You might have noticed I'm knitting a lot of lace at the moment. I am also about to start into a design for some cabled socks.
I was recently asked how I come up with "all those clever patterns". The stitch patterns.
Stitch dictionaries, of course.
These are books that contain nothing but instructions for working various stitch patterns. No garments, no discussion, no techniques. Just stitch patterns. Pictures of swatches and instructions.
It was years before I bought one -- I couldn't imagine why on earth I would need such a thing. Even when I started designing, I still didn't need one, because I wasn't doing anything fancy -- no lace, no complicated colourwork, no fancy cables.
But I kept reading about how fabulous these books are... Barbara Walker's 4 volumes and the long out of print but beloved Mary Thomas book, in particular. (Newsflash! It's back in print! Thank you Dover! Marsha at the Needle Arts Book Shop tracked a used copy down for me a few years ago.)
I bought my first, one of the Barbara Walker Treasuries, 5 years ago. And though I paged through it with interest, it was another couple of years before I actually used it. First time I used it, I was creating a simple lace scarf and I needed a lace stitch pattern.
The rest, as they say, is history. Now I won't start a project without first paging through all my stitch dictionaries.
Even if the garment is worked in good old plain stocking stitch (which, if truth be told, it rarely is), I consult the stitch dictionaries for interesting ideas for ribbing and edges. I love working fancy cuffs on plain socks.
You'd be amazed how many different stitch patterns there are; even changing a single stitch in a group of 8 or 10 can change the look radically. Yes, there's definitely overlap between the books, but each has its own unique ideas. The books also differ in how the patterns are presented -- written or charted -- or in my ideal world, both.
And yes, once I find a pattern I like, I do swatch. To see how it looks with the yarn I've chosen, to see how it feels, to see how it works for the design I have in mind.
I've been working on a lace sweater, and the challenge there is finding a stitch pattern that's nice and open and lacy, but still has enough structure to retain the shape of a garment.
I've only recently added the Vogue Stitchionaries to my collection... and I have an issue with them, particularly the first one. There are some great patterns, and enough new and interesting ones to make the book a worthwhile addition to the genre -- but some of the swatch pictures are terrible....
This is a lace design. Yup, in the instructions, there are a fair number of yarn overs to create eyelets, but I'll be damned if I can see them in the swatch picture. I don't have any complaints about the knitting, but my god, the swatches should have been blocked. If it doesn't look attractive, I'm not going to try it. And as I've proven below, a lace swatch simply doesn't look attractive if it's not blocked sufficiently. And few in the book's lace section have been blocked sufficiently.
The basic swatches are fine, but whoever was responsible for the lace chapter needs to rethink her/his work.
The Cables book, Volume 2, is much stronger. There are both written and charted instructions for all patterns, and the photos are much clearer. But be warned about Volume 1 - it rather spoils an otherwise good set of books.