This design has a special place in my heart. It was partly inspired by my favourite handknit designer, Kim Hargreaves, because a detail in one of her designs made a huge contribution to the success of this poncho.
First, let’s go back to 2009, when I was savouring my brand new copy of Precious (now out of print, sadly). One of several earmarked designs was the Kat hat, knitted in Rowan Kid Classic, and I knitted quite a few of these! It really doesn’t matter how many. (Really, it doesn’t.) But the reason I enjoyed making this hat so much was the shaping detail: the incredible shrinking cables as you approached the crown. It was so clever! I’d never seen anything like it before. And the same style of cable was use effectively in designs like Nat and Dusty to create shaping.
If you must know, I kept three knitted Kats for myself. Here they are in teal, blue and pink (excuse the indoor lighting). I may or may not make another in Victoria plum purple…
Fast forward six-and-a-half years later, when I was thinking about Project Poncho for Knitting magazine. Although easy to wear and blessed with the ability to transform into portable blankets, ponchos can be a design challenge. The yarn choice was easy: something chunky but lofty was the ticket. A quick trip to Sharp Works, my LYS – local yarn shop, for any uninitiated readers 🙂 – and I had a ball or two of Wendy Aspire. It cried out for cables and texture, so I gave in. No, the biggest hurdle was creating something that was one size, hadn’t been seen too many times before and was capable of suiting many people.
It was easier to think of the technical ways of solving this problem: that way, having established what could and could not be done well, I could turn back to the artistic elements of design. I began by thinking about dressmaking and whether I could borrow anything useful from that.
There are a few ways of dealing with darts when you’re designing with woven fabrics, and when it comes to fitting garments it is much easier if darts are taken into seams, as with princess styles or gored skirts. That way, you can distribute the volume of the dart amongst the seams and achieve a good fit by pinning to the figure wherever needed. On the other hand, a classic dart would have to be adjusted or redrawn for different figures.
Second, panelled designs like princess styles or gored skirts are often flattering because of the vertical lines. I knew that I’d have to stick to panels of texture if I was going to create a gored shape within the poncho design. I also realised that no matter how many panels I created, the space between each one wouldn’t be enough to accommodate the shaping. The panels themselves would have to be adaptable.
AND THEN I REMEMBERED THE KAT HAT!
It had to be worth a shout. I’d chosen two of my favourite classic stitch patterns: a cabled plait and horseshoe (or fishtail – the difference escapes me right now) lace. Here’s swatch number 1:
I was happy to see that the shaping technique worked as well on the lace as it did on the cables; equally inconspicuous. There was just one niggle though: as it stood there and then, I thought that the panels looked, well, a little bit…boring. I have a vague sense that some folk reading this will see what I mean; others will wonder what on earth I’m going on about! It’s to do with the movement of the pattern and how it lures your eye around the swatch. The cable plait pulls your eye downwards; the lace panel entices it up to the double decrease at the centre. I felt that this worked, but something else was needed to liven things up and create more definition.
EUREKA MOMENT #2: RICKRACK STITCH!
Instinctively, this felt perfect. The little stitches rapidly zigzagging left and right would do the trick. I had just enough yarn left for another swatch if I knitted it straight, without shaping, which I’d already seen was successful. This is what I got:
The little rickrack columns set off the larger panels beautifully. I was happy. It was also pleasing to see the little flounce developing at the bottom edge, caused by the inclination of the cable and lace panels. I usually give my swatches a garter stitch border by default, but decided to make this a feature of the final design by increasing the amount of rows worked. One sketch later and it was winging its way to Knitting HQ.
The knitting up was pretty straightforward, although I paid close attention to the shoulder shaping to create a curve that fitted most sizes neatly and created freedom of movement. The fundamentally ribbed fabric helped too, creating ease and snugness wherever needed. More panel shaping, you see. You don’t get that kind of stretchy magic with woven fabrics! And here’s the flounce at the bottom edge. You can see it on the main picture to some extent, but it works very well with the overall shape of the poncho. It almost looks like a bell, and as if the cabled plaits are unravelling slowly as they head towards the bottom edge.
And now fast forward six-and-a-half months later, for the Kim poncho was in the post before April was out and only found its way back to me a week or two ago. It is funny how something you made so long ago can pop back into your life when you least expect it. In some ways, that’s the story of this design. Thank you, Kim, for being unforgettable.