Friday, May 19, 2006

Designing Cuddle Animals - part 2

Yesterday, I started talking about how to design your own cuddle animal. Today, I'd like to move on to Part 2, the actual pattern drafting.

Now I start the actual “pattern drafting”. Knowing the characteristics of knit fabric helps immensely from this point forward:
  • I-cord makes for excellent toes, legs or other skinny appendages.
  • Garter stitch gives texture, no curl and is quite versatile (with short-rowing or other shaping techniques)
  • Stockinette will curl in on the side and roll up on the top and bottom – useful for the edge of an ear or other appendage where you want thickness without doubling the fabric – now, penguins don’t have ears, but I just thought I’d mention the use of SS.It also makes a wonderfully smooth surface that children love to put their check against.
  • Double-knitting if left open on one-side will make a knit-in pocket (perfect for a brood-pouch).
  • Standard short-row heels on socks make a wonderful three-dimensional turning – works great for heads!
  • Even decreases, spread about every third or fourth row, will decrease a round to a nice long, point (great for beaks or other pointy appendages)

I swatched with the size 4s and the off-white as it is easier to count and measure than the black. I got an initial gauge of 16sts and 24 rows over four inches. I estimate how many stitches I’ll need for the body and how big to make the penguin. I’ve decided I’d like him about 12 inches by 15 or 16 inches tall. I add these notes to my sketches. I am just concentrating on the bulk of the animal – the body of the penguin – and will design the appendages later so I can get the dimensions just right.

I like to make my toys almost indestructible – therefore I try to design to be in one piece, with appendages knitted-on as they’re less likely to pull off. I also don’t do button-eyes or added adornments as the children I’ve knitted for end up just pulling them off – ripping the item in the process.

So, now I’m ready to start knitting and designing. In my knitting bag, I’ve got my “design” kit:
  • knitting accessories – stitch markers, blunt-eyed needle, scissors, etc
  • my notebook and pencil – to keep notes; the pencil is to “neatly” erase errors and re-write the directions for what actually worked
  • a three-holed, plastic protector sheet filled with all the images and sketches and notes I’ve taken when researching the penguin
Starting at the bottom, I need to make the feet. For the three-toed feet, I i-cord about an inch, break yarn and start another toe. Once I have all three toes I knit them together and begin to shape a short, stubby foot – but I don’t want this to curl so I add two or three garter edge stitches. When designing from scratch, I just have to knit and rip until I have the foot just the right dimensions. As I knit (and rip), I keep notes.

This is my favorite part of the process because I really feel like a sculptor, molding the knitting to make the shapes out of yarn.

Once I have both feet, I’ll break the black and begin the shaping of the off-white front. As I mentioned, I want a brood pouch for the egg so (after a quick dive into the closet to find a white Easter egg) I measure the length of the egg and make a double-knit pouch in the center of the body that is the right size – not forgetting that knit stretches so I make the pouch just a bit smaller than my actual egg. At the same time, I’m short-row shaping a bit of belly on Captain Cook – that’s what gives him the curved look in the picture.

Once I have the double-knit brood pouch big enough, I stop and begin the back.
I created a short balancing tail in black (but decided I didn’t like it, so I ripped back) and then quickly increased to the width of the off-white front. I continue knitting until the back measures the same as the front – I want to join these two sections as quickly as possible so that I have only one major seam to sew after stuffing. I then work both front and back until I like the size of the penguin. Then I begin to shape for the neck. Even decreases (full-fashioned) on the “seam” lines will create just the curve I want. I’m looking at the knitted penguin constantly to determine if the shaping is right and if I need to slow down or increase to get the right shape.

The whole time I’m making notes of what I’m doing (or erasing what didn’t work). I decide the shoulders are narrowed enough and do a few center decreases to make the neck. I break the off-white and using only black I then make the head – which is no more than shaping the heel of a sock. I prefer the short-row method for a heel as this makes for a nice rounded head. I then pick up all stitches and decrease at a “pleasing” rate to create my long, pointy beak.

This is one of those things you just have to practice with – I think this was the point where I did the most “knit-rip-knit” until I got the beak just right.

I stuff the penguin, even though I’m not quite done yet with all the body parts – after sewing the small gap on one side and tugging in any lose ends. Since the ends will all be inside the toy – I make sure the knots holding the yarn ends together are firm. I’ve found an overhand knot holds better (even after washing many times) than a square knot. To sew up the large opening, I crochet the two pieces together using black – starting at the bottom and ending the slip-stitch about 5 stitches from the neck. This leaves the black yarn up near the shoulder and I can begin the flipper without breaking the yarn. I then pickup about a third of these stitches on dpns and work a garter stitch flipper that starts first as a short-row technique and then shifts to a bias-knitting technique to get the flipper to lay up and away from the body. Knitting on in this way makes a strong bond between the flipper and the penguin body that would be almost impossible for a child to pull off. I repeat this same procedure on the already closed side, so that both sides are identical (except for the infamous “reverse shaping”) As I mentioned before, I like to knit in as few pieces as possible so that not only is it hard to tear or ruin the toy; you’re done with toy when you finish that last appendage!

I design while I knit – much like a painter who doesn’t know exactly what he’s going to paint until he’s finished. I have a basic idea and then help the yarn mold into position. Yarn is a very wonderful medium because of its properties – stable and yet elastic. The more you knit the more you’ll find that a technique you’ve only used for socks can be easily converted to making a penguin head!

Try this technique – it’s not hard and is actually a lot of fun.You can make a child in your life happy with their own, custom-designed cuddle toy that will last for many years!

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