Sunday, 22 June 2008

The Fabric of Knitting

It's easy to forget sometimes that with knitting we are creating fabric, a piece of material that has particular qualities as a textile. The stitch we choose, the colours, texture and pattern all contribute to the quality of that textile, its drape and stretch, its suitability for purpose. Perhaps knitting is the ultimate meeting point of form and function! Alison Ellen, in her wonderful book, The Handknitter's Design Book (David & Charles 1992) makes the point that sometimes we only discover the truth of this when we stop slavishly following knitting patterns and begin to create our own designs. She invites us to begin afresh and think of knitting as a completely new way of making a fabric. That sounds to me like a good resolution for the Summer Solstice...
As I develop my own knitting designs I'm finding that I prefer projects that rely on stitch and texture for their effects, working in colour through stripes and slip stitch patterns or fair isle techniques. I'm less interested in using Intarsia to paint pictures out of wool, in the manner of Kaffe Fassett or Sasha Kagan. Of course this is partly because I've come late to colour work. In my early knitting days I much preferred to work with texture: moss stitch and Aran patterns in particular. Now I do enjoy very much working with colour but quite frankly I find Intarsia stressful and irritating. I've been reading Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitter's Almanac (like Elizabeth David's cookery writing she can be read for sheer pleasure as literature) and she quite happily dismisses Intarsia because it interrupts the rhythm of knitting. I can go with that.
Of course, as well as fabric, there is the three-dimensional aspect to knitting, which I found a bit of a challenge this week as I tried to assemble the pieces for a pair of baby bootees (see photo). These were not my design, I hasten to add, although I added in the stripe pattern, but came from Jeanette Trotman's lovely book Easy Knitted Socks. Easy to knit, yes, but not so easy, for me at least, to figure out how to put them together! In the end I had to ask my more spatially aware neighbour if she could assist me. Despite a large glass of red wine I managed to complete the project with her help, and it made for a nice convivial evening. It never ceases to amaze me how knitting enables community, a different kind of fabric.
In the meantime, a trip back to Shetland beckons at the end of this week. I'm not going to resolve not to buy any more wool because that would be foolish. But I won't have a car to load up so I'll have to keep things within the BA baggage allowance. I gather the weather up there is a bit wild at the moment, so there may be plenty of time to knit and purl!