Pattern, recipe or inspiration?

I have been thinking lately about how we use knitting patterns; they can be used as a pattern, a recipe or an inspiration.  These terms represent points on a continuum and thus can be rather fluid.  Two questions particularly interest me:

  1. What are the boundaries or tipping points?  For example, when does a pattern become an inspiration?  How much do you have to personalize a pattern before it becomes something else?
  2. How does one appropriately attribute those projects that fall on the boundaries?

Part of the reason I am thinking about this now is because of the project I am currently working on.  I am knitting a turtleneck pullover with Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light in Tart.  I usually start a project by picking a pattern that appeals and then finding the yarn.  In this case, I started with the yarn – 4 skeins of the Tart – and a gap in my wardrobe.  Specifically, because I’ve put on some weight, all of my pullovers are too tight and too short.  I wanted a pullover that fit properly and that could be dressed up or down.  I wanted it to look good at the office with a pencil skirt or out hiking with my jeans and boots.  I spent some time (I will admit – I spent a lot of time) pouring over patterns and finally came up with the Lightweight Pullover by Hannah Fettig.  Here is the pattern photo:

copyright Quince & Co

copyright Quince & Co

It’s hard to tell from the photo but the waistband is ribbed as are the sleeve cuffs.  I am not quite finished with mine – the body is knit but one sleeve is about half done, and the other about a third done.  If you look at the most current progress photo below, you can see that mine doesn’t really look that much like the pattern photo.

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Part of this is for obvious reasons – mine has less ease, more fitted sleeves, is longer, and the waistband is in seed stitch instead of rib.  The choice of yarn also changes the look of the sweater quite a bit – the Madelinetosh Light doesn’t have the halo of the angora blend called for in the pattern.  But as it turns out, the reasons for my pondering have more to do with how I used the pattern – namely, not much at all.

Let me be specific.  I choose the pattern and then I bought the pattern.  I decided which size to knit, looked at the pattern and it said to cast on x-many stitches and knit 9 inches for the turtleneck before starting raglan increases.  I cast on the stitches and knit 9 inches and started raglan increases.  But, here is the crucial bit – since looking at the pattern initially to see how the turtleneck was made, I have not looked at it again.  The truth is that the pattern is for a very basic raglan construction, and I don’t need a pattern to make a raglan sweater.  What I do is try the thing on frequently, look at it critically in the mirror and decide what needs to be done.  Is it the right length to divide off the sleeves?  Do I need more waist decreases?  Where is my natural waist?  Does it flare enough over the hips?  It doesn’t occur to me to check the pattern because I am making it to fit ME and to please ME and I have two eyes and can see how it fits and adjust it accordingly.

I am pretty sure that my sweater is between the sizes offered by the pattern though I haven’t checked.  The seed stitch, too, is an innovation.  When I was knitting the body of the sweater I was in South Africa.  I didn’t bring the pattern with me and had limited access to the internet.  I couldn’t recall what the original pattern looked like, but decided that I would make a turned hem because I wanted a neater, more professional look for the sweater – so that it had a bit more polish, like a blouse.  After agonizing over it for a while, I decided to knit an inch or two of seed stitch as an experiment and see what I thought.  As it turns out, I liked it so it stayed.  (Now that I’ve seen the progress photos, I’m thinking of going back and adding another inch of seed stitch at the hips.)

Hannah Fettig is a very popular designer whose patterns are extremely well-written. Hannah was at the leading end of a recent trend towards finer-gauged yarns in sweaters.  She has a perfect eye and many of her designs are on my wish list.  Some of them are very unique and clever, and others are extremely well-executed classics.  This one falls into the latter category and is why I felt confident doing it my way.

Now let’s look at the question of attribution.  On Ravelry, you link to the pattern page for any pattern you use.  At some point not too long ago, Ravelry realized that many people incorporated certain parts of patterns into a finished piece, or merged two or more patterns into one.  They introduced an option: one can either link to a pattern (thus essentially saying “I knit this pattern”) or one can say that the project “incorporates” a pattern (thus saying “I used bits or pieces of this pattern within another pattern”).  When I started the project entry for my turtleneck, I linked to Hannah’s pattern.  At some point, I started to think that perhaps my project deviates from the original enough to say that it “incorporates” the Lightweight Pullover pattern.  I actually changed the Ravelry entry, changing the Name of the project to “Turtle in Tart” and acknowledging Hannah’s pattern using the “incorporates” option.  I also included notes to outline how I made it, so that someone can replicate it if they wish.   To refer back to the title of this post, I essentially moved it from pattern, to either recipe or inspiration.  I must admit to being undecided about this – I have changed it back and forth a few times in the last few days, and it is likely to end up linked as pattern.

Let’s take another example, which I think contrasts quite well with this one.  In the spring of 2013, I knit the following sweater:

IMG_6309_medium2

IMG_6321_medium2

The pattern I used was called Livvy, designed by Tori Gurbisz.  Here is the pattern photo for Tori’s design:

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As you can see, I changed this pattern as well.  I detailed all of the changes I made on this blog.   I made it much shorter, put in hems at the hip and cuffs, and made the sweater curvier, with more negative ease built in but also more pairs of waist decreases.  I think that my Livvy looks dramatically different from the pattern – much more so than my Lightweight Pullover looks from its pattern.  In fact, the types of changes I made are very similar in both sweaters – changing the length, the ease, and the sleeve cuffs and bottom edgings.   However, it would never have occurred to me to use an “incorporates” option in Tori’s pattern.  This is partly because Livvy has some very unique features, which I have utilized, which are instantly identifiable as Livvy.   So why have I wavered about the attribution of one and not the other?

On reflection, the underlying difference between these two cases has to do with the math.  To make the Livvy sweater, I used all of Tori’s numbers as a basis for my own calculations.  In knitting the Turtle in Tart, I didn’t use Hannah’s numbers, essentially ignoring all of the math and calculating my own numbers as I knit.  Thus the former “feels” like I followed a pattern and the latter doesn’t. Looking at the photos, you can see that the end results are very similar – a project based on a lovely pattern that has been “tweaked” to fit my curvier body and my style.  The only real difference is whether I used the numbers or not.   But perhaps this distinction is odd or outmoded.  Is it math that makes the pattern?  Or is it vision?  And, if it’s math, does it still “count” the same now that most numbers are generated by software?  I don’t think there is any right answer here.  (I suspect that both math and vision count, though, depending on the sweater, and perhaps on the knitter, one may be more dominant than the other.)   Many knitters are now using Amy Herzog’s CustomFit, in which they can basically input specifics of a pattern they like and it will generate the maths specifically for their body.  The resulting project is usually attributed to both the original pattern and the CustomFit programme.  (CustomFit also generates a selection of “classic” designs to fit.)   To me the important facts for my two projects discussed here are that (1) I paid for both patterns, and (2) I acknowledged both designers.

There are many related issues I haven’t even begun to get into here, and I have been trying to keep to the issue of how patterns are used, and where one draws the line between following a pattern, using it as a recipe, or being inspired by one.  (That said, I recently came across a funny case.  Someone had seen a sweater worn by a certain celebrity baby, and reverse-engineered it.  She then “published” the pattern.  Later, she became incensed that other knitters were knitting the sweater without attributing her pattern.  Someone asked, very reasonably and politely, why she believed that no one else would be able to reverse-engineer it as well.  After all, if she had done it, thousands of other knitters could have as well.  She responded – in an increasingly snippy and clueless way – that there was no need for anyone else to reverse-engineer it because she had already done so! She was completely unable to see that someone else could have knit it without using her pattern, or that someone might not have seen or had access to her pattern.  I must admit to finding the discussion fascinating.)

What do you think?  When is a pattern not a pattern?  Does it matter?  Is anyone else fascinated by these types of questions?  Have I been adversely affected by writing a philosophy grant this week?  Can I use British spelling conventions and still say “math”?  Maybe I should get to work on those sleeves…..

Lush Livvy

The title of this post sounds a bit lascivious, but the sweater pattern I have been knitting is called Livvy, and the yarn is called Lush Worsted.  For those of you who have googled me, this is a knitting post and Lush Livvy is a sweater.   This sweater:

IMG_6309I finished this a week ago, but it’s taken me a while to get some photos taken.  Livvy is designed by Tori Gurbisz, a fairly new designer; you can find her website here.  I really found this design appealing, but I have made quite a few modifications to make it suit me and my body type.  Here is one of the pattern photos:

copyright LachesisandCo

copyright LachesisandCo

This photo shows up the design features that I really like.  The collar can be worn up or down, and the cable pattern is reversible.  The cables are slim and elegant, and are made by twisting stitches, thus no need for a cable needle.  The cables run down the middle of the raglan increases and then join under the arm with three additional sets of cables, which then cascade down the sides of the pullover.  I find this striking and elegant.  It’s a very strong, simple statement.  Another interesting feature is that the raglan increases are uneven, with the sleeves increasing more rapidly then the body, and this gives a really nice line along the shoulder.  I think these details add up to a fantastic and intelligent design.

Here is another photo of the pattern:

copyright LachesisandCo

copyright LachesisandCo

While I love the pattern from the waist up, I had some issues with the pattern from the waist down.  I think that Livvy, as written, looks great on the model.  On me, not so much.  First, I am a good 20 years older, and second, quite a bit curvier than the model.  I was also looking for a more elegant pullover for office wear.  I could instantly see the potential in this pattern for modifications that would suit me better.

I made mine alot curvier.  The pattern calls for three gentle sets of waist decreases, followed by three gentle sets of hip increases.  I made six sets of decreases, and seven sets of increases.  This makes for a much more fitted and curvy silhouette.  I also made each set of decreases and each set of increases on the same rows as the twisted cable crosses.  This gives a lovely symmetry to the shaping, and meshes with the cables in an intrinsically pleasing way, as if the decreases and increases are merely extensions of the cascading cable panel.  You can see this in the below photo (taken in the bright sunshine, so the colour is a bit washed out).

IMG_6296Note that the above photo also shows a slight colour gradation in the yarn.  I used 5 skeins of The Uncommon Thread Lush Worsted, in the colour Pontus.  This colour is gorgeous and the dye job is really great.  One of the skeins was slightly lighter than the other four and had a bit more variegation; I used this one for the bottom portion of the pullover.  Though it’s noticeable, I don’t think it distracts from the beauty of the finished piece.  The richness of hand-dyed yarn compensates for the slight variegation.

I also made my Livvy shorter.  I find this kind of strange, because I am forever adding inches to sweater patterns; at my age, I don’t want my belly hanging out between my trousers and my top.  I think the length in the sweater pattern makes a bit more of a casual statement than I was looking for.   I wanted a piece I could wear to the office with tailored trousers or a skirt and heels.  I knit mine almost 3 inches shorter than called for.  (This may also be why I was able to knit this with only five skeins of Lush, which has less yardage than called for.)

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The biggest issue for me, however, was the ribbing on the cuffs and waistband of the pullover.  To me, the most interesting feature of the sweater is the panels of twisted stitches running down the sides.  It is elegant and architectural.  I found that the 2×2 ribbing of the cuffs and waistband seriously detracted from this design element; it broke the line and made an otherwise gorgeous feature a little less striking.  I was clear right from the start that I would use some other sort of edging, but I wasn’t quite sure which.  Doug suggested I try an I-cord edging.  This seemed like a good idea, so I originally knit the sleeves with an I-cord bind-off.  This is the only photo I have of the I-cord before I frogged it:

IMG_6294See how it’s starting to roll a bit?  Although it is a normally very elegant finish, I found it to still be just a bit too clunky for the look I wanted.  In the end, I decided to do a hemmed finish for both the sleeves and waistband.  I knit in pattern to the desired length, then purled a row (the turn row),  knit 5 rows and cast off.  I then turned the hem and sewed in place:

IMG_6291I really think that the hemmed edge gives a nice, simple finish to the garment and allows the beauty of the design to shine through.

IMG_6313I made a few other slight modifications to the pattern.  I didn’t use short row shaping on the back neck.  I will admit to you honestly that I left this out solely out of laziness.  I also made fewer decreases on the sleeves.  I can also admit to you honestly that this is due to a mistake.  I made what I thought were 6 sets of decreases on the first sleeve, and then discovered that in two of the “sets” I only decreased on one side and not both.  Thus I decreased from 60 stitches to 50 instead of 48. Did this make my perfectionist inner  knitter leap to the fore and mercilessly rip out the sleeve?  No, I merely repeated the mistakes on the other side to make the sleeves symmetrical.  Sometimes, fudging is a perfectly acceptable response.

I should also point out that I haven’t yet sewn any buttons on.  The collar is designed so that it can be worn down, as I do here, or can be buttoned up to make a turtleneck.  I will eventually put on buttons, when I find just the right ones, but I do think that the collar is a bit tight to actually function as a turtleneck.  It may be that I will need to block it out a bit wider before I can wear it up.

To sum up, Livvy is a great pattern by a new and talented designer;  I have made some modifications to suit me and my body type, which I think enhance a lovely design.  The pattern itself is well-written and tech-edited.  The yarn, Lush Worsted, is lovely – incredibly soft with a beautiful rich tone.  It’s also a really quick knit – this took me three weeks from start to finish.  The only negative thing about this Lush Livvy, is that spring seems to have just now sprung, and I doubt I will get a chance to wear it before fall.  (But I refuse to complain about spring!)

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Lush is Lush

I am happily knitting away on my newest project using Lush Worsted, from The Uncommon Thread.  This yarn is a blend, 80% superwash merino, 10% cashmere and 10% nylon.  It is also an example of Truth in Advertising.  Lush is Lush.

IMG_6271I love everything about this yarn.  It is so soft and luxurious, and feels so good that I want to knit all day long.  Unlike Malabrigo Merino Worsted, that other famously soft wool, it is plied and has resilience and elasticity and bounce.  I also imagine that it will not pill like Malabrigo (though that remains to be seen).  The colour saturation is also fantastic.

IMG_6274This colour is called Pontus, which derives from the Greek word for sea, and it really carries in it all of the shades of a beautiful blue sea.  (Pontus also described a part of the coastline of the Black Sea, now in Turkey, where the Amazons resided in Greek mythology.)  The colour has movement and texture without too much variegation; it is rich with great depth but doesn’t pool.  (Can you tell that I like this yarn?)  The stitch definition is also wonderful, and this pattern, which combines a peaceful canvas of stockinette with a twisted stitch detail, shows up this stitch definition perfectly.  The above photo captures the simple but lovely pattern detail that flows down the sides of this sweater.  Also note the collar, in the top photo, where the twisted stitch pattern is reversible and can be buttoned up or left open.  As mentioned in my last post, the pattern is the Livvy Pullover, designed by Tori Gurbisz.  I am planning a number of modifications to the pattern, which I will blog about soon, but so far am knitting as written.

I started this one less than a week ago, and am powering through despite having to do some frogging.  (I knit about four inches into the body, tried it on and decided that it was a bit too tight under the arms, so I ripped back to before the sleeve separation, and added four rows without raglan increases.  I then foolishly decided to attempt a different cast-on method for the stitches under the arms.  After a few rows, I realized that they didn’t look as neat as my usual method, so I ripped back again, which involved separating off the sleeves for a third time.  When I tried it on again last night, I wished I had added 6 extra rows instead of 4, but I’m not frogging again.)

IMG_6267To sum up, this yarn is amazing.  Lush IS lush.  Resistance is futile.  Despite the bitter cold this holiday weekend, I am happy.   I would like to post more, but Lush is calling to me and my fingers are itching to knit.  Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring to you all!

Background and foreground knitting

The Exeter jacket has taken on the role of background knitting.  This is the piece that I work on a bit here and there, when I have a quiet, peaceful moment and can concentrate on the pattern.  There is an awful lot of knitting ahead and instead of powering through, I am allowing myself to get distracted along the way.  I think I am now aiming to finish it sometime in the fall.  Here is a progress shot; I have finished one sleeve and begun the next:

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As Exeter chugs along in the background, I have any number of foreground pieces commanding my attention.  First, there was the Arleen T-shirt which I finished and blogged about last weekend.  Then, I decided to cast on a Haruni shawl.    I bought the wool for this shawl, a skein of Wollmeise Pure 100% Merino Superwash, at Knit Nation 2010 in London.  The colour is called “Granatapfel”  (pomegranate).  I bought it before I realized that I love variegated yarn much better in the skein than in the project.  I have been knitting away on the shawl this week, but am still not sure if I like the way the colour looks.  I think Haruni would be gorgeous in a very saturated pure shade.  I am going to give it a try anyway and hope when it is blocked the colour will look more organic and not fractured.

IMG_6234Those of you who are familiar with the Haruni shawl will immediately notice that I am knitting the “plain” version of the shawl.  Haruni, designed by Emily Ross, is a very popular pattern that has over the years developed two major offshoot versions, and within those three versions there are lots of smaller variations.  I will blog about these once I get to the lace section, but for now, here is a teaser photo of the pattern:

copyright Emily Ross

copyright Emily Ross

The weather in England is ghastly this week.  It may be spring but you can’t tell by looking out the window.  There has been snow, power outages, ice, sleet, and also  flooding and landslides.  On Friday, we drove home in the freezing cold, to find the postman had left me a present. (Yarn in a plastic bag does not make for a good photo.  I climbed up on a wet and frozen chair to get this photo, while holding a camera; my feet slipped and flew out from under me and only with luck did I manage to avoid breaking my neck.  After all that trouble, I decided the photo stays.)

IMG_6237This is five skeins of Lush Worsted in Pontus by The Uncommon Thread.  I have been reading about this company for some time and wanted to try their yarn.  The Uncommon Thread is a local (UK) environmentally-aware company that hand-dyes in small batches.  They source British breed yarns from small flocks, which are also spun locally,  thus cutting back on “wool miles”.  When I was able to put in a pre-order for this wool, I leapt at the chance.  I must say that I am extremely enamored of it.  This is a luxury buy; it is not cheap in sweater quantities.  But the colour is gorgeous, and the feel of this yarn is indescribably lush.  I cannot put it down.  It is the most lovely wool to knit with that I have had on my needles in a long time.  It is a blend; 80% superwash merino, 10% cashmere, and 10% nylon.  The colour is hard to capture, but here is an attempt:

IMG_6245What do I plan to make with it, you may ask?  This is destined to be a Livvy pullover, designed by Tori Gurbisz.  Here is a photo of the pattern:

copyright  LachesisandCo

copyright LachesisandCo

My original plan was to wait until fall to start knitting this, because it is now the end of March and I should start some spring knitting.  But, as this is the view out my back window right now:

IMG_6247I am not getting a spring-like vibe.  Thus, I decided to cast on yet another distractor from my Exeter jacket.  (In fact, this is only a partial explanation.  The truth is, this yarn is FANTASTIC.  I must knit with it. NOW.)  Here is the collar:

IMG_6254I have a feeling both the Exeter and the Haruni will be shoved aside this week, while Livvy takes the foreground.  Luckily, I foresee a lot of knitting in my immediate future.  The university will be closed for 5 days over Easter.  During this same period, the train station in my city is being closed for repairs, and the weather is due to remain cold and snowy. This may be a recipe for misery for thousands of holiday-makers during Spring Break, but we knitters can find joy in being housebound.