Knitwear Design as Problem Solving

Posted by Stephanie Earp on

I was a teaching a knitting class last month and while we were working away on some short rows, one of the women in class asked me what inspires my designs. Truthfully, when I started submitting designs to magazines years ago, I was trying to come up with things I hadn't seen before. I thought that was my only way into the market. The results were... interesting, but lacked universal appeal. I'm still proud of those designs, but not many people opted to knit them.

Now, I tend to approach design from a problem solving point of view - as much as needing something to knit can be seen as a problem. With Four Score, the problem I wanted to solve was an intro sweater that didn't ask the new knitter to have an arsenal of interchangeable needles. And something that didn't require neck shaping with a cast-off front and shaped shoulders. I remember how weird those instructions were the first few times I tried to follow them. Wouldn't it be great to skip it entirely and still be able to make a wearable, fashionable sweater?

It may be less obvious what problem I was trying to solve with the Galore sweater, but I swear to you, it was a conundrum. I pulled five skeins of Tosh DK off the shelves at Espace Tricot during one of my days there and I just wanted to make a sweater from all five of them. They belonged together, and they belonged with me.

Of course, we had only one skein left of two of these colourways, so my design would have to make maximum use of each skein. Five skeins, I knew, could make a sweater in my size, but only just. It would have to be a slim silhouette. It would have to use every last inch of yardage.

I swatched, and I ripped, and I set up a three-sheet Excel document for calculating exactly how many inches of knitted cloth I could squeeze from each skein. I had less than ten yards left in my last colourway, Cactus Flower.

As I'm thinking ahead to the designs I want to work on over the rest of the year, I can see that they are all possible answers to questions. Could a lace shawl stay put on my shoulders, and be more of a garment? Could it be more like a t-shirt? Could I come up with a first steeked project that wouldn't scare the bejeezus out of people? Would the manipulations in Tomoko Nakamichi's Pattern Magic work on knitted fabrics?

I'm looking forward to figuring out the answers to these questions, and I'm very thankful to all the knitters who have decided to try out my solutions so far. I can't wait to see the results.

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