Putting It In Reverse

So I did a little more swatching the other night, playing with Wings of the Swan.

That’s only one repeat (right on top of the existing Flame Chevron swatch – see, I’m putting off the frogging), so the shape of the pattern isn’t even established yet, and already I can tell. On the one hand, it is more nearly what I had in mind, but on the other it’s way too busy. Too much eyelet action in the middle. Want more stockinette; I trust this yarn, and I’m not afraid to let it strut its stuff in naked knit.

That’s OK. I just happen to have encountered this same issue with this same pattern stitch, back when I was developing the front panel for Swan Lake, and as it happens I came up with a number of possible modifications to play with.

That’s the original pattern at upper left; the other three are my variations.

I have options. For once I’m totally focused on the visual rather than the thematic – I don’t care if the pattern loses its swan-ness altogether, as long as it looks the way I want it to. (Yeah, it’s my dirty little secret; this is what I do on my day off – design things for show instead of substance!)

Here – it’s a little easier to see the different effects if you hold it farther away from you:

At the moment I’m sort of leaning toward the one at lower left – but we shall see.

Meanwhile, though, I’ve been thinking over this reversibility thing. I’m free of it, for the moment and for this particular project, because a cowl has a definite inside and a definite outside. But reversibility is a grand thing in a patterned scarf, and I don’t see it happening in interesting ways as often as I’d like.

You can do reversible cables, of course, by replacing each stitch of each cable with 1×1 rib, and that can be a very cool effect. And you can get a number of really nice reversible textured effects with simple knit/purl combinations – basket-weave patterns, that sort of thing.

Lace, though – lace often presents a challenge. Not if it’s garter-based – the Moebius I did for Lauren, for instance, was all garter-based and entirely reversible. Or rather, being a Moebius, auto-reversed. Ahem. And the other auto-reversed Moebius, the Percupone – that stitch isn’t garter, as such, but alternating reversed repeats, in stockinette and reverse stockinette. So equally reversible.

A lot of stockinette-based laces, the kind with alternating neutral rows, can be garterized by knitting instead of purling the WS rows. This works better for some than for others, of course. It’d probably look lousy in the above Wings of the Swan, or in any of those flat Flemish patterns where the stockinette fabric doesn’t change angles because the decreases are right next to the YOs. And it wouldn’t work in any lace where the knit/purl texture serves a specific sculptural purpose – like The Cloisters, for instance.

But in a lot of airier patterns it makes no difference at all except for supplying reversibility.

Flame Chevron, though – again, not one of them. Here’s a link to a picture of it in its original form. Imagine that garterized. Awful.

So the answer for that one, I thought, was to put the alternating/staggered flames into reverse stockinette, so it wouldn’t interfere with the flow and shaping of the pattern. It adds texture and depth, which wasn’t what I wanted this time, but can be a great effect in the right context.

I was going to put up a chart for what I did in the original swatch – in fact, I am going to put up a chart for what I did in the original swatch. But I don’t recommend using it. I’m also going to put up a chart for what I shouldhave done in the original swatch, and what I would have done if I’d decided to use that pattern for the project.

Here’s a chart for the original stitch; I’ve drawn two instances, with the 4 framing stitches Barbara Walker uses, and the repeat is marked by the blue dotted lines.

It’s a pretty simple pattern to work. The decreases are stacked and the YOs travel – one way in the first half, and then in the other, they REE-verse track, go the other way back. From staggered positions. And that distance between the increases and decreases is what makes the plain part of the pattern lean in one direction or the other – always toward the nearest decrease.

Now, here is what I did in my swatch the other day.

(Of course the alternating rows change too – instead of being all purled the stitches are all worked as they lie, and the YOs are knitted in the first half.)

What is wrong with this picture?

Nothing, on the face of it. It balances out the pattern into stockinette and reverse stockinette, preserves all the traveling directions, and makes a fabric that is near as never-mind to perfectly reversible. And as some of you kindly remarked, it looked pretty cool.

Really, there’s only one problem with it. It is unnecessarily awkward to work. In fact… it’s a pain in the ass.

Here’s why.

Look at the chart for the original pattern stitch.

See how the stack of decreases in the first half is all ssks and in the second half it’s all k2togs?

Now look at the reversible version. The ssks are preserved as written, but the k2togs are replaced with a purled decrease. I didn’t bother keying these charts for purposes of this bloggy chitchat, but you can just take my word for it that in this context that purled decrease happens to be a particularly nasty one. It’s a doubly-twisted p2tog-b – that is, to make it match the ssk correctly on the other side you have to re-mount each of the two stitches individually and THEN purl them together through the back loop.

Furthermore, even on the other side – a ssk isn’t horrible but it is more awkward and less natural to work than a k2tog, and no matter how carefully you work it it never looks quite as neat.


And pfui.

If it were the only way to achieve the desired effect, you’d put up with all this and it’d be fine. But in this case you have to have a total martyrdom complex to do it this way when there is an easy and elegant alternative.

REE-verse track –
Go the other way back!

Check it out.

To all intents and purposes this accomplishes the exact same thing. OK, so the sections are flipped, but does that matter? I say it does not. This version will look cleaner and it will be a lot less frustrating to work. In the stockinette portion the decreases are all k2togs. In the reverse stockinette portion – again, I didn’t bother keying, but the purled decrease is a simple p2tog.

(Disclaimer: I haven’t yet had a chance to work it this way. So I may have the decrease stacks flipped, or something, though I don’t think so; anyway I don’t guarantee the chart. But I’m 100% sure the principle is right.)

I love this sort of thing. It’s such a simple and obvious change to make… once you realize it’s needed. Makes no appreciable difference to the product, but makes such an enormous difference to the process. But it would never have occurred to me to anticipate it (though it will from here on out) – not until I was knitting it and realizing it the hard way.

Hmmm. I wonder if you could translate it… into Moebius. sigh Now there’s something I wish I hadn’t thought of. Makes the mind… reel.