Compromises: line-by-line patterns

posted in: Knitting, Publishing | 1

I’m sure that the tech support person for the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) company has to follow a script when he attempts to determine what is wrong with the unit a customer is calling about. We have been working back and forth by e-mail.

Yesterday, his message to me was, in sum, “I understand your concern. There is no issue with the unit. . . . I suggest you to check with some other wall outlet and contact a certified electrician if the issue persists. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me. Have a good day!”

I called an electrician who tested the UPS (dead) and the house power (great). I wrote back with the specific results.

Today’s reply from the UPS tech support guy is: “I understand your concern. It has been determined from the information you have provided that your [name] product is under warranty and has been declared defective. [Name] will gladly provide you with a replacement unit under our comprehensive warranty program.”

I did ask if they would also gladly pay the electrician’s bill. I don’t think that’s in the script.

The other thing I am doing right now is knitting a sample sweater for a book that will be published next year. I’ve been involved in tech editing this pattern for its four sizes, which makes me acutely aware of the design compromises that must be made in order to produce line-by-line instructions that will work reasonably well for each of the sizes and not consume too many printed pages.

In this case, there’s a texture pattern on one of the front pieces of a cardigan. The repeats of the texture pattern need to coincide nicely, or at least reasonably well, with the shaping of the front edge. The positioning of the pattern could be worked out more gracefully for each size. However, there would then need to be four different sets of line-by-line instructions for that front piece. That’s not an option, both because of the time required to fine-tune the pattern for four sizes and because of the space that would be required to write out the instructions. The resulting large amount of text would also probably confuse, or be intimidating to, knitters who want to make the sweater. The compromise that we’ve come up with will produce a nice sweater in each size. It just won’t be as refined as it could be.

As those who know me might imagine, I’m a great fan of the approach to knitting that’s presented in Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ Knitting in the Old Way and in much of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s work. I inadvertently began knitting this way—what’s now called "in the old way" or by the percentage system, although I worked then and now more with eyeballed proportions than percentages—before PGR’s and EZ’s wonderful resources were published. Since their books and other "break from the script" titles started to appear, I have felt fortunate to find a continuing supply of real support for the way I knit, as well as technical refinements and new horizons to explore.

This makes me quite impatient with errors that I find in line-by-line instructions—and grateful for the knitting knowledge that lets me detour around (or plow right past) those errors. It also makes me realize that the way to get the best results in a given size of sweater is to design for that size, and not to grade up or down from another size.

I also know that when I knit in this way, the sweaters I make will fit the not-standard-proportions bodies that the people I know live in.

I also remember what I felt like before I had developed full confidence in this approach—not in my ability to knit something right the first time but in my ability to problem-solve my way to the end results that I envisioned. It was scary. I was afraid I’d make mistakes, get lost or befuddled, make a mess.

Yes, I’ve ripped a lot of knitting over the years. I’ve done it by choice, because my vision for what I was making changed while I was making the item or because I thought of a better way to achieve my goal.

I’ve ripped a lot more while trying to follow a faulty line-by-line pattern.

The only true "failures" of no-pattern knitting that I can think of were two projects that I completed without making big-enough gauge swatches. One produced a Norwegian-style color-patterned sweater that ended up being worn by my six-foot-five cousin instead of by me. The colors were better on him anyway. The other was the first time I knitted with my early handspun, which was more irregular than I realized. I made a four-inch gauge swatch and should have made an eight-inch one. I wore the resulting sweater for many years anyway. It was knitted in a ribbed pattern that stretched. I just prefer more ease. Each of my "failures" produced a wearable sweater. I can live with that. I also make bigger gauge swatches now.

I use patterns as inspirations all the time. They give me lots of great ideas. I read through patterns to pick up tricks and see how other knitters have achieved their effects.

But it’s so much easier not to use the line-by-line instructions.

A script often doesn’t get me where I want to go, or requires unnecessary expense and delay.

While I wait to hear what the tech support guy has to say next (other than "I understand your concern"), I’m putting together a short list of resources for what I call “bushwhacking” knitting: learning to work without a script, er, pattern. Coming soon.

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  1. mary

    Deb, what a thoughtful piece of writing and just what I am struggling with right now. sometimes, I just want to make big, blocky sweaters that show a lovely pattern like fair Isle and put my energy in that direction. fitting does take work. thanks, mary

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