Last year I decided to re-acquaint myself with something I had not done since I was a small child, knitting. I had enjoyed it then, but not been very good at it or spent a lot of time doing it, so when I picked up the needles again aged 30, I was really a beginner again.
Once I found my way with the needles again through books and youtube videos, I found not only did I really enjoy it still, I am actually pretty good at it. I have made quite intricate patterns up, and the people who have seen it have told me I should sell some of my knitting.
I am not that confident yet in my abilities, but I did decide that if this is an avenue I will pursue, then I need to keep practicing and eventually start designing some of my own knits as there are copyrights on some of the patterns preventing you selling the knitted work.
Looking on amazon, I was immediately attracted to the Design it, Knit it book by Debbie Bliss. I don't know much, but I have heard her name a lot associated with wools, patterns and knitwear, and she is hugely popular in the knitting world. I can't remember how much I paid for the book, but it is currently available on amazon for the very strange price of £10.07.
It is the sort of book aimed at people who are more experienced at knitting. I would say it is not just for those who want to design, but anyone who is interested in why a certain technique leads to the design that it does. It is also contains 15 patterns that you can knit up to use some of the techniques that Debbie is explaining, so it is great for getting your head around how what your hands are doing lead to the effect you can see.
The book is a beautiful hard back ring bound book, that has an elasticated strap attached to the back which goes round the book to hold it shut. The cover is quite neutral showing some of Debbie's designs being modelled, and one of Debbie working in her studio. It is the sort of book that looks quite nice on the coffee table, and people would like a quick flick through.
It is seperated very clearly into organised sections.
section 1 - designing for the body
I find this really interesting, as Debbie takes you through styles that suit differnt shapes like having a slightly flared bottom on a ladies jumper to suit pear shapes. This is then shown with a picture of a knitted swatch to show how a simple cable patterns can be used to make the end product more fitted. This is useful to me to provide me experience of shaping. There are then 3 patterns that highlight completely different shapes. Debbie also puts in some tips about looking at a pattern you have yourself, and then changing it to suit your shape better. I do find this very useful, as there are a lot of free patterns about, and some of them are nice but not quite right, and I would now feel more confident about having a go at adapting it.
section 2 - designing with colour
Debbie looks at putting colours into a knitted swatch so you can see what colours go together well, and because she provides examples herself to go with her description, you can see yourself what she means that some colours look good together, where some just wash out and disappear. I love fair isle knitting but haven't braved it myself yet as it seems complicated to knit in a repeating pattern and not get tangled up in all the different coloured threads. I feel the fair isle pattern in the book would benefit from a bit more instruction as to how to actually do it, but I think Debbie's assumption is that you don't need the extra help if you are using this book. The other 2 patterns in this section seem simpler, with contrasting bands of colour in the pattern in a block, which is a less difficult technique to do one colour change then sew in the ends.
section 3 - designing with texture
This is by far my favourite section of the book, as making patterns with cable is one of the techniques I adore, and it has helped my understanding no end that if I do x, then y will happen. The 3 patterns here are for a sweater, a jacket and a blanket, and all 3 are very beautiful designs which look complicated, and I get a real sense of satisfaction when I manage to recreate what I can see on the page. It is a great brain work out doing cable, working out where to hold the cable needle, and if you hold it in front or behind your knitting. When I come to design my own stuff, I will definitely be playing here in cabling some more, and Debbie has shown me enough to now have an idea how to do it.
section 4 - designing for kids
This is my least favourite section of the book, While Debbie talks a lot of sense about modern designs, and using features that help you get the design onto a child easily such as wide necks and front fastening, and the need for practical clothes, the 3 designs she has chosen are pretty ugly ones. There is a smock dress, which is ok but very dull knitted in an oatmeal colour wool. It might have been better in a more vibrant colour, but maybe that is just my opinion. I can't see anyone being happy to dress their little princess in it. A boy's zipped sweater is nice, practical, but again not that inspiring. And then a baby jacket, that looks like a 70s throwback to me. Debbie talks about the need for modern designs, and this doesn't do it for me.
I think most children wear bright colours with characters on them these days, and the chosen designs just would not give me any pleasure to knit, and surely that is partly what it needs to be about. The nice thing about a home made item is the love and care that goes into designing it, and I would be bored doing these.
section 5 - designing with detail
This was an interesting final chapter, looking at how the finishing touches such as buttons, collars and hems, are what makes the design great. This is where you get most insight into the designer thinking about what they want the end garment to look like, for example repeating small details from the body of the garment into the hem. It interests me a lot to see inside the designers head when you are looking at the garment.
There is then a one page Glossary which contains all the abbreviations and knitting terms that are used in this book. This is essential as even in my limited experience of knitting, I have found that there are a couple of different ways of saying the same thing, especially in american versus european designs.
After these sections, the book is then dedicated to you starting to design your own work, which is after all what anyone picking this book up is aiming for in the long term. There are a few pages with the outlines of the different sweater styles that have been covered in the book for you to have a go at sketching your own designs onto.
There are then some pages of knitting graph paper, for you to put your own patterns onto. This is most useful for coloured knitting where you want to copy the pattern from a picture. I am still starting out on this journey, but I have used it to design some shapes which I have then knitted in a moss stitch (alternated knit and purl stitches to make a raised shape on a knitted background) to then add simple patterns to baby blankets.
There is then a very useful laminated card sheet at the back of the book which summarises information that can really confuse knitters in a really simple way. Eg. The equivalent US and UK needle sizes, and what types of wool you should use with which size needles. There is also a ruler to show you the size of swatch you need to make to work out your stitch gauge. This is not something I tend to bother with, but knitters are supposed to do a swatch for every pattern to check that the wool they are knitting will knit in the correct size stitch on those needles, and then if your swatch is too small, use the next size needle, or too big use the smaller needles.
I have found the book interesting to read, and I would probably knit 11 or 12 out of the 15 patterns in there just for the experience. The other patterns are not for me. I think you would get most benefit out of the book if your are an experienced knitter, or if you are a big Debbie Bliss fan and want more insight into what she does.
Reading this book hasn't made me an instant designer myself, but it has made me a more confident knitter and more willing to experiment with different colours to the ones shown with a pattern.
Knitting is a fun thing to do, and this makes it a bit more challenging too if you are the sort of person who always wants to push yourself to do a bit better.