Monday, July 26, 2010

To be or not to be....Symmetrical

Last week I had dinner with a friend who was asking how my design career was working out. I was telling her that I've been spending part of every day on education. I've been reading knitting techniques articles, blogs and various tutorials as well as looking at different designs areas for inspiration. I just finished a quilting book on design principles with 10 lessons on developing your creativity. I had found the chapter on balance very interesting and was surprised to discover that there are 17 different kinds of symmetry. You can look here for more details.

Understanding these principles could be helpful when designing knitting projects in the Fair Isle, Intarsia or Modular styles. It's an area of expertise common in textile design but not generally covered in knit design. I have found many Knitters to be obsessive about symmetry. Some won't knit shawls and scarves with the scalloped pattern stitches that are offset at the cast-on and bind-off edges. They will instead knit two panels bottom up or top down that are joined at the center back. I remember talking to a friend who had tried to do a Feather and Fan pattern that way and discovered that the ends can't be easily joined at the center due to the offset. She had given up on the project for that reason. She was surprised when I mentioned that my solution to that is to create a "resting" panel at the center. You could do a ribbed section for a scarf or a wide garter stitch section on a shawl. The width of the panel required would have to be tested by swatching.

One of the reasons that I use the crochet cast-on technique on exposed edges is that is visually the same as the standard bind-off and is therefore symmetrical as well. I've used it when making lengthwise scarves as well the more standard version. It can also be used on garments that are knit side to side when they have no separately knit borders.

Asymmetrical designs tend to create strong reactions in the observers. I've always liked that type of design but I know that it disturbs many people. The artistic view is that asymmetry creates visual movement and that symmetry can be visually static. I took a course with Kathryn Alexander many years ago. She does not care if her garments are symmetrical so it was interesting to see how many members of the class reacted negatively to those garments. What do you think is symmetry a must for your garments?


  1. I am not so concerned with symmetry in my garments, as in symmetry in my technique. When I know there is a way to mirror a knit technique, I use it, when there isn't one, I try to figure it out. The inevitable off by one half stitch reality is part of the game though.

    I'm really excited about having found a new way to increase 5 in one stitch for the bottom curve of a ring cable to better balance the decrease in the 3rd treasury of knitting patterns - I haven't taken the pictures yet for a tutorial though.

  2. Thank you Robin, for this interesting topic.
    Actually, I experiment now with asymetrical designs because they are more individual. I don't see such a problem with asymetric colours and patterns but more with shape and silhouette. Asymetrical patterns / colours are much more dynamic, they require full attention to look at, full emotional involvement and also they require some kind of immediate statement - you like it or not. This is what you discovered in the course with Kathyn Alexander.
    I found out in my experiments that it is very dificult for me to find asymetric shape & silhouete for jackets/coats that look good in both situations: worn open or worn closed. Sometimes asymetric shape just looks gorgeous but it is not practical for everyday life.
    Anyhow, I think that creating beauty is not depending on symetrics or asymetrics but having certain sence to balance both.

  3. When I design stitch patterns they inevitably end up symmetric. My brain just goes there. I don't know if it's habit or some sort of inner need, but I suppose it's what I'm comfortable with.

  4. Personally, I find asymetry very attractive. I tend to be drawn to asymetrical designs and elements... as long as there is a visual balance.
    I think that's the trickiest part about designing garments with asymetry... it feels to me as if it still needs to feel balanced in some way. If there are uneven lengths then maybe you play with the color or texture or some other detail...