The only difficult things in knitting are the techniques you haven’t tried yet.
When I was a beginner, I looked at all that beautiful knitted colourwork out there – fairisle, especially – and I thought, ‘Well obviously, I could never do that‘. And so I couldn’t, right up to the moment when I picked up my needles and tried. Because let’s face it, less competent people than us have produced truly beautiful work.
And once I’d mastered stranded work (of which fairisle is an example), I got greedy, and wanted to design my own pieces. Using colourwork in knitting enables you to paint pictures with yarn – imagine the possibilities! Heaven! One of the results of my efforts was the header for this blog. 🙂 I became a stranded addict, and learned a thing or two along the way, a few principles that I want to share with you in this post. But most of all, I learned that it’s not difficult. I’m nowt special in the knitting world: I’ve frogged projects a-plenty, and I have a shameful criminal record with the Knitting Police (though I still maintain that it was a stitch-up). So if I can design and make lovely designs, then so can you. Here’s what you need to know:-
For this post, I’m assuming that you’ve mastered stranded/fairisle knitting, so I won’t be covering how to do that. If you haven’t, take some spare yarn and go and experiment. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. I’m also assuming that you can read knitting charts. This post is purely about how to design new work. You with me? You’re sure? Right, let’s do this. 🙂
So, to work. Traditional fairisle (and to be honest, any half-sensible stranded design) involves only two colours of yarn per row. You can change colours in different rows, you can use variegated yarn, but just don’t risk insanity or over-thick fabric by exceeding two strands per row. And remember you’ll be carrying the inactive yarn across the back of the work as a ‘float’. Overlong floats are not clever, especially in work that’ll take a lot of abuse, such as a garment of clothing. To avoid this problem, you can either ensure regular switching between colours (perhaps using just occasional dots of colour B if you’ve got a large area of colour A, as I did in portions of my blog header), or you can catch the inactive yarn behind the main yarn at regular intervals. Consider yourself warned. I wouldn’t leave a float of more than three stitches for clothing such as my skirt, or five stitches for something that’ll take less abuse, such as this cushion. But that’s just me: you wields da needles, you makes da rules.
The final thing to remember when designing is that knit stitches aren’t square. Do not, (she says with an ultra-stern face,) design your motif using standard square graph paper. Knit stitches are wider than they are high, so you’ll end up with a weird elongated design that’ll make you frown. For this reason, knitter’s graph paper is readily available online for free. (There are design programmes, too, but for my lack-of-money, nothing beats pencil-and-eraser for the design process.) Here’s an illustration. In the picture below, the inner square has been drawn on both normal (square) graph paper and knitter’s paper. I’ve knitted up both designs, and look! The knitted square on the left (normal square graph paper) is, well, not remotely square. It’s much wider than it is high. The Knitting Police would be unamused. But in the piece on the right (knitter’s graph paper), the square I’ve drawn becomes the square I’ve knitted. Success.
You see? Yes?
The above is a very simple design, but I want to encourage you to knit anything. Imagine the freedom! I recommend first sketching out the outline of the picture/design you want to create using knitter’s graph paper, then filling in the dots in appropriate colours. In the design below, you’ll see I do literally use dots in each square, because if I just coloured in the whole area for a particular yarn, it would be hard to count how many stitches to knit in each colour. Trust me, I learned this the hard way. (Heavy sigh.)
So, for this post, I decided to create a leafy design. I first sketched it out on knitter’s graph paper. I then translated it into dots. Looking at the design, I spotted some over-long floats so I added a few dots of green to break up long lines of the background colour. So, here’s the dotted design, ready to knit:-
Honestly, it was so much fun creating even this simple design. The freedom! The possibilities!
Then, the knitting. And I’ve included an image of the original sketch that became the dotted motif. OK, so I coloured it in: so sue me. Usually I’d just sketch an outline, then fill in the dots.
When designing, try to avoid long vertical lines, as you can sometimes end up with an unsightly gap between your two colours. Diagonals are always better. That said, I seem to have got away with it in the above examples: rules are there to be broken.
And of course, you can add text. Here’s another example of a design I sketched then knitted. I’ve doodled my own designs above and below the writing, but if you’re interested, there are books and websites available full of traditional fairisle/stranded motifs. Repetitive designs are generally a good way of ensuring you avoid over-long floats. Obviously, using text risks breaking the no-verticals rule, but I got round this when designing my blog header by using italic text.
And that pretty much covers the basics. As I’d advise for any technique, practise using spare yarn, and have fun. You won’t regret it.
Coming soon: how to steek (fearlessly and sober).
www.deramores.com/blog-awards: This blog entry is my submission to the Deramores Blog Awards 2014. Deramores is the UK’s number one online retailer of knitting and crochet supplies.