It's probably common knowledge by now that I'm not a fan of fairisle or stranded knitting, I know, I know, blasphemy and all. But, well, they're rather 2-dimensional. Nothing wrong with that, but I'm not a surface design sort; I never have been.

What I find with colourwork is that it demands the technique bends to create the colours; that the colours are more important than the construction. The colourwork techniques themselves don't manipulate the fabric per se but instead are are designed to ensure the pattern pieces on the surface fall into place (every knitting technique is a construction technique in the traditional sense a of constructed textiles vs surface design, but not every technique pushes construction beyond the surface). You can add other shaping to a stranded piece with increases/decreases/short rows, but the methods for creating the stranded knitting themselves aren't used to create the form. One exception might be where you deliberately pull the floats tight to create a vertical tuck like effect, although I'm not sure how structurally sound that would be.

Short row colourwork on the other handle demands that the colours bend with the technique.  The technique is the dominant factor. Whilst there may be an intended surface design as a result, it's actually a 3D technique that is put to play and that means that it can be taken beyond the surface. And that's why it caught my interest.

an initial swatch for the Elemental Hats

an initial swatch for the Elemental Hats


When I first chatted with Carol and subsequently LoveKnitting about this project, my MO was to create short row colour patterns, to do in Hats what had been done in shawls. I'd set myself an engineering challenge. 

There are some amazing short row colourwork patterns out there, and short row colourwork is inherently distinctive. But as with a lot of textiles that are 3D in a fabric manipulation sense (as apposed to a sculptural sense) they're invariably found on flat pieces. It's one challenge to manipulate the fabric enough to make it 3-dimensional in and of itself, it's another thing entirely to then form that fabric into a 3-dimensional item whilst still maintaining it's integrity. 

Short rows do provide us with the means, though. And working through these designs I was able to create the 3D shape - crown and brim, but in particular the crown - by using the colourwork itself. The short rows that create the pattern also create the form. 

To ensure a short piece works it wants to be balanced, which means that it wants to have the same amount of rows for each stitch, otherwise it becomes distorted. Once a balanced fabric is mastered, it can then be carefully and deliberately unbalanced. By omitting rows (or by adding more short rows) at any given point, we can ensure that our fabric has form (in a 3-dimensional sense, not in a "what's it been up to this time?" sense).


The design above is Toph, one of the 5 Elemental Hats. In this shot of the crown you can see how the short row forms, which represent leaves in this case, are used to create the crown. The entire Hat is knit sideways, consists entirely of short rows, without breaking either of the yarns. All of the Elemental Hats are created the same way.

It was quite an engineering challenge to achieve this, and I'm really pleased with the results. I have so many ideas now that I've got this cracked, so many things I want to create!

AuthorWoolly Wormhead