A Matter of Scale

One of the occupational hazards of sock design - or Tsock design at any rate - is the problem of displaying grand ideas on a miniature canvas. I’m always struggling with this; my reach keeps exceeding my grasp, and every time it does I doggedly extend my grasp rather than curb my reach.

As a result, I frequently find myself creating stitch patterns out of something very nearly approximating whole cloth. Not quite whole cloth, though - not necessarily. At least half the time I start from a traditional stitch pattern, one that already expresses the idea I want to get across, and then I run myself ragged finding ways to squeeze it into the sock framework. I knock out a few rows here, a few stitches there; I surgically excise white space wherever I can get away with it, and I’ll swatch half a zillion iterations before I find an approach that satisfies me, that still conveys the sense without taking up too much real estate.

Kitri was an early case in point. I’m in the habit of reading stitch dictionaries upside down - frees the mind amazingly - and that’s why, when I wanted to use fans as a theme, it didn’t take me long to realize that Peri’s Parasol was almost exactly what I was looking for… lightly disguised.

Peri's Parasol
Pictures of Peri’s Parasol and Ogee Lace courtesy of the Walker Treasury Project

Flip that over…

Peri's Parasol

… and behold, it’s all fans all the time. The only trouble with it is that it’s a 22-stitch repeat, no half-drop, and I wanted at least four of them in a +/-64-stitch sock. I also wanted more definition in the fans themselves and less busy-work about the interstices between them. So I pared down the height and width, twisted the rib stitches in all rows, and filled in some of the lacy bits in the gaps, and at last I ended up with a compact little 17-stitch repeat.

The funny thing is that I perform this sort of surgery in such tiny gradual increments that once the incision is closed I often fail to realize how very far I’ve wandered from the original. I had occasion a year or so ago to use Fan Lace in a simple project, and I thought, ha, I already have that charted because I used it in Golden West. Ha indeed - the joke was on me, as I quickly realized when I compared my chart and notes with the original. The topstitching pattern in Golden West began as a variation on Fan Lace, but by the time I was done perverting it it was virtually unrecognizable. I had to go straight back to the drawing board.

By contrast, I was acutely conscious of the changes I made in Frost Flowers when I modified it for The Snow Queen. In its native form that baby is a full 34 stitches wide. Even allowing for the half-drop that is a LOT of stitch pattern to put on a foot.

Frost Flowers

And in this case I really wanted to preserve as much as possible of the shape and feel of the original. I’m still not sure how many iterations I went through to get this one to where I wanted it; I know I tried at least half a dozen different types of faggotting and spent far too many hours vacillating between even and odd numbers, cheating here, faking there, twisting or purling a stitch to give it the emphasis it had lost when I ruthlessly eliminated its neighbors, sweating blood at every turn… and at last I got it down to 22 stitches.

Miniature Frost Flowers

You couldn’t ever mistake it for the Estonian original; it’s slighter, it’s flimsier, it doesn’t have the bold definition. But the shapes are there; the sweep is there; the relationship is there.

Luckily some of them are a lot easier. Miniaturizing Flame Chevron to fit in the toe of Fearful Symmetry was child’s play, a walk in the park, by comparison. Give me a simple geometric reduction any day.

Why I’m blathering on about this right now…? For one thing, I find it endlessly fascinating. For another… I’m at it again. On not one sock but two, actually. And because I’m sick of Tstealth I’m going to do the one thing that is probably even more annoying than the full seal of secrecy: gonna show you some little snippets in progress by way of hints.

Here, then, in no particular order, are some of the things I’ve been working on for the next two Club Tsocks.

One of them is the above-mentioned simple geometric reduction. If you take that fine old chestnut King Charles Brocade, and just lop off two rows and columns in all directions…

King Charles Brocade chart

… the pattern will obligingly scale itself down from this…

King Charles Brocade

… to this…

King Charles Brocade swatch

… without any appreciable loss of definition. As such it will make a highly appropriate ground bass for - hah, you thought I was going to tell you what, didn’t you. I’m not. But here’s a little teaser; make of it what you will.

King Charles Brocade swatch

That’s the easy one. The hard one is a rhino of a different color (heh, I can haz new stitch markers, maybe you noticed?).

For the other project in the works I was looking for a particular shape, and I found something close to it in the well-worn classic Ogee Lace.

Ogee Lace

Trouble is, I don’t want the whole thing. I don’t want the repeats, I don’t want the half-drop. I want the shape (with a few minor internal modifications), and I need to compensate for that in the surrounding fabric.

So first I swatch one instance as written…

Ogee Lace swatch

… then I chart it out and knit the piece I want just from the middle section:

Ogee Lace chart

We’re getting there.

Ogee Lace swatch

The basic transition - from overall pattern to single instance - is made.

Ogee Lace swatch

(Anybody who can suss out where I’m going with this one, BTW - well, let’s just say I’ll be surprised. It’s not what you think. Unless of course you think something other than what I think you’ll think.)

Now I just need to mess around with the innards a bit, change the number and orientation of the lines of eyelets… and figure out exactly how to slot it into the design where I want it.

Because apparently I’m a glutton for punishment. I know; this isn’t news to anyone, least of all me.

Some day I swear I’m going to switch to making HUGE LACE SHAWLS. Just for the fun of scaling motifs UP for once, instead of down. You know, to see how the other half lives: LARGE.

Oh, wait. We’ve already seen what happens when I do big lace. All the components are normal size; it’s just the piece itself that’s big. And then the next thing you know I’m right back to my old minimalist ways - honey, I shrunk the stitch. Again.


12 Responses to “A Matter of Scale”

  1. Caroline M Says:

    Big lacey things would be fun, less problems with fit and making things needle neutral. I can’t see how you’d fit it in without adding another day to your week. Maybe you could just quit sleeping altogether?

  2. onafixedincome Says:

    Whoa. I knew you were demented, but I’d forgotten just how much I love seeing all the little steps to having the men in white coats come a-calling! Niiiice.

  3. The Boy (tm) Says:

    Not just a miniature canvas, but a low resolution canvas with a peculiar aspect ratio.

  4. Presbytera Says:

    Glad someone’s doing it…and glad it’s not me.

    But lots of what you describe is similar to doing lexicography, so maybe the reason I would hate that kind of fiddly figuring in my knitting is because it would be a busman’s holiday.

  5. Julie Says:

    wow, thanks so much for walking us through your process! You have the most fascinating mind….I love it!

  6. Dan Says:

    I like the way the blue came out.

  7. Erica Says:

    Ah, but to get grand lace on a simple sock, that is magic, isn’t it? I love watching stitch patterns transform. Too bad the Tstealth is keeping you from sharing all the gory details.

  8. Elly Says:

    What an amazing mind you have. I enjoy reading about your design process, it is gobsmacking awesome!

  9. Kate Says:

    Love the stitch markers!

    Must knit faster on Moebius tsocks so ready for next tsock…….

  10. alwen Says:

    One of the reasons I love you is that it’s nice to know I’m not the only barking mad one around.

  11. Gretchen Says:

    I’ve been away from Tsock-land for awhile. I read this, and I know I’ve been missing it. Scary as it is, I love the inside of your head. You’re stuck with me!

  12. naomi Says:

    Thanks for the insights into your design process. And nice stitch markers.

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