Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Cookbook and a Recipe

My oldest daughter's 4th birthday is tomorrow, and one of her gifts is a sweater, knitted by me. I designed it and knitted it over the last two weeks with Blue Sky Alpacas Worsted Cotton, one of my all-time favorite yarns and my favorite yarn for kids' and baby stuff!

The main color is Bone, and the stripes are done in Caribbean, Azul and Orchid. I used about 2 and a half hanks of Bone, and obviously just a little of the contrast colors. I am so happy with how it turned out!

I chose bright colors for my daughter's bright, cheerful, creative personality. I knitted it top-down, in one piece, using Barbara Walker's brilliant top-down raglan cardigan template from Knitting from the Top, which I think may be the most important knitting book of all time.

It's like a knitting cookbook, except Barbara doesn't even necessarily give you recipes, she gives you a thorough understanding of all the ingredients so that you can develop your own wonderful recipes and confections. I wonder how many people she has turned into designers with this wonderful book.

I have recently thought about what it is that has given me the ability to design my own garments, something I never thought I'd be able to do when I first started knitting. If you want to design your own garments and accessories, too, here's what I recommend:

1) Knit a LOT of patterns. Knitting a lot of patterns for a wide variety of garments and accessories gave me a great foundation and taught me a wealth of techniques. Now that I can design my own stuff, I still knit a lot of patterns because I want to learn all there is to know, so I can apply it to my own designs.

2) Read Knitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmermann, Knitting from the Top and Maggie Righetti's Sweater Design in Plain English. Reading these books has given me the knowledge that I need and the guts that I need to make my own designs.

3) Buy a few stitch dictionaries. These are invaluable for sparking creativity, and they are just plain fun to look at.

I will eventually pattern-ize this sweater, when I make a second one for my younger daughter later this year. For now, though, if you'd like to make your own, here's the recipe:

1) Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top, specifically the chapter about raglan cardigans.

2) Blue Sky Alpacas Worsted Cotton. For a 4-year-old girl, I needed 2.5 hanks of the main color. (Sweater Design in Plain English has an excellent chapter about estimating yarn quantities.) The contrast color could be pretty much whatever you want. Spin the color wheel, have fun!

3) I used size 7 needles and my gauge was about 4 sts x 6 rows per inch. But if you're designing yours yourself, your gauge can be anything! Barbara Walker has you start with a gauge swatch, which is the foundation for everything. The number of stitches per inch that you get is the basis for all the rest of the math (and the math is easy, fear not).

I'm going to do a lot of posts in the future about how to free yourself from patterns and knit whatever you want. It's a wonderful feeling to not have to worry about making your gauge match a pattern or to keep anal-retentive track of where you are in a pattern, and to just knit a swatch and then let loose from there.

I wish there were more knitting books like Elizabeth Zimmermann's, Barbara Walker's and Maggie Righetti's, where the book isn't just a collection of patterns but rather a collection of jumping-off points, a manual for learning how to do something yourself, written in a friendly, encouraging, conversational, often hilarious tone. They are fun reads which give you the instructions for freeing yourself from instructions.

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