Guest series Knitting 2012

Knitting designer series:  I invited a few of my favourite knitwear designers to discuss their design process and inspiration and to share some tips and ideas too.

Hunter Hammersen recently abandoned the glamorous life of a grad student to write knitting books full time. Strangely enough, she still spends most of her day at the computer in her pajamas. Her books include The Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet, Rabble Rousers, and Silk Road Socks. Find out about her books and follow her adventures at violently domestic.

Loasa lateritia Sock from the book “The Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet”

I am an alarmingly slow knitter. I’m also lazy. Very very lazy. This deadly combination means that, if I ever want to get anything finished and off my needles, I have to be as efficient as possible in my knitting. That means swatching. Lots and lots and lots of swatching.

But, this isn’t going to be a lecture on the virtues swatching. I’m going to assume that you already know that swatching is a good thing, that it saves huge amounts of time, and that it dramatically reduces the amount of heartbreak and swearing in your life. We’ll just take all that as a given. So instead of a lecture, I want to offer a little help as you go about your own swatching.

I want to show you how to swatch in the round

Now the first question to spring to mind might be ‘and just why would one bother swatching in the round?’ Two main reasons.

First, your knitting may well be different when you’re working in the round than when you’re working back and forth. If yours is, and you swatch flat for a project worked in the round, your swatch will lie to you. Lying swatches lead to the aforementioned heartbreak, so we want to avoid them.

Second, some things are just a pain in the neck to knit back and forth. The list of what qualifies as a pain to knit flat will likely vary from knitter to knitter, but for me it includes twisted ribbing, anything where you’re cabling on a wrong side row, and anything where you need to do fancy decreases or increases on a wrong side row.

So if your project is in the round, swatching in the round will give you a more accurate gauge swatch. And if your project uses any fancy stitchwork, swatching in the round will likely be less of a hassle.

So that takes care of why, the next question is likely something along the lines of ‘and just how do you do this nifty thing?’ There are two ways.

The first and most obvious is to knit a tube. This has a few drawbacks. It’s fiddly (knitting tiny tubes just is, there’s not much of a way around it). You also need to either knit a tube twice the size of your intended swatch (which doesn’t sound all that great to me) or steek your tube after you knit it. It’s a hassle. It’s easier to just do it on 2 dpns. This is one of those things that’s easier to see in picture than to read about.

Let me show you how

One tiny thing to note before we start. I’m using two different colors of dpns so you can tell the needles apart. We’ll call the brown square needle A, and the pink round needle B.

Step 1, Cast on on needle A. I used the long-tailed cast on. You’ll have your stitches and your working yarn hanging out over on the left side of needle A.

Step 2, Shove your stitches over to the right side of needle A (this is an easy one).

Step 3, Reel off a nice long loop of yarn (more than enough to span the whole length of your swatch plus a few inches). Grab needle B and start on the first row of your swatch. That long loop of yarn you reeled off will just dangle in the background. Knit all the way across the row.

Now let’s check in and make sure we’re in the same point in the process. Your stitches and your working yarn are now hanging out on the left side of needle B.

Now you just keep going, repeating steps 2 and 3 until your swatch is tall enough. Shove your stitches over to the right side of the needle, reel off another loop of yarn, and knit back across your swatch.

Notice that you’re never looking at the back of your knitting. You’re not flipping your knitting back and forth and working right side and wrong side rows. You’re always working on the right side. You’re knitting in the round, you’re just using those long loops of yarn to finish up the back side of the circle for you.

Here’s what it looks like once you’ve done half a dozen rows or so.

Once your swatch is tall enough, bind off. Grab the nearest pair of scissors and slice all those long loops of yarn in half. Block your swatch, and measure away.

And just as proof that I really do this, here are a handful of swatches grabbed from my jar of ongoing projects. The yellow and green one is a mass of twisted ribs, the pink one has lots of increases and decreases, and the brown one uses some cables that are easy in the round, but would be tedious to work flat. Each of them would have been cumbersome to swatch flat and it saved me lots of time and irritation to work them in the round.

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Knitting designer series:  I invited a few of my favourite knitwear designers to discuss their design process and inspiration and to share some tips and ideas too.

Jane Richmond designs classic pieces from her Island home of Victoria, BC. With a focus on enjoyable, well written patterns, Jane prides herself on delivering projects that are fun to knit and easy to wear. Find her online: Website  ::  Facebook ::  Ravelry  ::  Etsy

It has been nearly four years since I began designing knitwear. With every pattern I write, my method becomes more finely tuned. The road from design inspiration to finished product and pattern is unique to each designer, here is a glimpse into my design method…

SKETCH OR SKEIN // New designs typically originate from one of two places, a sketch or a particular yarn. A sketch will take me on a mad hunt to find the right yarn to meet my “vision”, this can be a long search over many months and can sometimes lead to compromise. A design that is sprung from a particular yarn can require just as much searching but in this case the hunt is for a fabric that is well suited to the yarn.

SWATCHING // I love swatching a new design, it is such a revealing process of what is yet to come and is very much a deciding factor in the direction of a design. When you are knitting a piece from scratch, swatches tend to take on a whole new meaning. I always use the opportunity to sample the techniques I intend to use within the pattern. Buttonholes, collars, ribbed borders and shaping can all be performed on a smaller scale during the swatching process. This also helps to ensure there are no surprises when you reach these steps when working in full scale.

NUMBERS CRUNCHING // Swatching is fun but number crunching is bliss! I’m a geeky math lover and for me this next step is something I can really sink my teeth into. The more thoroughly I’ve swatched, the more prepared I am to crunch the numbers. For this I work with large spreadsheets, inputting all of my calculations and creating special formulas to tackle design elements over multiple sizes. On designs that are more complex I may step away from the computer, armed with my clipboard of scrap paper and a calculator, and work solely on the numbers for my size to gain clarity on how all of the elements will work together to create a garment.

PATTERN WRITING // From the spreadsheet straight to pattern writing, some might think it backwards to write the entire pattern before knitting the sample. I prefer to work this way, it’s how my mind processes my design concept. I also really enjoy working from a pattern. It’s so satisfying to follow instructions thoroughly and meet your expectations with the results. It’s also important to me that I personally have followed my own final copy just as any knitter proceeding me would, to ensure that it is enjoyable, easy to follow, and doesn’t use any techniques that are better on paper than they are in practice. A fun knit is extremely important to me.

SAMPLE KNITTING // Once the pattern is written in full I can begin knitting the sample. This is where I make my final cuts. If I find a technique tedious, instructions written poorly, fit issues or what have you, this is when I make these adjustments. I often have to reknit sleeves a handful of times to get the fit just right. A fully written pattern does not automatically mean smooth sailing from start to finish and I’m happy to have the opportunity to scrutinize every design decision I’ve made as it knits up before me.

PHOTOGRAPHY // Once the sample is complete I will stage a photo shoot. I prefer simplicity and normally work on a white back drop so that the focus remains on the knitting. I take all of my own photographs with a tripod and remote, if you’ve ever tried this I’m sure you can sympathize with how difficult it is to photograph yourself!

TECHNICAL EDITING // The final pattern then goes off to my technical editor who makes further adjustments. She is looking for clarity and consistency within the written word. She also goes over all of the numbers with a fine tooth comb and reports any discrepancies. Katherine  is invaluable when I’ve struggled to find the words to write clear instructions for a technique, it’s her job to clear up these messes and she’s incredibly good at it. Often during this process the pattern goes back and forth between me and the technical editor until there are no more changes to be made.

TEST KNITTING // If test knitters are to be used this would be the stage in which the pattern would be released to them. I don’t always employ the help of test knitters although I am extremely lucky to have friends who enjoy knitting my patterns and often get to see the results of my work knit up by them.

PUBLISHING // Until March of this year my designs were entirely self published. I am an advocate of selfish knitting and most of my designs are fuelled by the desire to add a particular piece to my wardrobe. When a pattern has reached this point it is ready for publication. In my self-publishing world that means adding the pattern to my shops, Ravelry , Etsy , Website , and hoping that my designs appeal to knitters who appreciate my aesthetic.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into how I create! Happy Knitting!


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Knitting designer series: I invited a few of my favourite knitwear designers to discuss their design process and inspiration and to share some tips and ideas too.

Amy Christoffers is a knitwear designer who lives with Mister Christoffers, Small Boy and a Merle The Cat in a tiny house in the mountains of Vermont. She sells knitting patterns on Ravelry and publishes with Interweave Knits, Knitscene, Twist Collective, O-Wool and Brooklyn Tweed. To see what she’s been up most recently please visit Savory Knitting.

 

A new project begins with a fully formed idea, swatches and sketches, notes and schematics. There is a lot of intention and sometimes it really was a good idea to start with. But the details are all wrong, or the yarn is really just too… too something. It doesn’t want to be that idea. When things go well I figure this out pretty quickly hopefully a few inches into it. When things go less well I am staring at a finished sweater on a dress form when it dawns on me: this didn’t work out, I have to unravel it and start over.

Making clothes started by the time I was 4. I began making ball gowns for Barbie dolls using scraps of old sheets from my Grandmother’s rag drawer and scotch tape. When I got frustrated because the tape didn’t hold, my Gram took pity on me and taught me to sew. A year later I was proudly parading around the house in dresses I made myself from altered pillowcases and by 8 I had (finally) succeeded in my lobby for a sewing machine. It took several more years for my skill level to catch up with my enthusiasm but I never stopped. In college I switched to knitting when the cramped circumstances of shared apartments made sewing nearly impossible. There was a skein of lavender mohair, it was love at first sight and I have never looked back.

Today we are lucky if we had grandmothers, or mothers able to teach us how to knit or sew. The tradition of making your own clothes has largely been lost in just the last generation with the influx of inexpensive off the rack clothing. There is an increasing awareness of the pitfalls of cheap t-shirts. Without even getting (too) political about the ‘fast fashion’ issues of employment practices, environmental pollution and economic parity there is something alarming about the garment industry when a factory minimum order can start anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 identical t-shirts. Who really wants to be 1 of 50,000? Then there is the flip side, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States disposes of 12.7 tons of textiles (clothes) ever year. That is about 68 lbs per person, per year. For reference one adult women’s sweater typically weighs about a pound give or take.

The waste, the dissatisfaction of a closet full of mass-produced stuff that doesn’t quite fit, or isn’t quite right is bringing back the enthusiasm for making things ourselves. Since the Industrial Revolution, artists have turned to pre-industrial crafts like woodworking, pottery, weaving or needlework in resistance to mass production in day-to-day life. Arts and Crafts 1890’s architect, William Price, called this “The Art that is Life”, today, it is “Slow Design”. The message is the same — we need to create thoughtful, beautiful things that function and enrich our daily lives.

In the past making and using handmade things was a fact of life, today it’s a luxury. In an era where licensing deals have made reduced “luxury” to ubiquitous logos and “brand identities” making your own clothes is the ultimate: Taking the time to spend on the tactile act of making, paying attention to, and adding, all the details lost to mass production.

I am a product knitter. While I can admire the beauty of an elaborate lace shawl or the well-engineered wizardry of clever socks; novel construction and technical virtuosity do not particularly interest me. My goal is to make clothes. Real clothes: a sweater to wear to work, to dinner and to the grocery store. If it doesn’t work with nearly everything in my wardrobe then it didn’t work and I will usually unravel it and try again. What I love most about yarn is how forgiving it is. Make a mistake: fix it. Make an ugly project: unravel it. The ability to do-over is something else I learned from my Grandmother, if it isn’t right do it again (and again and again), until it is. Nothing is wasted if you learned from it.

There are so few places in life where we get the chance to have do-overs but knitting can be unraveled and re-knit, unraveled and re-knit, unraveled and re-knit… I find this liberating. My goal is to make things that are beautiful and above all useful. William Morris said “The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life”. I knit because yarn is the medium that allows the freedom to figure that out as I go.

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Knitting designer series: I invited a few of my favourite knitwear designers to discuss their design process and inspiration and to share some tips and ideas too.

Thelma Egberts is a Dutch aspiring knitwear designer, free-lance editor and happy mother. She is most known for the Fish hat published in Knitty. Fishy has his own website and Thelma has got one too. And of course she’s on Ravelry.

The day Thelma decided to knit her son a fish hat, she became a knitwear designer. Before that, she already made up patterns for her own use. Yet she never thought of writing them down and sharing them. Fishy was the big turnaround. People started laughing when they saw it, and asked for a pattern. So Thelma wrote one and sent it to Knitty. She has written a few more since then, but she still feels reluctant to call herself knitwear designer, she says: “I still have to learn a lot about pattern writing, sizing and even about knitting techniques! But I love every step of the way!”

I asked Thelma a few questions about her hats and her knitting designs.

Can you tell us about your inspiration for the Fish Hat?

I always loved to knit my four children unusual hats. The fish hat was designed for Jonas, who wanted to become a sea biologist. I decided to knit him a fish that ‘ate’ his head but couldn’t find a pattern that came close. So I started to puzzle my own hat together. Without question a stocking cap should form the basic shape. Ribbed fins were no big deal either. The fish should have big lips, to emphasize it’s comical character. A roll brim soon came to mind. But how to shape the mouth? Earflaps seemed a good solution, but they should not be too flappy and had to be combined with a roll brim. How to do so? I looked at all kind of ear flaps and when I found the short row type I knew I had a catch.

It sounds so easy when I write it like this. In reality it took a lot of knitting, frogging and hibernating before Jonas finally got his hat. I did not take notes. So to write the pattern, I had to knit it again. Since then, I take notes all the time.

Can you tell us a little about your love of weird and funny hats? What are some of your other fun hat designs?

First I have to admit I never wear weird hats myself. I don’t like to attract the attention. Still I do love anything unusual and I love children and grownups who don’t shy away from it. Happily I could place almost anything on my children’s heads before they became teenagers. The Half Fish Beanie was a logical follow up of the original Fish hat. To have the fish followed by a cat seemed natural too. The comical TV series CatScratch inspired me to knit a hat based on cat Waffle.

And a cat hat of course should be followed by a bird hat: Twitter [pictured above]. Earflaps figure as ‘wings’ this time, making Twitter a very comfortable hat to wear. But the real fun part is the beak, shaped by a double brim. I studied a lot of brim types, till I found the right technique to shape mine. Not hats, but still funny are Scarfish, the scarf to go with Fishy, and Funny Feet [pictured above], socks with outstanding ears, noses and hair.

Can you tell us a little about your interest in South American knitting traditions?

I don’t stick to weird and funny. I also love to dive into knitting history and get inspired by it. Most of all South American knitting attracts me, because so much still seems undiscovered. I have always loved chullo’s, Peruvian ear flap hats, and the wonderful story behind them. But I almost became obsessed when I bought a very peculiar baby hat that was handknit in South America. It had two sweet little ears and it really took me years to find out how they were shaped. And just when I found out, Berrocco published Cisco, a hat that looks just like ‘my’ Llama hat! [pictured above]. I was very disappointed at first. Still I published my version because it’s worked totally differently. I am convinced that it is closest to the way the South Americans would knit it.

My internet search for South American knitting traditions also resulted in a Knitty-pattern. I found a picture of a Peruvian child, wearing yet another uncommon hat. I reverse engineered the pattern and published it as Tortora Child. Its bobbly stitch pattern formed the inspiration for my Tortora hat in Knitty.

You love to use left-over yarn, stash yarn, improvising patterns and techniques. Can you tell us a little about this and your process.

I love to knit with other people’s leftovers, like yarns I buy in thrift stores. That way I have the yarn speak to me. That’s very different from me telling the yarn what it has to become. Stitch patterns also are an endless source of inspiration. It starts with wanting to know how that particular stitch is done. Then it grows into a design of my own. Besides Tortora also Caprifoglio and Snelle Annabelle [pictured above] are examples. Snelle Annabelle shows what very bulky yarn does to a delicate lace pattern. Besides that, I like to juggle around with techniques. Especially short rows keep coming back into my designs. It’s amazing how you can shape anything with this technique, without increasing, decreasing or binding of. Stroller [pictured below], a cowl hood pattern is an example.

These are the ‘success stories’ of designs that have worked out somehow. But the most educational (and funny!) stories are those about designs that never saw daylight. The ones I hide under my sofa. Maybe one day I tell you how I flunked at designing a Human Ear Earflap Hat, or an Almost Real Apple Peel hat…

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Knitting designer series: I invited a few of my favourite knitwear designers to discuss their design process and inspiration and to share some tips and ideas too.

Kate Gagnon Osborn is co-owner of Kelbourne Woolens [Blog], distributor of the Fibre Company yarns. Along with a popular line of patterns published through Kelbourne Woolens and her books co-authored with business partner Courtney Kelley, Vintage Modern Knits (Interweave Press, 2012) and November Knits (Interweave Press, 2012), Kate’s designs have appeared in Vogue KnittingInterweave Knits and Knitscene, as well as in books such as Weekend Hats, Knit Local, New England Knits and The Best of Knitscene. Kate lives in Philadelphia with her husband, daughter and menagerie of rescued dogs and cats in an early 1900s brownstone they are painstakingly renovating from the ground up.

My role as the co-owner of a yarn distribution company and knitwear designer embodies everything I could ever want out of a job. Each day brings a new challenge, a new opportunity to be creative and apply logic to running a growing business. I am never bored, always busy, adding to and crossing off items on my lengthy to-do list.

As an undergrad studying fine art, I was encouraged to take a very cerebral approach to my work – lots of research, discussion and writing went into each piece. As a grad student studying textile design, first as a knitwear and then ultimately finishing the program with a weaving concentration, the focus was always on the industry – mood boards, color stories, design inspiration and marketability ruled the day. Although pursuing art during my educational studies was always what I wanted to do, I struggled with many of the aspects I faced of being an art student in the two vastly different programs.

It became very clear during the course of both experiences that the world of “fine art” was not one I was built for, yet the dishearteningly corporate focus of the industry most of my fellow students were moving towards was also not a good fit. Having a meaningful “reason” behind my art was difficult for me – so much of what I did was because I enjoyed the process of things. Working in a sketchbook was not my strong suit – I just wanted to make something.

While in grad school I was working at a yarn store and was given my first opportunity to design patterns for the hand knitter. From the beginning, the focus was always on the yarn; the colors I liked to knit with, what I most wanted to wear, which fibers appealed to me. I was able to find my niche, to do something that appealed to all facets of my personality and utilized what I loved most about art: the process of creating, the making of things, and creating something both practical and beautiful.

Since founding Kelbourne Woolens in 2008 with Courtney Kelley, as the distributors of Fibre Company yarns, we are responsible for color development, pattern support, branding, marketing, new yarn development, shipping, billing and everything else running a small company entails. We are constantly designing with both the hand-knitter and shop owner in mind: our method of approaching knitwear design is one that always asks the question How can we best showcase the yarn? Over the years, as we have designed and developed additional yarns to add to the line – Acadia in 2011 and Tundra this year – and the process of swatching, tweaking the fiber content by adding 5% here and removing 5% there, re-swatching, pouring over lab dips and creating designs for each new line takes time but that is ultimately what creates what we feel is a beautiful yarn that contributes something to the industry.

When working on our books Vintage Modern Knits and November Knits, we had to think broadly in chapters that evoked a certain time and place and design within an established color palette, but also with a macro lens on each individual project and which traditional technique we wanted to showcase. Our goal for the book was to create a collection of designs that paid homage to traditional knitting techniques while maintaining a more modern style and fit. This “thesis” has carried over in most of what I do when designing – although my inspiration, color palette, goals or desired featured technique may change, my goal is to always create a pattern that utilizes the best that knitting has to offer.

For each individual design, whether destined for a large compilation such as Vintage Modern Knits, or as a single pattern for Vogue Knitting, or one to be used in a collection of designs published under the Kelbourne Woolens line, it begins with a swatch. So many stitch patterns that seem perfect in my mind need adjustments – a color change here, additional stitch pattern there – before finding themselves in a new design.

While knitting an unsuccessful swatch, I sometimes get discouraged. Since my daughter was born in March, I find my knitting time more precious than ever, and I can easily fall into the trap of viewing a night of swatching as a night of knitting wasted, especially if the end result ends up being a dud. I recently went through a large box we keep in our office, humbly labeled “swatches”, and found a treasure trove of knitting. There were hats in progress I had completely forgotten about, cable patterns that didn’t work at the time (although now I have no idea why) and lace edgings meant for an as-yet-knit shawl. There were some swatches I still considered duds, but at least they are there to remind me not to try that particular color combination or stitch pattern again.

After swatching and I’ve determined gauge, the pattern writing begins. Or, more aptly, the knitting begins. Every single time I’ve knit a new design, I tell myself this is the time where I’m going to write – and if it is a garment, size it! – before I knit. This is never the case. I am not a designer who can write a pattern and send it off to a sample knitter, having the bare minimum of interaction with the finished piece. I need to be involved in the process from start to finish, making changes as I go, following my instincts to rip out inches of a sleeve or having the confidence to continue on, trusting the end result will materialize as planned. Inevitably, my designs evolve as I knit them, and decisions are made as the knitting happens. Once the project is complete, I go back to write the final draft of the pattern, referencing the notes I have made throughout the knitting process.

I consider myself ridiculously lucky to be where I am in life. Yes, I wish there were more hours in the day (or less sleep needed) so I could do all the things swirling in my head, but continually working to find the balance between business and a creative life, revelling in the process of it all, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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