past few months it's been a great blanket... someday I'll pull out the edging and finish it properly. When that's done, I suppose it won't be a disaster anymore.

Another "almost disaster" was a doily pattern which I misread - I thought that every other round was supposed to be plain knit, but it was not so. I didn't pay attention to how each round was numbered - for the first dozen rounds of the doily, only odd rounds were written and evens were to be knit plain; after 13 it went to each round being written out. By the time I realised my error, I was so fond of how the knitting was looking (first time with #30 mercerised cotton!) that I didn't want to rip it. So instead I kept knitting it and fashioned it into a little drawstring bag with a sewn lining made from some purple satin found on sale in the remnant basket at Hobby Lobby. The bag does get quite a bit of use - everything from my camera to stitch markers to a shawl to another doily-in-progress has been stashed in there at some point or another - so again, it's not a disaster anymore.

KBTH: What's your favorite lace project?

MISSY: I don't rightly know! Everything has its own unique appeal....

KBTH:Do your friends knit?

MISSY: Most of the people I willingly stay around I met because they also knit, so yes.

KBTH: What about knitting appeals to you? Is it having the finished project? Is it figuring out the pattern, sort of like a game?

MISSY: A little bit of everything, but the very act of knitting is what appeals to me most. Sometimes I like the challenge of doing a difficult pattern or figuring out some stunt knitting; sometimes I want a finished sweater or some such; but most of the time, it's just the tactile delight of the yarn and needles.

KBTH: Do you have a favorite fiber for knitting lace?

MISSY: For shawls, Zephyr, and for doilies, linen. Admittedly, I've only finished one project in each of those, but after a sea of merino and mercerised cotton, I can definitely say the Zephyr & linen are my favourites. The linen I have is 44/2 thread bought from WEBS; I wasn't impressed with it when first knitting, but it gets more and more beautiful as I actually use the doily. It's magical.

KBTH: Do you prefer charted patterns, or patterns that are written out?

MISSY: If a pattern has both, I'll use the chart, but I don't decide if I'll knit something based on whether or not it has a chart.

KBTH: What's your favorite needle for knitting lace?

MISSY: For 3.5mm and below, Addi Turbos; for 3.75mm and above, Crystal Palace Bamboo. I'd rather have a couple of needles that I love than every size of something I just don't like knitting on, even if it costs a third as much. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Inox Express. One of these days I will find a horrible death for you to die, and then I can find myself a good 2mm needle.)

KBTH: What's your blocking process like? Do you wash it, then block it? Do you use anything on doilies to help them retain their blocking?

MISSY: It seems as if just about every thing I block is done a bit differently. The standard approach for shawls is to wash them in some sort of nice-smelling shampoo, press out as much water as possible, and then pin them out as evenly as possible. (I keep saying that I'm going to find myself some blocking wires, but I haven't yet.) Sometimes I try to pin them to a certain size and sometimes I just let it tell me what size it wants to be while pinning; varies by if the shawl is for me or if it's a gift or if there's something in the pattern that particularly cares about it. If the shawl is for me and it won't be obvious that everything isn't perfectly even, I won't spend the time making everything exactly even - just doesn't matter that much to me. Doilies don't get any starch or special treatment; just pinned out to be as round as possible. Well, except for the two rectangular doilies - those weren't pinned out to be round. Again, I don't always try to pin out every single bit of the crochet edging on the doilies. After the doilies have been used for a few weeks, I have *never* said to myself "Boy did I wish I pinned out every single loop of the crochet edging evenly!".

KBTH: What's in your lace knitting future? Bedspreads? More doilies, garments?

MISSY: Mostly doilies - I've found several people who would love to give a doily or two a good home - but I also have 200g of J&S and "Heirloom Knitting" on the way...

A friend of mine who is rather anti-doily has promised she will knit a doily if I can find her a pattern that has cables. This is a dare I can't pass up; if I'll be spending endless hours on ebay looking for patterns or just sitting down with the graph paper, this I don't know yet.

KBTH: Is there some other technique you intend to learn?

MISSY: About everything that appeals to me in some way I have experimented with. Though I haven't done a full-blown fair isle steeked sweater before, I've done fair isle and I've done steeking... when the right pattern appears to me I'll be ready. When it comes to things like mosaic, shadow, or twined knitting... I'll leave that to somebody else.

KBTH: Is there anything else that you'd like for us to know about knitting, in your world?

MISSY: I think that's about it... the only other trick up my sleeve which seems to amuse some people is that I hate turning my work - almost all of the time start working in the opposite direction (I hate saying that it's "backwards") without dropping everything and turning it around. I started doing this just to see if I could; it's now something I do without thinking. I had the good fortune of starting this at the same time I learned to knit Continental style; it's as natural to me as "normal" knitting is, sometimes even more so since it's what I do all the time.

Visit Missy's blog: Fruitcake Knits