Creative dividends through exploration

A knitter's dream surface

Kathryn Alexander is an internationally known textile artist whose work is characterized by an abundance of color, richly textured surfaces, and whimsical designs. Kathryn has spent her career exploring knitting entrelac and shares her discoveries in her video workshop Entrelac Knitting. We've invited her here to share a little bit of the magic she has found in entrelac knitting in the hope that you will discover the joy of this freeform-knitting technique, too.

Kathryn Alexander shares the joy she has found in entrelac knitting.

Kathryn: When I began to teach classes on entrelac knitting, I was very familiar with the traditional surface, had made almost every error possible within this surface, and was always quick to rip out those mistakes as soon as I had made them. It wasn't until I saw some of these same mistakes in my students' work that I began to think of the "mistakes" or "missteps" as something different: as "new steps" or variations on a theme.

Because these were not my mistakes, I could begin to see the design potential in the odd and often delightful shapes. The "errors" helped me understand that the surface could take a 90 degree turn, could get wider in the middle of a row and could turn three dimensional, making the flat rows of rectangles into whimsical peaks.

An example of the freedom and fun Kathryn has found with the entrelac technique.

The traditional entrelac surface is (and I cannot say this enough times) simple. Because I work with quite a bit of color and many small geometric shapes, I avoid textured stitches and choose instead stockinette stitch as my knitted surface. Stockinette stitch is a surface all knitters are familiar with—nothing intimidating, a good place for anyone and everyone to start. The only other knitting skills involved are picking up stitches on the side of existing knitting and knitting or purling two stitches together. That just about sums it up. Remember, the traditional entrelac surface—comprised of four shapes: a foundation triangle, a square or a rectangle, and the fill-in triangle at the end of a row of squares or rectangle—is made one simple rectangle or square at a time.

When I decided to leave behind the traditional entrelac format (alternating left-leaning and right-leaning rows of rectangles), I started by simplifying the process: I made all left-leaning rows or right-leaning rows separated by rows of garter stitch, thereby eliminating having to pick up stitches. I then began to consider how to do more intricate shaping within these re-stacked surfaces. With each new arrangement of the four traditional shapes, I was led to my discovery. I was still "just doing entrelac," but the experimentation was never-ending. Everything I tried opened a door into a wonderful new room of exploration.

Adding handspun yarn with active twist created a whole new dimension in Kathryn's work.

As if re-stacking the shapes wasn't enough to keep me going, I began to explore twist energy and my handspun yarns. Being able to consider S- and Z-twist yarns along with right- and left-leaning rectangles meant experimenting at a whole new level. The energy changed everything!

Be brave. Experiment. Look at those "mistakes" from a new angle. Fill yourself with confidence when you complete your first project. Sure, it's "just  entrelac," but it is worth every moment, every stitch. Entrelac is worth a serious look if you want your knitting to be captivating, full of whimsy, and impossible to put down.

—Kathryn Alexander

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