By Carri Hammett
I bet everyone reading this post has done the same thing. You go into your local yarn shop and fall in love with some gorgeous yarn. Deciding you can’t live without it, you buy the yarn on the spot having no idea what you will do with it. When reason kicks in the next day (or year or decade), you realize that you have no idea what you will do with the object of your instant attraction. What caused your heart to beat faster at the LYS is now creating a knot in your stomach as you admit you’re stuck in Knitter’s Block.
OK, maybe I’m being a little overly dramatic, but as a designer knitter’s block can be a big problem. How do I get my creative juices flowing? By using a stitch guide, which is a special kind of knitter’s reference book or online resource. Stitch guides are basically a pattern library giving instructions on how to make a wide variety of stitches. They are usually organized in sections for similar types of stitches, like texture (knit and purl), cable, lace, rib, color, slip stitch, etc. I have a bunch of different stitch guides in my personal knitting library, and for me they are an indispensible tool. For an example of any online stitch guide, click here.
About three years ago I bought two hanks of a gorgeous, hand-dyed Merino yarn (Madeline Tosh, Tosh DK). It was yarn love at first sight. When Kara asked me to write a guest blog, I decided it would be a perfect excuse to convert my yarn from shelf adornment into something I could wear — a generous-size scarf.
For me, the process of deciding what stitch to use in a project always involves making a swatch, oftentimes a large one. I normally begin by casting on enough stitches to make a 4-inch swatch. I’m guided by the stitch gauge and needle recommendation shown on the ball band. In this case the gauge is 20 to 22 stitches and the needle size is a U.S. Size 6 (4mm). For this project I used two different guides, A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara G. Walker and The Harmony Guides: Lace & Eyelets edited by Erika Knight.
I don’t usually have a solid game plan when I make a design swatch like this. I like to set aside a few hours and just explore, trying one stitch pattern after another. I began my swatch by making a sample of Seeded Rib Check (page 7 in A Second Treasury).
When you use a stitch guide, the first thing you’ll notice is that the pattern for each stitch starts with something that looks like this:
Multiple of 4 sts plus 3
This means that the pattern is composed of 4 stitches that are repeated over and over as well as 3 edge stitches. Row 1 of the Seeded Rib Check is the following:
K3, *p1, k3; rep from * to end.
You can see that the 3 extra stitches begin the row, and that p1, k3 (the multiple of 4 stitches) is repeated over and over across the row to the end. I want my swatch to be 20 to 22 stitches wide (from the ball band) so I cast on 23 stitches (4 x 5 + 3).
I liked the way my first stitch accentuated the light and dark areas of the yarn but it produced a rather stiff fabric which would have been great for a sweater or vest but not drapey enough for a scarf. So, on to a different stitch. Depending on the multiple required I might need to add or subtract a few stitches before beginning the next stitch. As you can see from the swatch, I tried several different kinds of stitches: a slip stitch, another texture stitch and two different kinds of lace.
When I’m experimenting I keep in mind the following:
- Will the fabric lay flat? (Since I’m making a scarf I don’t want it to curl the way stockinette stitch would.)
- If the yarn is variegated, does the color change work well with the stitch?
- Does it look and feel like it will drape the way I want?
- Is it important for the fabric to look the same on both sides?
- How easy is the pattern? This is an important consideration for me since I plan to make this project strictly for pleasure and relaxation. Chances are I’ll be knitting in the evening, possibly with a glass of wine, and I need a simple pattern that I can remember easily from day to day.
After experimenting I decided to use a simple lace pattern call Little Shell Pattern (page 76 in Lace & Eyelets). For me, I like to go a step further and make a swatch of just the pattern I’ve chosen. I use this swatch to work out edge treatments, and I also block it to see what the finished measurement might be. My 23-stitch swatch (multiple of 7 sts + 2) is 5 inches wide and the 7-stitch repeat is about 1 1/2 inches wide. I want my scarf to be wide, so I’m going to add three more repeats for a total 44 stitches (6 x 7 + 2).
I’ll let you know in a few months what my finished scarf looks like. How about you? What is your favorite stitch for making a scarf?
Carri Hammett is a popular contributor to Annie’s. She is the author of More Than a Dozen Hats & Beanies available on AnniesCatalog.com. Carri is also the instructor of Knit Finishing Techniques, available on AnniesOnlineClasses.com, and has written several books which are available at your local yarn shop. Carri welcomes emails from her readers at firstname.lastname@example.org.