Knitting Struggles

By Megan Goodacre

Knitting Struggles

Some ranting...

Design, whether it's a letterhead, a website, or a sweater, feels best when the ideas and the work flow spontaneously, everything falling into place easily. But what you learn in school, and in practice, is that an idea that flows too quickly might not be the best solution. Design, in practice, usually (and should) involve a creative process of exploring multiple solutions. I'm sure a lot of us have had an assignment somewhere along the way, whether in high school or university, where the instructor makes you sketch out 20 or 50 or 100 ideas before starting a final project. Most of us tend to rebel and reject this process; "but I already have a great idea," we (I) whine, "why do I need 100 thumbnail sketches?"

I blame the romanticized idea of the genius artist or designer; you know the one, the 1 hour documentary on PBS that shows you Frank Gehry or Pablo Picasso produce a fluid sketch on a napkin that becomes the basis for some iconic design. It's a captivating image, but not terribly realistic.

Design isn't really about dashing off ideas on cocktail napkins. Design is mostly problem-solving. I think that's why it's such an interesting profession; it requires the left and right brain to be firing at the same time.

Why am I ranting about design? Ah. I'm sitting here, looking at my yarn, my sketch, and I need to cast on. One, I'd like to be knitting right now. And two, as usual, I have a deadline. But before I can write the pattern, I have to solve some problems. And, and usual, some of the trickiest knitting design problems come at the very beginning.

Knitting design (I've learned from my very limited experience, goodness I'm sounding pompous today!) is a weird thing. You're not designing a garment. Well, you are. But, equally important, you are designing the experience. And, then, communicating how to duplicate that experience.

With the internet and this knitting-revival, we have a growing arsenal of techniques that weren't available to the average knitter 20 years ago. Short-rows, provisional cast-ons, traditional lace, steeking; I don't remember seeing those in the 90's. But now, designers can include almost any specialized knitting technique in a pattern, as long as they provided a link to a tutorial. Which is amazing, of course. Knitting design has become both aesthetically and technically sophisticated.

The flipside, as I very gradually get to my point, is the growing complexity of patterns. I believe that it leaves the average knitter behind. The hobby knitter who wants to finish something, would like to watch a little TV while they're knitting, and doesn't have hours to research knitting techniques, needs something approachable.

So what is my point today? Mostly I'm just procrastinating, but I'm faced with a choice this morning: In a pattern for a top-down raglan pullover, should I, A) Use short rows to raise the back neck for a better fit but a longer, more advanced, more complex pattern or B) Use no neck shaping with an inferior fit but oh so simple construction?