I knit, therefore I am

Some designs happen because the creative spirit cannot be denied, because art must be released and the artist is driven to create. Or, somebody decides to invent a dumb little baby sweater because they have thrown hours of their life into an abyss searching for the perfect size 2, aran buttoned cardigan, with a small collar, 4 stitch rope cables, no seed stitch, no ribbing, interesting panels of moving stitches (that are not cables) down the front, and yet exudes only manliness and certainly doesn’t have girly bobbles or cables that even vaguely make “heart shapes”, all to discover that it doesn’t exist.
I have finally decided that if I want this exact sweater that I’m going to have to accept that nobody has thought of this combination before, or if they did, they wimped out and didn’t write the thing down. This is always the reason I design something. Frustration.
While I can understand that not everybody thinks they can design, and not everybody wants to, and that some people are never moved to drastic measures by the demented pursuit of the perfect sweater, or sleeves that are less “swooshy”, what I can’t understand is the hugely frustrated knitter who is afraid to try. The way I think about it, you have nothing to lose. The sweater I tried to knit is dumbass, that’s it. I’m at rock bottom. I have no sweater, only a dumbass attempt. What’s the worst thing that can happen? I’ll have no sweater and a dumbass attempt? That’s where I’m at now! Afraid? I’m never afraid to try something with my knitting. I’m afraid of skydiving, and downhill skiing gives me the willies and I’m deeply concerned about war and injustice, but yarn? What could happen? Worst case scenario is you learn a little something about dumbass sweaters. That’ s helpful, that’s one more mistake I can wipe off the list of stupid knitting mistakes I’m destined to make. (I wonder how long that list is…)
Since I know exactly what I want, the idea is finished, done and ready in my head, and the process of creating the pattern is just working out details like gauge, how many stitches to make the panel that I want, and how exactly to create a stitch that matches the one that I’ve imagined. That makes it sound easy, and I think that for the most part it is. The only part about doing design that bites hard is that the math is crazy making. (Joe would tell you that it’s only simple math skills, but I’ve never felt there was anything that even remotely resembles “simple math”.) My imaginary sweater has a size and a shape, and trying to make the numbers reflect that leaves me feeling like I’m mentally “a few elves short of an effective workshop”, if ya catch my meaning.
So, do you design? Do you alter? Why or Why not? What’s the reason you design or the reason that you would never?
Finally, Two questions.
1. Hypothetically speaking, if I had a sew up party in September for Ann and Kay’s afghanalong would anybody come?
2. I heard from some of you that the referrer thingie was screwing up the site. I have moved said thingie to the bottom instead of the side. It looks fine on my screen (and always has, so I can’t be trusted) so if the problem still exists after this feeble attempt to fix it, would you let me know?

48 thoughts on “I knit, therefore I am

  1. Sirdar have a very nice book for Snuggly DK baby patterns (Book 241) with several nice non-bobbly patterns. My grandson (1 yr old) would not have been allowed to wear any bobbly cardigans.

  2. I have made an aran sweater for my boy when he was a baby. I’m sending you an email of the sweater. Be warned it DOES contain bobbles but it is truly masculine. I never received any snide gender comments when he wore it. I didn’t even put it on my daughter as I thought it was too boyish! I still have the pattern. Unless you are enjoying the frustration of designing yout own. And yes, I would sew at the afghanaparty.

  3. Harlot-
    If I were already living in Canada – near Toronto – yes I would come to your sew up party. But, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry christmas, so I suppose you can’t count on me.
    I think the part harder than the math is the “keeping track of your notes” part. i always seem to lose bits and pieces of patterns when I alter.

  4. If I were in your neck of the woods, I’d be there.
    Alas, I live in States, {Midwest region} and wouldn’t be able to make it without a generous (if frustrated) Sugar Daddy, who’s only satisfaction would be in the happiness beaming from my face as I wave a bit yarn at him while boarding the plane.

  5. i can view all of your page today, instead of losing the right margin. thought you’d like to know. can’t help you with the cable-y, bobble-y sweater. sorry!

  6. I love to mess with existing patterns after I’ve knit them straight the first time. I get bored knitting the same thing more than once without changing it somehow. Usually I learn something interesting from each new thing I knit, and then I’ll branch off and create something of my own using a bit of this and a bit of that. What I hate is turning my creation into a comprehensive pattern that is written such that others could follow it. Sharing my idea is not the problem, it’s the work of writing it. I don’t know about you, but I never do it perfect the first time. I always have to frog a little and change this and that. Keeping track of everything accurately on paper takes the experience from a fun adventure, to work. Also, the thought of providing info for different sizes kills me. It takes way too much time. I’m happier just moving on to something new. I hold pattern writers (GOOD pattern writers that is) in the highest respect.

  7. 1. I live in Markham, and if I can successfully ditch my family for an evening or weekend afternoon, I could come to a sew up party.
    2. Yes, things looked mighty strange yesterday, although it was kind of fun guessing what the missing words were. It looks much better today.
    3. Surely Debbie Bliss has a baby boy sweater that would work.

  8. I design,tweek and redesign almost everything ! Being a big,fat,ageing hippy/gothish/different drummer type person I either do that or don’t knit for me.Simple.Once you get over the maths – which really is simple ! You just need to get past your math’s phobia.I was rubbish at maths at school] – it’s not at all difficult.It is,in fact,fun !
    Having said that,I was thrilled to see Folly in a past Knitty.Just my style in just my size.Makes a nice change.
    Your socks,by the way,are deliciously gorgeous.Your calf muscles are scary !

  9. I have not designed a sweater, but I do alter. I think the knowledge gained from altering will be very helpful if I one day decide that I will design. I believe the only reason I would design is if I couldn’t find a pattern that a) I liked or b) couldn’t alter to fit my purpose, and so far that hasn’t happened. Surrounded by artists and creative people, I can’t believe that some of the creative genius — the thwack on the side of the head part that is “inspiration” — hasn’t rubbed off. I guess I think of myself as a craftsperson, a doer rather than a creator.

  10. I design when I can’t find the thing that I want, and when it seems obscenely simple. Like a 6-month V-neck top down raglan cardigan knit in the round in baby yarn! How hard can that be?!

  11. Yes – but only once. I made a sweater for my husband with an allover (well, sort of all over) cable pattern. My first – and so far my last – attempt at design. Knitting a sweater too, for that matter. It was scary, especially as I realized that I might run out of yarn toward the end. But I did it, and would probably do another one again. Altering an existing pattern, to me, is a lot scarier.

  12. I have to come out of lurkdom for this one! (I can’t believe it has taken me this long. I have been addicted to your site for some time… The laundry would go un-done so that I could catch up with your archives!)
    Would I go to your sew-up party? In a heartbeat! (Well, as long as it takes to get there from Ottawa…)
    As for designing- no, not yet. I am fast approaching the realization that it will become necessity. I am getting into the groove of altering, again by necessity. I hear that not all sweaters should be 3/4 sleeve…

  13. I almost always design because that way I can get exactly what I want instead of having to do something that is what somebody else wanted when they made the pattern. When I do use patterns, I alter them heavily because I think that designers often ‘dumb down’ their patterns to make them easier for beginner knitters to do, and in the process make the garment less perfect.

  14. Yup, site is back on the ‘straight and narrow’. Well, the text is…
    I like the Knitter’s Handy Book of patterns for a starting point for “designing”. (I laugh as I type this, as I never *finish* much, but god do I start a lot!) There is also a book, “designing knitwear” that I borrow from the library about once a month…I love it and perhaps if it sits on my nightstand long enough the math part will become ingrained by osmosis.
    I am quite confident your masculine, self-designed aran baby sweater will be a smashing success. Just remember to write down the pattern so you can give it to all of us later… ;-D
    PS, I wish I *could* come sew at your party!

  15. So sad that Toronto is too far away from New England… So sad…
    As far as pattern creation goes… I have followed a whole pattern through with out any alteration to any detail only once- A Debbie Bliss sweater and it came out AWFUL!!! Never again. Since then I have always gone with my gut, viewed the written pattern as a helpfull suggestion and ‘wung it’. I think that as long as one has a very clear understanding of what they are hoping to achieve and as long as that image in your head is in alignment with the reality of your yarn, then there is nothing the ‘experienced’ (I use this term very loosly) knitter can’t create. Yaaay for the Harlot! You are my knitting hero!
    (Isn’t all this what that Knitting The Old Way book is supposed to be about? I need that book…)

  16. I have never made anything without at the very least drastically altering the pattern, usually just taking a small section of a pattern and then making something of my own. Why, you ask? I will answer you with the answer I gave the military recruiters who called me when I was in high school. “I don’t take kindly to others telling me how to do things.”
    Someone once asked me how I knew a sweater (that I was making for myself) would fit if I didn’t have a pattern. I said “it’s a hardship but I bring myself along whenever I’m knitting it, and have myself try it on to see.”
    I would GLADLY come visit you to sew up the Afghan. (Heck, if Bush wins, I might move in -but then who would you stay with come time for MD S&W?) unfortunately the time off required to travel would push the limits of my already very yarn-tolerant boss.

  17. What is everyone complaining about? I just read the source code to fill in the missing words, and then played the game of Mad Libs to see if my “blanks” were anywhere close to correct.

  18. I just highlighted the text, then cut and pasted into a word document. The “missing” words magically appeared!
    I’m in the process of knitting my second sweater, and so far I have yet to knit strictly according to the pattern. I expect that eventually I’ll have to design my own, but so far I don’t have the skillz – math or otherwise.

  19. I am making my first forrays into designing on my own. I have lots of ideas, now I just have to make sure that I have the skills to back them up.
    I would come to the Sew-up party, if I didn’t live half the continent away. Hanging out with the Harlot would be a jolly experience, I’m sure.
    And yes, the page is much more viewable now. Thank you!

  20. As a woman who just wore a tank that she could not suitably breathe in, you will understand that I often tweak a pattern to fit more comfortably on my rack. I rarely keep to a pattern, simply because I am a pain in the butt who thinks that my tweaking makes my knitting more my style. (Not to mention, cover me descretely.) Right now, a bikini is on the needles.. suitably tweaked so there will not be any painful burns on private parts.. but I see this pattern morphing into a lovely backless summer tank with cables up the front. Why? because I can. 🙂

  21. I just clicked on “comments” even when there weren’t any because there was nothing on the right to cover the words. But it is all better now.
    In September I’ll be closer to Toronto than I am now, but unfortunately, classes start in September, and the folks in charge of my loans seem to think that 3.0 is a reasonable GPA for graduate students. Sadly, for the sake of my grades, I’m out too for the afghan party. *sigh*

  22. I am almost uncomfortable about knitting from someone else’s pattern. To me, at least, there’s no creativity in that, and I just don’t think I “own” it. I find myself apologizing (“Oh, well, I just followed the pattern…”) instead of feeling proud of my creation. Of the maybe 12 sweaters I’ve made so far, probably no more than three of them were unadulterated patterns.
    There’s also a significant amount of good old-fashioned *cheapness* involved, since the less I spend on patterns the more I can spend on yarn!

  23. I also make alterations to most patterns that I use, at the very least substituting yarn (*ahem, I’m the cheapskate who unravels used sweaters). But designing on the needles is way more fun than following instructions. I’ve recently been trying to design in my sketchbook instead of in my head, and write down the instructions as I go. This is WAY HARDER than just winging it! Although less frogging is usually involved.
    I rarely make it to Toronto but am only 4 hours away and might be going to a housewarming there on Labour day weekend. Any idea yet when in September you would host the sew-up? It would be fun to meet you and some of the regulars from the comments! And it would provide a deadline for me to get some squares done (if I can’t make it can I send you some squares?)
    I didn’t have any trouble viewing the page in Mozilla Firebird.

  24. I would love to come to a sew-up party! That reminds me, I really need to send in my squares (only a measly 2, since I keep getting distracted, but still…)
    As for designing, I just haven’t felt the urge yet, since there are so many lovely patterns out there and I’ve by no means exhausted the range of things I want to make. But I might start doing so for my husband’s sweaters, since good men’s patterns are so much harder to find.
    I’ve never really worried about the creativity aspect of it — I don’t knit to be creative, actually, I knit because I enjoy the process and happily use the results. So I have no problem following other people’s patterns.

  25. Stephanie, I have a question that doesn’t relate to this article. You spun some wonderful medium grey yarn with some other colors some time back. How did you spin it? Did you spin the grey separate from the colors and then ply them or did you mix the fleeces and spin at the same time? I would like to try to create something like this and since I’m new at spinning don’t think I can. But any help would be appreciated.
    Thanks, Sharolene in California

  26. a) simple math = oxymoron, you’re darn tootin.
    b) I would love to come to a sewing party! I could take the train from Montreal, and maybe my mom would even come with me. She might even drive — she drives over to Ontario about once a year anyway, to visit relatives.

  27. Wish I lived anywhere near Canada – I’d be there in a heartbeat and bring snacks. Ah, well.
    I love to design, alter, fiddle, anything but take a pattern and use it verbatim. Something about being a perfectionist and being really picky leaves me on my own much of the time, pattern wise. This is a good thing as I’ve learned much more through mistakes in designing things and taking off on my own – have to find a silver lining somewhere, right?

  28. You make it sound so easy to try to design something on our own. I would love to. I think it takes a certain confidence within ourselves to even attempt that task. I think I will try to alter a pattern, whether it be a cable up the front or a beautiful hem. I will try though!!! Thanks for making us feel a little confident.

  29. I was having trouble with the right margin of text being lost, but am not now. Didn’t know what was doing it, but you seem to have fixed it.
    As far as designing… I am still a painfully slow knitter (in my mind anyway) and so the “loss” is really my knitting time. I haven’t yet designed a sweater only ’cause I am afraid I would totally screw it up and be so despondant as to not wanna knit for awhile. I mean it has taken me four freakin’ months to finish stupid Salt Peanuts, and someone *else* already did all that math.
    I have no doubt that when I am more efficient (or less easily distracted by each fluffy pretty ball of novelty yarn to sashay past) that I will try to design a sweater. I am already finding myself saying things like “until piece measures 14″! are you crazy?? we’ll just make that 12….” So doesn’t seem like much of a leap.

  30. TORONTO. I’ve never been to Toronto. Mapquest says:
    Total Est. Time: 9 hours, 22 minutes
    Total Est. Distance: 599.38 miles (from New Hampshire.)
    Is that time estimate with or without LYS stops, I wonder?
    When I ponder the other sorts of things I totally waste 9 hours on routinely (work) this seems completely do-able Steph.
    Y’just never know.

  31. #1 I live in the Mid-Hudson Valley region of New York State, but with enough advanced notice (2-3 weeks?), I would haul my butt to Toronto for a sew-up party. Sewing with Yarn Harlot, checking out Toronto yarn stores, and a quick pop by the Japanese Paper Store (and maybe Lush) — my heart skips with excitement.
    #2 I am a relatively new knitter (January 2004), so I have just now fiddled with a pattern. I decided that my Spring Fling Tank needed a bit of shaping or draping work, so that is it for me. Like you, the math scares me. I analyze sales, etc daily, however, much of it is done with the luxury of a spreadsheet and a calculator — and it’s not resulting in a piece of clothing. Generally, I lack confidence when it comes to substituting similar yarns across brands, so how could I muster the the confidence to “DESIGN”!?!?

  32. Hey, a timely post to drag me from my reading-only-no-comments-thank-you kind of reading. I have just finished a major pattern tweak, and I’m 90% happy with it, and have started (and frogged, and started and frogged, and started, oh, you get the idea) my very first soup to nuts design. I’ve been holding on to this great tomato-soup colored wool and the perfect vest came to mind. The math was for me the easy part, thanks to Maggie Righetti and some graph paper, but I keep learning new things through the process of screwing up. So my scattered notes contain things like “THIS time, keep track of how many rows you’re on!”
    I would cheerfully come to a seaming party, but driving from Northern California and then expecting someone to put up with me and my three kids seems a wee bit much, methinks.

  33. I love the way people found different ways to view your site when some of the words were hidden. (I went the Comment Page route, myself.) Obviously we’re capable of thinking outside the box and should be designing sweaters like MAD.
    Having sent Kay a bunch of squares, I guess I’m bound to help with the sewing up if there’s a Toronto party. Social events fill me with dread, but I’m sure we’re a fun bunch and I could manage it for a while. (I’m at Broadview and Danforth, which is significantly closer than, say, New Hampshire or Ottawa, so I don’t have distance as an excuse.)

  34. Sometimes when I read your blog, I think that there are two of us in my head…you and me.
    I find this very, very scary.

  35. Hi Stephanie-
    First time poster here…and maybe a tad late to the dance but here’s my quick, down-n-dirty solution…
    Find a pattern you love in an Aran/Chunky weight yarn and *execute* it in fingering weight…wahla!
    Instant baby sized pattern, n’est ce pas? 🙂
    What do you think?

  36. 1. I haven’t designed anything *yet* but then I’ve only been knitting since February. I do already change things to suit my liking when I know how. I guess it’s like cooking, I just can’t stand to leave the recipe alone. *lol*
    2. Your site always looked fine to me, still looks fine. 🙂

  37. Just one of these days I would love to actually follow a pattern from start to finish. I have accumulated hundreds if not thousands of them over the years. But I mostly use them for inspiration, then look at my stash and see if I have enough of whatever colour to finish whatever my mind dreams up at the moment. Easy. To heck and back with math. Tried to put a pattern down on paper a couple times, even when so far as buying a fancy book to record patterns in, but of course the knitting goes a lot faster and more fun if I don’t have to stop and remember the right abbreviations etc so it all can make sense to me later. So every piece I make is an original, except for the socks: can’t mess with the sizes too much or guess what! They don’t fit. And my hubby frowns when I mess around with “his socks”. He likes ’em the way I make ’em and I’ve been TOLD more than once to stop frigging with a good thing!
    Anyway, about the sew up party, if I am needed I am sure my mother would be absolutely thrilled to see the grandkids (she lives in Kitchener) and gives her an excuse not to come east. And I am overdue for a visit by a few years…

  38. i love altering patterns and designing my own stuff. I have always been the kind of person who cuts up store bought clothes to make something else (cutting off sleeves, turning a dress into a skirt and a shirt, etc…), and since I am so picky, I usually have to alter everything so that it suits my personal style (and bust size). Nothing conventional is designed in MY size, so I have to change patterns to fit me. As for designing, this usually results from a yarn buying binge, where I buy a bunch of yarn with nothing really in mind, and then I can’t find the pattern that would be PERFECT enough. So, I design my own. Sometimes this does not work, and then I have a dumbass sweater. Live and learn.
    If I were in Canada, I would be at your sew-up party. But I’m not.

  39. I have done all of it. Designed from scratch, altered patterns, knit to the last letter. The math is intimidating, but once you organize yourself, drive yourself crazy, walk away, work on something else for a bit, sleep on it, let your subconscious mind work on it, come back to it and……you guessed it, clear as mud! Only joking, it usually clears itself up and you finally see what you are trying to see. Sometimes it helps to not get too far ahead of yourself. Somethings just work themselves out as they go along. For instance, you may do all the calculations for a certain armscye and sleeve, only to find out as you knit that you would prefer another style. And always have plenty of fiber to swatch. I love large swatches, especially to figure how wide each cable panel is going to be. Good Luck. This is a definite doable project. I can’t wait to see it!

  40. morning Stephanie. The words have all come back….I did learn that by messin’ with text size i could read all the text that was missing…but that’s not to say i’m not happy about how your blog looks now. If i were closer to canada than i am, i’d be there to join the sewing goodness. but stuck in klumbus, ahia….. well… and as far as design!? yikes!!!! the few times i had altered a design caused my family to take out stock in Tums, so i don’t really put myself and others through that a lot. I’ll just admire your hand work, oh Knitting Sensei *with a nod to Ken*

  41. I design because I spin yarns with qualities that are lost in most commercial patterns. I design because there are ideas about how to combine stitches and patterns in my head that just have to come out somehow.
    I don’t alter finished sweaters unless I was the knitter and there is something needing change.
    Do I alter patterns? Hah!! I can’t remember when I have ever used a knitted pattern that I didn’t change in one way or another.
    Have you ever read Annie Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird? It’s a treatise on writing and life. Fits the creative life too. There are sections on Sh*tty First Drafts and Short Assignments. Things that apply to fiber arts as well.

  42. I would love to come to a sew-up party, because I would use it as a thinly-disguised excuse to practice seaming techniques, but sadly, Toronto is too far from Ohio to pop by. That said, I do love Canada, and not just for the Coffee Crisp.
    I have not designed, but I do see it in my future – I’m getting enough knitting experience under my belt to say “Oh, I wish I could make that pattern fit me – the sizing is wrong.” Soon enough, I imagine I’ll simply design something of my own. For the record, I don’t think it’s uncreative to follow a pattern; it’s simply a different kind of creativity. Patterns spark creativity in me: “Oh, I didn’t know you could do that!” Then I try it, to get a closeup view of how a given stitch or technique works.

  43. Just discovered your blog, and I am enjoying it. Pondering the philosophy of knitting can take up more time than the actual work, if you do it right. … Designing is, as others have stated, the only way to get exactly what you want. For example, I have developed a “Finding Nemo” fetish, and want a Dory afghan. I don’t think patterns for this are thick on the ground, but w/the help of my cross stitch pattern maker and some graph paper, I hopefully won’t come a cropper. … Sadly, I can’t come to your party, either. Would love to. Live in Germany.
    By the way, for Emma and any other lurkers who are built for comfort rather than speed (as am I), there is a great vintage book called “Great Big Knits” that offers many, many sweater patterns in “one size fit everyone painted by Reubens.”
    Keep up the good work.

  44. just wondering how to get hold of a knitting pattern of finding nemo for granma to knit for greatgrandson.
    hoping you can put me in the right direction

  45. just wondering how to get hold of a knitting pattern of finding nemo for nana to knit for granddaughter.
    hoping you can put me in the right direction as Donna asked

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