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Phew

I must say, I'm totally overwhelmed by all the nice comments over the steek series - I hope you'll find it useful, either now or later.

The argyle vest is growing, but not as quickly as I'd like. Twice over now, it's been knit to the armholes and then thrown down in disgust:

The culprit?

a tricksy drawer o' needles. Obviously, while I'm sweetly dreaming abed, they collude and conspire to deceive me - twice, I selected what I thought, knew was a 3.5mm circular, and twice I've been hoodwinked. The first time, I knit merrily at a half millimeter smaller and got an absurdly tight tube that made me resemble nothing so closely as an andouille ready to turn; the second time I knit with a too-large needle and produced an argyle cape.

A pox on you, cozening, guileful needles! Oh, what a tangled web we weave when...what's that? I should just organize them better? I ought to put and keep them in order?

But that would be crazy.

Anyway, I finally bought myself a needle gauge, and started again. I've set my front neck steek, and am on my way.

I thought that I was going to lay off the pedantry for at least a little while, but I apparently don't know myself very well. I've been thinking a lot lately - what makes a "designer"?

For the most part, I really believe that there is very little that's innovative in the world of handknit design. It's a very old craft, and after all, it really boils down to sticks and string - there are only so many different things that can be done with them. A sweater is a sweater; a cable a cable - when it really comes down to it, there is no real difference, I think, between one cabled sweater and the next. The motifs might be different, the shape might be different - but nothing about either one sets the world on fire, and it is very easy to produce a hundred different cabled sweaters that have nothing really unique about them.

98% of the patterns we buy required nothing more than some math to cobble together. For my own part, I've realized that the things I've made without patterns - Jeff's Aran sweater, the print o the wave shawl, this vest - aren't "designs", they're arrangements. Likewise, I wouldn't ever call myself a designer; at best, maybe, a patternmaker. It seems unbelievably pretentious to do otherwise, since handknit patterns are generally Lego-built - swap a collar for this neckband; add this lace edging or that one; this motif or another.

All this is a good thing - I have tremendous respect for all forms of traditional knitting, and I love that within fairly rigid parameters there is room for a wide aesthetic spectrum. Being a plain old cabled cardigan doesn't mean that it can't be beautiful and fresh-looking; the same Fair Isle motif can be garish or appealing, depending on the colors used and the placement on the garment and the motifs surrounding it.

Still, I'm always so impressed whenever I see something that really makes me think about handknits and knitted fabric in a new way - a construction that would never occur to me, or an unexpected shape, or something that capitalizes on the properties of a stitch in a very functional and lovely way. Likewise, I think there are traditional knitters who transcend "patternmaking" by doing it spectacularly well, with a fascinating sense of color or texture. I'd put, say, Hanne Falkenberg and Veronik Avery in the first group; Meg Swanson and Alice Starmore in the second. They all make me want to be a more thoughtful knitter.

My point is, any knitter could plan a beautiful garment, given a gauge swatch and some long division (not trying to be flippant; it's no secret that I try and try and usually fall far short) - but it takes something more, something only a handful of people have, to make a designer (and I don't necessarily think that all the big names have it, nor that only hugely famous ones do. Anna comes to mind as someone who produces amazing pieces that grow out of a fascinating, organic thought process).

My $0.02, which no one asked for, of course, but it's never stopped me before - what do you think?

Comments

A thoughtful and well reasoned approach to design.

Over and over again, your language amazes me. You write about knitting the way I dream about writing about knitting. You have so eloquently been able to say everything that I have ever tried to get down in words.

Thanks for setting a good example.

Eunny, you rock. I also think you might be local!

I agree!

No really. I may sound flippant, but I am on the same page as you entirely wrt design vs. patternmaking.

I think it takes someone with vision to be able to design or patternmake. I think taking a combination of stitches and creating a lovely end product takes a basic knowledge of knitting, or maybe an advanced knowledge, but it always requires the ability to create something in your mind and on paper and then translate that into the stitches needed to create the desired product. Some people do it extremely well, some don't. I have never attempted, but maybe I will someday. Thanks for another wonderful, thought-provoking post.

Hear, hear! God bless the internet and I do love me some knitting blogs, but I have to admit (and this is the first time doing so) that it does kind of irk me that so many people are now "designers" or making "their own design." I agree that some people do definitely go beyond this category, but many produce lovely garments based on material that anyone can access. Sleeve caps - anyone can make 'em. A top-down raglan is a top-down raglan. Stitch or lace patterns? There's in the books. I don't think there's anything shameful is recognizing that people are using the same methods and calculations that people have used for generations. In fact, I think that's very cool. Additionally, I think it would be better if more people did some basic research about patternmaking - this would encourage more people to make their knitting their own. Hell, in my five years of knitting, I've made maybe two or three things from patterns. I certainly don't consider myself a designer, since I'm using information that's readily available from the Vogue Knitting reference guide (LOVE). If anything, it makes me feel more a part of the tradition of knitting. I'm taking a basic shape, structure, etc, and adding the colors, details, or embellishments that I like. Mainly, I think that more people should do some research about basic garment structure and pattern design. It's easy to find, interesting to read, and encourages people to make their knitting their own.
Sorry this is rant-y. I've just been thinking about this idea lately as well, and you definitely hit the nail on the head.

It's an interesting question. On the one hand, it's appealing to try to make the distinction between patternmaking and designing, but on the other hand, isn't it possible to reduce the skill sets required by each to know-how and vision? Is a person not a designer simply because they haven't envisioned something fresh and innovative (or rather, something that seems fresh and innovative to certain people)? How would you make the distinction between, say, three couture houses that have a halter dress in their spring line? Are the people responsible considered designers, because each decided on their own fabric and print and hem-length, and one opted for a belt while another went with a babydoll waistline? Or are they pattern-makers because they are simply applying their skills and know-how to combine fabric in a well-known way to produce a type of garment that has existed for a long time?

For me, anyone who envisions ways to combine fabrics (stitch patterns), garment shapes and styles, color, and texture is designing, even if they are relying on the most traditional routes. Some people stand out because they do it especially well, or in a particularly exciting and "different" way. Others don't distinguish themselves at it either because they aren't especially skilled or because they don't mind producing or re-producing a type of thing that has existed in many similar forms for years and years.

(Sorry, that was probably about 5 cents worth.)

A thought-provoking entry, and good comments. I do agree that most new designs do not reinvent the wheel, and that there's nothing wrong with that. And that it is similarly not that hard to do your own long division (with a calculator). But I generally knit from published patterns, often with minor alterations in sizing, shape, gauge, color, cable, whatever, mostly because I don't have that vision to come up with the concept in the first place.

Plus, it's nice to have someone to blame if it doesn't work out well.

I think the word "designer" has a lofty sound to it that is undeserved. I would call myself a designer, if I had worked out a design (motif, color pattern, whatever) on my own. Because I designed it. Even if someone else designed it before me, as long as I'm not copying directly, I'm designing. (I thought I was Hot Stuff when I made a little candy-cane striped swatch, the day I learned how to purl. Was I the first? Hell no. But I thought it up all by myself, and I was proud of my little design.) Very rarely do I actually want to buy patterns, because knitting appeals to the mathy side of my brain, and I figure I can take a basic pattern that I already own and alter it howsoever I'd choose.
But you are so right, Amelia's patterns are yummy, and I want two of them. And those are just the only two I have looked at so far.

I've thought of this myself...especially since I don't feel like an expecially fantastic knitter, and yet I've sold some patterns. It amazes me that Lion Brand actually PAID me for a pattern for a bookcover. I explained that it was just a long rectangle and they told me...but people will want to know how many stitches and how to finish it! Clearly that wasn't designing...
I've decided (for my own self-definition) a knitwear designer is someone that can make a living from it. That doesn't require vision, but it does require quite a bit of dedication and maths that many knitters prefer to have someone else do for them.
If I define 'designer' as someone who adds something new, or has a talent with color, I might convince myself not to try it, that I'm not 'gifted' enough...and, well, I MUST try.
PS. I DO consider you a designer, and you inspire me!

First, I'd like to say that your vest is knitting up beautifully. The few misfires will be worth it!

Ok on designing/patternmaking, I'm so with you. It's funny you brought this up since I've been thinking about it a lot lately. It's not very hard to put 2+2 together, as the other commenters said there are many resources we have available, but for some reason people still think that adding things up is magical. That's fine, we all need those kinds of patterns that did the math for us (though we could easily crack open Ann Budd's handy book of patterns for or even that 1000 sweaters book), but notice I called them patterns and not designs.
I would add Teva Durham to the list of designers that really make you think about the constructed knit.

I started visiting your blog recently, and I'd like to say that you are a very inspiring knitter.

I'll also throw my tuppence on the pile...I don't imagine much of a distinction between 'designers' and 'patternmakers,' myself. I'd call Those Who Go Beyond 'artists.'

What a marvelous blog! I really enjoy your work: your extraordinary artworks, your craftsmanship, and today your discussion of the thought content of knitting. You raise such good questions about the knitter's imagination, and about the imagination generally. It's often impossible to ascribe the emergence of a cultural signification-- a knitting technique, kind of cuisine, or a political institution -- to an individual; rather, such things are formed collectively. Every culture eats and knits, but each culture--collectively--brings something new and incredible to these practices. Of course, as you mention, there are individuals who seem to introduce an entirely new technique or form to the knitting world. In either case, the knitters aren't creating out of nothing, but out of a formal knowledge of the craft, available materials, imitation, and other historical contingencies. Despite the materialism of my interpretation of creation, I'm inclined to think of all knitted artifacts not as mere craftsmanship but as splendid artworks, for in each case knitters’ work is conditioned but not wholly determined by earlier work, the way our fingers bend, the wool industry. Such work always bears something new, sometimes more discernibly new than at other times, but always new. This is all to say that I think we'd do well to popularize rather than rarify our notion of art. Art and craft, chef and cook, scientist and engineer could all be rather productively collapsed into a single category. I think all knitters are designers. That said, I think your designs are out of this world!

I think there are some knitters who enjoy creating their own patterns (myself included), and others who would just as soon follow a pattern created by someone else. I completely agree that knitting has been around for so long that it would be very hard to really come up with something new--although I am intrigued by the idea that one might rediscover some piece of knitting lore—since most knitters today knit for pleasure and not for a living, or to become a member of a knitting guild, as was once the case. But I’m not comfortable with anyone deciding who can call themselves a designer, and who can’t; let the market decide! I prefer the distinction between art and craft: I’m certainly not comfortable calling myself an artist, but I like the idea of being a craftsperson—taking pride in creating things, even if they are “original” only in small and simple ways, and honing my skills to do better. The vest looks cool, by the way.

I agree that there is nothing new, but some people are thoughtful knitters and put it together in a beautiful way and do just gorgeous knitting and that is what is inspirational. I also think knitters go through phases. Before I had my daughter I loved to put things together and create designs for myself. Now, because of limited time and lack of sleep, I can't think clearly and I have trouble following a pattern so I appreciate people like you who put beautiful 'arrangements' together, like Print O' The Wave Stole. I can still knit something beautiful but someone else has been thoughtful, someone else has done the thinking I just can not manage to do at this point in time. I also think that many of the so called big designers just have good marketing people. Only a handful are producing truly wonderful designs and the rest come from passionate people like yourself who are willing to share. Thanks.

I totally agree with you about who could be considered "designer". I think many of the "normal" (as opposed to "knitwear") fashion designers nowadays are more stylists than designers. You really have to have a vision of the whole thing - shape, drape, texture, colour...

I think that I probably, on balance, agree with Keli. There are pattern makers that bring out patterns that are your run of the mill sweater, cardi etc. There are designers that bring out the same type of thing but with a clever little detail or something a bit less run of the mill and then there are the really clever people that come up with new and innovative designs that I would call artists.

Sorry don't quite know what happened there! I didn't mean to post anonymously but my details disappeared just as I hit post :-)

Fascinating! I think we have left out fiber artists, Ana Voog being just one of many, who truly see the world differently and represent it with fiber. Yarn is the medium. I think of knitting and garment construction as craft--putting together color, pattern, fiber in creative ways, but indeed, an ancient craft.

Compare ready-to-wear knits in shops to the patterns we see in knitting mags.

I see amazing, new ideas all the time in the shops so SOMEONE must be designing these. But why aren't these people selling patterns to handknitters?

Seems like the handknitting world doesn't get much influence from the outside. So to say there's nothing new...well, maybe not so much in our world. ;-) Sometimes our patterns seem so boring I wonder why people bother to write them down.

Just look at the cardigans at anthropologie.com. The "l/s button sweater #610151" is a funky felted heather wool military, tailored, asymmetrical funnel-necked nifty thing. "kaleidoscope sweater jacket" is crocheted but -- wow! It's like a Debbie New creation. The "Fossil cardigan" looks like a sideways knit lace w/an invisible join down the back that is offset by a half-stitch. Cool!

I want patterns like these!

Thank you for Feral Knitter Janine for pointing me toward your blog. There is a preponderance of "me too's" available on the shelves. One of the engaging moments of blogging is the expanding knowledge gained from sharing. Designing takes basic shapes and two stitches (knit and purl) to a higher dimension. Fascination is in the nuances and mastery comes through (repeated)creation.

You are amazing! Thank you for your wisdom and insight into our craft. I look forward to reading your blog daily and truly appreciate your efforts to teach and inspire all of us.

howdy - i just started reading your blog and am loving every entry (although the steeking makes my brain bleed.....) I look forward to checking in regularly.

Given that 'designer' is a category that one ends up fitting into for one reason or other, I've been calling myself one of late whether I feel I deserve the handle or not. I can't use patterns due to some obstinate part of my brain that refuses to follow plans so I allow designs to grown from my needles and then go back to deconstruct them for guides that others can use. None of my designs are complex in structure like the marvels of knitterly technique you've name in your post. I focus on color and texture, weaving complexities that are more visual than actual. I think of myself as an artist of sorts, one who paints with yarn, but a designer?

http://janethornley.com/journal_knitters.php

So I've put off commenting on this till now cause I wanted to ponder the designer versus patternmakers question. It takes me back to my college days where I pondered the "what is art" question. I always think that in a world of 6 billion people, it is pretty hard to come up with anything that is original. It doesn't seem mathematically possible for anyone to have an original idea anymore. Yet, I completely agree with you on people like Veronik Avery. There are individuals that come up with unique and interesting twists on the same old stuff. BUT, what about the circumstances that have put these individuals into a position that allows their unique view to be made available to the masses? If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? You know?
I just visited a calligraphy exhibit at a local art museum. And I don't know much about calligraphy, but it reminds me of knitting in a way. It's using some tools to create shapes that mean something to someone. And while in it's most basic form, it is just writing, but when done by certain individuals, it becomes art.
So I've gone tangential and I'm not really sure what my point is, but the designer versus patternmaker seems like a question of semantics. They are just labels and end up being subjective, just as art is.

I'd classify a lot more people as designers than you do, using my own personal meaning for the word. I have made clothes from sewing patterns, sometimes choosing a rather different fabric than the paper pattern calls for. Whatever I do in cutting/sewing/pressing might be the act of a seamstress, but the act of fabric selection, that's the act of a designer. I know that's true because I've made bad things that failed -- not technical failures but design vision failures. My latest design failure was in making a beautifully-fitted skirt from straight skirt pattern, but despite all the fitting, the skirt makes my hips look broad. It's partly because of the very small-check pattern woven in the fabric and partly from the slight stiffness in the fabric. If it were only about technical execution and not about design choices, I know that skirt would have been right!

So anybody who makes a change in a knitting pattern, from reversing decreases to swapping yarns, is a designer in my book. They're taking at least a slight risk it won't look any better and they're making an aesthetic choice. They may not be a very daring designer but still I don't know what to call the skill of making those aesthetic choices other than "design skill".

I agree with Eunny's statements. I agree that there are a lot of patterns out there that are total knock offs but for some reason are copyrighted. If I then write up my own pattern and knit it I am technically in violation of their copyright, and many would question my ethics. They are somehow 'designers' and I am somehow a criminal. While it is true that some want to buy a pattern to avoid doing the math/minimize the risks involved in coming up with your own, does that really make you a 'designer', or more accurately a typist/fact checker?
I think that some can be called designers:Teva Durham, lets say. A part of me says that if I can look at a garment or its picture and write out the pattern in under 1/2 hour, it isn't really a unique design. I could go on and on for hours. Thanks for writing, Eunny.

Nice site. Thank you:-)
Printer Engravers

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Very pretty design! Keep working. Go on!

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