Fine Work

One of the most amazing parts of the story of the Lord of the Rings movies – Okay, I really must pause here and apologize to all of you proper, pre-Jackson Tolkein nerds out there, but I am confessedly as much a disciple of the films than the books. Only for aesthetic, though; not for storytelling or content. As I was saying, in the story of the making of the movies, the most amazing thing is how this enormous-budget film trilogy came to the tiny nation of New Zealand, and made use of all the best of its human resources. Craftspeople, gardeners, computer graphics designers, calligraphers; it seems like everyone in the country who could do something clever was involved.

Of course, the central hub around which all this skill revolved was Weta Workshop. And one of the most impressive pieces they created, in my opinion, was Bilbo’s mithril shirt. Someone actually handmade this piece. Although it was of lighter material than actual armor would have been, the links were all attached one by one in the traditional construction. Our old Dungeon Master used to make chainmail in his spare time; I’ve seen how tedious and time-consuming it is. So believe me when I say I am quite blown away by this piece.

“The origins of the shirt are unknown, but it came to be part of the Dwarven treasure hoard of theLonely Mountain. It was found by the dragon Smaug and added to his treasure heap. Here it was given by Thorin II Oakenshield to the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who wore it during the Battle of Five Armies. After returning to the Shire, Bilbo donated the shirt to the Mathom-house. Before departing the Shire for Rivendell, Bilbo retrieved the shirt and wore it on that journey.” – From LotR Wikia.

My Mithril Vest is not taking nearly as many hours to complete, but it is still suitably named for the cleverness and intricacy of the pattern. In honor of this shared inspiration, I am going to take the rest of this post to outline some of the cleverer bits of Susan Pandorf‘s design. (I don’t think I will be giving anything away of the pattern itself in so doing, though if you prefer to be surprised and discover clever constructions for yourself, and you actually plan to make this, maybe you will feel this counts as “spoilers.” That is up to you, but consider yourself fairly warned. I am a fan of Susan’s, and I do want you to go buy it, for goodness’ sake! And no, she isn’t paying me for any of this, though she could definitely give me the third series for free. *wink wink.*)


The funky thing about this vest is that it is very long in the back, coming down to a point, while in the front it is short, looking almost like a bolero. But the front and backs are knit all at once in one big piece. To accomplish this, the middle back and front edges are sort of mitered in shape – but not with actual knitted miters; she just integrated the increases and decreases right into the incredibly complex lace pattern! Teach me your ways, O Master Jedi. I mean, Wizard. I mean, Maiar.


This also means that, by the time you come to split for the armhole, the fronts are nearly completed, while there is still a ways to go on the back. It also means that the armholes and fronts would be hanging at a rather funky angle if you just kept knitting them straight up. Enter short row shaping: On the back half of the armholes to “bring the back up to level,” as she says, and on the fronts to straighten them out.

Last time I made the vest, I got confused, and thought the chart for the front short rows was also to be used on the armhole short rows. So I very carefully executed some complex lace under the arms, which looked completely out of place and was supposed to be stockinette. Me being me, I didn’t rip. I couldn’t make myself. But I felt pretty stupid about it.


This time ’round, I still couldn’t bring myself to do stockinette. I figured, why not continue the side panel lace up the short rows? “It can’t be that hard,” I said to myself, forgetting what always happens when I say things like that to myself. (Namely, I get into a scrape that doesn’t really injure anyone, because it’s knitting. The worst thing that I get is a soft, expensive pile of garbage. No wonder I never learn.) The attempt is shown above, and looks rather funky. I am hoping it blocks out well, and was consoled by the fact that the front short rows (executed exactly according to direction) also look a little funky.


The first picture of my vest above shows the piece right when I was about to divide for the armholes. Almost as soon as I took the picture, I blasted off and finished the rest of the back in a couple of days. It was hard to put down, and finished quite quickly – partly because there are no beads on the back, but partly because the my favorite bit of lace is in that portion. This is a lace pattern I think of as the “penny plant.” If you  look at the picture of a finished garment, you can’t miss them between the two pairs of lace ferns above and below. They remind me of the plants that my grandmother grows in her St. Francis garden, peeling off the shells when they dry out and using them for interior decorating.
A little googling tells me this is actually called “pennycress.” Image from etmarcineic. Click for link.

Without giving too much away, I think I can tell you that the lace pennies are made by dramatically increasing in one stitch over three rows:



knitting across those rows a few times:


Then decreasing them back down again. It’s almost like doing a bobble, but instead of going back and forth on all the stitches in the middle of the row, all the going back and forth is part of the larger row. If you’ve made bobbles, that probably makes sense to you.

Here is what the first finished pair looked like:


Hm, a little testicular. Maybe better would be a picture of the whole section completed?


Well. It’ll look better after it’s blocked. And that might even happen later today, if I’m lucky, and if I neglect the laundry. I have eight rows left on one of the fronts, and this time I am going to follow directions and block before completing the neck bands. And I might need to block very severely, as the piece is looking rather small, and I will only have used one of the two called-for skeins. (Did it even occur to me to swatch? Of course not!)

2 thoughts on “Fine Work

  1. I’m intrigued by the plants that you said were grown in your grandmother’s garden.
    I grow them in my garden and call them “money plant”. Why? I guess because they are shaped like coins.
    Interesting! I love your knitting! It’s beautiful


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