Nancy Roberts is the owner of Machine Knitting to Dye For in Albany, CA and one of the wonderful friends I’ve made through my years of teaching and traveling. Her work is always colorful, innovative and inspiring so if you ever get a chance to take a class with her, don’t hesitate for a minute!

Nancy sells machine knitting equipment, teaches classes and designs patterns for machine knitters.  She recently published her Wave Theory Cardigan Pattern and I asked her to describe her design process.

Sweater Design Inspiration

Cardigan with stitch variation #1

I draw inspiration for sweater designs from a variety of sources.  I’m always taking photos of patterns in nature and in art.  I scour fashion magazines and advertising brochures for interesting ready wear sweater shapes.   I also convert hand knitting and sewing patterns to machine knitting patterns.

One of my best sources for inspiration are old machine knitting books and magazines.   I know the sweater designs can look dated.  We may not want to wear the oversized sweaters of the 80’s and 90’s, and puffed sleeves seem vintage in the current era.  Garish color choices can mask an otherwise promising design.  But buried in those patterns are great techniques and styles that can be easily updated with some creative alteration.  I also sift through these old publications for interesting stitch patterns.

The Wave Theory Cardigan Journey

This is the version featured in the pattern.

On one of my inspiration expeditions, I found a novel, undulating tuck stitch pattern that used alternating thick and thin yarns.   The purl-side facing fabric looked like garter stitch, but no garter carriage or garter bar was used.  The magazine was a 1998 issue of Machine Knitting News out of the UK.  The oversized garment was knit bottom to top.   I made a swatch and preferred the way the pattern swayed when draped side-to-side.   I tried it out on a cardigan and loved the results.  

I posted my sweater on the Machine Knitting group on Facebook and kind admirers requested the pattern.  Sensitive to copyright issues, I didn’t want to publish the stitch pattern without permission, even though my finished garment was very different from the original design I had seen.  At Susan G’s suggestion, I wrote to Anne Smith who had been the publisher of Machine Knitting News (now Machine Knitting Monthly).  She generously offered to research the designer in the hopes of getting me the permission I sought.  

That became more of a challenge than she had thought and, in the interim, I decided to create and test my own stitch pattern designs using alternating thick and thin yarns with the tuck stitch technique.  I tried a few variations, but some proved a little more difficult because there were areas where tuck stitches were held for 6 rows, unlike the original, which never went more than 4 rows.  I was able to knit it (see variation 1), but when a test knitter tried it on her machine, she struggled.  In variation 2, I kept the tucks to 4 rows so it was easier to knit, but I didn’t care for the angled look.  I wanted to maintain the undulation that I found so attractive in the original stitch pattern.

Variation #1 (left) and #2 (right)

I had almost given up on publishing the pattern, when some 10 months later I heard from Anne Smith who had obtained the permission for me to use the original stitch pattern.   I graded the pattern for four different sizes and had four knitters from my machine knitting guild test it for clarity and errors.  

The body and set-in sleeves are knit side-to-side. The fronts and back of the body are knit in one continuous piece. Short rows on the bottom section of the body piece create an A-line shape. The bottom edge naturally forms a decorative lettuce curl by virtue of the tuck stitch pattern. The stitch pattern is a 24-stitch repeat and is suitable for both punch card and electronic standard bed machines. No ribber or garter carriage was used.

The pattern is now available from my website