Monday, April 30, 2012

Knit up some lacy curtains for a seasonal look that’s always in style

Before the days of full house heating and air conditioning, it was the custom to put down thick carpets and hang heavy drapes on the floors for winter and then to lighten up in spring and summer with lacy curtain panels and colorful throw rugs. Well, Grandma Susan still recommends that practice. Window opening, at least from time to time, continues to be a good idea, helping to get rid of stale house odors and reminding us of the need to wash windows.  And seasonal window dressing is fun. So, how about lightening up in spring and summer with some lacy curtains? Here’s the pattern for lacy curtain panels that I’m knitting right now to cover up the bottom half of the two small windows in my bedroom.

Lacy panel curtains add charm to any room.
 If you’re like me, you don’t want heavy drapes hanging in the windows in your bedroom (and other areas, too) in spring and summertime. My Mom, Dad, sister and I lived with my grandparents for several years when I was small. It was then that I first remember watching the almost scary seasonal behavior, orchestrated by my grandmother, that was known as Spring Housecleaning. In order to give almost everything in the house a good scrub, this annual ritual added up to almost two weeks of drudgery. The end result was a squeaky clean house with new summery fabrics on floors, windows, and elsewhere. The warm season choice for slipcovers was chintz, chenille for bedspreads, and lace for the windows.

I remember that later, when we lived in our own house, Mom followed at least a part of my grandmother’s customs – at least the part about seasonal fabric changes but without so much rigorous Spring Housecleaning. I am proud to say that I carry on the tradition of seasonal fabric changes. And, continuing this practice (with or without much seasonal cleaning)  provides me with a psychological boost that’s very comforting.

Lacy curtains – and not necessarily vintage ones
Lacy curtains allow you to enjoy the beauty of daylight while maintaining some level of privacy. And they have an airy quality that billow so nicely in the breeze. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?  In particular, I’m recommending the old roller shades rolled up to the top in the day and a lacy, flat panel below. It’s a carefree, summery and minimalist style. The best part is that you can make your own curtain panels with a simple knitting pattern. 

Right now, I’m working on curtains for the two windows in my bedroom. My curtains will fly for a while at least, fluttering in the springtime balmy breezes before the temperature here in SO TX reaches 100 degrees every day and only “cools down” to about 85 at night. We sweat during the day but at night we turn on the air conditioning. So, later, my lacy curtains will be hanging motionless – still letting in the light but with the windows kept shut to block the heat of the day (as much as I regret it for aesthetic and ecological reasons). Sigh!

While it probably seems intimidating, you can easily knit your own lace curtains if you have a little time on your hands. It isn't as difficult as it appears. My own windows are quite small and the café-type panels I’m making are 18” X 34” – covering approximately the lower half of the windows. (I venture to say that it will take me 2 to 3 weeks of leisurely knitting to finish the project.)

Condo knitting
Here’s the Condo (two different size) knitting needle deal. The stitches made on the bigger needle are loose and lacy and the stitches on the smaller needle(s) provide structure – thereby avoiding a tendency to see uneven, saggy or pinched, spots. It’s best to use the size needle indicated for your yarn and then choose how much bigger you want the other needle to be. You’ll get different results depending on the size of the needles you use.

Obviously, you’ll want to use a distinctly larger second needle for lacy effects. It’s a technique that was popularized in the 1970s. Some say it became so widespread when the Hippies of those days were busy making lacy – and, they say, somewhat saggy - knit ponchos. Condo knitting makes fabric like that worked by multiples of YO, K (yarn wrap-over, then knit) and STO (stitch two together). That combination creates large open stitches. Luckily, condo knitting is even easier. You knit with both the large gauge needle and the smaller one, making “normal” knitting stitches. No yarning over or stitching together is necessary.

To make this curtain panel, all you need are two basic knitting stitches (knit and purl) and three pattern rows. There’s just one minor variation on one of the knit rows, but I can assure you won’t have any problem doing it. (Personally, I don’t like to knit difficult things that require counting stitches and am always looking for variations on patterns that can satisfy my desire for interesting results without worrying about fancy stitches. What’s more, this is a lacy pattern. As such, it's based on making holes, so small errors in knitting – that almost always plague us - aren’t easily seen.)

Bamboo yarn
This time I’m using bamboo knitting yarn. It’s a fairly new entry item that’s become quite popular. It’s a green product (renewable resource) with a lot of beauty that wears well and even has some natural antibacterial properties. Bamboo, a grass, is harvested and distilled into cellulose; then spun into yarn. It’s somewhat more expensive than most cotton and synthetic yarns.

When knitted up, bamboo yarn is breathably cool and has a shiny luster. It’s also strong and flexible and quite soft. On the negative side, this yarn tends to split a bit, so it’s best to wash by hand. It’s probably a better choice for things that don’t need to be washed so frequently. I like it because it has a cotton string-like quality but drapes better and is ever so much softer.

Make a Lacy Condo Knit Curtain Panel
One set of smaller knitting needles, either the long straight kind or circular (I used # 9.)
One larger needle, either the long straight ones or circular  (I used # 17.)
Several skeins of sport-weight or worsted weight yarn – enough for your windows. (I used a total of 3 skeins of worsted weight bamboo yarn in a bright grape color. I began from what I had in my stockpile, and, as often happens, had to buy more at the store before I could finish the project.)
Crochet hook (to pick up lost stitches)
Measuring tape
Yarn needle (if you want to hang it on a rod or hem it).

Cast on enough stitches for the width you want for your curtain. I used 64 stitches, working on the length – vertical-wise – because my curtains were more wide than long. The panel I'm making is to be flat instead of gathered. You’ll have to make more knit fabric if you want gathered curtains.

Important: Make 5 rows of garter stitch with both small needles at first and to finish. This makes for stronger ends. Be sure to keep the yarn tension somewhat loose on all small needle stitches.

Row 6: Purl all stitches with the bigger needle.

Row 7: Knit all stitches with the small needle. For the entire row, use the variation that one stitch is knitted in the front of the loop and the next one in the back. This twists the stitches and keeps the work more even.

Row 8: Knit all, normally (with the other small needle and all stitches through the front loop).

Repeat Rows 6, 7, and 8 until the knitting is long enough, or wide enough, depending on how you’re knitting your curtain. Allow an additional inch or two for the top and bottom if you plan to run a curtain rod through the top and have a hem.  (I avoided these extra inches by using bright multi-colored, ½ inch grosgrain ribbon, tied in bows, to hang the curtain on the rod and choosing not to hem.)

Finish with garter stitch rows and bind off. Hang up your new curtains and proudly let them flutter in the wind. That should make you very happy.

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