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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Knitting Outside the Lines

My last post was a little silly, but it's time to get down to brass tacks and talk about designing knitwear. I work for a fantastic yarn shop where I write, teach and in my spare(?) time, knit! 
This article was originally published in our monthly newsletter.
Titan's Stole

I began designing my own knitwear for one reason only: control. Despite the availability of remarkable patterns, I am incapable of following instructions to the letter. Or maybe I'm just a control freak. But whether you are creating something from scratch or altering an existing pattern, here’s why I think you should get your creative juices flowing too... 

The first reason is obvious. We are all shaped differently. Sometimes it’s necessary (albeit kinda scary) to alter a pattern to fit your specific form. Long arms? Big bust? Slender shoulders? Most patterns can easily be adapted to accommodate every figure. Consider how much time, energy and money is being invested in that garment - it is usually worth it to take a bit of risk in order to get a better fit in the end. And most mistakes are re-doable (the beauty of knitting and crocheting).  
The second reason is also a no-brainer. By altering a pattern or creating your own, you will get the FO that you want. How many times have you looked at a design and thought, “It would be perfect if it weren’t for that hideous _______ .” One of my favourite things about designing is seeing how people change my patterns to suit their own needs and tastes.

The third reason to relax your grip on those instructions is to give yourself confidence as a knitter. You will have an immense sense of pride and satisfaction when you complete an object that you created yourself from start to finish. 

Titan's Stole

Some things to consider before casting on:

1. Choose your item. First, decide what you want to make. Sometimes you will have a clear vision of what you want or sometimes a yarn or a pattern stitch will inspire something inventive. For my “Titan’s Stole” (see photos) I was inspired by the wrap worn by Io in the “Clash of the Titan’s” movie. For "Oceana Toque" (also crocheted, see photo below) I was asked by a friend to replicate a favourite hat that he had lost. (See links to patterns below.)
Vascular Cardigan

2. Choose your yarn. 
Make sure you have enough supplies for what you want to make. Match your yarn to your project. For example, baby items should be made with yarn that is washable and soft. Also, you don’t want to match a variegated yarn with complicated cables or lace or you will lose the effect of both. For my "Vascular Cardigan", I chose "Smooshy" by Dream in Color because the subtle variations in colour don't overpower the lacey pattern. (Pattern in progress.)

3. Choose your pattern stitch.  
This process is all about experimentation. You might decide that a stitch you saw on a scarf would make a pretty cardigan, or maybe something in a stitch dictionary or calendar caught your eye. For me, I almost always have something in mind and try to figure it out from scratch. Again, there are many considerations when choosing a pattern stitch. Most stitches take on a whole new life depending on the needles and yarn you are using. 

4. Choose your tension. 
Consider what is going to happen to the finished fabric. This is the part where you make a gauge swatch (no excuses!). Just remember, the bigger the swatch, the more accurate it is. Also, try to use the same needles that you will be using for your project. There may be variance between bamboo, birch and steel needles, and also between straights and circulars, even if they are the same size. 

All ball bands should provide an average sized needle or crochet hook to suit that specific yarn. My general (very general) rule is that you should use a slightly larger needle for scarves and shawls (not including lace shawls) to provide a nice drape. For hats and mittens/gloves, I usually go down a size from the recommendation because those are items that you want to be extra warm. (Note: I mean, up/down a size from what your yarn label recommends, not what the pattern suggests.) 

5. Choose your size. 
How wide do you want your scarf? What is the circumference of your head? Measure your gauge swatch and figure out how many stitches you have per four inches. Now you just have to do some simple math to figure out how many cast on stitches you will need. Remember that knitting is not an exact science. Sometimes you just have to take the plunge and see what you get.

Oceana Toque (with or without brim)

It’s true that there is more work involved in creating a pattern from scratch, but here are some tips to help you out:
  • Check out similar patterns for inspiration (not to be confused with plagiarism).
  • Always write down your process and keep an eraser, calculator and measuring tape nearby.
  • Check and double check your math and stitch counts.
  • Go with your gut - if it looks wrong or feels wrong, then it probably is.
  • Get comfortable with frogging. I have reached the point where I can zen-frog. Just keep reminding yourself that it's all part of the process.  

 Final advice:
  • Be patient - anything worth doing well takes time and practice.
  • Give yourself credit – designing isn’t easy!

As a post script to the article I would like to add that making up a pattern exactly like the original (as many of us are wont to do as perfection is sometimes hard to improve upon) can be very difficult even if you use the same yarn and needles. Individual gauge, style, and dyelots etc. accounts for a lot of that. Any time you actually alter a pattern you are taking a risk. I am happy to help with any advice you need regarding one of my designs.  

Featured Patterns:

Titan's Stole:

Oceana Toque: