I really admire anyone who can design a knit sweater. It takes a special person to be able to go from a mere idea in their head to a finished product that appeals to a broad variety of people. That’s no easy task. It’s something I am incapable of. I can modify the heck out of a design, I can knit without a pattern any number of socks, or hats, or scarves, or mittens/gloves, or cowls, or blankets, or dish towels…anything simple like that I’m your woman. But please don’t ask me to design a sweater.
I thought, and still do, that I should take the Masters Knitter Program from the Knitting Guild Association because I thought it would teach me things that I’ve been reluctant to try, improve the things that I already do well, and provide me with the confidence to try to design my own patterns. I truly believe from the bottom of my heart that no matter how much you think you know about knitting there is always something else to learn. So even though I’ve been knitting since childhood and there really is nothing I haven’t knit at one time or another (yes, I have even knit underwear – it’s very cozy in the winter by the way) I have never designed a garment.
I understand all the mechanics of design. I understand what goes into making a good design. I have all sorts of books about design, fashion, patterns (as in patterns in nature or art), and garment making. I understand all about Elizabeth Zimmerman’s percentage system. I understand the importance of properly placed waist shaping and the importance of choosing the right elements such as raglan sleeves or set-ins, top down or bottom up, and where you want a design element to fall. I understand how to design, I just can’t do it.
If you asked me to write a novel about a short person and a giant who meet and fall in love and all the challenges they face, my question would be when do you want it. I have no lack of imagination (some people say I have too much imagination) when it comes to writing. And I can visualize a design for a sweater in my head, but there is something about the way that image translates from my brain to paper that it falls off the rails and ends up looking like a Picasso or Wassily Kandinsky painting. By the way, this is the time when you really don’t want to skip the gauge swatch and I never, ever do. If I’m trying to design something or adding an element to an existing design I swatch like the devil. I also make a mock-up of the sweater to see what it looks like which is how I know I can’t design.
As a complete aside, I swear one day, maybe after taking the Masters class, I am going to make myself a sweater with a Kandinsky design on it (shhh, don’t let the copyright people know, I don’t want them telling me I can’t do it). I love his paintings, they are so musical which isn’t surprising considering he suffered from synethesia. In his case it expressed itself as the ability to hear music when he painted. His paintings resonate deep within me and I find comfort and peace when looking at them. Perhaps it’s because I hear the music when I see the painting.
In one of my many forays to the world of thrift store shopping I found an ancient copy of The Sweater Workshop by Jacqueline Fee by Interweave Press circa 1983. I know! I think I paid $1.99 for it. I know! I’ve been slowly working my way through it and have been finding it immensely interesting even if I somehow mess up even these clear instructions. I think it’s the same problem with a lot of the things I do, I over-think the problem. I also am overly ambitious. I always think that I want something I’ve seen on a runway somewhere but these things very rarely translate into everyday wear. And this is how I end up feeling like I’m in an episode of I Love Lucy where she tries to save money by making her own clothes only to make a complete mess of it.
Maybe it’s the math thing again. I mean, I am a competent mathematician. I’m not great at it, after all I dropped out of math class in Grade 9, but I’ve found the beauty in it and don’t run screaming from the room when confronted with a numerical problem. And, really, math is a beautiful language when you learn to speak it properly. I have a friend who is a mathematician and the rhythm in the way he expresses his love of math is very…exciting. But, for me, wires must be crossing somewhere, I mean, I’m able to figure out how many stitches to cast on, what pattern to use, how many inches to knit but I’m not able to chart it out in any meaningful way that results in something that anyone would want to wear. I just don’t have a designers eye.
I admire people who have that artistic ability. The ability to see a pattern and know how to make it work in a fabric. I can’t draw worth beans which is probably why I can’t come up with a sketch that looks like a sweater. It usually looks like two sweaters that I mashed together. The right side of my drawing never matches the left. Not that I suppose that’s a big problem, that’s what graph paper is for right? But it’s that artistic eye, the ability to see colour in a pattern in a way that is visually pleasing that I just don’t have.
I once went to a meet-up with some other knitterly people and was appalled to find out that one of the women was in the habit of copying other people’s designs and selling them as her own. She would also use patterns she bought off the internet or out of magazines, make the item and then sell it. I mentioned how unethical it was and how illegal it was but she didn’t care. She seemed to think it was her prerogative since she had already paid for them. It’s a bit like what happens in the music world. People don’t feel guilty ripping off an artist because A) they paid for it and B) the artist in question is probably rich or the record company is rich. There really aren’t that many designers of knit wear that are rich, I would reckon. I’m sure some make a decent living but making a decent living isn’t the same as rich so it pissed me off that this woman was so inconsiderate of the person who worked hard to make a pattern that people would actually value.
This is a problem, and always has been frankly, with intellectual property. People think that anyone can write a book, pen a blog (ok, not actually pen but type a blog doesn’t have the same ring to it), compose a song, or design a sweater. It isn’t true. I can write but I can’t draw. I can knit but I can’t design. I can follow instructions and even bend them a bit but I can’t write them out so that someone else would be able to follow them. They are different skills. Valuable skills. Skills that are to be envied and paid for.
I would like someday to be able to sit down and open my bank account and see money pouring into it from people I don’t even know but who thought enough of my work that they were willing to pay for it. I think that is a rare privilege that I will probably never enjoy but I can, and do, try my best to pay for the privilege of enjoying someone elses talent, be it music, writing or knitwear design. I might modify a pattern for fit and for my own use but I would never sell it as my own no matter how much I changed it. I did not design it. I did not imagine it in my head, draft a sketch of it, chart out a pattern, test knit it, change the things that didn’t work, knit another test and so on and so on until I have something that I am proud of. The sweater I make from that persons hard work may appear different but it’s like buying a painting and adding one brush stroke of a different colour and then trying to pass it off as your original work. Someone, somewhere will know you are lying.