The Process

Once I learned to start loving the process, I stopped beating up on myself (quite so much) for my perceived failures.

It was difficult for a goal-oriented Virgo such as myself to embrace the concept of the process, I like to see results (I’ve always loved ironing, painting walls and mowing yards for that reason) and measuring my day’s work not by finished tasks but by lessons learned was a hard – well – lesson. Working through that above sentence was a mind-bending Esher-esque moment, let me tell you.

The process is not the same for each task, of course, and that’s one of the continuous learning curves so convoluted it could be sky-writing. I think of the process as being comprised of various components, among them:

  • Confidence in my vision
  • Faith in my materials
  • Time to allow my mind to reach it’s own conclusions
  • Persistence – Dilligence + Hard Work

Right now I’m working through various items in a book I’m writing, History on Two Needles, and each project contains it’s own set of challenges. Sometimes what I imagine will be a very difficult garment turns out to be so easy I could have done it in m sleep. Sometimes what I suppose will be simple is not so simple at all.

But when I can embrace the process – my route for achieving the finished product – I can learn from my mistakes and tuck them into my ‘bag of tricks’ for future use.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that my unexpectedly simple projects ARE simple because – sometimes – without realizing it – I’ve reached into that bag, pulled out lessons learned, and applied them without overthinking it.

This is when the process moves toward that golden vista called intuition, and it’s a beautiful moment for any designer (or parent, or baker, or gardener, or accountant, or anyone…)

Recently I started a simple surplice top and was dreading it a bit. But as I started working on it my mind said, so quietly that I didn’t even hear it, “This yarn is odd, fuzzy yet shiny, it doesn’t show stitch patterns well so don’t waste a lot of time on them. But it DOES pick up the light so be sure to add some directional decreases to create different planes / bias movement in the shaping.”

If I would have tried to pre-think that concept, to work it out before I started, I might have boxed myself into a place where I couldn’t make those connections.

They came about through swatching, and because I’d just used the yarn in a previous garment, not through pre-concieved notions of what I should or should NOT do with this particular yarn (Mango Moon Dharma)

When I watch interviews of creative folks, or when I’m interviewed myself, I sometimes feel frustrated because it seems the interviewer isn’t really interested in the process as much as they are trying to compel the artist/designer to lay down their “formula” for creative success. There are times when silence communicates more than thousands of words, times when forcing ideas into words freezes a thought into a moment in time, making it difficult to move beyond clever to brilliant.

So, for me, part of the process is dealing with my projects visually, then returning to fill in the gaps with words when I’m feeling solidly confident in the design.

Right now I’m starting on a cardigan for Yarn Forward using Fyberspates Scrumptious DK.

I’m using a stitch pattern I adore, a 2-color twisted float pattern that I used in my Circular Shrug for Vogue Knitting 4 years ago. This will be worked back and forth, not in the round, so there will be some augmenting of the stitch pattern.

I also want it to be fun to knit, so I’m playing around with the swatch to create an interesting stitch pattern that marries an interesting visual with periods of mindless [restful] knitting.

I know the shape that I want, so I’m pulling out a schematic from a previous project and I’ll be fiddling with it until it matches my idea. I don’t start with math, I start with a measured schematic that I expand and contract until it has the right dimensions for this project.

I use Appleworks (which, sadly, is no longer supported by Apple – I think I will have to move to ilife, or whatever they’re calling it, and I’m not eager to devote the time to learning a new software…) to create a “drawing” using picas as my ruler. The pica selection allows me to create a work space that most closely mirrors the dimensions I need for pattern drafting.

I open the “object size” palette and that allows me to see how large my differing elements are in picas – which, as I stated above, relates very closely to finished inches (how I visualize my garments)

Once I have a schematic that seems, intuitively, to make sense to me, I use small boxes (shown in green striped outlines) to measure each section so that I’ve formed a measured drawing of the sample size I’ll be working up.

I transfer these basic measurements to my worksheet, and extrapolate larger and smaller sizes from the sample size. Later I’ll return to the schematic and add these extra numbers.

Then, using my swatch, I discover what my gauge will be for this piece and I use the worksheet to create a very basic pattern.

I knit off of this pattern, and in the process I inevitably discover many places where A + B do NOT = C. I could let this frustrate me, stymie me, or make me despair. Sometimes I do. But what I try to do is learn from these mis-matches of math. Usually with a little time, quiet and by cutting myself some slack I can discover exactly what is making the pattern not work out. Sometimes it remains a mystery.

Sometimes I can’t solve the mystery until 3 garments later. Go figure.

So I work around the problem if no solution is findable – after all, I am usually working on a deadline. And the work-arounds often present me with a whole new set of cool findings to incorporate into future projects.

Recently I ran into a roadblock with what seemed to be a simple skirt.

The Minonan Skirt
The silhouette was basic enough (rather full A-line with ruffles) but for some reason known only to my brain, I decided I HAD to create it in gores and knit it side to side.

Which was a mistake.

I did create a very nice looking skirt, but NOT the skirt that the project called for. So I ripped it out.

Then I started again, this time working from the waist down and creating ruffles. Better. But it was just too danged full. I over-estimated HOW ruffly the skirt would become. Rip again.

Try #3 was going well, I thought this was going to be it – but once it was off the needles I realized that one of the increase/decrease motifs I was using just looked weird – too much of a change which caused weird puckering. And #3 is gone with the wind.

#4? Well, that’s sitting in a ziplock bag waiting for the muse to visit. Maybe I need to consult a snake.
So while I was waiting for the process to return in full force, I tackled another skirt.

The Egyptian Skirt
This is part of a set. It could have been a dress – who knows, maybe I WILL make it a dress – and I’d fiddled with the stitch pattern off and on about a month ago.

The yarn, Elsebeth Lavold’s Bamboucle, has a very wonderful hand. It’s a tiny boucle, the texture is almost terry-cloth like when it’s knit tight. It fills in very nicely, but still has a good movement.

Most important, the care is pretty easy, which is vital for a skirt.

I knit faster back and forth on straights than in the round, so I was happy to get the ribbed portion of the hem finished in about a day. [Note: If you want to knit ribbing faster (so it’s just beautiful) take one of my Combination classes.]

After 11″ of ribbing came the colorwork stitch pattern, and I was gratified with how quickly it seemed to leap off of the needles. At this point I’m at the top, where it sits on Ms. Mannequin waiting for me to decide what exactly to do with the waistband.

Did I put more thought into this skirt than the Minoan one? No, not really. Is it a better design? No. Is the yarn easier? A bit, but I don’t think that’s why this skirt is going so much better.

In truth, I’m not sure WHY this one is “easier” It’s certainly not a simpler skirt, but I have a nagging feeling that I’m trying to make the Minoan skirt too “fabric-y” – too much of a woven fabric project – and that’s holding me back.

I could write about it more, but it’s probably better to just stop and let it ruminate.

Child Labor
This morning Max rolled some yarn for me before he left for school. Cecil, the yarn arrived beautifully! Miriam, your yarn is on the way! Every step is another part of the process

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