Designing a jacquard

Like probably any knitter, I started knitting with little square projects: scarves & blanket squares.  I then ventured into slightly shaped squares, such as beanies; then on to baby jumpers for friends; then onto jumpers for myself.

I haven’t made many jumpers for myself, but they do have a lot of variation!  I started with a cable knit.  That wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated, so I thought I’d try a jacquard (a picture knitted in) from a book.  That was nice & repetitive.  One of those ski bunny type ones.  It took many hours, but once you got to know the pattern repetition you could switch off a little as you went along & multitask something else into the evening.  By the time I finished that I had decided I needed my projects to be more individual if I was going to make something by hand, & I did the jumper that turned me on to commercial knitwear: the Tex Perkins jumper, or the tex-vest as I fondly think of it.I’m not much of a groupie, but Tex does cut a handsome silhouette, & I do generally like his style, & a memory of a great poster I saw advertising a gig of his (probably from a decade ago) seemed like the perfect place to start my project.  I really had to hunt for the poster, but I found it eventually (although, credit: unknown).

Tex Perkins promo → pixelated grided design to work from → vest front (minus one shoulder)

The steps involved in taking a design I liked & putting it into knit were:

  1. identifying the design I wanted (in this case hoping copyright isn’t an issue for a one-off hand-made jumper made for myself) – something simple colour-wise,
  2. using Photoshop, adjusting the image to the size of the jumper ie. as many pixels across the picture as there are stitches across the jumper.  Also, adjust the ratio of width:height to suit your stitch ratio ie. if the stitch is longer than it is wide, then you will need to shorted the height of the image accordingly for it to come out looking proportionate,
  3. reducing the image to as many colours as there are yarn colours (in this case, 4).  I also made sure I was only knitting in two colours at any time (one colour knitted in front & only one looped behind at any time, so the thickness of the jumper was consistent),
  4. adjusting parts of the image so that the components looked okay eg. I adjusted the foliage to what pleased my eye at that scale; added in clouds so to add another colour to soften the look of the knit a little; added some birds to put some black in the right shoulder, etc.,
  5. added in a visible grid per stitch, with a bolder grid per 10 stitches to make for easy counting,
  6. printed the image out so I could keep it with the knitting,
  7. got knitting.

The reasons the tex-vest put me on to commercial knitwear are a few:

  • It was a fun project & I wanted more!;
  • I knitted it in 8 ply for ease, my sanity, & because I found some simply beautiful wool/silk yarn I couldn’t do without that was 8 ply – but because the yarn’s thicker you get jaggered edges on the image & it looks pretty clunky – while on a commercial knitting machine, you can get a pretty smooth curve on a line if you use a fine yarn & it’s a much superior outcome picture-wise;
  • when you hand knit it you have all the free loops of the colour you’re not using at the time on the back surface, while on a machine you can neatly tidy them away by knitting a double thickness using the back bed of the machine (on the right kind of machine);
  • you never have to see another repetitive knit again – the machine couldn’t care less if it’s a repeated snowflake design or a freehand squiggle of a castle in the hills, so the skies are the limit when it comes to your imagination (except for the number of colours your imagination can play with).  The tex-vest was a major ordeal to knit, as 100% of my attention was needed for it due to the lack of repetition, & no multitasking could be done – which is not how I like to knit.  I only knit in winter, & I think it took me 3 winters to finish the project!;
  • or, in summary, I might be a little OCD.

There was only one way to go from the tex-vest to achieve satisfaction – get my computer talking to a knitting machine & think up something bigger & better.

Little Frock of Sheep jacquards:

The tex-vest graphic I created to work from is a very similar file to what I need to create to provide to a professional knit technician for Little Frock of Sheep projects – everything but the grid.  You can create the picture from anything really.  Here are two from Little Frock of Sheep’s Appalachian range:

From a hand drawn picture of a koi fish, drawn specifically for the range.
From a photograph, taken while on a hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2012.

If you are planning on creating your own jacquard, it certainly helps to be handy with a computer, & have either Photoshop, or GIMP (which is an excellent & yet free package very similar to Photoshop), but otherwise, a piece of gridded paper will do the job nicely too!  I remember my mum making me a jumper when I was a kid from a snowflake design I jotted down on graph paper, which turned out a treat.  It’s certainly worth the time making up your own design in my opinion: if you are going to spend the time knitting your own jumper, you may as well make it completely unique.

If you’ve got a fun project on the go, I’d love to hear about it!

Happy knitting :)