P B K | Pink Brutus Knits
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New Designer Resource

Stitches, gauge, and dreaded maths

Now, in the last post, I was really focused on just getting pen to paper, starting the process of garment design, and getting the juices flowing.  The next logical step is figuring out what stitches you're going to use because in knitting, you are the fabric designer, too.  Again, you'll want to start thinking of yarn fibers and weights that will give you the desired look, but this is also going to become a key factor when you start narrowing down different stitches, and gauge steps into the ring.

First off, where do you find knitting stitches?  I think any knitter can roll out Garter, Stockinette, and even a fair bit of ribbing, moss, and seed stitch... but we're not here to be simply knitters!  We're here to be creative, fabric designing, texture and structure superstars (that may be going  a bit far, but we're definitely not just knitting here, right?).  Obviously, there are boat loads of books dedicated to the art of the knitting stitch.  You can find some that are focused on color work, lace, cables, texture, and you can find many that include a mix of various stitch types (and a quick trip to Amazon.com will give you plenty to drool over).  I would start online though because the internet is right here at our literal fingertips and sourcing free stuff is a good thing, even if it's just to start narrowing down what stitches really catch your eye before investing in a book.

Knitting Fool is a great resource with a lot of ways to browse stitches - including by stitch count which is going to be very handy in just a moment.  Knitting Stitch Patterns is, as the name implies, another treasury of stitches. However, don't limit yourself to a single source.  I can spend hours on Pinterest searching things like.... interesting cable knitting or large lace knitting pattern or unusual knitting stitches. Of course, not every result is going to take you to the stitch pattern, and if it does, it's not likely to be in a language you understand BUT, if you have the patience and the desire to press on, you'll be rewarded.  As a sort of side step/tip, Pinterest is also a great place to store inspiration and any knitting stitches you find that speak to you (even if it's in Russian).  Set up a private board and pin, pin, pin anything and everything that you love.  I have many different private boards that hold precious information that I've gathered doing research for my books - and I pin it all - stitches I think are interesting, new yarns I'd like to work with, color palettes that inspire, photos that meet my vision for design... it really is a great tool for letting that energy loose.

So, let's say you've decided on a particular stitch and you have your rough sketch.  You took my advice and started pinning all sorts of things, and along the way you found a yarn that you love and want to use.  Now, I'm a firm believer that rules are made to be broken, but in deliberate ways.  When I was one of those moody fine art majors, I would have headaches from grinding my teeth in critiques.  Nothing pissed me off more that someone defending their work by, well, a) getting defensive or b) saying the dreaded phrase "I meant for it to be that way" WHY oh why... I, as a peer, often spoke up and pleaded for these budding artists to learn the rules so that when the time comes to break them, they'll be prepared to do so in a deliberate and effective way.  I believe this to be true in all things and knitting is not exempt.  But, where the heck am I going with this??? What does yarn and stitches have to do with rules of fine art? Nothing, but there are general rules to knitting.  For example, yarn structure plays just as much of a role in finished fabric as the fiber and weight.  Generally speaking, there are three major yarn structures: single ply, two-ply, and round ply (being 3 or more yarns plied together).  Of course, there are yarns with all sorts of interesting structures apart from these three major players like chain-ply, tape yarn, filled tube, art yarn, etc... but knowing how these different plys function will take you far in selecting appropriate yarns to pair with the stitches you've selected in order to create your desired fabric.  Worsted vs woolen also plays a role here, but for the sake of this starter series, I'm not going to dive those depths quite yet.

As a rule, single ply is a versatile yarn that will knit up into lovely lace, and depending on the fiber you can pull some nice stitch definition for textured and cabled patterns however, this is generally the least durable yarn style and is most prone to pilling. Two-ply is best suited for lace patterns - eyelets open up nicely with these yarns - and though it's not unheard of to use for textured stitches, the definition may be lost.  Round yarns are the ones you're going to use for seas of stockinette or garter, textured stitches that pop, and cables that hold crisp outlines; these yarns will fill eyelets and aren't usually a first choice for lace unless the lace is an accent and/or the fiber has good blocking power; round yarns are generally the most durable yarn style.  Of course, fiber content plays a large role in all of this, but this is information for you to use as a platform so that you can make some educated decisions about pairing yarn and stitches.

With (all of) that said, let's rewind - you've found a stitch pattern and a yarn that you want to use.  If you're knitting a sweater, a sock, a hat, anything that needs to be a precise measurement, gauge is going to slide in here.  Shawls are a bit different beast, which I'll get to momentarily.  

There are a few factors that are going to come into play here - how many stitches per inch is your gauge, how many stitches are in the repeat of the pattern, and how many stitches do you need for your garment to fit?

For now, let's say the yarn you're looking at has gauge of 24 sts/4 inches in St st.  I'm going to divide 24 by 4 to get a manageable 6 sts/inch, and now we can start thinking about our garment and how it might be size graded.  Size grading for sweaters is a little beyond where we are now, so let's think in terms of hats for adults... say you want to offer 3 sizes, S, M, L, and the hat circumferences are going to be 19", 20", and 22"; your target stitch count is going to be 114, 120, and 132 for any knit/purl patterns if you're gauge is 6 sts/inch.

The easiest course of action here - especially if you're really green - is to find a stitch pattern that has a multiple of 6 stitches.  Remember how I said Knitting Fool has a search tool by stitch count?  All you have to do is click the selection for 6 sts and you know that every stitch listed is going to fit the number of stitches you need for your desired hat.

What if the stitch pattern I like isn't a multiple of 6?  Well, that's where the maths come in.  Maybe your stitch has a multiple of 9 +2.  

In the case of + stitches, you're going to take the first number and and use that to do all of your calculations, then add what ever the + number is at the end.  

So, you want to have 114 sts... divide this number by the first number (9) to get 12.6.  If we round down, multiply 9x12 for 108, and don't forget to add that +2, leaving you with 110 sts - this is how many stitches will work for that particular stitch pattern.  

Since the yarn swatched at 6 sts/inch, those 4 less stitches may not make a big difference.  You can then repeat for the other two sizes, giving you 110, 119, 128 stitches from the initial 114, 120, 132 stitches.  This is where you have to problem solve, make some decisions about fit, and decide if it's going to make more sense to scrap this stitch pattern or if you really want to move forward. This is also why you really, really have to swatch every stitch pattern that you're considering. If it's a lace pattern that gauge is going to change quite a bit from the base St st swatch, and you may find that you're going back to square one, but if it's a small cable pattern, you may simply decide to add 9 to each stitch count so that the repeat will be even and the hat won't be too snug (in this example, you'll end up with 119, 128, and 137 stitches).

When we start talking about shawls, things can go in just about any direction.  As I said in the last post, I'm not going to spoon-feed you here, but I am going to offer some tips for digging in.  Shawls have so many options when it comes to shape, construction, and how you put the two together that I can't give you any simple how-to answers however, there are a couple simple things to think about when you begin piecing together a shawl concept.  First, is there a center point or multiple edges that you're increasing/decreasing from, a single edge, or two edges?  What is the rate of increase/decrease? How do you want your stitch pattern to be centered within the shawl shaping?  With all of the stitch count changes taking place, I would recommend starting simply with stitches that you'll be able to keep track of.  This is probably not going to be the best time to try some 23 stitch lace repeat from hell.  Learning how to chart correctly is also going to save you a lot of time and anguish down the road - which brings me to Stitch Mastery.

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Though it may seem like a huge investment when you're first starting out, I highly recommend the Stitch Mastery program.  I was using some junky free download program when I first got started and it made my life unnecessarily difficult.  Not only is Stitch Mastery really easy to use, they are a lovely company to work with. When I finally dumped my old brick of a lap top, I did't realize I could use the software code they sent me with my download a zillion years later to transfer the software to my new computer so, I re-purchased it.  Not a day later I had an email asking if I had gotten a new computer - um yes, I did - well, here's your refund because you could have just used your old software code (dummy).  HA!  Obviously they were ever so gracious and kind about the whole thing (I mean, what company sees a double purchase from a customer and reaches out to them to give them a refund!!?).  Bonus, if you head to the Stitch Mastery Blog, you'll learn tons of tips for charting along with tutorials for using the software. 

My challenge for you this week is to take the sketches from last week and start really narrowing down those yarns and stitch patterns.  Do a fair bit of swatching and start thinking out edges, borders, and hems in a less abstract way.  Start pairing different stitches with different hems and see how they line up.  Can either be adjusted so that line line up more cleanly?  Maybe you like 2x2 rib, but it just seems a bit off center - try this: k1, *p2, k2; rep from * to last st, k1.  Does that line up more neatly?  What other ways can you adjust stitches ever so slightly to bring about the look you need?  Think too about different cast-on and bind-off methods for the stitches you're working with and how you can use them to either disappear into the edge or stand out as an added detail.

This is where I leave you today, but as always, remember...

...there are few knitting problems that will not yield to a blend of common sense, ingenuity and resourcefulness...
— Elizabeth Zimmerman, The Opinionated Knitter