Tuesday, August 21, 2007

On following patterns

Every so often, while reading a blog or message board somewhere, a knitter says: "I never follow patterns any more since I can design my own stuff." Good for you, I think -- but not for me. My knitting reflects various moods that I find myself in. Sometimes I am energized, creative, ambitious; sometimes I am mellow, reflective, even lazy. Sometimes I can think of nothing I'd rather do with my knitting than follow a pattern.

Last week at the beach is a perfect example. I was picking up and putting down my knitting a lot. I didn't want to exert one iota of gray matter if I didn't have to. I had some design projects simmering around, but I couldn't very well tote them along to the sandy, greasy-sunscreeny beach. Instead, following a pattern, a particularly easy pattern, in fact, was exactly what I was in the mood for. I cast on for a little wrap skirt for G. and when I had a couple of spare moments, was able to follow along mindlessly while ogling lifeguards with rippling muscles who were young enough to be my son boy toy in some alternate universe.

Sometimes I follow a pattern because I think someone has already done such a good job that it seems silly to try to reinvent it. Consider this beaut by Veronik Avery, the gray alpaca jacket in the new Vogue. Now I certainly couldn't improve upon that in any way and it's a killer sweater/jacket. Instead, I can enjoy the pleasure of following a well-crafted pattern, with the end result of a beautiful garment.

In addition to occasional laziness, there are other reasons I still like to follow patterns. This'll sound hokey, but since I've been trying to do designs for other people to make, I think it's a good form of "homework" to make other people's written patterns. When I make someone else's design, even a small or easy one, I see things about pattern-writing I didn't before, and I have a new appreciation for the perspective of the knitter. I think this makes me a little bit better at pattern-writing.

But for me, the most important thing about knitting other people's patterns is that it reminds me of the pure pleasure I felt when I first came back to knitting. I remember how wonderful it felt when I managed to parse my way through a pattern and finish, and see an object that looked like it was intended to. How magical it seemed when I followed a Fiber Trends pattern for a sheep, and all the mysterious short rows and odd pieces turned into what was recognizably a sheep. Or how cool it was when cables actually turned out the way they were supposed to in a litttle baby jacket. How satisfied I felt when the sock or hat I was trying to make actually turned into something that could be worn on a foot or a head without embarrassment. (Or at least much embarrassment.)

So if you don't follow patterns, don't even buy them anymore, because you know how to design your own stuff, I say good for you. Sometimes I too will strike out and do my own thing. Other times, it's okay with me to follow for a little while.

24 comments:

Doris said...

Delurking to say "amen". I came back to knitting a couple of years ago after a major hiatus. It is my relaxation and mental health therapy...therefore for the most part I follow patterns. There is a part of me that yearns to design my own things...but with the limited time that I can devote to knitting at this moment in my life, that would become a frustration rather than an enjoyment. Life won't always be this "full" and then maybe I will ty my hand at coming up with something of my own. In the meantime, I rely on others to do the ripping when a design idea doesn't work and I try to choose patterns that people have said work out . What I don't like, is anyone making me feel bad that I am following a pattern rather than doing it on my own. I guess you hit a nerve with me! and I am not sure that I had even realized it until you said it.

Chrispy said...

I want to agree with you. I love to design but sometimes after a hard day of crunching numbers and turning that corner just right. I want to follow something and allow myself to relax. I know there are designers out there that create fabu designs that I could not even imagine. I design for work and I knit for me.

Bridget said...

I'm glad to know that I'm not the only "follower" - I still don't have the inspiration to design my own ...

Mel said...

The challenge of designing is fun and interesting, but there ain't no shame in following a pattern, especially if it's a nice one. There are folks out there with some really nice ideas, and to discard them solely because they're not your own would be just plain stoopid.

Molly said...

Yes! Thank you for this.

I can and do write my own patterns. But you know what? I'm not Alice Starmore, or Eunny Jang, or Veronik Avery, and I just don't choose to put the time in that it would take to become one of them. I'd rather calmly enjoy the stunning patterns that other people's sweat and blood created, at little cost to myself. I admit it.
Plus, let's face it: even the very best designers have a "style." No one is Alice Starmore, Eunny Jang, AND Veronik Avery. So I'm just thrilled that I can see all of their designs, and not focus endlessly on one variety.

bellamoden said...

There's just so much inspiration in this world it'd be a shame to never knit any of it up, methinks. Sometimes I knit to see where the yarn takes me, and other times I definitely enjoy growing something on the needles that someone came up with. It's all knitting. It doesn't have to have the same function or meaning all the time.

aliceq said...

I agree with you about the wonderful designs that are out there. However, most designers disagree with me on fundamental gauge issues. As a result, I end up massively angsting about how to adapt a particular design to my preferred gauge, even when I'm using the exact yarn the pattern calls for. What's worse, if I'm not careful, I can end up with a garment that I can't wear, at least as designed. I'm learning to avoid some of these traps, but I keep finding new ones. (This is especially an issue with socks, as published patterns seem to be sized on the assumption that nobody would ever consider a gauge tighter than 8 stitches/inch.)

Kelly said...

This is exactly how I feel especially about the 'homework aspect'. Thanks for articulating this so well. In fact, you have some great commenters as well who put their feelings into type too. Yay knitting! The teacher, the muse, and the smoother of stressed out brows.

M-H said...

I agree. If I need a litte cardi or I want to make something simple for a grandaughter and I have the yarn I just make a few notes then cast on. If I see something stunning and complex (eg a Veronik Avery) then I'll follow the pattern, although I might chnage a detail mor two. Why would you bother doing all that working out when someone else has done it for you? I find it very relaxing to just follow along. At any one time I reckon about half my projects would be following a pattern and about half would be of the 'just cast on' variety.

Sarah said...

I have been thinking about this topic lately. What bothers me the most when someone makes such a statement is that it is often accompanied by a snottiness. I think that there is so much to be learned by designing your own, following a pattern as it is written, modifying a pattern, or writing a pattern for others to follow. I find whichever fits my knitting occasion and go for it. I would hate to think of some of the lovely patterns I would miss out on if I suddenly rejected everything that was not my own design. I also love all the possibilities open to me because I am willing to venture out on my own and create.

Carol said...

I wish...That's what I buy patterns for to follow them. I see it, go all drooly so I follow it to get what I saw in the 1st place. I'm not that experienced, and may like minor adjustments like an extra 1" on length, but more than a couple of changes to me constitutes something else.

Susan said...

I am amused by people who claim they "never" follow a pattern. Likewise with those who follow, but make sure they tell us they make a change or two or three. There are yarn snobs, and pattern-free snobs.

The non-followers tell us they buy pattern books for "inspiration" - bull dust! There are only a handful of pattern designers I consider worthy of the title "designer" - and most wouldn't need to be inspired by their fellow designers. Most wannabes just whack a cable or lace pattern onto something, or use a new yarn, and call it a design. I don't.

I follow patterns because I have neither the time or inclination to design my own. Someone has done all the maths for me, written it down and given me pretty pictures. I have an exhausting job, a family, and I'm going to university in my free time. I appreciate the Lavold's of the world!

Lorraine said...

It certainly isn't compulsory. I sure have a new respect for those that can write an easy to follow pattern, and include all the details. And make it relatively error-free.
I love great architecture, but have no desire to design a building.

Cynthia said...

I am paid to be a financial analyst. My hobby is knitting. I consider (and call) myself a "knitter" because I spend so much time doing it and it defines and informs so much of my life.

If someone mentioned that they don't use patterns much but followed up with -- I get more from creating my own yet I understand the appeal and need for patterns, I wouldn't have a problem with it. It is the implication that using a pattern is bad or less skilled or accomplished than not that bothers me. The "I am so great, you are not" attitude is really dull. Finally, let's see the designs then--and if you turn out anything even close to that VA cardi linked to in the post, I will pay attention. If not, understand you are being dull and that is far worse than using a pattern....

Stacey said...

I know what you mean. A pre-written pattern is easy to mark where you left off and pick up when you can. You don't need to think or stress about when to start shaping an armhole, etc....yay for semi-mindless knitting!

Sherry W said...

It's hard for me to imagine these 'no pattern' knitters are not ever tempted by one thing someone else designed.


I'm lazy and I like it. There is a sweater in fitted knits that has been cooking in my brain for several months. I whooped when I saw it because now I didn't have to do the math myself, and the neckline was better.

Carrie said...

I'm so impressed with people that can design patterns. My head stops thinking when I try. But I totally get what you're saying about following a pattern, and getting close to what it's supposed to look like. Plus also, I giggled when I read 'boy toy'. I like it =)

SparkCrafted said...

every time i start a patterned project, i vow i'm going to follow the pattern to the T, or, at least, 75%. i don't know what happens, but at some point, i'm doing my own thing and the pattern is just sitting there at my side, no longer a contributing partner in this endeavor.

the sweater i'm knitting now, though, has so far been 100% by the pattern, no Heather-mods, no "let's just say the pattern's a suggestion" mods; just 100% silvertuesday.com knitting. it's nice to not have to think beyond K, P, and cable.

fillyjonk said...

Thank you so much for this. I guess it is something "in the air" at times - I've been wrestling with the feeling that my work is not worth anything because I'm not designing.

But, as someone else said - I'm paid to do something else. It IS nice to come home at night and pick up needles and yarn and use a pattern where I have a reasonable expectation of what I am making, working. (One of the reasons I'm shy of designing more than socks is that I have very little free time, and it gives me pain to think of working 20, 40, or more hours on something and having to rip it out because it went wrong or didn't fit.)

And it is true that there is so much clever and good design out there that I want to knit up.

I wonder if the "I don't use a pattern" snobbery is just another form of the sort of backstabby stuff that women tend to do to each other - it starts in junior high school with snide remarks about how someone's dressed or how her hair looks, and it continues through - the stay-at-home-mom vs. working-mom wars are just one example.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Don't we have other things to fight against, instead of setting up some fake divisions and trying to make other people feel like nothings because they don't make the same choices we do?

Anyway - thanks for the post. It makes me feel better.

Cindy G said...

Wow, I had no idea there was some free floating "following patterns is less good" attitude out there. I've never thought of it as an "either/Or" choice.

Chelsea said...

Thanks for this. I have been feeling grumpy about the pattern/design thing ever since I read the latest Interweave. The woman who knits the tiny things talked about someone who told her that following patterns isn't "real knitting." I'd almost gotten used to the Art vs. Craft snarkiness, but now it's not even Knitting?? I'm with fillyjonk, there's just no reason for us to be stabbing each other in the back like this. Why can't a person just say "I like to do things this way, what about you?" Grr...

Deborah C. said...

I like doing both! I have excellent sweater design software (Sweater Wizard) and Janet Szabo's wonderful book if I want to get wild and do my own Aran design, and and Stitch & Motif Maker if I want to play with Fair Isle or lace, but I really appreciate and use the beautiful patterns that are out there, too. I don't think that it isn't "real" knitting if you follow a pattern. Knitting is using 2 needles and yarn to create something. And, here's a new question: If you use design software, such as Sweater Wizard or Sock Wizard to design a sweater or sock, as I do, did you "design" the garment? Do you have to sit down and do the calculations to say you actually designed it yourself?

Rana said...

I love knitting to patterns - when they work. My two gripes are that I'm a shape most designers don't seem to take into account (short-waisted, small boobs, wide hips) and things like cables that don't align perfectly.

I would happily knit to patterns exclusively, but it's rare that I find a design that I like 100%, and I figure if I'm going to put all that time into it, I want something that's _perfect_.

At least that's the theory. In practice, my designs are usually at least as screwed up as I'm afraid the patterns will be. (My everyday sock pattern is the only thing I've designed that works consistently well.) So I feel no obligation to be a snob about patterns. If something works for you, more power to ya!

Ted said...

I love this post. Love it.

People always ask me why I don't do my own designing, and while there are a few reasons for that (I won't launch into the matter of the paucity of men's patterns designed for bodies other than those of the lifeguards), I really like knitting other people's stuff and seeing how they did something: how they solved a problem or how they shaped a piece of fabric. Besides, my colour sense sucks: other people do it so much better.

And frankly, I really like being able to knit something without having to think a lot.