------------------------------- ------------------------------------ On and Off The Needles

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Thought Process

I've never really designed anything knitted before. I've never really tweaked a pattern, or made one from scratch. I'm a follower. I like to follow written out directions for almost everything - from knitting to driving to assembling furniture from Ikea. Designing a sock pattern from scratch was never really in my mind, but it ended up creating itself after frustration in not finding exactly what I wanted out there in the knit world. In celebration of Socktoberfest (in lieu of actual sock knitting), I thought I would take you through my (first time) process of how I designed the DNA socks.

For me, putting together this pattern was kind of like working backwards. I knew what I wanted the finished product to look like, I just needed the map on how to get there. Since my DNA socks are my most successful "customized" pattern to date, I'll be using those as an example as to how I went about the process of making custom socks.

The inspiration came from my sister - she was starting a new job in the medical field and has always commented on how neat the she thought clog socks were. Knitted socks with the leg pattern extending down onto the heel flap. Back at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival, we both browsed several times through Socks for Sandals and Clogs by Anna Zilboorg - and debated for at least a few hours on whether to buy it or not (looking back - should have got it!). That was back in May. Come September, she announces she has a new job and is moving to Baltimore. I knew she needed a truly great pair of socks to wear at her new job. I knew I wanted to do something with cables. My first attempt at the Aran Sandal Socks from the Socks, Socks, Socks book were a disaster. There were way too many cables in the pattern and it took me over an hour to do one round. Needless to say, that pattern was tossed. I learned by looking at that pattern how I should structure and orient a cable so it runs down the back, so the pattern was not a total loss. The DNA Cable pattern immediately came to mind when I went looking for a simpler more streamlined cable. Being in the medical field, this would be perfect!

Sock Layout
I started by doing a gauge swatch. From there, I used a guide such as the charts in The Handy Book of Knitting Patterns by Ann Budd or Sensational Knitted Socks by Charlene Schurch to find out how many to cast on, etc. Some of the many sock calculators out there will offer the same information after you enter your measurements. After finding out I needed to cast on 64 sts, I then went to the cable chart I wanted to use. (we are approaching knitty math - be forewarned!) I then counted the number of stitches in the pattern - 20. I knew that I wanted a cable down the back, as well as one in the front, and maybe a baby cable on each side. So....

20 sts for front cable + 20 sts for back cable = 40 sts

64 total sts in sock - 40 pattern sts = 24 remaining sts

I knew from this I had plenty of room to add baby cables. At 2 sts each, they added another 8 sts (one on each side of both cables), so I now had 24 sts - 8 baby cable sts = 16 remaining sts. You can plug in any pattern you want to use - if it is only a small repeat, say 8 sts, then you can fit in many repeats of the pattern, or just a couple - you can decide! That is the best part of this process. The socks are totally customized to what you want!

Back to the socks. I wanted some stockinette in the socks, so 16 sts was fine with me to have "left over" but, if I wanted to go totally cable crazy, I could have easily put in some 4 sts cables (4 of them) or even two huge 8 sts cables on opposite sides (or next to each other - again - totally your choice!) or some seed stitch, or something else - all you are doing is working with the number of stitches and plugging in patterns until you are as "full" as you want. Think of it this way, I had 64 slots to fill. I filled 40 with the DNA cables, and another 8 with baby cables. The remaining 16 stitches, I filled with stockinette.

This same theory applies to lace and knit/purl patterns as well! Fill the stitches with whatever you want!

***Huge reminder!!!! Remember to make sure you adapt the pattern if needed for knitting in the round (right sides only) instead of back and forth (flat) knitting. You may have to do some re-writing to change purls to knits or knits to purls.

From there, it was just a point of knitting the sock. I used a "generic" sock pattern from the books listed above, but again, the sock calculators will also generate a pattern for you.

My biggest design element for these socks (aside from the cable itself) was the heel patterning. Essentially, to get a sock with a patterned heel (or "clog sock" as they are sometimes referred to) I knew that basically I was going to knit the heel flap in pattern instead of just doing a slip stitch or plain heel flap. My heel was to be done on 32 sts (half the cast on amount) and I wanted to center the cable on the flap. If we draw a line through the sock diagram, we get an idea of what the heel will look like:
Sock Design Layout
I did all this diagramming and pre-planning ahead of time because I wanted to make sure my design would work for the heel flap. If it didn't, I would tweak and adjust until I had what I wanted (add some stockinette here, take away a cable there). I'm a very visual planner, so I tend to draw diagrams for everything. I had a few different designs (with the bigger cables I mentioned above) but when I went to see what the heel would look like, it either didn't work, or didn't fit evenly on the 32 sts I needed. I re-drew until I came up with my final design.

Remember my huge reminder about converting the pattern to knitting in the round? Well, here is where you will need to revert to back and forth/flat knitting. After you knit the cuff and leg with your desired and beautifully planned pattern, you get to the heel flap. Here is where those original patterns come in handy. The heel will be knit back and forth instead of in the round. Charted designs are easiest to use - for knitting in the round, just read every row from R to L. Then, when you get to the heel flap, just read like you would for normal knitting - right side from R to L, wrong side from L to R. For written patterns, it may be easiest to make a chart, or write out the pattern both ways. Whichever you choose, just make sure you switch it up when you get to the heel flap!

From here on out, it is like any normal sock. Pick up stitches along the heel, re-join for the gusset and knit away! You can choose to carry the pattern down the top of the foot, or leave it plain. I tend to leave my soles plain and knit the pattern down the instep. For this, just make lots of notes and write down what row on your chart or pattern you left off at when you started knitting the heel flap. This way when you re-join, you can easily know what row to knit next. My pattern is usually full of scribbles and notes by the time I finish one sock. I make notes as to how many rows of ribbing, leg and heel I do (as well as what row of the chart I finished on for double checking), how many stitches I picked up along the heel flap, and how many rows in the gusset and foot. The second sock is much easier when I have very detailed directions. Less trying on to do!
Pattern Notes
I hope this little tutorial on design helped empower you to jump in and use that stitch pattern from a sweater or scarf you've been eyeing on a pair of socks or something else all together. I know I'm looking at knitting from a whole different point of view now!