Knit Focus

When wrong is right: a celebration of the wrong side of knitting

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Inside out: Sonia Rykiel Jacquard Knit Sweater Cotton Threads (here)

 

‘I’m not wrong, I’m just knit that way.’*

We learn from an early stage of knitting that one side of our fabric is the right and the other is wrong. This sounds strangely moralistic – as though one side is innately better in its qualities- when, in fact, the designations are simply a way to distinguish sides of knitting to enable knitters to keep track of stitch patterns, shaping etc.

Nevertheless, perhaps partly encouraged by the terminology, we do tend to carry expectations about the relative values of the sides of our work.

Looking at a piece of stocking stitch/stockinette, we immediately recognise the smooth, crisp v’s of the knit stitch as the smart, finished fabric that will be the public face of our knitted piece. The bumpy waves of purl on the other side appear less refined in comparison, and without much thought, most of us would turn this to the inside of a garment, hiding it away from the public gaze.

We have such assumptions of the relative smartness of the sides that it is common for knitters to move away from garter stitch – in which purl bump ridges on both sides are reminiscent of the purls of wrong side stocking stitch- considering it a less smart or less polished look once we have graduated to the smoother stocking stitch.

Reversible stitches are often attractive to knitters as they provide a uniform finish that means we can wear a piece in more ways, relaxed in the knowledge that we will not accidentally expose the wrong, less attractive side of our knitting.

These assumptions are by no means universal or unquestioned- many find their thoughts about their knitting evolve as they try out different yarns and patterns- but they can lead us to overlook and miss out on some of the beauty and potential of our knitting.

Wrong side right

Sometimes, things on the wrong side of the fabric are just more fun.

Stripes are a great example of this. While there can be a clean, crisp finish to stripes on the right side, the wrong side has far more going on. Little dots and dashes of colour – a kind of Morse code – form parallel tracks, like sewn running stitches either side of the solid line of the stripe. Each side offers a different mood: simple, graphic definition versus a busier surface that blurs and blends the colours from a distance.

The wrong side also reveals the evidence of our working: while the right side shows the end result, it is the wrong where we can see the transitions between one colour and the next, or the carried loops of yarn in stranded work or the little slanted twists of intarsia colour-work. The right side is the graceful swan gliding across the pond; the wrong side is the kicking legs and the displaced water.

Clockwise from top left: Sonia Rykiel Jacquard Knit Sweater with Ruffles (here), Stella McCartney (here), Mira Mikati Diamond Stitch Sweater (here)

This autumn/winter season, several fashion designers have used this visible working on the wrong side as a way to challenge traditional construction: they turned sweaters inside out to reveal dotted intarsia panels with hanging threads, or mixed visible strands of colour-work with the smooth right side finish. This trend seems to be part of an overall interest in textures and embellishment, but also the focus on deconstruction, subverting and rebelling against norms.

This subversion can be really effective in revealing interesting new textures and making us think again about fabrics we usually overlook. In some cases though, I have to admit that I was reminded of a teenager desperately trying to be edgy by wearing their clothes inside out, and I suspect that after wearing some of these looks, you may end up wanting to hold up a sign saying ‘yes, it’s supposed to be worn this way round!’

The wrong side of stranded colour work and strangely beautiful backwards writing.

There can be something a little magical about the wrong side- not only can it be unexpectedly pretty or striking, but it seems to almost form itself as the unintended consequence of what you wanted to achieve at the front. The wrong side is evidence of our creation and yet seems set apart from us. It reminds me of looking at handwriting through the back side of the paper on which it is written-seeing the letters become unrecognisable, transformed to a set of beautiful lines, loops and curves. In knitted fabrics, the effect is sometimes less immediately attractive- there are strange puckers on the back of yarn overs, muted distortions on the back of cables- but as with stripes above, many other stitches present an equally pretty surface as a kind of collateral impact of the right side effect.

A Walk on the Wrong Side: Patterns that play with right and wrong 

Reverse Snowball Fight by Melissa Lambino (here) : worked in super chunky/bulky yarn, this hat is a super quick knit worked in reverse stocking stitch/stockinette to showcase the colours in variegated yarn.

Floats Cowl by Jake Canton for Purl Soho  (here) : this understated cowl celebrates both the wrong and right sides of its fabric: you can wear it with the elegant columns of “floating” slip-stitched strands on show, or choose the simpler, smooth surface with subtle vertical columns. You can also find the pattern directly at their website- here.

Comfort Fade Cardi by Andrea Mowry (here) : This cosy, dk weight cardigan with a garter shawl collar is mainly worked in reverse stocking stitch/stockinette, which serves as a great canvas for the mixing of different coloured yarns in the fade effect for which the designer is so well known. Variegated yarns are particularly highlighted in the textured purl bumps.

Melli by Camille Roselle (here) : this sweet dk weight cardigan is worked from the bottom up and features a ‘bee’ stitch pattern that stands out from its reverse stocking stitch background. Buttonbands are worked as you go and the sleeves knitted flat afterwards before seaming to the body after blocking.

 


Over to you: do you enjoy the wrong side of knitting? I’ve found it quite hard to locate patterns with reverse stocking stitch/stockinette, so I’d love to hear any recommendations you have that contain that stitch or which celebrate or play with the different sides of knitting.

 


* in case you’re wondering, the quote at the top of the page is a paraphrasing of the  line from the 1988 live action/animation film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, in which the cartoon Jessica Rabbit proclaims, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.” This was one of my favourite films as a child and although I haven’t seen it in years, apparently some of it stayed with me, ready to pop up when I contemplated knitted fabric! (Luckily the nightmares about the terrifying villain played by Christopher Lloyd have remained in the past…)

 

 

Knit Focus, Spotlight

Spotlight: an eye for detail

 

 

These cute little mitts featuring foxes, beavers, squirrels and rabbits are part of The Woodsy Association 2.0 collection from tiny owl knits.

They’re a great example of how little details can make a design really special – from the subtle colour shading in the animal faces to the adorable little tassels added on the edge of each mitt which continue the animal theme: dangling acorns for the squirrel and matching tails for the rest. I particularly love the little white pompoms for the rabbits! Knitted in 4-ply, they range from small to XL.

Find out more about the collection at tiny owl knits (here) or you can see and buy the pattern at Ravelry (here)

 


Over to you: do you have any favourite patterns with thoughtful little details? Or suggestions for stranded colourwork mitts? 

 


Image above from tiny owl knits – see here

 

 

Knit Focus

To MKAL or not to MKAL?

 

 

What is an MKAL? MKALs or Mystery Knit Alongs are an increasingly popular type of knitting event in which knitters from around the world join together to knit the same, unseen pattern. A little like putting together a jigsaw without seeing the completed picture, participants knit the pattern in instalments, unknowing of how their piece should look, how it will evolve or what it will eventually become.

Why take part?

  • At the end of the MKAL, you will have a great finished garment or object– probably completed more quickly than if you were knitting without a schedule.
  • MKALs often introduce you to new skills that you may not have chosen or thought you were able to tackle.
  • It’s fun! With every clue, it’s a bit like opening a surprise present or going on a treasure hunt!
  • For knitters who like to plan every last detail, an MKAL can actually be a great way to allow (force!) you to be a little more laid back about the details. It can be strangely enjoyable and freeing to find that you do not have to and in fact, cannot, consider and choose every element.
  • It is a shared community experience– it can feel very special to consider that you are joining in with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of other knitters around the world. On a more practical level, this also means there is more support if you have any difficulties with the pattern.

What’s the downside?

  • It’s a mystery, so you may end up hating your final garment or project.
  • If you don’t like it, you will have spent hours on a project that could have been better spent on knitting something you know you would like.
  • If you don’t like it, you may be left with yarn that you might not otherwise have bought- e.g. if you bought yarn particular to the pattern, a specific kit etc.
  • The pattern may be more prone to errors as you will be part of the first set of people (other than testers) to knit the pattern.

 

MKALs by Helen Stewart: Snowmelt Shawl MKAL (here), Summertide Shawl (here).

If you do take part in an MKAL, how can you maximise your chances of success?

choose the MKAL carefully: if you have liked a designer’s previous work, it stands to reason that you have a better chance of liking any of their future designs. If you’ve never come across them before, check out their patterns on Ravelry and note the ratings and comments made by ravellers about their patterns- how easy are their patterns to follow, have they run a successful MKAL before, do they offer much pattern support?

read any pre-MKAL advice from designer: most guidance about yarn choice and gauge is pretty vague (e.g. ‘pick three colours’), but when it is more specific, it tends to be because it is more important to the pattern’s success. E.g. if designer says you need to have three colours of different tones or that the stripes need to be in a solid colour, this may have a big impact in the final result. Still feel free to do something different, but it may not match the designer’s version.

consider using more affordable yarn than you may sometimes use, or knit from stash. Even though you can always frog (undo) the finished item, it can help you relax if you know there is little consequence if you don’t like the end result- you have not spent a lot of money specifically for the project. Also, when you’re knitting with a favourite or expensive yarn, (even outside of an MKAL) you often really want to make the best of the yarn and make something perfect- in an MKAL, this is far harder to achieve and you may be left dissatisfied with a project that you would have liked if it had been knitted with yarn that carried fewer expectations.

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My version of Starting Point by Joji Locatelli- knitted in lace weight rather than 4-ply/fingering to give a lighter stole that is more versatile in my wardrobe, plus more affordable given the lower cost of lace weight yarn per metre.

check for errata: a MKAL should have been test knitted before publication, but problems do sometimes pop up. It’s a good idea to regularly check the pattern page, any design support forums or your messages on Ravelry to see if there is any updated information.

consider changing elements: while much of the fun of an MKAL comes from trying new techniques, if you are really not enjoying knitting particular aspects of the pattern- to the extent that you think you’ll have to give up- then consider changing them. E.g. swap brioche for rib or stick with garter rather than a textured stitch. You will need to take care to keep track of stitch count and make sure to include any necessary shaping, and it will look different than intended- but maybe it will make it even better?!

enjoy and find support in the community: there are usually special groups or threads set up on Ravelry for MKAL discussion, as well as instagram hashtags that let you see people’s progress. You don’t even have to join in actively- but if you want, you can take part in discussions of yarn and colour ideas, ask questions if you don’t understand, show off your completed clue etc.

cheat! If you just recoil from the idea of mystery but would still like to join in, wait a few days and then go and have a look at other people’s progress in the spoiler threads so you have a better idea how the item will look and perhaps better insight into how to combine colours etc. You can even wait until a few instalments of the pattern have been knitted and then make a decision about taking part.

– and remember: you can drop put of an MKAL at any time and if you don’t like the end result, you can frog (undo) your knitting and use the yarn for something else!

More MKAL patterns: Cruise (ahoi!) by ANKESTRiCK (here), Starting Point by Joji Locatelli (here).

If you’re inspired to try out or join another MKAL, see the following MKALs that start in the next month:

StephenWestMKAL2017Speckle & Pop! Westknits Mystery Shawl KAL 2017 by Stephen West (here)This is the 8th shawl MKAL hosted by Westknits, whose previous MKAL patterns have involved thousands of knitters. As Stephen West writes, his MKALS ‘are notorious for bringing together a colorful community of knitters from all around the world engaging in a riot of adventurous knitting skills.’ Starts 29th September.

Apparition by Boo Knits (here). Knitted in a lace weight yarn, this Halloween MKAL shawl also features beading that will ‘dance in your stitches adding weight and drape but not overpowering the delicate and ethereal feel of the shawl.’ Starts 1st October.

Behind the Scenes by Michelle Hunter (here). Knitted in a chunky weight yarn, this long rectangle, cabled design can be worn as a scarf or a cowl. An opportunity to increase your knowledge and experience of cable knitting, the pattern is supported by online videos. Starts 5th October.

navigatrix_patternpage_turq_medium2Navigatrix Mystery KAL by Laura Nelkin (here). This shawl or cowl incorporates garter stitch with other more complex stitch patterns from around the world, plus optional beading. As Laura Nelkin says, this patterns ‘is sure to teach you TONS’ and with her “no knitter left behind” policy, she aims to offer support to all her knitters.

SGY Mystery Shawl KAL by Tabetha Hedrick (here). The first ever Sweet Georgia MKAL, this 4-ply/fingering weight shawl is designed to be a relaxing knit comprised of easy garter stitch, slipped stitches and small sections of simple lace. Starts 10th October.

Find out more on Ravelry (here)– look through new pattern announcements at Patterns- Recently Published or Hot Right Now. Or visit the fantastic KAL Fanatics group which lists KALs (knit alongs) and MKALs being hosted each month.

 


Over to you: what do you think of MKALs? Have you had any negative/positive experiences with MKALs? Do you have any tips for having a successful experience?


Images at top of page: Some of the hugely popular MKAL shawls by Stephen West- clockwise from left: The Doodler (here), Exploration Station (here), Building Blocks Shawl (here).