Get your foot off the piano…not sure why we thought that was a good place for the photo.

We are doing a puzzle and it’s not even Christmas. It’s the first time in my memory that I’ve had puzzle pieces strewn across the coffee table in August…and maybe September at the rate we are going. It’s a totem pole with complicated painted designs that all look the same when they are chopped into pieces. If you are a puzzle lover, check out Cobble Hill Puzzles. They are fantastic. We haven’t done one yet that we don’t like.

A Cobble Hill puzzle. The image is credited to Terry Issac.

What do puzzles have to do with knitting? Everything. Especially colourwork. I made the connection when I was buried in pieces that made no sense. We had lost the picture of the puzzle and Tex had put the box away.

We’d done around the borders and filled in all the perimeter of the pole. The totem pole was a pile of pieces in the middle. I couldn’t find two that went together. I was too lazy to get the box and I couldn’t visualize what I was doing. I complained that it had taken an hour or so to find homes for only five or six pieces.

“Let me get you the box,” Tex said. “Maybe some people can do puzzles without looking at the picture but it’s a whole lot easier when you can see what you are doing. Each individual piece makes no sense without the big picture.”

That’s when a light bulb went off. It struck me that the same was true about knitting. I know a lot of knitters who don’t like doing colourwork because they get buried in the muddle of stitches. They concentrate on each stitch of the pattern graph and don’t look at the big picture. That’s it. That was my light bulb.

Writing patterns is harder than following them. This is my first utter failure at putting this design in graph form–there were more failures later.

Knitting colourwork is like doing a puzzle. If you get stuck on the details of the graph, counting the cells, the one stitch at a time repetition of

one black

    three green

        one black

            five green   

                …

you get lost in the details and lose sight of the whole (which is much more than the sum of its parts).

If it’s a geometric design it helps it you get to know how the lines intersect—do they make V’s, T’s, X’s, diamonds? If the design is more complicated it helps to ask yourself “how does that work?” If it’s multi intersectional Celtic knot or a figure like a hummingbird or eagle—it helps to spend quality time with the image until it makes sense to you. There is logical internal organization—rhythm—in every design—that’s what makes it appealing to your eye. If the design were a random scattershot of coloured stitches you wouldn’t be knitting it. When you try to understand the graph it’s easier if you keep the picture of the knitted product in mind and how the repetition or progression of stitches in the design fit together and fit into the structure of the piece. 

After designing this shawl, writing the pattern and photo shooting it for my next book I changed my mind. The shawl in the first photo wins…now another pattern design, photo shoot, etc etc.

The same is true when following knitting patterns in general. It’s easier when you keep the picture in mind and figure out the structure of whole before start one of the pieces. The collar, sleeves, pockets, seams, button band, cuffs have an internal sensibility that makes the whole thing work.

The whole is more than the sum of its parts has already been said. You can’t see the forest for the trees has already been said. Listen to the rhythm has already been said. So now I’m at the end of my morning thoughts and realize I have not said anything new or profound just that it’s helpful if you knit like you are doing a puzzle (okay maybe that hasn’t already been said.)