Friday, October 26, 2007

Just in Time Design: Pattern Stitches and Shaping

For me, much of the challenge of knitting is in designing the garment I can see in my mind's eye.

I spend a lot of time swatching pattern stitches that end up being less than perfect.

When I find the one that is perfect, I swatch until I really understand the pattern stitch.

My latest project was a Dragon Princess Shell for my eldest daughter. The pattern stitch knit up beautifully, and I could see it in full-sprung glory on my daughter.

When I went to figure out how I was going to shape the sweater, however, I was brought up short.

Here's the pattern:

Dragon Skin
26 stitches

Row 1 and all wrong side rows: Purl
Row 2: * K1, m1, ssk, k4, k2tog, k3, m1, k2, m1, k3, ssk, k4, k2tog, m1, k1 *
Row 4: * K1, m1, k1, ssk, k2, k2tog, k4, m1, k2, m1, k4, ssk, k2, k2tog, k1, m1, k1 *
Row 6: * K1, m1, k2, ssk, k2tog, k5, m1, k2, m1, k5, ssk, k2tog, k2, m1, k1 *
Row 8: * K1, m1, k3, ssk, k4, k2tog, m1, k2, m1, ssk, k4, k2tog, k3, m1, k1 *
Row 10: * K1, m1, k4, ssk, k2, k2tog, k1, m1, k2, m1, k1, ssk, k2, k2tog, k4, m1, k1 *
Row 12: * K1, m1, k5, ssk, k2tog, k2, m1, k2, m1, k2, ssk, k2tog, k5, m1, k1 *

The pattern is 26 stitches wide, and the increases and decreases move all over the place! It's not a pattern where you can wing it with the shaping and have everything come out hunky-dory. Nope, this is a situation where your shaping has to be carefully arranged to suit the pattern stitch.

After working with the pattern for a while, it became apparent each pattern repeat consists of a panel of 13 stitches followed by its mirror. Thus, my basic pattern unit is 13 stitches. Each unit starts with k1, m1 and ends with m1, k1. Moreover, rows 8, 10, and 12 are just rows 2, 4, and 6 with the 13-stitch units reversed.

There's no wiggle room in this pattern to insert new units between existing units except in 26-stitch-wide swatches. The cut-outs for the back and front neck, for example, needed to be planned stitch by stitch so that the motifs could be centered and the shoulders begun in pattern.

When I'm increasing at the edge of a pattern, I like to start working in the pattern stitch as soon as possible. With the decreases spaced so far from the increases in this pattern, I was able to start working in the Dragon Skin pattern when I had 7, 13, 20, or 26 side stitches.

Once I'd worked that all out in my head and made hand corrections to my Garment Designer chart, all I had to do was knit.

And, wouldn't you know, it looks like the sweater just grew itself.

The next pattern stitch, however, is one that probably won't make it into a sweater yoke of mine any time soon.

It's a charming pattern. I love what it does with the Malabriga space-dyed yarn.

This is a slip-stitch pattern. I've knit slip-stitch patterns as raglans before, but the increase line and surplus stitches present a lumpy, glaringly colorful problem. This rules out the possibility of working top-down set-in sleeves, too, so I'm left with the option of seaming (which I will do when a certain very warm place freezes over) or a round yoke. This pattern, with its half-offset motifs, doesn't look like it would handle round yoke increases, either.

I could re-design this pattern (like I did with the Racing Plaid pattern to increase the space between motifs and/or not offset them. I could then use a line of Northern Stars, do an increase round, add another round of Northern Stars, and then another increase round. That might be very handsome, but we'll see.

In summary, the pattern stitch puts a lot of constraints on the garment shaping, dictating where and how increases and decreases can be made. The pattern stitch also dictates whether you need a smaller fill-in pattern for increase and decrease areas or not. In some cases, the pattern stitch can require or eliminate a certain kind of yoke or construction method.