I got my start in designing by reverse-engineering of patterns for my sister. She would bring me a sweater from a friend of hers, and I would make her something similar (altered to match her specifications). It was a great excuse to play with gauge and shaping and interesting construction techniques, and it was a great way to reinforce that I didn’t need a pattern written by someone else to tell me what I could make.
A few years ago, my amazingly talented and artistic cousin Jenny had a Big Birthday. I offered to knit her something – anything she wanted. She thought about it for a good 6 months, and at Christmas at my parents’ house that year, she said she knew what she wanted: A blanket. Big enough for her queen-sized bed. In burnt orange. With a big sun in the center. “Not possible,” I said almost immediately. Such a thing would have to be knit from the center out to be at all attractive, but figuring out the math of how to turn a circle into a rectangle would be challenging to say the least.
The beauty of designing something according to the specifications of an artistic non-knitter like Jenny or my sister is that they don’t know the limitations of the knitted form, so their requests force me to question my perceptions of those limitations. Turning a circle into a rectangle wouldn’t be impossible, I realized. The circle could be turned into an octagon and then into a rectangle with much less math. The math would be, well, trigonometry … but it was just a bit of math. And I love math.
[I had every intention of showing a picture of my chicken-scratch doing-trig-on-the-bus-by-hand notes, but I can’t find them. Just believe me when I say that Mrs. Novstrup and Mrs. Matson would be very proud of me if they could see my notes.]Once the math was completed, the knitting zoomed along with great results. Kate at Twist Collective decided to stage the design as a picnic blanket (see the terrific story about that particular photo shoot) so I knit one whole afghan-or-picnic-sized blanket in worsted weight yarn, plus a quarter-blanket each in sport and bulky weight to show what the design looks like in other sizes. That was a lot of knitting, so my photos of the finished blanket are terrible (photographing a yellow item at night in a yellow room = bad idea). Fortunately, the pictures Jamie Dixon took are absolutely wonderful. The most exciting part of designing to me, though, is seeing what other people do with the design. Elly of Magpie Yarns (Ravelry/website) used intarsia to make the sun and background different colors. That idea that had occurred to me but that I hadn’t found time to try out, and I was thrilled to see it executed.
And Nicola (Nicolor) completely blew me away, knitting only 5 out of the 8 sections of the octagon and turning it into a shawl – and doing it in a gradually color-changing yarn. That’s just gorgeous.
Thank you, Twist Collective, for giving my design such wide audience and beautiful presentation! Thank you, knitters, for pushing it beyond the blanket I imagined. And thank you, Jenny, for giving me the idea in the first place! I promise I’ll finally finish YOUR blanket by this Christmas.
* The sun panel can be knit either as one piece or as four quarters; this was my first pass at the design, and (obviously) I just knit the one quarter. When I realized the design would work, I reknit this piece (the one that will go to Jenny soon!) and the sample sent to Twist in all one piece. I don’t mind sewing, but I didn’t want to deal with THAT much sewing.)