But first – before I delve into the mysteries of eleventy-tween and thirdo-grenfteenty – you might want to swing by Cassie’s blog and give her some last-minute birthday love. Go ahead – I’ll wait here. (Incidentally, that of course is who this was for, and she got it just in time for this nasty cold spell we’re having. Note to self: go hunt up FO pictures and post them soon.)
So anyway. I had hoped that tonight I would be doing the full reveal, and announcing the shipment, of “Fearful Symmetry.” But am I? For my sins – no. It won’t be long now, though. The pattern has been tested and the files are finished and uploaded – all except the re-compilation of the Techniques Book material, which I’ll finish tomorrow, effectively releasing me from the last of this spell of Pattern Purdah. And at Jen’s end? well, let me put it this way. Here’s what I have learned by experience about specifying hand-painted colorways: when we reach the stage where Jen calls me up and says, “OK, now listen up, you: the next Tsock you design had better be a polar bear in a blizzard,” you can be pretty sure that the worst is over and the home stretch in sight.
The chief hold-up at my end was, as so often happens, a numbers game. You know how they say you can’t see the forest for the trees? I seem to have had the opposite problem; the forest was beautifully and clearly visible, but individual trees kept sneaking out of position when I wasn’t looking. The sock worked. Everything about it worked. And it made sense on paper. But in one big crucial area the two didn’t actually… match. The knitting came out right. The directions reflected the chart; the chart, stitch for stitch, reflected everything I actually did. And yet the numbers refused to add up. I kept going back to Square One. I counted forward; I counted back. I counted up; I counted down. And every time I came to the same inevitable conclusion: there were stitches in the sock that were not present in the chart – and yet, and yet, and yet… nothing was actually missing from the chart!
Or… maybe it was the other way round. I swear, sometimes it seemed to be both at the same time.
I nailed it down at last, of course, and there was a fair amount of facepalm action after that, not to mention way too much continued puzzlement, because it turns out that there are some mental leaps I’m just not so good at making.
Here’s the culprit:
That is the generic symbol I use for charting multiple YOs – sometimes I stretch it way out like that and sometimes not, depending on context, but it’s always basically the same code-sign, and how you read it is determined in the chart key.
Sometimes it’s perfectly innocuous. In fact, there is one such instance in this tsock:
That’s Row 1 of the Pawprint chart, and for clarity’s sake I’ve also put in Row 2, which doesn’t ordinarily appear on the chart. See what happens here? There’s a triple YO in the first row, and it’s counterbalanced by a k2tog on one side and a left-leaning double-decrease on the other, so three stitches are eliminated and three stitches are added, and the seven-stitch count comes out even. (Well… as even as an odd number can get.) Which you can tell clearly from the seven neutral stitches of R2. (Ooops – that middle stitch should actually be purled. I’m too tired to go back to the drawing now; pretend I didn’t forget. It’s correct in the pattern, I promise.)
But what happens when the stitch count doesn’t stay even?
That’s when you encounter the Catch-22 of charting.
The Holy Grail of the knitting chart is to achieve a graphical representation of the pattern that simultaneously conveys clear and accurate instructions AND actually looks like the finished design. The problem is that occasionally these goals are at cross-purposes. Take, for instance, the Tiger’s face.
Yeah, the Tiger does have a face, and said face is loosely based on an old traditional knitting pattern – Tiger Eye lace, as seen in one of my favorite go-to sources, BGW II. The original repeats vertically, stacking one tiger face on top of another. I only wanted one face, so I broke out an individual instance and made some alterations to its contours, giving it more height and a narrower nose and some shaping on the top of the head, but retaining its salient feature: an eye(let) composed of a quadruple YO.
That quadruple YO blithely throws the whole count out of whack. There are no counterbalancing decreases in the same row; instead the stitch count is gradually restored over the course of the next 8 rows, through the judicious use of double decreases. So on top of the quadruple eyelet are four new stitches that simply were not there before.
There is no one right way to chart that.
Here is my first chart of the original pattern stitch, as written (but with a couple of repeats added):
The good news is that every stitch is present and accounted for. The bad news is that the addition of eight stitches in one spot throws the contours out of whack. So this method of charting meets one of the goals: it communicates the instructions needed to work the pattern. But does it look like the knitted picture? Nuh-uh. FAIL. It looks way out of whack, and not just any old kind of out-of-whack either, but an out-of-whack-ness that negates the strongest visual feature of the pattern at that point, the double vertical lines at the edges. If you have great faith in the power of the symbol on the page, knitting from this chart will give you the correct sequence of stitches in the right places. But what you are knitting does not look much like what you are knitting from. That’s disconcerting for a lot of people, and it defeats part of the purpose of charting. It’s Not. Good. Enough.
Enter Approach #2:
Believe it or not, this is almost the same chart. Not exactly, because at this point I was beginning to experiment with alterations – for instance, this version adds only two stitches per eye instead of four. But close enough.
So what’s going on here? Basically the same thing, except that I’ve used the X symbol for “no stitch” to pad out the places that were distorted in the previous chart, with the result that the contour of the chart is a lot more similar to the contour of the knitted pattern.
I hate it.
It’s a great example of X Abuse. “No stitch” can be a really handy little device, but there has got to be some sort of threshold for its use. I can’t tell you the exact formula for how many X’s are too many – but I can certainly tell you that in my opinion this chart violates it left, right and center. It sort of meets the second charting goal in that it does resemble the knitted shape, and it meets part of the first in that it does communicate the sequence of stitches. But is it clear? Sure, if by “clear” you mean “impenetrable as pea soup.”
Ugly. Bad. Confusing. Sloppy. And otherwise no good.
Here’s a fragment of another attempt, reflecting part of a different set of modifications to the pattern itself (the four YOs are restored but we’re down to a single instance instead of a stack):
Urg. At least this does roughly follow the shape of the knitted pattern… but half of those stitches don’t exist! And those non-existent stitches shove the vertical lines way out of true with the jawline. A great big waste of space, if you ask me. (And you didn’t, but I’m telling you anyway.)
There is a solution, and it too is something I learned from Barbara Walker – she uses it in some of the embossed figures in her Charted Knitting Designs (I think this is now published as #3 in the Treasury series, or is it #4? I can never remember), and I’ve used it myself on a small scale in the grapes pattern for Vintage. It goes something like this:
This works. It looks like the knitting (see the neat confluence of the vertical and diagonal lines?) AND it conveys the information, and it isn’t cluttered with nasty non-existent X stitches.
But… it still isn’t right. Because there should actually be TWO knit stitches on either side of the multiple YO. I’m sorry, I’ve just realized that in the course of many edits I destroyed part of the evidence of this stage of the proceedings, and I’m not sure I can reconstruct it exactly, so what you’re looking at now doesn’t perfectly reflect the dilemma as I experienced it. Suffice it to say that just when I thought I had finally arrived at the solution to the problem… that was when I began to doubt my ability to count higher than 10 even if I took off my socks. Because no matter what I did, at this point, I still had to distort the chart slightly for that one extra stitch, and then when I did so I just couldn’t make the number of stitches in the chart agree with the number of stitches in the sock.
It’s obvious, right? It’s screamingly, glaringly obvious? and the only dunce who couldn’t see it was the one staring right at it, counting and counting and re-counting, for all those hours? the one who kept being thrown off by the fact that for charting purposes a double decrease is the same width as a single decrease, even though it eats up more yarn real estate; the one who kept trying to figure out whether a quadruple decrease is ONE stitch or FOUR stitches or neither or both; the one not listening when reason whispered, “Step AWAY from the chart and stop obsessing over it for a while.”
Or maybe it’s only obvious to me now that I’ve figured it out. I just don’t know any more.
Anyway, it’s here. This…
… should actually be this:
– and the reason it is right and necessary is that even after you shrink this…
…down to this…
you have to deal with the fact that even though you’re no longer showing all four stitches of the increase you have still ADDED ONE stitch to the overall displacement of the charted row. The “2″ in the increase row is the only way to show that without blowing the contour of the figure.
It’s a funny thing, but somehow it gets a whole lot easier to see which way you’re going when you finally stop chasing your own tail. (The Tiger has one of those, too.)
And when you realize that occasionally even Real numbers can be more imaginary than integer. I’m here to tell you, sometimes four really IS equal to triggo-threenty.
At least, for really really really high values of four.