Painting Columns journey

I’m putting this under ‘how to questions’ because I am absolutely positive that I will be completely unable to get through this pattern of Stephen West’s (Painting Columns, from his new Painting Shawls book, or on Ravelry) without asking questions! And it seemed a nice idea to create the process as a kind of ‘work in progress’ diary, for anyone who might knit this particular shawl.
My iPad is being recalcitrant at allowing me to create a link, for some reason (? First question, why??!!) so anyway, you can find the pattern by searching for Stephen West Painting Columns, on Ravelry.

Next question: I am a long way from getting to the seven slip-stitch columns, and appreciate that Stephen West positively likes the long floats at the back, but I worry that they’ll get snagged on things; I don’t so much mind the look - he is very happy with the ‘ladders’ created - but I think it could be horribly impractical. So I’ve tried looking up how to trap the floats elegantly. There are dozens of videos on how to trap floats in Fair Isle, or any kind of two colour work. But the very nature of slip stitching is that you are only working with the one colour in any one row. So how do you catch long floats? Perhaps later, in the row below? But you are still continuing to slip, on the return row, with the yarn in front, rather than in back, as in the front rows, so there doesn’t seem to be a place where you can trap the float from the row above?? There is one video, but it seemed a bit messy to me, and I wonder if anyone has any ideas?

Meantime, I still don’t seem to be able to get any photos to download in any shape or form, which is frustrating. I could show you my colour scheme, if only….but what I did find incredibly helpful was making “lazy swatches”; SW’s shop, Stephen & Penelope, sells custom made ones, but the little boards you wind the yarn on are easy to make for yourself out of cardboard. I got three of the proper ones, and then used them as a template with which to create a whole lot more. If ever I can download a photo I’ll show you!!

Lalla 1

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Wow, another beautiful SW shawl!
It seems like the floats are a design feature on this shawl. Because it’s fingering weight yarn they don’t cover such a long distance even though it’s relative to the stitch gauge. I don’t know a way to catch the floats other than to weave a thread or strand of yarn through them after you’ve finished knitting the shawl. That sounds a bit tedious but might be worth it if you find that the floats are catching on things.

Thanks for the link, Creations.


Thanks so much for posting the link, Creations!

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Ooh you got your photos up! Great!
Looks good.

I wouldn’t catch the floats I think they are part of the texture of the piece.
I’m not a great colour person (as in I don’t wear a lot of colour), I prefer texture to colour so to me these floats are integral.

Similarly, my son loves the floats on the back of some colourwork swatches I made as an experiment. I spent ages knitting a colour work owl pattern and he preferred the strands behind! Haha! He loves reverse st st rather than knit.

I know it’s a pain having clothing catch though, I experience that with some shop bought knitwear.


Thank you SO much, Salmonmac, for downloading the photos for me, and I’ll try and copy how you did it for any others! The second photo shows, apart from the colour scheme, the little Lazy Swatches - three proper ones and the rest my rather basic but perfectly functional cardboard copies. It’s such an easy way to get a clear idea of whether colours work together, so easy to swap them around until it seems right; I fiddled about for ages with the light pinky-creamy one and thought it needed this bit of lift somewhere. The person to whom I am going to give it is a purple-y sort of person, hence the overall scheme.

The yarns are Undercover Otter Eventide range, from Stephen & Penelope, which, by the way, is the most wonderfully helpful site - they have been so kind to me, getting stuff out quickly in case Hong Kong goes into lockdown, and answering questions; I SO recommend them. They are in Amsterdam, but ship everywhere and do so really fast. Much of the yarn is expensive, but I always manage to find some way of making excuses for my extravagances, and Stephen West’s own range is more affordable. The excuse this time is that I’m making it for my sister-in-law who is about to go into hospital for a major operation and deserves the best. I just hope I can do justice to the yarn, to the pattern, and to her!

The Undercover Otter’s Eventide is a fingering weight 60% Superwash Merino, 20% silk and 20% yak; the silk gives it a lovely sheen. The pink-y/cream colour is a Manos Del Uruguay Fino, so it’s not sheen-y, which I really like as a contrast texture.

I am using, in the Eventide, Citadel, Uncle Fester, There is Only Zuul, Space Chicken, Blackheath Woods and Rosemary. The Manos Fino is, I think (it was ordered a while back and I can’t check the order for some reason) called “Whalebone”.

Anyway, that is at least where I am so far; things could change as I go along!! But probably won’t - too many decisions! But you never know, maybe things will look different in the making and I’ll re-arrange something. All part of the fun of it.


I’m finding the floats quite tricky, and I’m only on the three-slipped stitches section (section Three, appropriately enough) - the last section has seven slipped stitches, and I’m very grateful for the slow build up to tackling that particular ladder-y hurdle. I’ve switched from my preferred wonderful ChiaGoo metal needles to their bamboo ones; I thought they’d be less slippery and give me a better chance at keeping the stitches across which the float travels spread out instead of bunched up, as recommended by SW. So far it does seem to help, but I’ll see how I go. The metal ones, to quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, are ‘slippery little suckers’! And it’s really hard to stop the bunching together. I’m unbelievably slow at the moment, but am hopeful that practice will improve dexterity - so far I’m cackhandedly making my way like one of the snails to which Julia Roberts is referring. And the ChiaGoo bamboo needles are still very pointy, so that makes me happy. They may well be as blunted as my enthusiasm by the end of this project!!

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It’s interesting, this attempting to maintain an even tension whilst at the same time keep a light hand; it reminds me of, many years ago when I was learning to ride (side-saddle, as it happens, which I rather liked until a taxi driver - I was forced to learn in Hyde Park in London, where there was a stable that had the only side-saddle in town - wound down his window and shouted at me “who d’yer think you are, the Queen??”), my riding instructor saying to me “keep a firm hand on the reins, but a connection with the bit as if you were handling a humming bird”. That’s what managing the tension on slip stitches feels like to me, or at least what I am aiming for, so far with mixed success, but slowly improving now, thanks to the less slippery-little-sucker-ness of the bamboo needles.
Mercifully, in between two tricky rows are two really super-easy rows, so there’s some happy let-up from the tension!

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I love your story of the taxi driver near Hyde Park. Only in London or maybe New York!

Tension is difficult with floats but better too loose than too tight. Blocking helps but not so much with tight floats.

I’m getting on much better now I’ve switched to the bamboo needles; they are not so sticky as to annoy, or so slippery as to bunch up the stitches behind which the float has to float with enough slack. MUCH easier! You are right about the taxi driver, Salmonmac! Only in London or New York!

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I was thinking about this thing of being a relative beginner, and what is needed to tackle a relatively difficult pattern, about what ‘experience’ really means; ‘say ‘yes’ don’t stress’ is certainly a good criterion/guideline/mantra. And there are so many little bits and technical pieces that you have to add to your knitting lexicon. But those are all learn-able; I test out things I don’t know on endless little swatches, or evolutions of already existing swatches that morph into all sorts of strange shapes but save me constantly having to cast on and start from scratch for every new thing I need to practice. And yes, the more you do the more confident you get and the better equipped to fix mistakes. But I think, at least in my case, the thing that begins most to accumulate is the paying attention. Perhaps it’s that there accumulates anyway the ability not to worry so much any more about every small thing that hasn’t heretofore been understood, and that panics one? When that Angst Phase is passed by, it frees up the brain to concentrate on concentrating. The mistakes get fewer as the techniques become more fluent, and the things that are stored in memory, and can be done without too much over-thinking, free one up for paying attention to the actual instructions, not missing some silly little thing that throws the whole stitch count out. Anyway, that, as I slog along through managing the Fiddlesome Floats, is what I ruminate upon!

Actually, what I mostly ruminate upon at the moment is the fact that we are getting a new puppy, and we know who he is, and getting him to Hong Kong from the UK at the best of times is not easy, and here in HK at the moment is pretty much the worst of times! But it’s SO exciting! It’s a challenge to pay attention to the Painted Columns when my mind is taken up with a gorgeous Havanese boy puppy we are going to call “Arlo”. Joy!!

Now here’s a possible solution? It’s not the most elegant video, without wishing to be too critical, but it could be a clever technique? It involves picking up the strands on a following row, and actually might be worth trying, I think; out with the Learning Swatch again!

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The work you’ve shown so far is gorgeous (I love the yarn colours and their names, too!). I don’t wear shawls and have nobody to gift one to, or at least don’t think I have, otherwise I’d try making this.
Good luck with your new puppy!

Good solution if you don’t want the long floats as a design feature or catching hazard. It would help in any places in stranded knitting where one recognizes an excessively long float too.
Hope the new puppy arrives soon!

I think the floats might well be a nice design feature, but if they are a hazard at the same time, then perhaps practical is better than design, given that they are on the back anyway? I’m really not sure, and guess I’ll dither along until I get beyond Section 4, which is still a 3-slipped stitch section, and I seem to be managing that ok! Even Section 5, which is 4 slipped stitches will probably be ok; I only worry when it gets to Section 6, with its 5 slipped stitches…but at least it isn’t what I originally thought, which was seven! Phew. 5 might turn out fine??? Too many decisions, and now I’ve fiddled around with the colours again (I knew I would!), but I think it’s better; we shall see……

Thank you v much, Shintoga - I need all the encouragement I can get!! Both with the shawl and the puppy! I always used to think of shawls as a bit granny-ish, but I don’t think one can accuse Stephen West, with the best will in the world, of designing anything granny-ish! (Not that I have anything against grannies, I hasten to add!! It’s the somehow less than flattering use of the word when you add an ‘ish’ to it!!!) And what I love about them, and scarves, is that you can transform the simplest already-owned garment into something exotic, or just different from how you wore the same garment on some other occasion.
I’ve gone past the time when I felt like a knitting failure for only making scarves and shawls; I’ve enjoyed making top-down cardigans and things, and loved making the various baby jackets I’ve done, but in the end I often actually prefer just jazzing something up with a non-granny shawl or a scarf, and seem never to wear (or dare give as presents, except to less discerning babies!) the actual garments I’ve made. At least I now know I can, so I don’t feel defeatist going back to scarves and shawls, especially when they are as much of a challenge as Stephen West’s!

As for the puppy - well, he’s going to live temporarily with the dearest, kindest friend, who was the breeder of the two Coton de Tulears I’ve owned; she does’t breed dogs any more, but still has three (poodles) of her own, and Arlo could not wish (nor could I) for a better start. Then, when he’s a bit older, I won’t worry so much about him making the horribly long journey from the UK to Hong Kong where I live, and by then I hope against hope that the present dire situation here will have improved enough for it to be possible. He’s the dishiest little creature!! My present dog, Cuba, isn’t going to know what’s hit her!!! But she’s used to living with another dog, and misses my Coton, Tycho, who died last year. Time for us all to bring this major disruption into our lives!!


Well, I’m on to Section 6. It’s true that the gentle introduction to short floats prepares one to some extent for the 5-stitch floats that you reach in Section 6, so it’s not as daunting as anticipated. But trickier, and bunched-up more unless you elongate the cable to unmanageable lengths. So at the moment I just have to trust that all these horrible loops at the back will, once the whole thing is properly stretched out, find themselves spanning neatly the bits they are meant to span. All a matter of faith in Stephen West to have got it right, and faith in myself not to have screwed it up!! Hmmm. It all looks a bit squished up and messy for now, one of the projects that will really benefit from blocking, for sure. Or at least that’s my fervent hope!! I’m rushing to get it done before my deadline to get it to its recipient before she has to go into hospital. A dire situation in Hong Kong, where I live, and self-imposed lockdown (until such time as the powers that be change their minds and impose actual lockdown, which still seems to be a possibility) have in fact helped me in my endeavour. That, and listening the while to some wonderful audiobooks keeps me going. My beloved Havanese, Cuba, is almost always at my feet for company while my beloved husband is endlessly on zoom meetings; we are lucky in so many ways, in a large apartment (giant, for Hong Kong) overlooking the ToLo harbour, in the New Territories, watching the egrets flying in the wake of the various boats that ply the waters that we overlook, and black kites soaring the thermals overhead, listening to the endless cry of the Koel cuckoo - such an evocative background sound here. It’s a scary world beyond our windows, but for now we are safe. And, in my case, knitting away! I know there are different views as to whether it is preferable, pattern-wise, to start with a tiny beginning and have the rows get longer and longer and longer; I think I’m of the ‘I’d rather start with hundreds of stitches and find the rows getting shorter and shorter’; I’m up to 508 stitches a row at the moment, so it feels like getting slower and slower and slower.


Lalla, you paint such a lovely picture of the excitement of Stephen’s shawl against the peaceful background of the harbor. Stay safe and well.

Isn’t this the strangest thing? I have not made a shawl so not had this exact experience but even so I have had a small taste of this “getting wider, getting slower” feeling when I was knitting 2 sleeves for my cardigan and I really did feel, for a short time, this feeling of things getting slower and sluggish and felt I wanted the rows to shorten rather than lengthen. Just like you described.
And then I had this moment when I asked myself why I would want it to hurry up? We choose to knit for pleasure, or keep ourselves busy, so why do we feel this urge to get finished?
I felt it was similar to when we don’t want to rip back and re knit 20 rows but wouldn’t avoid a pattern just because it had an extra 20 rows.
Funny how we can feel about these knitting things.

Take care, and enjoy your lovely environment and your lovely looooooong rows.

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