Less is more


I think that one of the most fascinating aspects of designing is the fact that you are coming up with something which has no prior existence. Designing is essentially experimenting, and a large part of the process involves working without knowing quite how something will turn out. Though knitting has a certain amount of predictability to it, one can never fully anticipate just how things are going to appear. . . . this means one makes mistakes, and some of these are more interesting and / or amusing than others. Some of my errors arise from trying an, ahem, “unusual” construction (one day I will show you the unwearable steeked-sleeve-shrug which was originally intended for inclusion in Colours of Shetland); sometimes I am surprised by the way things end up looking (such as when I knit a hat that really looked like a giant boob), but more often than not I think that my mistakes arise from pushing too hard at an idea. This is the case with my current situation, in which I thought it was an interesting and challenging notion to knit a yoke with four colours in one round for thirty-six rounds. On a small swatch the four-colours-in-one-round seemed completely feasible, and the chart I’d devised was really very pleasing – what could possibly go wrong? Well, ten rounds in I realised that the fabric, being about half an inch thick, would not only dramatically reduce the interior capacity of the yoke, but sit incredibly oddly on the upper torso, and generate a heat to warm the wearer to furnace-like temperatures. The fabric certainly looked attractive, but the yoke was so dense that it would have repelled wind, water, and quite probably bullets. Not good! This sort of thing has happened before, and I generally find that my fault lies in over-complication, or over-excitement, or a combination of the two. In any case, I’m now ripping back, re-charting and reverting to the sensible Fair Isle maxim of two shades in one round. Lets see how the chuffer turns out this time.

I’m now over half-way through the design work for my forthcoming YOKES book and have to say that I’m enjoying myself immensely. I promise to tell you more about the project shortly!

35 thoughts on “Less is more

  1. Oh Kate, as a newbie designer it’s heartwarming for me to know that experienced designers such as yourself also make a few mistakes along the way! (I would love to see the boob hat though!)

  2. I have been knitting for far to many years to mention but I love the fact that there is still so much to learn, Perhaps a possible outcome for your latest experiment would be an extremely well insulated tea cosy? would have loved to have seen a picture. I can’t wait to see your new book :-)

  3. Hehe, I like the idea of bullet proof knitwear – just the thing for one of those jumpertastic crime dramas!

  4. It would make a good bag or tea cosy though, with those insulating and sturdy properties? The funniest mistake I made was a sewing one, learning how to machine sew a lining into a sleeve, I ended up with a strange continuous sleeve by mistake, with no way into it.

  5. I feel you knitting sistah! more than once my enthusiasm has taken my knitting to heights they just cannot sustain. but hey, if you never try, you never know right? have you considered duplicate stitch for the one or two extra colors? I never thought about extra colors making the fabric too dense but it makes a lot of sense. it is a mistake I would have inevitibly made, I thank you for sharing and saving me the time and effort it would have taken me to figure it out for myself. looking forward to your next piece of amazingness!

  6. Hi Kate, is there any chance that the book would be available by December? We are planning a trip to Iceland before Christmas and I would love to be able to start one of the yoke projects whilst there, with Icelandic wool.

    1. Oh you lucky lucky thing you! I knit my very first yoked sweater, Kate’s Paper Dolls on my first trip to Iceland. Remember to take a spare suitcase for all the fantastic yarn!

  7. Laughing along with you, been there, done that – more than once. Frogging is just as much therapeutic fun as knitting!

  8. brilliant post! You may have to call the finished garment The Chuffer…! And you may have to actually knit a bullet proof vest…. Or send something off to the Antarctic (I have friends who work for the Antarctic Division here in Tasmania who could put something that warm to very good use…) Can’t wait for the book… love a good yoke me x

  9. oh, dear! I don’t design, I merely alter, but I feel your pain. However – maybe the 4 color yoke could grow into a fitted cape, meant to worn in winter as an outer layer, and easy to remove when it gets too warm? Because I bet it is lovely….

  10. Oh, I think we have all gone down this road more than once and then realized (often more than once) that there is a reason why the Scandinavians, the Shetlanders, the Icelandic knitters all knit the way they do . . . In knitting,I often remind myself, “Trust tradition it works!” You brought a smile to my morning!

  11. whew.
    how many times have I spent hours+days knitting—only to realize it’s just not right.
    Happy to know it happens to you, too.

  12. Yay… Less Is More indeed ! Just my exact motto, and which I apply to not only knitting , but composing especially. I however, lack the knitterly confidence you do MsKate, and I aspire to have such confidence as you do. I go about designing in much the same fashion, experimenting, hoping for the best, and if something makes it to a pattern, well, that is testiment to a lot of work yes, but overcoming self-doubt too. ;)

    I can’t wait to see. xx

  13. So comforting to hear that this sort of design thing happens to others too! I keep my “mistakes” in a basket, because there’s always something to be learned from them, but occasionally I think it would be fun to show them off for a giggle.

  14. I love the idea of “bulletproof” knitting. I’m still sitting here reading and giggling. I love the color combination of the bulletproof yoke, by the way. Hope you’re keeping the colors, if not the method. The great thing abou knitting is that you don’t often lose material when you make mistakes. Just unravel and try again.

  15. I love the idea of your fearless and curious foray into a 4 strands per round design, and would like to salute you for going to such an adventurous place. I love that you never limit the scope of your design concepts before delving right in. It’s inspiring!

    The mistakes are the awesome booty haul that you get for venturing into the unknown. I salute you as one mistake-making-adventurer to another, and I know with complete confidence that your amazing adventures with 4 strands per round will only enrich your final design.


  16. The same thing happens in writing. One of the greatest challenges for a writer is to “design” sentences that are move (i.e., do not sink under their own weight).

  17. Oh – the perils of over-enthusiasm and over-complicatedness ! I know them so well and yet keep falling into the same pit. But good to know they happen to real pros like you – maybe there’s hope after all :-) Thank you!

  18. I think a huge part of the designing and creating process is the mistakes we make, it certainly keeps designing interesting….though I’ve not made a boob hat I have knitted what was possibly the worlds biggest beret (it would have been perfect on a papier mache carnival head) and I’ve had to adapt what was intended as a tea cosy into a cushion (aran weight really cannot be substituted for 4 ply… I was trying to be cheap and just use what yarn I had without buying new)
    One of my friends who is an amazing knitter (she can even talk whilest knitting complicated stitches) knitted me one of your lovely cowls for Christmas, it always gets comments when I wear it and it did a first rate job of keeping my neck warm over the chillier months.

  19. Ah well… in knitting as in life. You win some you lose some. I am sure it was quite pleasing and pretty those four colours per round!

  20. Over-complication and over-excitement? A familiar state, one that often bowls me over before I can even finish a swatch.

    Btw, I want to thank you again for your posts on the Great Scottish Tapestry. Yours are the most detailed photographs and best commentary that I’ve been able to find on the web. I’m still poring over the posts; such a wealth of beauty and thought.

    Glad to see Tom up and about. Best wishes to him – and Bruce – and you!

  21. I kind of like the idea of bulletproof knitwear. After the going through one of the coldest winters ever I’d be willing to give it warming feature a try.

  22. Kate, I’ve often left comments on your posts, but somehow don’t think that my messages might be getting registered or sent to you.

    So, this hot and humid evening in New York City, I am trying this email route to let you know how much I do enjoy all your posts. Your designs are lovely and really do appeal to my own sense of having a foot in both traditional knitting and also in experimenting with what we see around us in this still new century.

    I read many of your posts before your recounting of your driving challenges actually clued me into more of your ‘back story” and how you came to live in your lovely part of Scotland, and to re-configure some of the direction of your life.

    All this makes me want to send you lots of applause, and to send you and yours lots and lots of best wishes.

    I find your writing as exceptional as your approach to knitting.

    Cheers! Frances

  23. I’ve had similar head-wall experiences with carpentry projects. Much easier to unravel yarn and use it again ;)

  24. It would depend on the thickness of the wool whether a yoke with four colors is too warm or thick – after all, Bohus pullovers also use 4 colors in some rows and I never heard anyone complaining that these sweaters are too warm :-)

    On the other hand, sometimes less is really more and simplicity more stylish than complexity, so I’m really looking forward to your new design!

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About Kate Davies

writer, designer and creator of Buachaille (100% Scottish wool)