Knitting design and me: how I think about upcoming designs

rough draft chart for a stitch pattern; not recommended for use

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?

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Étude no. 20: a Learning Experience

Etude no. 20: a learning experience

Aside from just loving the stitch patterns from the Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible, I have been wanting to apply some of the things I’ve learned to my own stitch designs.

This is my first attempt at pulling in some ideas to use in one of my stitch patterns. I am both happy about it while at the same time not feeling that it is a good enough stitch pattern to want to share the instructions.

On the one hand, I feel as if I’m starting to learn how to use columns of stitches worked through the back loop, how to use twisted decreases, and how to use what Hitomi Shida calls knot stitches. On the other hand, I just plain don’t like the result.

So why share it? Mostly because this kind of thing happens all the time to me when I’m learning how to design things. It happens to other designers too. It all takes practice and repetition, and time for the back of the brain to absorb the lessons that are there to be learned. It’s been helpful for me to be told that people I admire have their own mistakes that are still useful to them; I hope to encourage others to feel comfortable taking creative risks that don’t work out.

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Using a stitch pattern: converting from flat to round and vice versa

Using a stitch pattern: turning a flat pattern into a round one.

This is the third and final part of my very basic series about how to use a stitch pattern. Here are the first two:

  1. The parts of a stitch pattern.
  2. Using gauge to figure out how many stitches to cast on.

Stitches in stitch dictionaries are usually written to be worked flat, but they can usually be converted to be worked in the round. This post discusses how. Occasionally, you’ll find a stitch pattern written to be worked in the round; the instructions here will work for those, too.

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Étude no 18: noodling around with Granite Stitch

Periodically I blog about some of my knitting experiments – I call these études, after the kind of musical exercises.

I recently joined Instagram (@gannetdesigns) and have been joining in with the @yarnlovechallenge, which provides photo prompts on a given yarny handcraft theme. The theme for this week is texture, which made my brain fizz.

I’ve been meaning to fool around a little with Granite Stitch just to see what I could see, because much as I love lace and cables, I think there’s a lot of other textured knitting stitches to play with and turn into other stitch patterns.

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Braid stitch socks, finished.

A year and a half ago, I wrote a blog post about a pair of socks I was knitting for myself, talking about my design decisions and how I messed around with a stitch pattern called braid stitch from a stitch dictionary to make it sit correctly on the top of the sock. I knit the first half of the second sock and then other projects became shinier. The braid stitch socks went into hibernation until a couple of weeks ago, when I picked them out of the bin. I need more socks, and the stitch pattern was freshly attractive to me. 

I finished the second sock last night, and I thought I’d share my conclusions so as not to leave that blog post hanging. 

Finished braid stitch socks
First, I still like the way they look — I really like the way the stitch pattern looks when stretched out on the foot. However, the stitch pattern is stiff enough that I really should have increased enough stitches at the toe to put in another 7-stitch repeat. I can get the socks onto my feet, but it’s a close thing. Fortunately, they are not so tight that I can’t wear them comfortably. 

Or, wait. Now that I look again, I can see that I should have added more gusset stitches to make the heel flap longer. This would have let me add in one more stitch pattern repeat in the cuff, which would have made the socks easier to put on. I think I like this solution better, since it would have solved two problems at once. 

I should have taken better notes about how I worked the gusset – I think it might be slightly different on the two socks. 

Something I didn’t mention in the previous post – I didn’t just slap a standard k2p2 ribbing on the cuff. For one thing, it wouldn’t fit nicely in 63 stitches. For another, I like my ribbing to flow out of the stitch pattern that’s being used. One obvious choice would have been k5p2 ribbing, but I wanted something a little stretchier. So I put a purl column above the p3tog part of the stitch pattern, making the ribbing into *k2, p1, k2, p2; work from *. I like the effect. 

In any case, I have another pair of hand knit socks I like, and that’s always a good thing. I still need more socks, but I’m going to work on destashing some self-patterning yarn. I’m just going to knit plain socks in alternation with my design knitting for a while. 

Étude no. 17: further experiments in picture knitting

experiments in picture knitting

I have pretty much given up trying to invent a form of knitted filet lace, where filet lace is defined as a background of square mesh with filled in squares to make pictures or other designs. Besides, Jackie E-S has already done it (though I won’t reveal her method since it’s a paid tutorial).

The closest I’ve come up with is a variant with hexagonal mesh, which I really like quite a lot, except that the number of stitches used for one hexagon makes it harder to make detailed pictures the way one can with filet crochet or filet lace (done on netting) because of the scale involved.

I was considering the question of lace picture knitting some more and realized that my mental thought processes had gotten stuck on a particular design order. When I think about making filet crochet or hex lace, I start with the mesh chart and then mark the design on the mesh. But what if I reversed the order? I don’t know how other people do this kind of design work, but this is how my mind works. (A modern designer that I know of who does this sort of work—and is expert at it, unlike me—is Sharon Winsauer.)

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 Étude no. 12: adding extra plain rows

beech leaves: a free lace knitting stitch

Sometimes I like to try exercises in knitting stitch design as a way of exploring the possibilities. These are what I call my études, named after the formulaic exercises used when practicing classical music. I’m not always satisfied with the results, but I think it’s worth doing them. Further, I think it’s worth sharing the results publicly because it helps show that the process of stitch design isn’t effortless. I can’t learn new things if I’m not willing to make mistakes or have things come out in a way I don’t care for. And I think it’s worth sharing that process to give others the nerve to take risks and learn from them.

Anyway. This time I wanted to try adding in some extra plain rows in an existing lace design to see how the stitch pattern was affected. That is, I took an ordinary lace pattern that had one row with yarnovers and the next row plain, and changed it to one where there was one row with yarnovers followed by three plain rows.

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Swatching stitch patterns

Swatching serves many purposes in knitting. There is the basic gauge swatch, which should (in theory) help the knitter pick the correct needles to go with a given yarn for a specific project. That is a story often told in many places, with many associated difficulties and the lament that swatches lie. That’s as may be, but it’s not the focus of this post.

For designers of finished objects like sweaters or socks or shawls, swatches serve other functions aside from measuring gauge. They can be used to work out the transitions between a stitch pattern and a ribbing, to figure out which buttonhole is best for a given situation, to decide which complicated lace looks best with which simple mesh. These swatches can be quite large by comparison with the gauge swatches that most knitters make.

Another kind of swatch is one that I like to use: a practice swatch to learn a new technique before incorporating it in a finished object, or to see if that mistake from a work in progress could actually be used as a purposeful technique. Here the swatch only needs to be as many stitches as it takes to work the new method.

And finally, the kind of swatch I knit most often: the swatches that show how a stitch pattern looks as a knitted fabric. How big to make such a swatch is the focus of this post. (Even though there is no knitting in my examples.)

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Étude no. 10: a hexagonal knitted relative of filet lace

Étude number 10: a hexagonal knitted relative of filet lace

The last time I visited the topic of a knitted version of filet lace, I had come up with a square knitted netting, but couldn’t figure out how to make solid squares. So I shoved the question in the back of my head for later. Later hasn’t exactly arrived; this is a related concept but still not filet knitting. (I think that Jackie E-S’s method is the way to go if you want filet lace knitting.)

I’ve also been wistfully regarding the work of Herbert Niebling and Marianne Kinzel. The particular pieces that have caught my eye have been pictures with a honeycomb mesh background.

Filet lace, whether netted or crochet, is pictures on a square mesh background. The only difference between it and what I’m playing with is that one has a grid for a background, but the other has hexagons. This is obviously nothing new to experienced lace designers (see the above links), though they combined it with a variety of other lace methods, but for some reason it struck me like a bolt of lightning.

I decided a simple experiment with the method would make a good étude for my series of knitting and design exercises, even if it came out badly. (I don’t think it did, but I want to encourage knitters to try new things and see what happens.)

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