Friday, 30 November 2007

On function and product

Yet another snappy title.

But I've been thinking about the design process over the last couple of days, whilst I continue to plod through these wretched socks - and also about why I choose to knit something. The two are very much interlinked for me. So, a bit of online musing this morning.

First and foremost, if I am going to spend my time knitting something, it absolutely has to be something that I (or the recipient, if it is going to be a gift) will want to wear or use. And it has to look good, of course. Sometimes this means a neutral colour with a flattering shape - sometimes it means that the shape is basic, and the colour or texture of the fabric are what makes it work. But it absolutely has to be something that is going to be used. It has to work.

Form and function, interlinked, both important. Nothing very original there. But I tend to think that function is the more important of the two. If something looks beautiful but isn't practical, or has a small detail that means it doesn't quite work - then it won't get worn. It will sit in the wardrobe and never emerge except to be briefly admired, and then put back. That isn't what I want to achieve, not in my knitting, and not in design either.

If it is going to be worth knitting - if it is going to be worth putting on paper at all - then the functional details have to be right. Socks must not only look good, they must also fit comfortably inside shoes and boots. Pullovers must sit nicely at the neckline, and be comfortable under a jacket or coat. Sleeves must not droop into the gravy, or indeed into the sink, or over the cooker. Scarves must be the right width, with enough length to wrap around properly, and they must lie flat when you want them to.

I've had a couple of sock designs in mind for a little while now - I think I mentioned this, actually. And I've also got a pullover design in Rowan Denim that is mentally taking shape, more on that one another time. But it occurs to me that maybe I am perhaps being too much of a perfectionist, and that I am putting too much focus on detail. Things would certainly go faster if I wasn't quite so picky. And after all, it's still only my own opinion here....

Thinking about the socks as an example in point - the single most comfortable pair of socks that I own are the Solstice Slip socks, which were one of the Blue Moon sock club patterns this year. Dreadful picture, I am aware. But despite appearances, these are extremely pretty socks, and they fit quite wonderfully well.


Incidentally this was not what I expected from this pattern, not at all. I like top down socks, worked with a good traditional heel flap. I've got a nice straightforward pattern all worked out, that fits everyone for whom I knit. It's over there in the sidebar. But these socks are nothing like that. They are worked toe up, with a garter stitch short row toe and heel. And they fit just amazingly well. They are not too tight or too loose anywhere at all and they are just so comfortable with the soft thick toes and heels. So if we're talking about form versus function here, then they score pretty highly on both scales.

However they are not entirely perfect. I wore them yesterday for the first time with my new boots - and while I think of it, the new boots were a significant thing too, because they were bought just a little larger than normal in order to have room for handknit socks. Now there's commitment for you. I've seen and heard of them elsewhere in blogland, and believe me, they are so comfortable that I forget I've got them on. Brilliant boots, really. They work.

Where was I? - right, the socks. The socks have a pretty slip stitch mock cable pattern on them - and the 'cables' are placed so that there just happens to be one running directly up the centre back of the sock, right along the Achilles tendon. And no, that is not very comfortable to wear with ankle boots. So although these are really well fitting socks, I probably won't be reaching for them if I know I'm going to be wearing my boots. Or if I do put them on, then I will twist them round a bit, so that the legs aren't quite straight, they'd be fine then.

But that's exactly the sort of thing that I mean - the little details that make the difference between something that is absolutely right, and something that makes you think to yourself, well, next time I'll change that.

Maybe I am a perfectionist, but after all, our main investment in knitting is our time. And if it's worth spending that time to make something in the first place, then let it be something that is worthwhile, something that works right, that fits well, that will be worn and washed and worn again and again, for years. Because it works.

Not everyone will agree with me, I'm sure. In the perennial debate regarding product and process, it seems that I am a product knitter. Although the process is important - if I don't enjoy the process, then I'm going to have problems continuing with the project (hah, socks) - although the process is important, I've come to realise that for me it is always secondary to the fact that the product will be right, that it will be used.

You know, if someone had asked me before I talked this through, I'm sure I would have said I was a process knitter.


Sock progress, by the way - three and a bit more than half still to go.

1 comment:

Queen of the froggers said...

I am a bit of a process knitter, but the product has to be perfect. I tried not to be like that but have accepted that is the way I am so that is how it shall be!!