Knitting in Three Dimensions

It's relatively straight forward to think about knitting in terms of creating two dimensional shapes. Most of us start by knitting something "easy" [1] like a scarf. From there it's easy enough to teach knitters to create a never ending variety of polygons. This, however, misses what I think of as the really cool part of knitting. I think the way to understand how knitting works, to be able to knit things that more closely resemble what you want, and to have the most fun knitting is to always think about knitting as three dimensional.

This isn't an elaborate argument in favor of circular knitting: that argument has been fairly well made and I'll recount my favorite points on request, but circular knitting is a great technique and knitting in three dimensions is an entire practice.

[1]Scarf knitting seems so easy and mechanically it is: knit the same number of stitches row after row after row. But there are issues. First, garter stitch to the uninitiated doesn't look like "knitting," and with a high rows per inch ratio these scarves take forever to knit. Such projects are always discouraging.

Knitting Gestalts / Knitting Shapes

I've written about this before but one of the best parts about sweater knitting is thinking about how the sweater--the whole object--comes together into a garment. Rather than knitting a collection of flat pieces that can be sewn into a garment (tailoring) knitting lets you build and shape garments with various seamless and nearly-seamless methods.

I sometimes describe this kind of knitting as "architectural," but the key (for me) is thinking about the entire object as a whole. There's something that's nearly magical that happens when you can take a few rows curled up on a circular needle and see in your mind fits into the object that you're knitting. The process of using knitting stitches, increases and decreases to get from the former to the later is relatively trivial if have can think about the entire object (a "knitting gestalt") in three dimensions in your mind.

Knitting Mechanics

If "knitting gestalts" provide a top-down perspective on knitting, I think there's a "bottom up" three dimensional perspective that is important when thinking about how stitches fit together. While a big part of knitting has to do wit the shapes and forms, the textures, drape and "hand" of the fabric all have a lot to do with the final evaluation of the object. To understand drape and texture, it's important to consider the properties of individual knitting stitches and the effects of yarn weight/texture, needle size, and personality of the knitter. The second part (yarn type, needle size, knitting style) is pretty common, the first (knitting stitch) is less so.

I have a favorite example of this kind of thinking. I'm not sure where I learned this but it's suck with me:

Knitted fabric typically curls. This happens because the "purl side" of the knitted stitch has a greater surface area than the "knit side," which causes unaltered stocking stitch to roll up. At the same time, the "knit" side of the stitch is a little bit wider than the "purl" side of the stitch, so the edges will curl in. The way to counteract this, is to mix knit-and-purl stitches on the same row to balance the surface areas out and thus counteract the effects. Think about ribbing and seed stitch... Think about knit and purl patterns and how they change the tendency of the fabric to roll. Think about the path of the yarn through a knitting stitch.

See? Isn't is cool?

In Conclusion

Whatever kind of knitting you want to do is fine with me: I don't care to tell anyone that the way they knit is wrong. At the same time, I don't think there's any sense in being afraid of your knitting: knitting is great fun and I think once you know the basics most knitters can knit just about everything. So my goal in this post, and in all of my knitting posts, is to share my own process and encourage you (all) to branch out in your own work.

Have fun!

Onward and Upward!

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