Extra Credit: Planning a more complex color design

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I just love to settle down with a cup of hot cocoa, surrounded by pattern books and with a nice fresh pad of graph paper, and plan out a color chart for a new project! The book of charts shown in the photo is Alice Starmore's Fair Isle Knitting, which has hundreds of charts you can use, as well as chapters on choosing and trying out color combinations. The chart I give you for the complex pattern was made by piecing together two of Starmore's patterns, a 17-row design with a simple 3-row design above and below it. The heavy lines on the chart shows where the patterns are fitted together.

If you want to try a chart of your own, find a book of patterns and draw some out. For simple geometric designs like these Fair Isle patterns, plain square-grid graph paper works perfectly, though it might not give you the precise row gauge. Knitter's graph paper--which has "squares" that are wider than high, the same shape as knitting stitches--is useful for pictorial patterns where the exact shapes of objects is important. I have printable versions of both types of graph paper on my own website at http://www.users.cts.com/crash/j/jgibson/knitting/tidbits.htm.

The first problem you'll need to solve in designing a sock using a complicated pattern is that the repeat of the pattern is large, while the number of stitches you need for the sock leg is relatively small. You won't have a lot of leeway in how to fit the design. Generally a complex pattern has conspicuous motifs that you'll want to place precisely on your sock. For example, you might want to center your motif on the front of the leg, and let the ends wrap around to the back seam. This will take some careful planning.

If your pattern fits exactly into your number of stitches

Lesson One has shown you how to calculate the approximate number of stitches you'll need for your sock leg. If your chart repeat goes exactly into that number, your design will work out perfectly around the leg of the sock. It will start at the right of the chart on the back of the leg on the sock and will repeat around the leg, ending precisely at the back seam again. Be warned that at this back seam there will be a color jog that will show in the sock. I'll give you one trick here for solving that problem, but will go into it more in Lesson Two.
Our chart pattern has a 12-stitch repeat. In the chart above, what shows is a large X, but what I chose to center on the front and sides of my sample sock is the cross in the space between the X's. The center of this cross is in the first column on the right. My sample is in Woolease, a fairly thick yarn, and the gauge allowed for four repeats around my leg. This puts a cross at the back, the two sides, and precisely on the front of the sock.

If I had done the sock in a finer yarn, say a sock yarn with 60 stitches around the leg, the number of repeats would have been an odd number (5) and the cross would not land on the front of the leg where I wanted it. To force it to center on the front, I'd have to start the pattern at the center of the X instead of the center of the cross, so that there's a half pattern on each side of the back of the leg.

I've marked both of these starting points on the chart. If you have an even number of repeats, start at the right side, above the arrow marked "even." If you have an odd number of repeats, start at the center, above the arrow marked "odd." By the way, I'm using the word "seam," but I'm not talking about a sewn seam here. I mean the line up the back of the leg where the round begins.

How to fudge if your pattern doesn't fit exactly

A neat trick for adding a few stitches to a circular design, or for hiding the fact that the patterns don't quite work out to a perfect repeat, is to add a vertical pattern down the rear seam. This trick will also disguise the circular jog and can prevent pattern distortion in knee socks by giving a logical place for the decreases from the calf down to the ankle. I learned this one from Nancy Bush's wonderful book Folk Socks. She uses it often in other published patterns.

I've added four stitches to my circumference (giving me a total of 52 stitches for the sock) by replacing the first stitch of the repeat pattern (in the first repeat only--at the back seam) by the five-stitch seam pattern shown in the chart. A heavy line on the chart marks the first column that was deleted to allow for the seam pattern. (I altered the seam chart a bit after I finished my sample, since I didn't like the way the lower edge looked.)

In the photo of the two back seams, you can see the jog showing up in the exact repeat. The arms of the cross are mis-aligned. This also shows in the one with the seam pattern if you know to look for it, but is much less obvious.

Since this pattern was so heavy I decided to make the whole foot plain. the pattern might have fit around the foot, or I could have chosen to use a few bands of a simpler pattern just to make the foot more interesting. This is up to you, the designer!

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