Thursday, 11 July 2013

Designing 101.

Every year my family draws names for Christmas. There are just too many of us for each of us to buy something for everyone. When we were kids we used to make something for everyone and it's funny, because we still usually make something (last year I knit Jacq a sweater. The year before I knit a blanket for my older brother Paul). This year I pulled my brother Mike's name. I haven't had him for years. He's a great person to knit for. He wears almost anything, and he's proud of it. I've never knit him a sweater, so this year I thought I should.

I ran into someone I knew from my yarn store days last week. She asked me HOW I design. What is my process? I had to think about it. I didn't really realize that I had process, but I guess I do. Using Mikey's sweater as an example, I'm going to try to explain design.

Step 1: Think about the person I want to knit for.

Mike is awesome. He's the middle brother. He's a strange mix of Hobbit and chef with a dash of lumberjack mixed in. He's short and stout. He's clever, funny, kind and generous. He is growing his beard (because he can) and sends me photos of the progress. It's great.



Mikey! Bearded, striped, awesome!

He loves hoodies and stripes... There it is! A hooded, striped sweater!

Step 2: Yarn.

If I'm lucky I have the yarn I need in my stash. This time I wasn't so lucky (ok, let's be honest, I love an excuse to visit the yarn store). I knew I needed something machine washable (he is my brother, I know his laundry habits, or the lack there of). I love working with wool. I wanted something woodsy to coordinate with his beard. Something classic but a bit eccentric. I stumbled upon Berroco Vintage. It's a machine washable wool and acrylic blend. It is soft, has awesome stitch definition, and great yardage. I picked up 3 colours of that and one of Cascade 220 superwash. (Some people do not recommend mixing yarns in a project. I will mix if the gauge is the same and the content is similar. Be cautious – they may wash differently).

Yarn pile! Love the colours!

Knowing how much yarn you might need for a project can be very difficult. I recommend looking at AnnBudd's Handy Guide to Yarn Requirements. I didn't use Ann's pamphlet this time. I've knit enough sweaters to be able to ball park it. I picked up about 1800m (or 1980 yards) of Worsted weight yarn. Always buy TOO much yarn. It's easier to use your leftovers for something else, you can't always buy more yarn in the same colour... ask me how I know.

Step 3: Swatching.

Many knitters will scoff in the face of swatching. I sometimes do too. Who wants to cast on a small square, wash it, wait for it to dry, then measure it? It's a pain in butt. But guess what... it's VITAL and it's worth the trouble.

My yarn is worsted weight and worsted is generally knit on 4.5mm needles (US size 7). So I cast about 50 stitches (I like 50, it makes math pretty easy). I worked in stockingette stitch (knit one row, purl one row) until the swatch measured 5 inches or so (ok, I didn't measure it). Then I cast off. I washed the swatch in the machine with a load of laundry. I laid it flat and waited for it to dry (it's humid here – it took two days and I almost lost my mind). When it was dry, I measured how many stitches there were per inch.

The point of swatching is to determine your gauge (Gauge is the measurement of stitches per inch). I knew I wanted a plain stitch pattern. You should always swatch in the stitch pattern you plan on using – otherwise the gauge will be inaccurate.

My gauge was 5 stitches per inch in stockingette stitch.

Step 4: Measurements.

To make a garment fit, you must know how big to make it (really Emily... that's very logical!). I didn't have Mikey around to measure him, so I guessed. I know that he is a man's Large. What is the measurement for size Large? I didn't know either, so I googled it. I found all sorts of measurements. I decided to settle on 44 inches, seemed to make sense to me. And if it were too big, it's not a huge deal. I also know that Mike is not very tall (about 5'5”). I'm a bit shorter than that. So I measured the length of my body from my underarm and added a two inches (about 17 inches). I measured the length of my arms. I knew I wanted to make a hood. So I did some silly measuring of the distance between my temples, across the back of head (to give the depth of the hood) then I measured from the top of my head to my shoulders, the length of my hood.

So here are my measurements:

Hood: 18 inches across, 14 inches long.
Chest: 44 inches
Length of body: 17 inches from underarm.
Arms (also a guess): 21 inches from underarm.

In a perfect world, I would have measured Mike, but he lives 650kms away.

Step 5: The Math!

Now it's time to do math. Don't worry it's not so bad. I'm not a math person (ask any of my teachers). The calculations are easy. You take the number of stitches you have per inch and multiply them by the number of inches you need. And that gives you the number of stitches you need.

Here are my very rough calculations:

Hood: 18 inches x 5sts/inch= 90 sts.
Length (no math needed): 14 inches.

Body (I'm working in one piece – more on that later): 44 inches around x 5sts/inch = 220 sts.
Length : 17inches from underarm.

Arms: 21 inches long from underarm.

This is my rough guide.

You can use this guide for any pattern. Do you want to knit a hat? How many stitches per inch do you have? (let's say 6 for the sake of argument). How many inches around is your head? (mine's 21). Here's the math: 6 (number of sts/inch) x 21 (number of inches) = 126 (number of stitches you need to cast on).

Step 6: Constructing

I decided I wanted to make a top-down raglan sleeve cardigan. Mostly because I like the way they fit, they are easy and their is no sewing involved.

A top-down cardigan involves casting on at the neck edge of a sweater (or a hood in my case). Then working the front, sleeves, and back in one piece, all while increasing at the appropriate places, then dividing into the front, the back and the sleeves. There are tons of patterns that use this technique (here are some fun ones: Bad Penny, Shapely Boyfriend,)

The sweater so far!

I had my math. I knew I needed to start with the hood. I cast on 90sts and worked the hood until it measured 14 inches. I then began to work in the raglan shaping (this is where I am now). I will work the increases until there are 110sts (half of the number of body stitches) across the back of the sweater. When I divide for the sleeves, I will work the body of the sweater until it measures 17 inches from the divide. When I knit the arms, I will make sure they are 21 inches long.

Every knitting pattern starts with the same things: gauge, measurements, and some simple math. That's it. The rest is determination and insanity.

Happy designing!

another photo! mostly because I love the texture of knitting and the colours are so lovely together!