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Pink Brutus Knits
indianapolis, in
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www.pinkbrutus.com

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conception to creation :: part 2

courtney spainhower

When confronted with the expanse of self-publishing creative freedom, I relish in snapping the threads of carefully stitched plans.  I so often work within my own constraints because once a design is submitted and accepted, I've made my bed.  The first, second, third, and even fourth sketch of this shawl pivoted on a traditional triangle shape, but once I had the yarn in hand I knew I was going to have to make this piece just a little more special.  

A lot of knitters hear that designers are provided yarn support and their eyes glaze over - images of hanks dancing in the sky flood in and a state of euphoria is reached.  It's not always so kind especially when you're at the mercy of a publisher.  Publishers have their own agendas whether it's a color theme or base they're looking for to make their story cohesive.  I'm usually fortunate enough to work with really talented, fiber-educated editors who send me beautiful yarns that make my design sing.  Working with an independent yarn company is completely different.

First of all, most large yarn manufacturers aren't going to provide yarn support to some random designer.  They are however, happy to provide it to a magazine so that their yarn will be suggested and knowing most knitters will walk into their local yarn shop with magazine in hand saying, "I need THIS."  Second of all, 6, 12, or 18 pieces whether a hank, skein, or ball isn't a huge loss and they're going to provide it expecting a certain amount of return.  In other words, they do a good deal of risk assessment.

An independent dyer, spinner, or small company has so much more to loose because each piece is a loss.  These talented people take a huge risk each time they provide support and are going out on  a limb taking a chance on the designer.  Imagine sending out hundreds of dollars worth of your bottom line and the designer drops the ball either by publishing something that falls flat or failing to release anything at all.  The weight of my responsibility to Lisa settled onto my shoulders the instant I had yarn in hand.  It's a great weight to bear.  I went back to the drawing board once more and came up with an entirely new shawl shape - or at least I've never seen anything exactly like it in all of my extensive research.

photo 1.JPG

I decided to stay with the original plan to cast on the widest point and work the feather stitch I developed.  From there, I worked a series of increases and decreases so that the shawl would taper very gradually while creating a "V" or arrow shape.  As I was nearing the tip I wanted to bring the contrasting color back in because these huge pieces can become exhausting; sometimes those little details break up large sections of monotonous knitting enough to make them fresh and enjoyable.  I swatched a few ideas and settled on a simple slip stitch to mimic color stranding between the garter ridges within the established pattern.  Keep it simple, stupid.  Yup.

photo 4.JPG

I never had a clear concept for the tip of the shawl other than using a contrasting stitch - something moving vertically rather than horizontally.  If I had rushed through to the finish line, I most likely would have settled on 1x1 rib.  The problem that arises with using multiple stitches is the final shape.  Each stitch warps the fabric and ribbing pulls in considerably.  I had a nagging feather shape in mind and ribbing - though logical for vertical stitch patterning - would destroy the tip shape.  The simple solution?  A broken rib.  Rather than continuing in rib across the back, purl!  The finished fabric of broken rib with subtle shaping was dynamic.  Is it just me or does it speak to wood grain?  In this case, intuition provided stunning results.

I block everything and as far as I'm concerned, it's the most exciting part of knitting.  Getting those stitches to expand and contract so that the fabric can be shaped and draped is where magic happens.  I can go on and on and on about this but I'll save you the boredom (for now).  While waiting for the shawl to be transformed from a lumpy, bumpy wreck to smooth, defined work of art, I worked on finishing up the written pattern.  I will spend days writing and editing patterns.  This used to be the most dreaded part for me (ironically).  I had said in part 1 that design is math and I'm one who slept through three semesters of Algebra.  Now that I've been at this for years, it is far easier.  The formulas have come into focus and I know what I need to do to get those elusive numbers to appear.  

Testing is the next step before release and every pattern MUST be tested.  I have made a lot of extra work for myself by rushing to publish.  It's so enticing when you have a new design you're excited about to hurry along and share it with the world like it's burning a hole in your documents, but even if you're releasing patterns for free, alienating knitters by providing a pattern riddled with errors is a no-no.  I had touched on the topic of descriptive patterns written as if the person reading has never picked up needles and yarn in part 1 and part of that is accuracy.  You never know what someone is going to question, and you'll never anticipate it all, but avoiding emails asking, "This says to slip markers but not to place them.  What should i do?" is going to make everyone's life easier.  It never fails, even after reviewing my drafts until my eyes cross, as soon as I send it to my testers I get an email that there is some ridiculous error.  Last week, in fact, I was contacted because there was a 3 where there should have been a 4 and that one number changed everything.

If you are a new designer or someone toying with the idea, I can't say it enough - research, research, research!  There are numerous knitting calculators available online as well as formulas, tutorials, and measurement charts.  Along that same vein, knit it all!  Knitting from well written patterns that incorporate smart shaping and design is research, too.  It doesn't matter if you want to design a sweater - if there's a sock pattern that speaks to you, knit it.  You're bound to learn something (and who's to say you can't use heel shaping on a shoulder?) I think back to my fine art days of studio crits and professors preaching, "Learn the rules so you can break them."  I feel this is prudent to knitwear design as well. 

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Part 3 is going to dive into publishing and communicating with the community in the form of pattern support.  Until then, happy knitting! xo