Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pattern Translation

I had a long chat this morning about intellectual property and the role of the internet in the resurgence of knitting's popularity. The latest issue of Vogue Knitting, it turns out, has a group interview with knitting's old guard (Alice Starmore, Meg Swanson, and more) about this very matter as well.

One of the things we and they discussed was the spread of free patterns on the internet. Many are beautiful and incredibly inventive, but pattern writing is a difficult thing, and sometimes you get what you pay for.

Then this afternoon, I got an email asking for some pattern translation. It's a cute pattern for a lace scarf* but it assumes a degree of knowledge on the part of the knitter.

Q: What is seed stitch?
A: Seed stitch is a stitch pattern where you K1P1 across the row. Then on the other side, you knit the purl stitches and purl the knit stitches. The end result is like a tiny checkerboard, a nice sturdy pattern that will help prevent the scarf from rolling. Some people find it tedious, but it's one of my favorite stitch patterns both to knit and wear.

Q: What is stockinette stitch?
A: This is a basic stitch that you see on most store-bought sweaters. The front side is knit and the back side is purled. If you knit in the round, you are also making stockinette stitch. Turn the sweater inside out, and you have reverse stockinette stitch, which simply means that the purl side is on the outside. In the case of a chart, stockinette stitch means knit on the front side, purl on the back.

Q: What does five-stitch repeat mean?
A: This means that the building block of the pattern (say a leaf, or a zig-zag, or a lacy thingamajig) takes five stitches from start to finish. If you want your scarf wider or narrower, you need to add or subtract using multiples of five. Knowing the pattern repeat is really helpful for finding your mistakes as well. Some people put stitch markers between each repeat to help them keep track and find their errors more easily.

Q: What is "slip, slip, knit"?
A: This is one of my favorite decreases. When you knit two stitches together (k2tog), your decrease will angle to the right, like this: /. A slip, slip, knit decrease (ssk) will angle it to the left, like this: \. Using both techniques gives you a pleasant degree of symmetry.
* To ssk, slip the first stitch onto the right needle as if you're going to knit it. Do so again for the second stitch. Then, put the left needle into the front of those two slipped stitches and simply knit them together.

Q: Any tips for reading charts?
A: I wasn't actually asked this, but let's pretend shall we? First, hooray for you! Charts seem a lot more intimidating than they really are.
  • Start the chart in the lower right corner. The odd numbered rows will be the front side of your knitting, and the evens will be the back.
  • On the front (odd) side, you will follow the pattern from right to left. On the back (even) side, you will follow the pattern from left to right. In the case of some lace patterns, the designer won't even bother printing the even rows as they're usually simply purl rows.
  • Use a post-it note to mark the row you're working on and keep moving it up as you go. Pretty soon you'll have the pattern memorized.
ps--in honor of the coming semester, let me offer the following: There's no such thing as a stupid question.

*I'm not posting a link to the pattern because I do have sympathy for how hard it is to write clear patterns. Lord knows, it prevents me from putting my stuff out there.

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