Anna Dalvi designs gorgeous, complex lace and textured patterns; not only is she an expert knitter, but she easily cuts through mathematical complexity and shows how you can fearlessly appraoch your favorite stitch motif and create your favorite shawl geometry.
Her new book, Shaping Shawls is available for ore-order from Cooperative Press; she presents not only a collection of patterns for lavish lace shawls (lushly photographed, as shown with black backgrounds) but the tools to understand and create your own designs.
As part of her blog tour, Anna graciously answers our questions about how and why she chose this intriguing book subject.
How did you start knitting lace shawls?
Back in 2007, one of my friends was talking about joining a mystery lace KAL hosted by Pink Lemon Twist, and suggested I knit along with her. I had never tried lace knitting before, and had never heard of a mystery KAL either, but I thought it sounded like fun. Every week for six weeks, we got a new part of the pattern, and I had a blast.
When the KAL ended, I wanted to find another KAL to join, but couldn't. So I decided to design my own shawl instead. Once I had gotten a little bit into the pattern, I thought it would be fun if someone would knit along with me, so I posted an invitation to join my mystery KAL on my blog , thinking that if I could find 20 people who were interested, that would be wonderful.
As it turned out, 1,400+ knitters worldwide signed up to knit Mystic Waters – my very first lace design, and that was the start of my lace knitting.
What made you want to work shawls in different geometric shapes?
When I designed Mystic Waters, I didn't really know anything about shaping lace shawls, but I figured that I wanted to make a triangular shawl. The only way I could think of doing that was to start at the bottom point with a small number of stitches, and then make each row longer. So I increased a stitch at the beginning and end of every right-side row, and built my triangle that way. This is a basic bottom-up construction.
But then I looked at pictures of other triangular lace shawls, and noticed that a lot of them had a column right down the centre. They seemed to be made up of two triangles, knit from the top. I thought I'd like to try and see how that worked, and next thing you know, I had designed Mystic Light with this top-down construction. Geometrically, it was the same as making two bottom-up triangles next to each other, separated by a column of knit stitches in the centre.
After that, I realized that I could put four triangles together and make a square. And so it continued. Every time I designed a new lace shawl, I was exploring a new shape or a new construction, and this is still one of my favourite parts while designing.
How did you come up with your (genius) formula for figuring out lace patterns in a shawl?
In my mind, the shaping of the shawl has always been separate from the lace pattern(s) on the shawl. In the book I talk about the canvas of the shawl, which is the area that needs to be filled with lace designs. Once the shaping is taken care of, the size of the canvas is already determined. This means that the lace designs on the canvas should not change the size of the canvas. This means that aside from the shaping, the stitch-count should stay constant from one row to the next. In other words, each increase needs to have a matching decrease, or else the shape will be affected.
The formula is simply a mathematical way of expressing this concept. But it helps me (and hopefully a lot of other knitters as well) to quickly determine if the pattern is accurate, or if there is an unmatched increase or decrease.
Which shawl shape is trickiest in your opinion?
It's not the resulting shape, so much as the construction itself. Combinations are the trickiest, because they incorporate a number of different concepts. In Shaping Shawls, the trickiest shawl is Mystic Air, since it combines three different construction-techniques.
How come you decided to write this down as a book?
Since this has been my own journey through lace design, I wanted to share my "discoveries" with other knitters. When I was asked to write a book proposal, the topic was already a given in my mind, since I had spent the last several years thinking about design this way. I like the structure of predetermining the shape. As you get more experienced with design, it's certainly possible to play with the rules to achieve wonderful results, but using the shaping rules makes the design process simpler.
I like that you give knitters credit for having curious minds and not being afraid of a little math.
Math is really inherently tied to knitting, and we all use it – from the very basic, like counting our stitches, through calculating our gauge, to the more complex things, like calculating the rate of increase. And while not everyone thinks of it explicitly as "math", it's always there. There is no need to be afraid of math, because we're already using it.
In my experience, a lot of knitters like to "customize" patterns, to make them their own. I think that one of the fabulous things with handmade things is that you have every chance in the world to make it the way YOU want it. Math can help you get there.
Knitters can use your book to design their own shawls with favorite stitch patterns. That really gives them a lot of freedom.
Yes. The book really gives people a template for a number of different shapes, and it's possible to use this for all sorts of original designs.
With the book, I wanted to guide people through my journey of exploring shapes, in the hopes that they take these basic building blocks and run with them. In addition to using these basic shapes and varying the content of the canvas, the shapes can be combined in different ways to create new shapes, and I really hope people play with them. I know I'll keep playing. 🙂
Where can knitters find out more?
Please visit the next stop on Anna's blog tour: Westknits!
And one lucky reader will win a Shaping Shawls e-book; please tell us which of Anna's designs is your favorite, or which shawl shape you're most curious to try, and we'll choose the winner by Random Number Generator on Monday, September 12th.