A Yarn about Designing

First swatch for Stay Awhile

First swatch for Stay Awhile

Someone asked me how long it took to design Knit Night & Stay Awhile. I said; “The short answer is about an hour.” This is the other answer.

I sat down at the kitchen table with some yarn one evening in June, all set to swatch chunky stripes at a loose gauge for a cowl I’d designed. Yes, it looked utterly hideous. Wrong yarn. Wrong gauge. But I really, REALLY wanted to use the yarn. Smooth, high twist, great colours. I needed to try again.

Maybe garter stitch stripes would look better; the Whimzy Sokkusu O was in two semi-solid 4ply yarns. I love garter for interesting yarns. What about narrower stripes? Was there enough contrast? I dug out my favourite vintage American needles (fabulous pink aluminium), to help boost morale for making the next swatch. Picots popped in to my head. A bit of fiddling around, and I came up with an idea for an exciting, stripy, garter-stitch shawl. With picots. Yes, it took about an hour – including the false start.

Wow, did I feel smug! I loved how the stripes made different colours in the variegated yarn fall on the picots. I wrote it up, ready for sampling, in around an hour more. Now I felt VERY smug. Trust me, patterns NEVER write themselves this fast. I should’ve been suspicious. Very suspicious.

Excitedly I took all my stuff to meet my lovely sample knitter at our knitting group. It was easy knitting too; it was going to be perfect for making while chatting at knit night. Then I had a horrible realisation that maybeeeee there was a yarn consumption issue: that swatch felt heavy.

Now, we are lucky enough meet at a beautiful restaurant that also doubles as a cafe/bistro during the day. Brula are very welcoming to us knitters and we love being there. But it is a genuinely smart restaurant – not the kind of place where you might, for example, ask them if they’d weigh your knitted swatch.

But then again, we’re customers and their service is lovely. And I was panicking enough to have no shame. Yes, I did ask the long-suffering staff if they would indulge me by weighing my swatch. Once they’d got over their incredulity at the request, they duly obliged. They confirmed that it weighed a ton. OK, so I’m exaggerating, but that’s how bad a few grams felt. I was sure it was their scales and not my swatch, so I politely thanked them whilst vowing to check the swatch at home…like I should’ve done to start with.

Stay Awhile: progress

Stay Awhile: progress

To be on the safe side, I started sketching ideas for how I might fix the problem while my sample knitter carried on with the project she’d brought with her – and not the new shawl after all. I was determined I was going to fix it, so I sent her away with the yarn and promises of a pdf to follow.

At home, reality bit. Unfortunately (for me only; good news for any anyone eating at the fabulous Brula) their scales were clearly in perfect working order. Yes, my little swatch revealed a big flaw in my concept: to make a sensible size, it would need 1.25 skeins. Of each colour. Who wants to buy 4 big skeins of yarn for a completely standard sized shawl? Not me, and not any knitter I know!

This is where the 80/20 rule kicked in. My 20% kitchen-table inspiration did indeed require 80% studio perspiration to make my concept work with a sensible quantity (yes, that’s just ONE skein of each colour) of yarn. In fiddling around with the ideas in the swatch, it became three different designs.

First, I had a mostly-stocking-stitch shawl in a 2-colour stripe: Stay Awhile. But it was slightly more involved than the concept had been originally, and I wanted to retain the sheer simplicity of the original swatch. So, second, there came a 1-colour garter stitch scarf. I was adamant I had to make it work for one skein of 4ply, or a larger amount of a heavier yarn. And it had to be possible to make it while chatting! I retained the core structure of the original idea but I had to sacrifice the stripes. It became Knit Night – perfect for one special skein of 4ply, but flexible so it would work in whatever you wanted to use.

Playing with swatches, beads and yarn ideas

Playing with swatches, beads and yarn ideas

I did keep tinkering with other ideas for a 2-colour garter stitch shawl, but I was running into strange shapes and odd yarn quantities. I haven’t quite let that one go, but it needs to brew a while longer. It was time to stop generating ideas, such as the beaded eyelet border on Knit Night, and get the striped shawl and garter scarf from swatch to sample and pattern.

I didn’t quite stop with the ideas though; beads were added mid-pattern-development. A big bead order arrived while I was finalising yarn choices for the blue Whimzy/Malabrigo sample. The concept literally fell together on my desk. And since I was now beading Stay Awhile, I loved the idea of beading Knit Night too. I didn’t love the ridiculous length of time it took to work out exactly where and how to get the bead in exactly the right place on the picots, but it was completely worth it.

It was hard letting go of ideas to do with Knit Night, which is why there are so many options and suggested modifications. The picots along the top of Knit Night were on and off the draft pattern like a yo-yo. I couldn’t decide if they’d finish it off nicely or be too much. Yo-yo-picot. They went back in the pattern to stay when I issued the pattern for testing, and Claudia said she’d like to put picots along the top of hers. But they’re still optional, as are the beads, so everyone can create their own dream Knit Night.

So, which Knit Night is perfect for you? With picots all round, or not at the top? With eyelets or all garter? With beads or without? And which yarn would you use to make it yours? Do tell me, I’d love to hear!

PS Total time from idea-at-kitchen-table through development, agonising, samples, testing and tech editing to pattern-on-Ravelry? 4 months – this time.

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6 thoughts on “A Yarn about Designing

  1. Great post … I recently wrote about how I forget how long it takes to develop a pattern. it’s a true labor of creative love. Your work is beautiful.

  2. When I saw your very specific directions for beading the picots, I suspected there had been some extensive thinking and experimenting by the designer! And we thank you very much!

  3. I bought two different skeins of Fyberspates Twizzle Silk 4ply at Yarndale. The Pillar Box red (which I saw made up at Yarndale and fell in love with) and another with no name which is the colours of a peacock. One will definitely be used for Knit Night I just can’t decide which!

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