Guest post: The Right Knitting Stitch Pattern for the Job

UPDATE: the giveaway is now closed. Thanks!

I know, I know. Two posts in a row where I talk to you only in italics, then let other people do the heavy lifting. You have to admit that they’re pretty great people, though, right?

Like today, see, we have the fantastic Andrea Rangel to tell us about how to choose stitch patterns for knitting projects–particularly for items that are meant to be worn during active pursuits. She’s just released her first book: Woodsmoke & Ash: Knits for Men. It’s a really great collection with projects for every level. I’m particularly excited to make a pair of the Char gloves for myself. (Rob has enough gloves.)

Best of all (bury the lede!), she’s going to be giving away a copy of her book (make the lede bold!) to some random commenter on this post.

Comments will be open until midnight on Thursday the 21st, PST. Good luck, all.


Woodsmoke Final Cover

One thing I completely love about knitting is that we get to create our fabric as we go. Using just some string and a couple of sticks I can make an infinite variety of textures and patterns. Visually, this is really fun and it’s one thing that keeps me excited about knitting. But there’s more to stitch patterns than meets the eye. Changing the combination of knits, purls, increases and decreases doesn’t just change what the fabric looks like, but different stitch patterns can totally change how a fabric functions too. As a designer, this is almost as important to me as appearance. I’m constantly swatching to see how different fabrics behave, and the results help me determine how to use that fabric.

Some functions that may be desirable from a fabric are warmth or breathability, wind-resistance, durability, and resilience/elasticity. As knitters and designers (and sewists too, though I don’t know as much about that), we first look at fiber in order to attain those functions. For warm garments, we have our pick of animal fibers; for cooler garments, cotton, bamboo, or other plant fibers are more appropriate. For durability, we may choose to add a bit of nylon, and wool or elastic to provide resilience. Yarn construction can also help. For example, plied yarns are generally more durable than singles.

But one of my favorite ways to achieve a particular function is by carefully choosing an appropriate stitch pattern. All of the patterns in Woodsmoke & Ash have stitch patterns that not only make a fetching garment, but were chosen for their functional properties as well.

Because the garments in the book are designed for cold weather wear, each of the designs has some stitch pattern that adds to its warmth. One way to make a fabric extra warm is to use any stitch pattern that creates pockets where hot air can get trapped. This is the same principal that down jackets use; it’s not the down that’s keeping you warm, it’s all the spaces in between where the air, made warm from your body heat, can’t escape. Stranded color work, ribbing, and many textured stitch patterns like knit and purl combinations, slip stitch patterns, and cables all make those little pockets. So any garment that includes those kinds of stitch patterns is probably warmer than one worked in plain Stockinette or lace.

Stranded color work, such as that used in Traverse and Heartwood, also adds warmth just by creating a thicker fabric in those sections. Thicker fabric always has the added benefit of adding wind resistance. Of course you can get thicker fabric just by using thicker yarn, but stranded color work and ribbing are two visually-engaging ways to do it without thicker yarns. Knitted-in hems are also genius because they not only create a beautiful, neat edge, but double the thickness of the fabric, making a warm and squishy wind barrier. Working projects at a dense gauge, such as in Sphagnum, Resin, and Plantago, also creates more wind-resistant, durable fabric.

Heartwood is warm for a whole lot of reasons: The knitted-in hem creates double fabric right at the ears where you need it most, stranded color-work creates thickness and lots of places for warm air to get trapped, and the sample uses a woolen spun wool yarn, Brooklyn Tweed Shelter; woolen spinning makes yarn extra lightweight and warm.

Heartwood is warm for a whole lot of reasons: The knitted-in hem creates double fabric right at the ears where you need it most, stranded color-work creates thickness and lots of places for warm air to get trapped, and the sample uses a woolen spun wool yarn, Brooklyn Tweed Shelter; woolen spinning makes yarn extra lightweight and warm.

Stitch pattern can also have an impact on durability. Those of you who knit socks may be familiar with the slip-stitch heel. Working some stitches only every other row creates a denser, thicker fabric that is still comfortable against the heel, but resists wear. The Char gloves use a subtle waffle-like slip stitch pattern to create durability on the hand, and Stockinette stitch on the fingers and thumbs to allow for maximum dexterity.

Don’t forget that stitch pattern also has a dramatic impact on drape. Just hold up a lace swatch next to a Garter stitch one to see what I mean.

I never choose a stitch pattern for a design unless it achieves both the desired appearance and the desired function.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on stitch pattern functions. Do you look at stitch pattern when choosing a project to knit?

4 thoughts on “Guest post: The Right Knitting Stitch Pattern for the Job

  1. I do consider stitch pattern function when I look at projects to knit. It’s all pretty individual, though. I’m personally not too crazy about complex patterns on socks, but that’s just my personal preference.

    I agree that the Char gloves are lovely! The yarn and pattern work together VERY well. :)

  2. Wow, I must say that I never thought about how the stitch pattern affects functionality. I loved reading this post, to me it is such an eye-opener. I knit lots, but I do not design, and since I mostly knit shawls, functionality has not been an issue. However, as I progress to more advanced projects such as sweaters (or maybe even some socks one day!), this is very helpful information when looking at how a sweater pattern is designed and how it will wear.
    Thank you for this insight, and your designs are lovely!

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