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:
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?