Unpicking the Stitches | The creative serendipity behind Little Waterfalls

Originally published on 3rd July 2014

Here it is!  My latest design for Knitting Magazine, the Little Waterfalls tunic, is in the August issue.  It is a casual top with coloured stripes worked within a lacy cluster pattern.


The design process for this garment was a serendipitous one.  You’ve heard those stories about designers discovering things by accident, haven’t you?  And these amazing discoveries are ALWAYS something resembling genius?  Yep.  Well, although I can’t claim that Little Waterfalls ascends such lofty heights, something similar happened whilst I was swatching and I wanted to share it with you.

When I received the nautical-themed brief from Knitting, my first thought was of water, not stripes.  I rummaged around in my drawer of blue oddments, pulled out some DK cottons and thought about how I could convey movement within knitted fabric.  After a bit of doodling I decided my first attempt would involve some sharp decreases, as these would be more dramatic than the bog-standard ‘K2tog’ etc.  I settled on double decreases and double yarn-overs, offsetting the pattern to the right by degrees to echo the natural right-hand slope of k3tog.  Here’s how the swatch turned out:


The pattern was sort of doing what I wanted: the path of the stitches looked like trickling rivulets, but it felt a bit blah – and a quick conference call to my mum, ever forthright, confirmed that it was somewhat lacking.  After staring, feeling a bit fed up, and realising that neither of those things were useful, I decided to cast off the swatch and come back later.


I normally begin and end swatches with a few rows of garter stitch.  Practically, this makes them easier to mount; psychologically, a few plain knit rows are a good warm-up.  This swatch was no different, but I couldn’t help noticing that something interesting and unexpected was happening to the stitches as I prepared to cast off:


It looked as though little clusters were forming, and I immediately thought of sea foam…followed by the plungpool at the bottom of a waterfall.  And then my mind raced: my rivulets became waterfalls and I now had no intention of casting off the swatch.

I continued working the same essential pattern, but broke up the smooth waterfall stripe with a ‘plungpool’ of garter stitch each time.  Another decision made on the fly was to change colour after each textured plungpool section: I thought this mimicked the change in colour and texture as water is agitated or impacts something.

I knitted on, and, feeling happier with each row, cast off the swatch for good.  Here’s how it looked – one of the photos is at an angle for perspective and a better idea of the movement I was trying to create:


My final creative decisions were easy: I knew a simple relaxed shape would suit both the brief and let the stitches do the talking, so I went for a boxy tee with minimal shaping and recommended cottons/cotton blends for stitch definition when submitting the design.

A final touch was the bracket the welts with short stripes of reverse stocking stitch, and to deploy a 3-needle cast-off at the shoulder/overarm seam, adding a bit more texture and ease of construction.  Hardly any finishing is needed; you just need to join the side seams.  As I knitted the sample garment, I carried my yarns up the side when not in use, periodically ‘locking in’ each one to the edge using the fairisle weaving technique – so fewer ends to sew in.


And that is how Little Waterfalls was born.  If you knit it, I hope you enjoy.  If not, I hope you enjoyed reading this.