guest feature: andrea rangel

[Giveaway update: The winner of two skeins of Finch and a copy of AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary is Amy J!

Amy commented:

"My favorite colorwork are hats, followed closely by sweaters (colorwork on the hems)."

Mittens also seemed to be pretty high on everyone's list for great colorwork. We're inspired to try out some of Andrea's motifs on our own stranded projects.

Thanks again to everyone who stopped by to read about AlterKnit and enter our giveaway—happy knitting!]

Today on the Quince blog, we feature Andrea Rangel, knitter, designer and author of the book AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary, published by Interweave. Andrea chose our little bird Finch for the swatches of the unique and wonderful stitch motifs that burst from each page of the book.

We hope you enjoy reading about AlterKnit—a truly inspiring body of work, and a must for every colorwork knitter's library. Read on—and don't miss the giveaway news, as well!

the story of the swatches

AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary is a book with two hundred stranded colorwork motifs, five original projects, and technical info and tutorials on how stranded knitting works. It was created by me and my husband Sean, as a project that drew from our strengths. Sean has a background in fine art, and he designed all 200 of the motifs, created the charts, and named each one. Since I’m a professional knitting pattern designer, I did all the knitting, project design and technical writing. We chose the motifs and colors together, and here’s the story of how we worked.

At the beginning of the project, I needed to choose a yarn for the book’s two hundred swatches. I knew I’d want to use the same yarn for all of the swatches because I wanted a coherent look that would be classy and stand the test of time, but also be fun to look at. It was important that I pick a yarn I would be happy to work with a whole lot since I’d be making so very many swatches. My first few swatch trials were made with a tweedy, woolen spun yarn, which is pretty classic for traditional stranded colorwork. But I immediately realized that even though woolen spun yarns are wonderful for colorwork because they bloom and hide imperfections in tension, I wanted something crisper for the book.

My goal was to create a visual experience that was unexpected and modern. So I decided to try a smooth worsted spun yarn with a matte color palette. I’ve used and loved Quince and Co. yarns before, so it didn’t take me long to settle on Finch as the perfect yarn for the book. It’s a fingering weight 100% USA-made wool that’s plied, smooth, and balanced. The colors are saturated and vivid, but not complex, which meant they would stand out strongly against each other. The relatively light weight of the yarn (fingering) meant that I could show off a few repeats of each motif in every swatch so knitters could see what the all-over repeated pattern would be like. And I know Finch is delightful to knit with, so I’d enjoy the process.

Once I had decided on the yarn base I would use, the next step was to choose colors. It was important to have about an equal number of light and dark colors so that the book would be visually balanced with colors that showed off the patterns with strong contrasts. My initial instinct was to have a monochrome palette in order to put all of the attention on the designs of the motifs, so that each section would be a different color with a dark and light version of the same color (like light and dark blue for the geometric patterns and light and dark pink for the animal motifs). But I’m glad my acquisitions editor suggested we try something a little more colorful. 

I cut up my Quince wool color card so that I could mix and match the colors, and came up with several different palettes that I thought could be right. Because Sean has a great eye for color, he helped me add and subtract colors, both of us trying to visualize how the project would look in each palette. We narrowed it down to a few palette options, but I realized that I wasn’t actually that excited about any of them. So instead of thinking about what I thought was best for the project, I picked all the colors that I just liked the best. With a few modifications, that’s the palette we ended up with. I’m not sure that just picking my favorites is always going to be the best policy, but I’m really happy with how it worked out this time.

My yarn order contained eighty skeins of Finch, which I’ll admit, was both a delight and terrifying since I knew I would get to/have to knit up all that yarn! In order to decide how much of each color we should order, Sean and I had, in a very intense spreadsheet, assigned a color scheme to all of the motifs I was planning on creating. Sean had already designed all the charts when we started this process, so we had a very solid plan. Over a period of about six months I knit up all but a few of those eighty skeins, making far more than two hundred swatches. (We wanted to include only the best motifs, so a lot of them were omitted even after I had knit them.)

In order to make the swatches look like part of a collection, I made them all exactly the same size (with the exception of Alpha Numeric, which needed more space to show all the letters). Each swatch is 57 stitches wide, knit in the round, with a few stitches each round for garter borders and three steek stitches, which I would cut up the middle. I wasn’t at all worried about cutting my swatches and did it without any kind of reinforcement even though Finch is a smooth yarn, and I didn’t have any problems with unraveling. Having a standardized process meant that every day I would look at my spreadsheet to see which swatch was up next, grab its assigned colors, and cast on the same way I had done numerous times before. I’d then add the finished swatch the pile, and when I had a bunch of swatches done, I’d cut them one by one and put them all in the sink to soak together. Then I pinned each one so that it would lay flat with neat edges. 


Once they were dry, they would be added to ever-growing piles. We reviewed all the swatches a number of times to be sure we both liked every one. If one of us wasn’t excited about a motif, it would be put aside. We never had to veto each other because we only wanted the best and figured that if we didn’t both love a motif, it wasn’t one of the best. So when we were finished and sent in all the finished swatches and project samples, we were confident in everything that would be in the book.

Holding the finished AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary our my hands and seeing all that work expressed so beautifully was a pretty exciting moment. It's been amazing seeing such a positive response to the book, but Sean and I are mostly delighted that we made a book together. We hope you love it!

You can get AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary from Interweave or Amazon, or better yet, ask your local yarn shop to carry it! You can learn more about the book on my website and follow me on Instagram @andreaRangelknits. If you make anything from AlterKnit, use #alterknitstitchdictionary so we can follow along.

Happy Knitting!
Andrea & Sean

Thanks so much, Andrea—we found your process fascinating, and a bit humbling, to be honest. That is a lot of swatching and a beautifully organized way of approaching a project of this magnitude. Our knitted hats off to you and Sean!

giveaway time!

From now through midnight ET, December 10th, 2017, we're hosting a giveaway! To enter:

Leave a comment here sharing your favorite type of colorwork project—hats? Mittens? Sweaters with gorgeous yokes and trims? (Need some inspiration? Check out our pattern archives!)

One randomly chosen winner will win a copy of AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary, and two skeins of Finch in their choice of colors to swatch with. We'll announce the winner with an update to this post next week!

Good luck—we can't wait to hear from you!

Giveaway fine print: Book will ship directly from the publisher to the winner; yarn will ship from us. Entries are only eligible from comments left to this blog entry; email, social media comments, or any other location will not be counted. Winner will be determined by random number generator. Contest ends midnight ET on December 10th, 2017. Winner will be notified by email and announced here no later than December 15th. 

*all photography except first and last image © Andrea Rangel, used with permission 

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

Shop now