It is the practice in traditional Fair Isle knitting to place the motifs in a sweater so they fit perfectly into an unbroken circle around the pullover. This requires attention to several details: the size of the motif, the centering of the motif both front and back, and the necessary size of the final sweater. The classic OXO motifs used in banded-style sweaters make the resulting adjustments easy: the designer simply adds or decreases space between the O's and then doodles in an X to fill the space between the O's. Small peerie and border patterns can then be chosen to fit the circumference.
Have you noticed that sizing increments in patterns for Fair Isle designs are often huge? Say, 36", 44", 52"? That's the result of needing to add several motif repetitions to maintain the unbroken patterning and the correct centering of pattern.
This sweater (my own design, and adaptation of a border chart in Celtic Charted Designs by Co Spinhoven) shows how a motif is run unbroken at the underarm.
However, when you begin to work with larger, allover patterns or when you want to include body shaping, the restrictions of the traditional approach no longer work. That's when you need a way to break the design at the side "seams."
I have also noticed that breaking the design at the side "seam" (hey, can I just drop the quotation marks around the word seam? we all know that there is no physical seam at the side of a garment knit in the round) makes the wearer look slimmer. This one observation alone makes adding a new pattern at the seam worthwhile.
Another benefit to adding a seam pattern is that the jog in the pattern is no longer an issue! I mean, if you ever worried about such things.
There are no restrictions to how you add a seam pattern. The simplest approach is to put in some vertical lines:
Northwest Raven, my design
Or add a small pattern between some vertical lines:
Or add a slightly larger pattern:
Or a BIG pattern!:
You can use texture—here is a seam that is simply an extension of the corrugated rib:
No matter how narrow or wide your seam pattern is, you will do all increasing and decreasing to either side of it.
Considerations for planning a side seam pattern
- Do you want the seam pattern to fit the color movement of the design? It doesn't have to.
- To be successful the seam pattern needs to be distinct from the main pattern. Be bold!
- The seam can be your opportunity to build folkloric pattern-on-pattern effects, but you can be simple as well.
- When you are working with an allover design you can choose to leave out a seam pattern alltogether, shaping at the sides and letting your motifs create new patterns as they fall. This is more effective if it is obvious that you are doing this on purpose: for example, if your shaping is strong and regular. Think it through.
- I often add my initials and the date in the side seam; if you want to do this, you need to make the seam pattern wide enough to accommodate your letters and numbers.
- If your garment has sleeves, think about how the side seam patterns will meet at the underarms. Now, mostly I don't worry much about this—I mean, who is looking at your armpits that closely? Remember my $10 rule: If they are looking that closely they should be trying to stuff $10 into your bra! But it offends my sense of balance if, say, the spiders have their heads cut off. Perhaps the "rule" is: The larger the pattern, the more important it is to plan ahead.
- My experience so far is that banded patterns require a simple and bold seam pattern, say, a 3 background color, 3 pattern color, 3 background design color, because the motif and color changes are so different from band to band. A more subtle seam pattern gets lost in the shuffle.
- Another observation: The trickier I try to get the worse the results!
Side seam patterns offer a great opportunity to add personality to your sweaters. They are rarely noticed, so you can feel free to experiment. Have fun!