creativity and order

The main reason I like to knit is that it combines creativity with orderly repetition. I love to imagine new items to knit; I enjoy the process of knitting.

When I get hold of some yarn, I spend lots of time imagining it in various guises. A hat? A sweater? Mittens? A bag? In the past, I've explored each of these kinds of knitted items in some depth, with different yarns, needles, and so on.

What I discover, each time, is that there are really only a few ways in which a new item can be created. Regardless of whether it's a hat or an afghan, here are the parameters which can be altered to make something new:

1. Proportion. Will the item be long and skinny, short and wide, loose when used, tight when used? In a hat, will it be over the ears, tight at the hairline, loose with a big fold-up cuff? In a sweater, will it have deep armholes, a snug fit at the ribcage, baggy, over the hips? and so on.

Proportion is the most noticeable aspect of a knitted item, and the easiest way to make a fresh fashion statement. Think of the 80's--clothes were wide, loose and long. Shoulders were exaggerated with pads and dropped shoulderlines. Nothing touched the body, except maybe at the waist. Droopy, flowing, oversized and unisex were design hallmarks.

The 90's swung the other way, with snug (not to say tight) sweaters, cloche hats, lines that mimicked the body. Proportions were close and exact. This trend hasn't stopped yet.

2. Design features. Related to proportion, design features create the item by specifying how it will be knitted. A top-down, seamless hat is not like a hat knitted flat and seamed. Raglan sleeves, saddle shoulders, set-in sleeves and dropped shoulders are design features that change a sweater radically. Top-down, bottom-up, sideways or knit flat and seamed--all these features produce very different sweaters.

These two parameters, proportion and design features, are probably the least interesting for most knitters. I like to think about them as I am also a fairly experienced seamstress and know that these are the keys to good fit.

Most knitters depend on written patterns that are explicit in instruction, letting the pattern designer think through the proportion and design features. What attracts most of us knitters are the three least crucial parts of knitting: color, pattern and yarn.

3. Color: the effect of changing the color of a knitted item can be surprising. A hat knit in three colorways is not the same hat at all.

 Color can make an item more feminine or masculine, more traditional or more modern.

4. Pattern stitch. There's a world of pattern stitches, to be found on knitting calendars, in books and in individual patterns. Moss stitch, cables in bewildering array, ribbing, good old stockinette--pattern adds texture, definition and pizaaz. It also changes gauge significantly, so must be used carefully.

5. Yarn. This is the trickiest variable. Yarn is not a precision manufactured item, like a screw for an airplane wing. It is often from natural materials, like wool and cotton, which will vary in thickness, texture and tensile strength. Even yarns made in a chemical laboratory will vary, depending on where they are made, the age of the machines, and so on. The best you can do with yarn is to approximate and check as you go for gauge and size, which should insure that a given pattern, written for a specific yarn, will work up into a correctly-sized and proportioned item, if all instructions are followed.

A quick look at Ravely shows you that the above is not true--even following a pattern faithfully, with correct needles and the recommended yarn, will not avert disaster. Check the comments on items made to see how much ripping back, frogging, adjusting, second-guessing and "next time I'll do it THIS way" is involved in knitting from a pattern. As an example, the comments by knitters who made the dino sweater above reflect changes in needle size, changes in motif, and so on.

So the lesson is to be quite lighthearted about knitting, treating it all as a grand foray into the unknown. The minute I start to get irritated with my knitting, or bored, or distracted so that I make lots of mistakes, I try to


Creativity and regularity combined--I love to knit.


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