Make Yourself At Home

Hey Blog Readers –

I’m in Texas, traveling, and trying to overcome the side effects of a non-smoke-free room [cough] before I head off to my classes at Yarnivore.

I’ll be posting again tomorrow – until then, enjoy Donna Druchunas’s post about her new book, Ethnic Knitting Discovery, and make her feel welcome here chez Modeknit!

– Annie Modesitt (aka, Modeknit)

Thanks, Annie, for letting me visit your blog on my book tour for Ethnic Knitting Discovery!

I’m a little out of whack today because Arctic Lace is a finalist for the Colorado Book Awards, and I have to get ready to attend an awards banquet tonight. I want to win (who wouldn’t?) but I’m a little nervous about the event.

I hate parties and big social events except for those that are related to knitting, so the evening will be a little stressful for me even though it’s quite exciting.

So back to the business at hand — designing your own sweaters with texture and colorwork patterns!

I chose the specific regions in Noway, The Netherlands, Denmark, and The Andes for Ethnic Knitting Discovery because I wanted to have two chapters on designing with texture and two on designing with color.

First, I’d like to talk a bit about color. There are some knitting teachers who offer pretty complex classes on working with color, where they talk about a color wheel, and discuss the kind of color concepts that you’d learn in art school.

I don’t go into this type of technical talk at all in my book. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not the way I think or work. I prefer to work with color organically. I use my own instincts to pick out colors that I like.

Unless you’re completely colorblind, there’s no reason you should be afraid to pick and choose colors on a whim. That said, to make something that will be one of your favorite garments and that will become a staple in your wardrobe long into the future, you should stay with colorways that you are comfortable with.

How do you know what these are? By looking around your house.

Start in your closet. Don’t look at the expensive designer clothes hanging in the back of your closet collecting dust. Instead, look at the comfy sweats and other clothes that you wear every day. These are colors (and shapes, but that’s a different topic), that you are comfortable with.

You’ll find other colors that work for you all around your house — what color is your furniture? the pillows on your couch in the den? the pain on your walls? your curtains? your dishes? All of these colors tell you something about your own personality and taste.

Learn to trust yourself.

If you have a moment of panic in the yarn shop when you are facing a wall of color, don’t be afraid to ask someone nearby for a second opinion. But in the end, go with your own gut. Unless you’re flamboyant by nature, choose old-familiar colors rather than new, exciting ones.

If you’re new to designing with color, get one ball of each color first and swatch, swatch, swatch! I know we don’t always relish in swatching, but the way a bunch of colors look in a basket of yarn skeins is not indicative of how those colors will look when knitted up in your chosen pattern stitches.

You can also make a photo copy of the charts you plan to use and color them with colored pencils or crayons to get an idea of how the colors you’ve selected will look when you put them all together. It’s not as good as a swatch, but it is a quicker way to try out different color combinations.

Now a few words about texture. Texture knitting is my favorite. I love the rhythm of the knits and purls, and the way the texture doesn’t really show up until you have several inches of knitting complete. (This is also true about colorwork, but it just doesn’t give me the same feeling of satisfaction that I get from knitting texture patterns.)

From simple ribbing to moss stitch to elaborate all-over patterning, texture stitches add dimension to a knitted garment and make working with classic, smooth, solid colored yarns a relaxing and interesting experience.

You do have to be careful when designing sweaters that are not in Stockinette stitch, however. Again, swatching is the only way to know what you’ll get. First, most texture stitches are heavier, both in thickness and in weight, than plain Stockinette stitch.

You have to take this into account or you’ll end up with a sweater that might be too warm, too bulky, or too heavy to be comfortable. Sometimes you can use a dense texture pattern with a finer yarn and get a finished fabric that is similar in weight to Stockinette stitch made with a heavier yarn.

Texture patterns are also quite fickle about tension and fiber content. What looks good on size 7 needles in worsted-weight wool, might look sloppy in the same weight cotton yarn. What feels nice on size 6 needles in cotton might be too stiff in linen or hemp.

Because knitting is a hobby, I think it should be fun and relaxing. I’m much more of a process knitter than a product knitter, so I have to know that the feeling of making each stitch will be pleasant to me as I spend weeks and months knitting up a new sweater. The only way I can know that for sure is by swatching in advance.

Sorry! I didn’t mean for this to be a lecture on swatching. But I know a lot of knitters don’t enjoy making gauge swatches. But when you’re designing your own sweater, there’s much more to making swatches than just checking gauge. You are playing with color and texture, you are testing the needles and yarn to see if they feel good together as you work your pattern, you are making sure the fabric you knit is not too soft, and not too stiff, but Goldilocks just right.

So jump in there and get out those swatching needles! Pretend your yarn is paint and your needles are brushes and have some fun mixing colors and painting!

That’s it. I hope these tips will help your readers feel more comfortable about choosing colors and textures for designing their own garments, and that they’ll learn to have fun swatching instead of
considering it an annoying chore.

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