conception to creation :: part 2

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.

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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.

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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

conception to creation :: part 1

So much of what I do anymore is kept tightly under lock and key and I've expressed more than once how eager I am to share all the work I've been doing since summer.  Luckily I'm blessed to have a network of creators who are generous and kind, offering me support and the chance to write patterns with their beautiful yarns in mind.  Right now I'm working with two completely contrasting companies forcing me to stretch my creative energy in a good, healthy way.  The first of which I'm going to share fully with you here - from concept to pattern publication.  

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Let's start at the beginning.

If you're not yet familiar with Northbound Knitting... boy oh boy should you be.  I met Lisa via Instagram which has been a surprisingly successful social network for me.  I'm not a facebooker or a tweeter or a forumer, but Instagram I can do.  A picture is, after all, worth a thousand words.  It's an instant and intimate means of communication.  

So, there is Lisa flaunting all of her delicious yarns in stunning colorways over luscious bases.  How could I not fall under her spell?  She very casually asked one day if I would like yarn support for any of my designs and my heart skipped a beat.  I was currently in the midst of multiple samples for publication so I was a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of knitting with yarn of my own selection and put it off until I could narrow down the perfect project.  I sketch ideas constantly - there are at least three notebooks and sketchbooks scattered around me at all times because when an idea strikes it's best to get it down before it's gone.  I mulled through all of my sketchbooks trying to determine which would be the best, most worthy piece for Lisa's yarn.  I finally settled on a shawl I had sketched while at my dad's in Colorado over the summer.

The concept.

I couldn't even tell you what triggered the concept, but i remember clearly siting at Dad's giant re-claimed wood farm table knitting a swatch this way, then that way, adding and removing cables, yarn overs, and decreases before I settled on a nice, not too tricky stitch that would read as feathers.  I thought the best way to work the shawl was to cast-on and work even, decreasing along one side to create a triangle.  I then jotted down a couple notes and tucked the idea in my back pocket for a rainy day.  

Yarn selection.

I sent a pic of one of the original swatches to Lisa letting her know the quantities and colors I was looking for.  I wanted a yarn that would be soft against the skin, round for great stitch definition, and a tad heavier than fingering.  It was a good day when that package arrived!!  I opened it carefully and filed the address label (one of my totally OCD things.  Send me a package and I may keep the label forever.), and laid all the shiny hanks next to each other on the dining room table for petting.  My oldest walked in from school soon after and told me she could tell that was some nice yarn.  The yarn was specifically Merino/Silk DK in Parchment and Rosewood which, to me, was a great combination to express feathers. 

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Most knitters will not swatch.  It's not that they can't or that they forget, it's that they refuse to waste valuable time on knitting a worthless square.  All designers swatch.  It's absolutely imperative to determine gauge as a designer.  I will often times change the needle size to obtain a certain amount of drape, but really, especially if I'm grading sizes, I need an accurate number for "x".  Yes, design is algebra.  It's ALL algebra.  In this case, I wasn't worried about size grading, but I still needed to know how many stitches to cast-on for the size I wanted, and I was very interested in drape.  I didn't want to go adding too much though.  Silk is naturally lazy.  It will just slump and grow floppy over time so I decided to swatch using US6 needles.

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In the pic above, I have my swatch which is knit in stockinette with a garter border, washed, blocked, and completely dry.  This is such an important step - I can't even express!!  There's really no point in knitting a swatch if you don't plan on blocking it and letting it dry completely.  The stitches per inch should be an accurate representation of the finished piece and if it's wet or even damp, it will shrink and your number will be completely inaccurate.  If you don't block at all, the yarn, still fighting against it's new shape, will be slightly uneven and a bit tighter than after blocking.  This is more so true with natural hair fibers, but washing any fiber before trying to get an accurate measurement is helpful.

I don't always measure this way, but it seemed best to show stitches per inch in a photo.  I just grabbed one of my quilting rules and marked one square inch with artist's tape.  This particular swatch measured 4.5 stitches and 7 rows.  Most patterns, however list gauge per 4" (18 stitches and 28 rows).  With gauge calculated, I was ready to cast-on!

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If you'd like more information about my yarn selection (why I chose the base I did) or swatching, just let me know.  I'm always happy to blab on a while longer about these things.  The next post will get into some of the math - then casting- on and how a concept can change... sometimes drastically (wink).