I can't believe that I will have many blog readers who aren't familiar with Kate Davies' phenomenal knitwear design, as well as her awesome writing on textile and fashion history. If you haven't met her before, then do head over to her website and catch up! I've been working with her for a few years now, and it is always a blast. I cornered her to ask her some questions about designing Machrihanish, and you can read my answers to the same questions over on her blog.
Jen: Where did you start when planning this design?
Kate: I knew immediately I wanted to make a well-fitting Fairisle vest for this project, and the start of the process was all about the stitch pattern and yarn shades. I began by charting up a pattern, and playing around with it until it had achieved a nice visual balance.
Next I played around with colour. I actually spent several days messing around with the charts that were eventually used for Machrihanish, drawing up the basic repeat in Illustrator; swapping out various yarn shades; and getting a sense of how different colours would work together over a large area.
As he was going to be the recipient of the vest, it was very useful to have Tom on hand to give some input on the shades I was playing around with. I repeatedly drew up charts for him, and his “I like the green” or “too much blue in that one” meant that together we came up with a final colour-scheme that both of us really liked. I started with nine shades, but narrowed the palette down to six. I then swatched the chart to see how everything worked together, and after swatching made a few minor alterations to the repeat.
It is very important for me to work things through properly at this stage as my natural design instincts are a bit spontaneous and impulsive. Generally, if I have a design idea, my immediate instinct is to Make It Now! Though I think that instinct is part of why I love designing so much, and that good things often arise from it, sometimes it is important to rein it in: to step back, and think all aspects of the process through properly. So though I am always eager to get on with a project, I also find charting and swatching very contemplative and satisfying.
Jen: How did you go about choosing yarn for the design? How much did you swatch?
Kate: I have a bit of an obsession with Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage yarn at the moment, and really, it is the obvious choice for a traditional Fairisle design such as this. It is actually very different to a lot of Shetland yarns, which tend to be woollen spun, and fuzzier. Shetland Heritage is worsted spun, so the finished fabric has a beautiful smoothness to it, and the colours in its palette are all very saturated and high contrast . . . in short, it is a yarn that works perfectly for this design. I love it. I knitted one large swatch, which was created just as the finished garment is: in the round, with a central steek. I changed needle sizes several times on the swatch so that I could gain an accurate sense of how the fabric would behave when worked at different gauges, and what gauges would work best for the finished garment (which is worked at two gauges: a simple way of adding shaping to the waist and torso). The swatch is there first and foremost to allow me to make gauge calculations for grading, and to finalise ideas thinking about the fabric of the garment, but it can also help me make useful design decisions as well. In this case, I cut the steek on my swatch without reinforcing it in any way, and picked up ribbing from the steeked edge. This was useful in telling me how the yarn would behave when cut, and allowed me to decide how I’d work the steeks on the finished garment. I then worked the ribbing into a V, which meant I knew exactly how I’d work the neck edging long before I got to that stage.
© Kate Davies
Jen: Is knitting your design an essential part of the process for you?
Kate: I do like to knit my designs whenever possible as there are often things about the process that I find useful when writing and grading the finished pattern. If I understand the garment from the inside out then I know I create a better, more “knitterly” design. I knit the Machrihanish sample, and, as well as enjoying the process of creating the garment, the act of creating it meant that I was also able to make crucial adjustments to the pattern which hopefully make things clearer for the knitter! It isn’t always possible to make every sample, though, and like you I am lucky to be able to work closely with a knitter of superlative skill: Melanie Ireland. Often Mel and I will knit two samples from a pattern I’ve written, and have quite different ideas about how to improve it for clarity and ‘knittability’. I know I’m a better pattern writer because of Mel.
Jen: What are your aims when you write up the pattern?
Kate: My ultimate aim when designing is always that the knitter finds the pattern clear, straightforward and enjoyable to work from. I particularly like using numbered steps in my instructions - this helps the knitter find where they are immediately, tells them what is about to happen, and is also really helpful in locating a point in the pattern if they ever want to ask me a question about it. Sometimes one is too absorbed in ones own methods to see the wood for the trees, as it were, and I particularly like working with you because you will always tell me if an instruction isn’t quite clear, and we can then think about how to improve it. My style has evolved from my personal knitting practice and has some odd hybrid elements that are perhaps idiosyncratic.. . . I think in inches rather than centimetres; use terms from the US and UK interchangeably, and insist on doing some things of which I know you mildly disapprove Jen, such as using lower case letters in my abbreviations. But I was happy to let some of these stylistic idiosyncracies go as we forged a happy path between our two pattern-writing styles for this project. . . . and now you have embraced BIND OFF, I intend to work on bringing you round to saying GAUGE rather than TENSION. I confess I also like a pattern to be aesthetically pleasing, and to work well on page. As you well know, the “look” of my charts is one of the things I can get pernickety about!
Jen: Were there any challenges that were specific to designing a man’s garment?
Kate: I had knit several sweaters for Tom previously, so was used to thinking about the differences in designing for at least one masculine torso. I wanted to give the knitters the option of tapering the garment to the waist, as shaping is so very, very rare in men’s patterns - though most men’s sweaters are rectangular - not all men are! This was the first time I’d graded a man’s pattern, and I spent a lot of time thinking about proportion, which was certainly challenging, though interesting. My main concern when knitting the sample was whether Tom would like it. . . . Happily, all the planning and thinking paid off as it fits well, and he loves it. Hurrah!
Thank you so much Kate for asking me to create this eBook with you. I can't wait to see what you come up with for our next challenge - I guess this means that I need to keep designing for a bit longer... (It's TENSION!!) :D In the meantime, here is the Ravelry buy now link for Cross-Country Knitting Volume 1 (£5.95 ) and we have now published the print edition with MagCloud, where the price is $12.00. Just click on the badge below.