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Fabric Engineering

Feb 24, 2011

I'm the new Project Editor at Interweave and will be a regular contributor to this blog. I'm also new to blogging (this is my first-ever post), so please bear with me as I learn the ropes!

I may be learning a lot of new things right now, but I'm not new to knitting. I've been a technical editor and knitting illustrator for over 25 years. In that time I have edited hundreds of patterns and illustrated thousands of stitches. As a result, I've gained a deep understanding of the structure of the knitted fabric. My brother Patrick is a mechanical engineer who owns and operates a small engineering firm in Taipei. One day, I was describing a knitting technique to him using some illustrations, and he said, "Oh, I see, you're a fabric engineer!" I love that description--it's entirely accurate. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to discover some new (to me) knitting technique, especially one that will improve the appearance of the finished project. I'd like to share my discoveries with you because, well, the truth is I just love talking about technical "stuff." But also because I believe a successful project is really just the product of a hundred "elegant" details. And each detail we master raises the level of our "knitting game."

Take, for instance, Daniela Nii's beautiful pillows in the Spring 2011 issue of Interweave Knits.

(Illustration 1)

Daniela  uses a technique called "diagonal intarsia." Typically, in intarsia, a diagonal line is the result of simple color changes. These color changes create a "stairstep effect" which, in this case, would blur the strong lines that make the pillow design so effective (illustration 1).

Instead, Daniela uses a combination of increases and decreases on each side of the color change to move the colors while maintaining a straight line between the colors (illustration 2). And because the increases

(Illustration 2)
 and decreases are always paired, there is no change in the stitch count. A right diagonal is achieved by decreasing stitches in the first color section while increasing stitches in the adjoining color section to the left. A left diagonal is achieved by doing the opposite: increasing in the first section and decreasing in the second.

You can use any type of increase or decrease methods you choose. I've seen patterns which used Make 1's and even loop cast-on's for increases, but I think the lifted increases that Daniela uses result in the neatest color transitions. For the left diagonal, she worked a lifted increase into the right side of the last stitch of the first color section (illustration 3), then knit the last stitch.

(Illustration 3)

Then she began the next color section immediately with an ssk decrease. For the right diagonal, the first section ended with a k2tog decrease, and the next section began with a knit stitch, then a lifted increase worked into the left side of the stitch that was just knitted (illustration 4).

            The angle of the diagonal lines can be adjusted by changing the rate at which the increase/decrease rows are worked. For a more acute angle, work them every other row. Or for a more oblique angle, work them every fourth row.

(Illustration 4)

It may take some experimenting to get the results you want. So, get out your knitting needles and do some "fabric engineering" of your own!



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CindyM@31 wrote
on Aug 18, 2011 7:37 PM

I like this post. Thank you for sharing.

sharoncullen wrote
on Aug 16, 2011 10:29 AM

I have some beautiful Llama yarn I want to use for this but only have 5 skeins which comes to 475YD. Will this be enough to complete the project? Does anyone know? I want to start this right away so I have it ready in September/October for our Michigan fall weather! Thanks Sharon... (Flutelady on Ravelry)

DeannaN wrote
on Mar 2, 2011 7:14 AM

Excellent article. I love to learn more about the technical stuff, so please keep sharing it. Love your new title, too - fabric engineer is exactly the right description for someone who works on finessing the structure as this post suggests. I also like the layout and illustrations used in this article. Very clear and easily followed. I look forward to your next post with great anticipation!

c-tea wrote
on Mar 1, 2011 10:08 PM

Welcome Joni, the Fabric Engineer! Congrats on your first post - you did wonderfully! like yourself and some of the other contributors, I am a person who wants to the know the why and how and such behind a technique - you did a great job of explaining the why and hows as well as illustrating the key aspects clearly - for your first blog entry you were spot on - I look forward to reading more of your posts and communications.


on Feb 28, 2011 5:58 PM

Thanks to everyone for the positive feedback! It looks like I've found a few kindred spirits and I look forward to discussing various knitting techniques with all of you.

Vickiknit: I have to say, I don't use the stitch you described for increasing (k 1 below, inserting the needle into the center of the stitch). I usually associate that with Brioche stitch, where you'd drop the stitch from the left needle. Have you tried using right and left Make 1's (knitting the strand between stitches so they slant to the right or left)?


amyknittn wrote
on Feb 27, 2011 8:58 PM

excellent!  it's been a long time since I did intarsia but iI don't recall seing this tip before from anyone else.

Jeanne@42 wrote
on Feb 27, 2011 7:51 PM

Welcome, I loved reading your first post.


ZassZ wrote
on Feb 26, 2011 8:32 PM

Hi Joni,

Glad to meet you.  I appreciated your article.  Well written and clear.  Explanations were really easy to follow and illustrations are in harmony with your explanation, which is most important when teaching with the printed page.  I thank you and look forward to more of your blog postings.    

SharonL@3 wrote
on Feb 26, 2011 7:59 PM

This is a very clever method of delineating that diagonal so it shows up clearly! I want to try it right away!

RobertaB wrote
on Feb 26, 2011 10:32 AM

Thank you so much for your post.  I too love to investigate and work on the structure of fabric.  "fabric engineer"  what a wonderful moniker...  please keep posting more info and share some sources for additional reading and exploration.

Vickiknit wrote
on Feb 26, 2011 9:20 AM

Interesting topic -- wondering what is the best increase method for toe-up socks? I've been using the knit-stitch below method but I insert my right needle into the center (rather than side) of the stitch below so that it includes the stitch above. Maybe there's a better way? It's interesting that such subtleties have different results!

BettyB wrote
on Feb 26, 2011 7:35 AM

this sounds super interesting!  Must try!


susanberlin wrote
on Feb 26, 2011 5:46 AM

Nice post, nice technique, nice explanation! I, too, love technical stuff, so thanks for this article (and others to come, I hope).