I have been thinking a lot about knitting patterns lately. Even though they are very restricted, standardised and mathematical there is a lot of art involved in writing them. I am not just thinking of the creativity required to design and make a beautiful garment or accessory, the actual process of writing them clearly and in a way which is easy to follow is so hard. I make this observation from the point of view of someone who is not trying to write from scratch one but merely rewrite one for the one specific size I would like to make.
Thinking about this lead me down a tangent of contemplating what a knitting pattern really tells you about the time in which it was written. As a university history student I remember the truism that every piece of writing is a mirror of its own times. I have come to think that this is especially true of knitting patterns. Post war patterns in the UK, are on the whole, succinctly worded. This is possibly because paper was scarce but also because there was possibly someone around to ask if you’re not sure. These patterns assumed more knowledge on the part of the knitter than modern day ones do. Thanks to the fascinating work of people like Susan Crawford who ‘translates’ these patterns for modern wools and modern figures the great garments these produce are still accessible to us.
The assumption of quite a high level of knitting skill is still evident in the way Swedish and Norwegian patterns are still written today. The hand knitting project I am working on at the moment is ‘Rusila’ by Elsebeth Lavold from ‘Viking Knits and Ancient Ornaments.’ and it is most refreshing to have just a few lines of instruction for the knitting of the back.
As a beginner starting out however I loved the row by row written patterns. They guided me by the hand, they whispered in my ear that everything would be alright and they helped me produce some of the best knitting I’ve managed to date. To this day when a pattern says ‘work as the chart for X rows’ my first reaction is, “I can’t do that.” Then I remember I can and I plough on.
And what of this pattern I am rewriting? First I need to tell you I am a magazine addict, so when I started down the route of machine knitting I went out to find magazines. I subscribed to one and bought old 1960’s ones on the internet. I have at last found pattern I would like to try. A baby cardigan that I want to adapt. The original pattern is a bit lacy at the bottom so I have removed that and replaced those rows with plain knitting. I’m doing ok but there are a good few mistakes in the pattern, which considering I was just copying the text, is actually pretty impressive. In my defence the pattern is pretty inconsistent, sometimes it mentions decreasing on the left of the work, or on the armpit side (these are both the same side).
I have managed to produce this, but I am not convinced it will sew up well. I will update when I have tried
So I marshal my conclusions thusly:
Modern patterns are a great help to the beginner
The way they are checked closely and carefully is brilliant
Everyone who writes one is a genius, not in the Apple sense of the word, more in the Times crossword sense of the word.
Someone who writes a whole book of them should earn free coffee at their coffee shop of choice for life.