Knit Your Comics: Magical Scarlet Witch Shawl

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This is probably the most personal KYC I’ve ever written, and it came at a time when I was feeling stuck and very discouraged about my life. I’d recently been rejected for a full-time job I’d really wanted and was wondering if I would be consigned to juggling multiple part-time jobs forever.

When I’d visited the town where I hoped to move, I came across a used book called The Knitting Goddess in a local bookstore. I’m not usually a spiritual or new-agey type, but I flipped through the pages, and it seemed mostly to be a collection of stories about the goddesses from mythology connected to the fiber arts, so on impulse, I bought it.

After that job rejection, I finally sat down to read through the book one night, and when I read the chapter on Isis and the significance of red thread in stories of creation, and these passages jumped out on me:

Red thread or yarn–physical, literal, red yarn, and it has to be red–helps to retrieve souls, and memories, and energy. With the help of her [Isis’s] red sash, held out like a lifeline from the beginning of time and weaving it together down into the present, I had instinctively woven together my own dismembered parts and given chaos the inevitable, yet still always miraculous ending of wholeness. So does everyone else who does this fairly universal, if messy, sort of work.

[…]

Red thread or yarn is a tremendous ally for those women who are in transition, finding lost pieces, giving any kind of birth, or needing protection of any kind. Working with or wearing something made of red yarn, preferably handspun or dyed, and, if at all possible, worked by one’s own hands, is a tremendous ally when moving from one level to the next.

[…]

Red yarn does not only retrieve lost things, it also makes new ones. Isis’ epithet is Great of Magic, and part of her  magic also flows from that red thread moment–the moment when intention first becomes physical in the world with all the absolute joy that color holds.

I turned to my stash and started pulling out red yarns and began to realize that I’d somehow accumulated much more than I was even conscious of. Red yarn is, I found myself realizing, one of the few yarns I’ve carried with me, literally, over the past 10 years. Some of my yarn stash goes back to my years as a graduate student in Indiana, and then traveled with me to my time in Georgia, and then again when I moved to California.

My red yarn stash that nearly overflows my ottoman, with Ollie laying in the background.

My red yarn stash that nearly overflows my ottoman, with my dog Ollie laying in the background.

I’ve also accumulated several red yarns where I live now. This super bulky red yarn was bought for the very first Knit Your Comics, but never used. Several of the previous KYCs have used red yarn. Somehow, unknowingly, unconsciously, red yarn became the most prevalent yarn in my stash.

When thinking of a comics inspiration for a magical red yarn project, I immediately thought about the Scarlet Witch. Her recent new costume redesign by Kevin Wada and David Aja’s covers are striking to me with their modern and classical inspirations.

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The Scarlet Witch is one of the characters who I know of more than I know.  And I mostly know her from times when things go badly because of her. House of M was one of the first events in comics I remember, even before Civil War. I know that she has to be one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe, if not the most powerful, if she is capable of rewriting reality.

This project began to form in my mind as a kind of knitting spell.

I started with my stash. As I sorted through the red yarns, arranging them in chronological order, I was drawn to the oldest yarn I remember purchasing: a laceweight red mohair-like mystery yarn with no labels that I bought when I was in graduate school. I don’t remember where this yarn came from–if I purchased it on ebay or if it was one of my Goodwill finds–but I’ve never been able to find a project for it. Not enough for a sweater, but too much for just a scarf. This yarn has sat in my stash for probably a decade. It made the trip with me from Indiana to Georgia, and then it survived a stash culling when I moved from Georgia to California three years ago.

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And then in addition to my red yarn stash, I also purchased a laceweight red silk yarn from Darn Good Yarn, the same yarn I used on the non-compliant pattern, which has as its goal wanting to support women’s works in Nepal and India. I picked the handspun silk yarn mostly because The Knitting Goddess mentioned that “Handspun silk holds particularly good properties,” and I couldn’t think of a better brand to work with than Darn Good Yarn. The silk yarn is what binds the spell together. It is the spell’s constant, creating visual depth, and added textual softness and strength.

The pattern itself is semi-inspired by the Isis project in The Knitting Goddess in intention, but in construction the two are nothing alike. Though I hemmed and hawed, started and frogged, I finally decided to knit the project two-color brioche.

Brioche is one of the major knitting techniques I had yet to conquer. It’s always seemed like magic to me, and two-color brioche even more so. It’s the kind of stitch that if I didn’t know how to google what it was, I would have no idea how to do it. And because of that magical element, it just seemed the right stitch for this project. This was a project about trying to restart my life, in essence, and being able to conquer a stitch like two-color brioche would be a challenge that would leave me satisfied when finished.

The idea to do the wrap in two-color brioche stitch was the final piece of the puzzle. Two color brioche knitting is probably the most complex, intricate thing you can do on two needles (or in this case, a circular needle). Each row is done by making multiple passes on the same row with each yarn, which means that to create one row in the light, you knit the same row with both light and dark yarns, turn the work, and do two more passes using the light and dark yarns. What you get is a thick, squishy, almost woven-like fabric that has single columns of stitches against a darker background.

I also liked that in two-color brioche, there is no right side or wrong side, there’s just a light side and a dark side, since it is often knitted in complementary yarns so that one side can highlights one yarn, and the other side highlights the other yarn. But as with double knitting, the two yarns are knit simultaneously, and I liked that element. Even when the yarn is not ‘seen’ on one side, it’s still there. The two-color brioche stitch is also one that is complicated enough that you always have to be ‘present,’ which makes it a good stitch for meditation.

All of these elements, the way the stitch is created through working the same rows multiple time, that there is no right or wrong side, but perceived light and dark, made me think of Wanda, and all of those mythical women and goddesses throughout history whose powers have been connecting to weaving or the fabric arts. As a comic book character, and especially as a woman, Wanda’s story is continually being written and rewritten, and for one moment, in House of M, she sought to rewrite the world itself.

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This pattern is for Wanda, and for every woman who needs a little outside help, spiritual, magical, or otherwise.

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The Pattern

The two-color brioche stitch is a challenge, but it’s the only challenge to this pattern, which is why I’m rating it a C for Challenging overall.

Having never done brioche before, much less two-color brioche, I looked at both photo tutorials and video tutorials for casting on/casting off ideas, and to understand how the stitch pattern worked. I liked the look when you start with one yarn for casting on and then add the second on the next pass. Using the advice from this site I created a slipped stitch edge and added the second color after casting on the first color.  

Cast on 101 stitches on a 24” (or longer) 2.75mm circular needle using the silk yarn.

I started with the silk because it does not stretch at all and I wanted that solidity framing the ends of the piece, though in the actual pattern, the slipped-stitch edge is formed by the mystery yarn, for balance and stretchiness. The circular needle is VITAL because that’s how you slide the stitches back and forth to rework the same row in two-color brioche.

My two tips for two-color brioche are these:

  1. Do a swatch. You have no idea how these yarns will interact with each other or what your gauge might be, and if you have never done two-color brioche before, the swatch is how you can find your groove (and your gauge).
  2. Anticipate on which side of the stitch your yarn over should fall. This is something I haven’t seen in any of the tutorials, even the videos ones I watched, but as I knit in the English style, it may not be relevant for Continental knitters. Since I’m a ‘thrower’ I have to throw my yarn over the next stitch, so when you’re doing two-color brioche, this means that instead of the ‘unified’ Slip1YO, you’re actually doing either a Slip 1 YO, OR, on some rows, a YO Slip 1. If I am doing the BRK row in the main color, then I know the next row is going to be BRK in color two, and so when I turn my work, I want my YOs to fall BEHIND the color two stitches, which means that I want them to lie to the LEFT of the slipped stitch (functionally, a Slip1, YO). And then when I’m working the following row, I have to anticipate that I’ll be doing the BRP row in the main color, so I want my YOs to fall to the RIGHT of the slipped stitch. (functionally, a YO, Slip1).

When casting off, because I had cast on using the silk yarn, I decided to cast off on a row where the silk yarn was knit, which happened to coincide with the very last row of the mystery yarn. Instead of doing BRK across, I did a standard knitted bind off, knitting the stitches in the mystery yarn instead of doing the slip/yo. I used all four skeins of the mystery yarn, and most of three skeins of the Darn Good Yarn laceweight cloud silk yarn. The final piece measures 84” in length by 24” in width.

Final Thoughts

When I started knitting in the brioche, with the silk yarn that I’d previously loathed and the mystery yarn I’d carried for 10 years without knowing what to do with, something magical happened.

The yarn that I thought was scratchy and useless, and the yarn that cannot be tamed, having zero stretch, created a beautiful, squishy, drapey fabric that’s thick without being heavy, and lightweight without being lace. It’s beautiful. And they knit together beautifully, too. The silk creates a structured frame, but it’s the mystery yarn that creates the softness, the depth. Even though I’m knitting with two colors of red, there’s a depth and texture there. It’s gorgeous. Magical, even.

Halfway through knitting this, and halfway through writing this post, my father died. It was very sudden. Two weeks later, it became apparent that we needed to euthanize our 17 year-old dog, Ollie, seen in that photo with my red yarn stash. On top of his blindness and crippling arthritis in his hips, we’d lost Dinah, my 12 year-old Chow mix, to cancer six months ago, and Ollie had become increasingly distressed and confused without her steadying presence.

These events ensured that I would never forget where I was mentally and physically when knitting this project. I thought about Scarlet Witch, and how she is still remembered, has not even really recovered, from the events of House of M, not just psychologically but in the memories of other people, some of who view it as the largest disservice to her character in a long and storied history of disservices. But I also thought about how Wanda is also much more than the tragedies that have marked her.

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During these same six weeks while I was working on the shawl, I also applied for several jobs, one of which resulted in my first positive response in over a year. I found the confidence to reach out to a community I’d felt alienated by, and found myself accepted. And I received positive feedback on a freelancing project. Was it the magic of red yarn? Had my knitting spell worked? I don’t know. But I know that these good events are also tied to this wrap, and inextricably, to the losses I experienced during this same time period. When I wear this wrap, and when I see it, I’ll think of the losses I suffered and the good things that happened. I’ll remember the kindness of the people around me, and the satisfaction that comes from personal accomplishment. And though I only had a passing knowledge of the Scarlet Witch before, she will be forever tied to knitting, weaving, and writing (and rewriting) the self.

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About Author

Recovering academic. Fangirl. Geek knitter.

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