The questions people ask me say a lot about their (pretty reasonable) assumptions about knitting design and stitch pattern design. I’m sure there are designers out there who have a picture in their head of what they want their end result to be. But that’s not how things are for me.
I’m going to digress a moment. About a year and a half ago, one of my online communities got into a discussion of aphantasia and whether we saw movies in our heads when reading. The group covered a real spectrum, with one person saying she could paint the scenes she saw in her head in full color, and that they were vividly, visually present, like a movie, to another person who saw nothing at all when reading and can’t picture memories in her head.
I don’t quite lack mental imagery when thinking about things or reading books, but it’s barely there: I get glimpses, vague outlines or hints of movement, like ghosts and shadows. I hate things like battle scenes in books where it matters how people move in relation to each other because I can’t actually comprehend how it all fits together unless I make a diagram on paper, and so I find it boring. (I skim over those bits.)
So how can I design things, if I can’t imagine what things will look like ahead of time?
Well, it depends on what I’m designing.
When I design things like these shawl shapes, I think to myself in words something like, “I wonder what shapes I can make with rectangles and triangles that aren’t in common use already?” And then I sketch some possibilities and use the mathematics of knitting to figure out the increases or decreases to make that happen. I always liked geometry.
When I design lace, nothing really helps me know what it’s going to look like until I’ve swatched it, preferably three horizontal repeats by three vertical repeats.
Say I’ve got this chart, which I just made up for this post. It’s not based on secret code this time; I just put down some YO motifs I often like and guessed where the decreases might go, because I know how the YOs will push stitches aside and the decreases will pull others together. (I’m not going to go into a lot of detail how I made those guesses: I have to save some of my experience to write about in books for income, or for my Patreon supporters.) I know that the decrease lines will make some kind of repeating diamond shape, based on the chart, but I will not know for certain what it will look like until I swatch it, and I might need to change things depending on the swatching.
Swatching is the best, and while gauge swatches might be deceptive, stitch pattern test swatches have taught me half of what I know about how to make stitch patterns. My earliest stitch patterns were swatched over and over, with lots of chart drafts. Now I can take all the knowledge I subconsciously absorbed from that, and eliminate some of the first iterations of the rough draft swatches.
You might be wondering about Stitch Maps and whether I could use those to help me see how a stitch pattern will look, but I’m going to save the details of that for another time. In brief: no. And that’s not a criticism of Stitch Maps, either.
To sum up, I don’t picture a design I want and then figure out how to make the knitting stitches do that. I make a chart, and then see how I can make it into a design that I like.
The chart above became this swatch. Here is the final chart; it’s rather different in the end.