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October 3, 2011 / Gillian

Day 4: Method or Mayhem

My life resolves around creating method out of mayhem.  Whether it’s keeping the family finances in order or making sure my son doesn’t utterly destroy my house, I’m constantly structuring things.  The reason I so passionately love well-written knitting patterns is because they allow me a structure within which I can go creatively crazy.  When I know the foundation is strong I feel like I have room to maneuver.  Designing a piece though is possibly equal parts creativity and structure, finding method inside mayhem.

Some projects I’ve designed sort of knowing in advance exactly what I wanted the thing to look like down to the last little stitch.  The Alice has not been like that.  For Alice I had a rough idea of what I’d be working towards, but I’m essentially fleshing out a skeleton.  This way is easy and hard.  Often I know what I want something to look like, but I’m not completely sure how to structure it.  Minimally, for this piece the structure came first and I had to add the embellishment.  What I’ve worked out so far is two rectangles with horizontal alternating stripes of cable and lace pattern.  For the lace pattern I went with a super simple little diamond shaped eyelet.  When worn, the sweater drapes down on the sides so the horizontal patterns won’t appear completely horizontal.  In the original sweater there was a diagonal stripe pattern that I would have accomplished by knitting a rectangle but starting from the corner rather than the side.

Being fairly new to design, my method isn’t completely set in stone.  Especially in a situation like this, I find myself constantly changing my mind about how I’ll go about accomplishing the piece even as I’m working it.  A great example would be that earlier today I thought of something I’d do different for the second of the two rectangles that will make up the base of the Alice.  The front and back of the sweater are seamed down the sides, but not the whole way to the bottom.  There is a slit.  In order to more seamlessly attach the two sides I decided to do a provisional cast-on so that I could use a kitchener graft to join them.  However, I though that this same provisional cast-on wouldn’t benefit the look of the slit so I judged that the best thing would be to cast on a determined number of stitches with a longtail cast-on and then switch to provisional cast-on for the remainder.  In this instance I cast on ten stitches in long tail and the rest in provisional.  At first I had pulled out enough yarn that I’d have been able to cast on all the stitches in long tail, but then realized that I’d be leaving a large quantity of unnecessary tail once I got to the provisional cast on for which the tail would become unused.  With that thought, I readjusted and only pulled enough yarn to cast on the 10 stitches in long tail and then did my provisional for the rest.  Two or three inches into my rectangle it suddenly occurred to me that the tidiest way to join the front and back via the kitchener stitch would be to use that tail as the thread to sew the two pieces together, an insight I intend to keep in mind for both the second rectangle and for writing up a pattern.

Keeping copious notes is helpful.  Of course my notes aren’t all that organized.  I would imagine to most people it looks like a bunch of random numbers and nonsensical gibberish, which is what it looks like to me on occasion as well.  Maybe the best pattern I’ve ever done was nineteen pages long.  I’m not saying that it’s necessary for every pattern to be a novella, but some patterns need explanation.  My goal for myself is to walk the fine line between writing so that a wide range of ability levels can understand me and sounding like I’m pandering to the lowest common denominator.  Mostly I’m afraid of sounding like I think my audience is stupid.  One thing that turns me off a pattern or a book or a magazine article is feeling like the author thinks I’m an idiot.  Obviously he or she doesn’t know me and isn’t aiming at me personally, but what that says to me is that they don’t value their audience and that means that I’m giving money to a person who thinks anyone who supports them is a bumbling moron.  This is probably the least charitable explanation, but it’s the first place that my head goes.

In any case, pulling structure out of the chaos of creativity can be hard.  Finding the right amount of editing is something I’m working on.  How much is too much and when do I need to go into more detail.  For special techniques do you describe the way you accomplish a technique or is it enough to reference a place that a knitter could learn it?  At this point in time my answer is that I think it depends on the technique and also how many advanced techniques are used in your pattern.  For this pattern I’ll be making use of provisional cast on and kitchener stitch, both of which I think might even be too detailed to fully describe in a pattern.  Perhaps it’s acceptable to be very clear at the beginning of a pattern regarding the techniques included within.

See what I mean about figuring things out as I go along?

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