Fabric Engineering

I’m the new Project Editor at Interweave and will be a regular contributor to this blog. I’m  also new to blogging (this is my first-ever post), so please bear with me as I learn the ropes!

I may be learning a lot of new things right now, but I’m not new to knitting. I’ve been a technical editor and knitting illustrator for over 25 years. In that time I have edited hundreds of patterns and illustrated thousands of stitches. As a result, I’ve gained a deep understanding of the structure of the knitted fabric. My brother Patrick is a mechanical engineer who owns and operates a small engineering firm in Taipei. One day, I was describing a knitting technique to him using some illustrations, and he said, “Oh, I see, you’re a fabric engineer!” I love that description–it’s entirely accurate. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to discover some new (to me) knitting technique, especially one that will improve the appearance of the finished project. I’d like to share my discoveries with you because, well, the truth is I just love talking about technical “stuff.” But also because I believe a successful project is really just the product of a hundred “elegant” details. And each detail we master raises the level of our “knitting game.”

Take, for instance, Daniela Nii’s beautiful pillows in the Spring 2011 issue of Interweave Knits.
Daniela  uses a technique called “diagonal intarsia.” Typically, in intarsia, a diagonal line is the result of simple color changes. These color changes create a “stairstep effect” which, in this case, would blur the strong lines that make the pillow design so effective (illustration 1).

Illustration 1

Instead, Daniela uses a combination of increases and decreases on each side of the color change to move the colors while maintaining a straight line between the colors (illustration 2). And because the increases and decreases are always paired, there is no change in the stitch count. A right diagonal is achieved by decreasing stitches in the first color section while increasing stitches in the adjoining color section to the left. A left diagonal is achieved by doing the opposite: increasing in the first section and decreasing in the second.

Illustration 2

You can use any type of increase or decrease methods you choose. I’ve seen patterns which used Make 1’s and even loop cast-on’s for increases, but I think the lifted increases that Daniela uses result in the neatest color transitions. For the left diagonal, she worked a lifted increase into the right side of the last stitch of the first color section (illustration 3), then knit the last stitch.

Illustration 3

Then she began the next color section immediately with an ssk decrease. For the right diagonal, the first section ended with a k2tog decrease, and the next section began with a knit stitch, then a lifted increase worked into the left side of the stitch that was just knitted (illustration 4).

Illustration 4

The angle of the diagonal lines can be adjusted by changing the rate at which the increase/decrease rows are worked. For a more acute angle, work them every other row. Or for a more oblique angle, work them every fourth row.

It may take some experimenting to get the results you want. So, get out your knitting needles and do some “fabric engineering” of your own!


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