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Month: May 2016

What I Do With Swatches

What I Do With Swatches

When you start to design, you end up with lots of swatches.  The only way to really answer the question, “What will this pattern look like in this yarn?” is to swatch.  And the only way to make a good guess at how many stitches and rows you need to get to the size garment you want is to swatch some more and measure and count stitches and do the math.

Well, then you end up with a lot of swatches.  Some that worked, some that didn’t, some that look great but not in the project for which they were intended.


I keep my swatches in binders with the notes I used to make them together in sheet protectors.  I also file away rough drafts of patterns, graph paper filled with full sized layouts of shawls, and failed ideas.

Since I design only four or five patterns a year, I’ve only got about three of these binders filled right now.  I mostly work in fingering and lace weight yarns so the swatches aren’t very thick.  And I’ve found them useful as a reference and inspiration for new ideas.

Knitting for Roxanne

Knitting for Roxanne


In April I learned that the midwife who was with me for the home births of all three of my children had passed away after battling cancer.  She was a well known figure in our community and had not announced her illness– I think so she didn’t have to answer questions everywhere she went.  Roxanne was an amazing person who supported and empowered women with a seemingly inexhaustible strength.  When I read the news, I wept, even though I was on a shuttle bus to the airport among strangers.

In the last month, I’ve been trying to come to grips with the idea that I wouldn’t see her again in the community, that she would never again remember my oldest son as her best child midwife at the birth of a younger sibling.  A home birth is an intimate thing.  It’s you, your partner, the midwife, and perhaps an assistant.  Roxanne was a part of the fabric of my history of creating a family.

So I designed a shawl for her that I have been knitting.  Each stitch pattern and its arrangement has a meaning for me and is a way to work my way through my grief.  I brought it with me to Roxanne’s memorial and even though I didn’t work on it there, it sat at my feet and I mentally wove the stories of her life with the stitches.  It’s a celebration, not a lament.  The color is bright and full of life and hope– the same things that Roxanne brought to me and left with me.

Stitch Dictionaries

Stitch Dictionaries


Last week, I participated in the Initiate Knit Design challenged hosted by Aroha Knits.  One question that came up on the Facebook group associated with the challenge was about stitch dictionaries.  I have about two linear shelf feet of stitch dictionaries at this point and I love having so many different ones to choose from.  Above, you can see the ones I used for my current design.  I ended up using elements from four out of the five for my current design.

There are books that are meant to be only stitch dictionaries, with no patterns included, and those are what I have the most of.  Some of my favorites include:

  • Barbara Walker’s Stitch Treasuries– I have three of the four volumes.
  • The Harmony Guides– I have all of these, including the crochet ones.
  • Vogue Stitch Dictionaries– I have a couple of these and a little five volume set of small guides.
  • Japanese Stitch Dictionaries– the lace one pictured above with 300 in the title is one I’ve used many times.  All the patterns are charted and it’s easy to see what you are getting.
  • Nicky Epstein’s edging series– Knitting on the Edge, Knitting over the Edge, etc.

I also have a number of one volume stitch dictionaries, I tend to go for ones that have charted patterns these days.  These include German and Estonian books, some of which are still in the native language.

But there are also books like The Magic of Shetland Lace Knitting that are about shawl design and happen to have a stitch dictionary included or books that contain so many charted patterns that I can isolate and modify elements from the charts, essentially treating them like stitch dictionaries.

I’ve also found that although there is a lot of overlap between books, sometimes a pattern or a variation will appeal to me in one book even though I passed it over in another because of the yarn choice or variations in the stitch count that make the sample jump out at me.

So if you are designing, I suggest buying as many stitch dictionaries as you can.  I keep sticky note markers on the front pages of them all so I can mark interesting ideas as I go.  I’ve found them all to be worthwhile investments!

Participating in the Initiate Knit Design Challenge

Participating in the Initiate Knit Design Challenge

Last week I participated in the Initiate Knit Design challenge hosted by Francoise Danoy of Aroha Knits.  Frenchie not only designs but she also teaches and she hosted the five day challenge to launch her course “Manifest Your Inner Designer.”  Although I’ve been designing for over two years now, I’m always eager to learn more and participating in the challenge encouraged me to complete a shawl design that’s been knocking around in my head this month.

Day 1 was creating a mood board.  I don’t usually do this formally, though for this project I had a specific theme in mind.  My midwife, who was with me for the birth of all three of my children, passed away this month and I wanted to honor her with a shawl design.


My mood board was about images that represented birth, growth, and passage.

I don’t usually create mood boards in my own design process, so this was a stretch for me.  Often I will start with a yarn, a stitch pattern, or sometimes a garment shape, combined with a general mood or feeling I’m trying to evoke.  I cheated a bit, because when I started the challenge, I already had a yarn in mind, one stitch pattern I wanted to use, and a tentative plan for a shape.  So my images were picked with those things already in mind.

Day 2 was drawing a sketch and Day 3 was picking and swatching stitch patterns.  day 2I will often sketch to rough out different textures within a shape, but only after I have swatched a number of potential patterns.  So on Day 2, I did make a sketch, but only after looking at a lot of stitch dictionaries.

20160427_170318Day 3 wasn’t really enough for swatching for me.  This is the place where I tend to spend a lot of time and my swatching went on through the next two days as well.  I tried out several patterns in isolation and then I started combining things.  For this challenge, I ripped out swatches as soon as I knew they weren’t looking right for my pattern, but I often keep on with a swatch till it’s finished and store those in binders for future reference.  To the left are some of the stitch patterns I tried and below you can see a larger swatch with the patterns combined and a border I added on to test it.  Even this doesn’t represent my final pattern because I decided to eliminate the two yarnover columns on the outside edges of the shawl.


In Day 4 we were asked to make calculations.  I eventually filled this whole page with IMG_20160428_204604calculations because in addition to size and number of repeats,  I had the added restriction in this design of only one skein of the yarn I wanted to use.  So I moved back and forth between my kitchen gram scale and paper, weighing my swatch, calculating the repeats, then adding the border and calculating that.  Finally, I double checked my work by using the weight of the swatch and my estimated size and making sure that they made sense.

The final part for Day 5 was to write the pattern or start knitting and write as you go.  I like to write a page of what I call “basic directions” to start.  I write out all the basic information about how I plan to make the garment so that I can follow my own directions and see if I missed anything.  I don’t format it to fit my template, and I will often pencil in details or useful notes as I work.  My design ended up being three columns wide with a generous border so the final rectangular shawl will be about 19″ by 63″

I decided to set aside the design I’m currently making the sample for in order to work on this.  My current design is a fall garment and this one is a great spring and summer design, so I think that makes sense.

Overall, it was very inspiring to see so many other people participating in the challenge and look at the other designs as they progressed over the week.  Frenchie offered daily encouragement and I think her class would be very informative for new designers.

And now I’m off to knit!