Unpicking the Stitches: How I designed the Westcott shawl, part 2

Last post, I talked about how I conceived the idea for the Westcott shawl.  This time, I’m sharing the realisation process with you: how the idea for the design became a tangible, corporal garment and pattern.

westcottsketchThere’s always at least a little trepidation when you cast on the first few stitches or make the first cut into the fabric when you’re just beginning to realise a design.  And no matter how experienced you are, long you’ve practiced, checked your numbers, tested it out…whatever…it’s always a test or revision of how well you can get from A to Z.  Not even B:  Z!  The nervousness is normalised, but the reaction never dulls or fades.  It will be there for as long as you put your heart and soul into whatever you create.

westcottbabyTo the left is Baby Westcott.  This was nearly 2 repeats of the central panel in, and I was beginning to get a sense of the scale of the shawl.  I was feeling happy about the balance I talked about in the previous post; the quietness of the side panels working in harmony with the elaborate central panel.  The only real unknown was how the design elements would work when in full scale, and the changes I might have to make to the final pattern.

In one respect, this is an occupational challenge when designing knitwear: unlike straight-up, hardcore fashion design, you don’t have the benefit of a toile or first pattern to really see and analyze what’s working well.  For me, the pattern cutting elements are much the same: stitches are pixels, the lines created on blotter paper are vectors.  Both require precision and good technical knowledge.  Fashion fabrics, however, don’t take as long to make up, and because of this saved time it is possible to sit at the sewing machine and make up a toile in calico, the first sample in a fabric similar to the final fabric…and so on, checking and testing, adjusting for fit, taking adjustments back to the first pattern so that one ends up with a final garment and pattern as perfect as they can possibly be, ready for production.

Frankly, this is one reason why knitting patterns can be a bit skewiff.  The item beautifully photographed, when compared to the snippet of the fashion design cycle above, is really the first sample – not the final garment.  Thus it is possible to learn from the experience of the test knitter and make amendments to the pattern before publication, so that the general public doesn’t run into trouble.  However, there’s almost never any time to have something reknitted, so whatever is made up has to do for photography, for better or worse.  It puts even more pressure on accurate calculations and drafting beforehand.

westcottteenageWhat am I building up to? you may ask.  Well, two things: I ended up making a couple of key changes to the pattern of the shawl, which I thought would improve its appearance.  To the right is Teenage Westcott: you can see I’m right into the throes of the knitting here and not too far away from the end.  At this stage, I’d realised that I’d need a deeper border pattern.  The little scallops I’d made for the swatch would get completely lost in all that fabric, so the edging needed to be more complex than a simple scallop repeat.  I spent a few minutes worrying about alienating knitters who don’t crochet: would they be put off?  Should I go back to the drawing board and come up with a knitted edging instead?  And then there was the time factor which, I’ll be honest, decided it for me!  I had little chance of backpedalling that far AND making the deadline, so I stuck with crochet.  More on that later.

technicaldoodles technicaldoodlesshortrowsThe second and most significant change was the addition of short row shaping to the outer sections of the shawl.  I had calculated the width well enough, but the shape of the shawl was a little unexpected.  As the shawl grew, the angle created by the eyelet increases was a little too far away from the original plan.  I could see from the initial swatches that Westcott wouldn’t be perfectly straight at the top, but the curves at the side were a bit too pronounced and it would’ve been more cape or capelet than shawl.  Not a problem really, but I’d set out to create a shawl, and not having extra depth at the sides would’ve made it tricky to pin or tie up.  I had to test AND resolve this problem without losing time or stitches, and the only feasible way to do so was add some short row shaping.  You can see my calculations in the bottom left photograph.  Also, because I was right in the middle of knitting, I had to put the short row shaping in asap: that way, I could see straight away whether or not it had worked, and then decide where best to place the short row shaping throughout the pattern.  Would it be best worked intermittently throughout or at the end?

If anyone reading this goes on to knit Westcott and wants to style it as a cape or capelet, just omit the short row shaping and continue straight on with the rest of the instructions.  For this reason, I decided to place the short row shaping right at the end when writing the final pattern.  It also meant that any slight nicks caused by the technique – and there’s nowhere to hide when it’s plain stocking stitch! – would be disguised by the edging.  Even the neatest technique and diligent pressing needs a break sometimes  😉

sanctuaryandakittySpeaking of breaks, I really needed one during the making of this in late spring/early summer.  This, and the resolution of the two problems above, came about during a weekend stay in the Surrey hills.  A dear friend of mine was staying in the area, so I packed a little bag and caught the train down.  There are few things nicer than loving company, relaxed knitting, and a fluffy soft kitty – just look at her stretched out in the sunlight!  And the peace and comfort this trip provided enabled me to tune back into the original inspiration for this shawl; softness and comfort.  (We decided that I’d done enough with the glamour element at that stage!) It just goes to show that designing, or any creative process, shouldn’t really be lonely.  It’s very easy to get lost in the contents of your head and finding trusted, kindred spirits to share thoughts with is always welcome, in my book.  They are your eyes when you cannot see.

And with this Westcott weekend getaway came a slightly impulsive and emotional purchase at an antique shop!  Taking a break from work, we wandered into the town centre and I spotted an Ercol rocking chair.  Ercol has a special place in my heart because I grew up in a house filled with my late grandparents’ midcentury modern furniture, including an Ercol dining table and chairs!  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the rocking chair, and after cooling off for a couple of days I phoned the shop back and bought it.  So it only seems fitting that I share a photograph of the shawl draped over it.

westcott4ercolwestcott4ercol2My final words are on the crochet edging.  You can see here the extra rows that I designed, and I hope you agree that Westcott is a much better design for making a larger border.  It also gave me the opportunity to play around with the corner detail: something I tried in Isblomst, an earlier shawl design from a few years ago, but didn’t execute as successfully as I have done here.  I wasn’t thinking about Isblomst when I designed this (I see now that might be hard to believe!), but I guess my subconscious knew that there was some unfinished business going on 🙂  Viewed in that light, it’s fascinating for me to see how I’ve come along in that time and that’s a realisation greater than I thought it would be.  Westcott is both the story of a design and a designer.

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