Why is it that I sometimes need someone else’s permission to be confident? There it is: the truth about me. I constantly need to either talk myself into being confident, or let someone else do it for me. It doesn’t come naturally. Thank God it can come by outside means!
I am currently reading Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitter’s Almanac, and now I know what all the fuss is about when it comes to EZ. It seems like every knitting forum online eventually mentions EZ’s technique for this, or EZ’s pattern for that. Well, this EZ book was the cheapest one on Knit Picks, and it contained the pattern for a sweater that I wanted to knit for the upcoming baby girl, so I bought it. I splurged all of $7.50, and I think it’s the best knitting money I’ve ever spent. (Well, except for maybe that grey merino that is now my favourite cardigan; but I guess that’s a fish, and the book is a fishing rod, to borrow from that old metaphor. You get my point. I hope.)
Listen to this: “Don’t place unlimited credence in us knitting-instruction-writers, or believe everything in print to be infallible. We do our best, but it may easily be that your best is better than ours. Don’t hesitate to improve on us” (p.102). Isn’t that wonderful? Elizabeth Zimmermann herself, the guru of modern knitting, thinks I can do better. Thinks you can do better.
I admit, this particular book isn’t for beginning knitters. EZ assumes that the reader knows a lot about the basics of knitting, and if I had read it ten years ago, I would have been lost. But, as a baby “unventor” trying to figure things out and make some of my own really great patterns, it’s the perfect book for me.
Here are, for your entertainment and encouragement, some things I have learned while designing:
There is nothing new under the knitting sun. I might come up with some pretty new sweater, but it’s just a combination of basic sweater techniques and basic stitch patterns that already existed. Every baby sweater I looked up on Ravelry for inspiration convinced me of that.
Anyone can design, if they really want to. (If they have really poor taste, their designs might look terrible, but they’ll still be designs!) It just takes a little extra knowledge about the basic workings of things. Oh, and knowing some tips and tricks helps, too. For instance: do you know how to do an edge stitch so your back-and-forth work looks neat and straight at the sides? Simply slip the first stitch as if to purl, then knit the last stitch of every row. That’s it. And you’ll be rewarded with a neat little chain of stitches travelling up the side of your work. That neat little chain, if employed on heel flaps, will also make it easier and neater to pick up your stitches for the instep, especially if you twist them to avoid holes. Now that wasn’t hard, was it?
Math. *sigh* Math skills are quite useful, after all, especially when getting things to be the proper size and planning out pattern spacing. Did you know that you could change any of my preemie patterns to fit an adult simply by re-calculating the gauge? For instance, the Tulip Hat is basically a repeated pattern of ten stitches. Knit out a tiny one, measure it, then measure your own head. Figure out how many more repeats of ten you need to fit yourself, then add that many to the hat. Knit in the pattern until you’re about 2 or 2 1/2 inches from the top of your head, then start decreasing. Ta-da! You’ve just modified a pattern. You’re already part designer.
I was pretty scared of gauge when I first started knitting. I ignored it if I could, to be honest, and frankly I’m lucky that some of my knitted sweaters actually fit their intended owners. But now I know: in designing, gauge is a big deal. It makes everything easier. For instance, if I want a sweater with a 40-inch chest, and my gauge swatch tells me that my yarn knits up at 5 sts/inch, I simply multiply 5 by 40 to find out how many stitches I’ll need in that 40 inches: 200. Now, wasn’t that easy?
EZ mentions in her book that a hat is usually about half the circumference of a sweater, so in my determination to design a sweater for the new baby girl, I decided to knit a test hat. I had picked a couple patterns from a big pattern book I have, and I incorporated them into the hat. Since I wanted to knit the sweater from the top down (because the lace pattern looks better upside down), I started the hat at the top, too. I used that little hat to experiment with how to increase in seed stitch without ruining its effect. I discovered a couple things I would not do on the sweater, and I kept going. When I switched to the lace pattern to see how it would look with the seed stitch, I realized that the lace would pull in the seed stitch and make it pucker. Since I don’t want the bottom of my sweater to be narrower than the top, I now know that I’ll have to increase right before switching from the seed stitch to the lace repeats. All this from a tiny little hat! And not from a useless square of fabric!
(Amazingly, the hat turned out wearable and even cute. I am even more encouraged to keep experimenting. My sister even wants one in her size, since she “hates hats that hug her head too tightly and likes the bubbly look at the top of this one.”)
So, let me encourage you, as EZ has encouraged me: go for it! Change things, make things up, and unvent to your heart’s content. It’s pretty awesome.