This post was inspired by two things. One was Canary Knits’ “I don’t like that, or I know what I like when I see it” post which got me thinking about … well … mostly about things I don’t like. And I’ve weighed in enough times with my opinions on that subject.
But it also made me think of things I do like, but don’t ever design.
It made me think about lace.
I like lace. In fact, I love lace.
I’ve made some epic bits of lace in the past for other people. But I’ve never designed anything lace before. I decided to make some. I also saw a post over on Lobster and Cheese about the process he goes through to make his cartoons, so I thought I’d do a similar trick with my latest pattern and take you through the process I went through. [Spoiler – there’s no pattern at the end of this post – just a promise that there will be one when I find a few hours spare and some reliable charting software. There IS, however, an offer to people who might feel like test-knitting.]
Back to lace. I know exactly what I like in Lace. I like strong graphic elements, I like cables and I like balanced compositions. I like organic forms. I’m also a sucker for natural imagery – leaves, flowers – you name it, I love it. (This carries through into other things apart from knitting too.)
So I started with this bit of fluff – it’s just a simple repeat of Drooping Elm Leaf lace from Barbara Walker’s first treasury of knitting patterns:
Pretty, right? But not wide enough, really. And not anything new, that’s for sure. I think Mrs. Walker would want to have words if I tried to pass this off as my own idea.
I wanted to keep things simple and work two patterns that use the same number of repeats. I also really wanted some cables in there, so when I spotted the right pattern I went straight for it – it has exactly the right organic quality, it’s very graphic, I love the fact that it’s a very non-traditional cable. What’s not to love?
So I made another swatch (they’re getting wider and narrower…) et voila!
By the way, this is the world’s cheapest 4ply yarn I’m using here. It’s not classy. It’s a combination of wool and nylon (and I don’t think there’s a lot of the former). But it does the job, it blocks OK and it doesn’t seem to mind me cheating with a hairdryer when it won’t dry quickly enough.
Now I still think that’s a pretty lace pattern and I love the cables, but it’s not quite right.
Those reverse stockinette panels are jarring with me for some reason. It’s too solid and regular in the centre, with too much going on in the leaf lace. It needs breaking up a bit, and maybe some more cables … so …
Here’s an even wider swatch. The whole thing gained a garter stitch border. I’ve introduced a sort of ladder effect on the edge of the principal cable pattern to open it up, but I’ve also made a massive error in the cable pattern – skipping out a whole row of crossovers. Don’t hold that against me. And during the course of knitting this swatch I’ve made a few changes as it became clear that things weren’t quite right. See that lovely little twisted cable – the one that repeats over an uneven number of rows? It starts out right next to the leaf lace, then it gets an interim purl stitch to give it a bit of visual space, and then finally I gave it a whole little half-ladder of its own.
I do like this, but it’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I feel like that drooping elm leaf lace needs flanking with something ordered and regular (more cables!), and I’m starting to worry that this is going to turn into the widest piece of knitting in history, so I’m going to have to stop messing with it sooner or later. But I think it will be the penultimate swatch, and that’s a big milestone in pattern development.
I want to have the final pattern settled on by Friday because I have a six-hour train journey and I plan to get a big chunk of this done over the weekend. In the mean time, if you have a couple of balls of 4ply yarn, some 3.25mm needles and some spare time, drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or write in the comments if you want to give the final thing a test knit.
I hope this little crazy-Alyssa process has been of interest. It made me spend some time thinking about designing, which is something I feel very lucky to get to do from time to time. It does present some dilemmas, though. On the one hand, you could regard this as more of an adaptation than a real pattern, because you can see how I’ve put it together. But knitted fabric has been around for thousands of years and creating a completely new concept is probably pretty much impossible. Instead, I think about it as re-interpreting a part of history, and taking something ancient and making it relevant again. And there can’t be anything wrong with that.