Barbara Walker and Me…And You


This is my much used, much loved, battered copy of The Red Book, complete with broken spine, marginal notes, coffee stains and stickies.

Some of you may have already seen my announcement on Facebook about my new project. I’m working my way through Barbara Walker’s classic stitch dictionary A Treasury Of Knitting Patterns.  I’ve been using Ms. Walker’s books for years and years in my design work, but I’ve barely scratched the surface. Remember the movie, Julie and Julia, where the young woman decides to become a better cook by working her way through Julia Child’s cook book?  And she did it and it worked? Well…  Maybe I’ll call my adventure “Mim and Babs.” Or maybe I won’t. But what ever I call it, I’m not only going to work my own way through the book, I’m going to tell you all about. And maybe we’ll all be better knitters for it.

But here’s the first thing.  I have a hard time doing what I’m told. In fact, It’s part of my learning style to think hard about how I can turn something around, use it in a new way, apply it in different circumstances. You know…mess with it. Right now I’m working on the simplest patterns in the beginning of the book. They are not very challenging or stimulating, so my mind has a lot of scope for roaming. I’ve been remembering taking two different lace patterns from one of Babs’ dictionaries and applying them to fingerless mitts.

Here’s the second thing. All Babs’ stitch patterns are written for flat working. Fingerless mitts are knit in the round. So…I had to figure out how to translate a flat pattern into a round one. For many, many patterns this is not a problem since the even numbered rounds are what we call rest rows; they are simply knit or purl with no fancy stuff going on. That means that the rows where the action is, are worked on the right side on a flat pattern and can be worked as written in round pattern. Easy, peasy, cashmere squeezy. But what happens if you have YO’s (yarn overs) or directional decreases worked on the back side?  Hmm. You never work on the back side of something in the round. You’re always looking at the front. Hmm.

Well…  Let’s talk about spatial relations for a minute. I know, I know.  But it has everything to do with knitting, I promise. Imagine for a moment that you and I are standing facing each other with a big Hula Hoop suspended in the air between us. Now imagine that there is a rope crossing the hoop from side to side, laying on top of the hoop on your side. Now imagine we both reach out a grab the rope with one hand. With both of us holding the rope, if I pull a loop of the rope through the hoop toward me, you are pushing a loop away from you.

If to we want to give you a turn to pull a loop toward you while I push a loop away from me, we have to move the rope to the other side of the hoop, on my side. Now you can pull a loop while I push it. We can go back and forth like this alternately pulling and pushing, but only if we change the orientation of the rope each time. Right? And you don’t need me to play the game.  You can pull or push, and change the orientation of the rope all by yourself. This is exactly what we’re doing when we knit and purl. A knit stitch is laying the yarn behind and pulling a loop through a hoop toward you.  A purl stitch is laying the rope in front and pushing a loop through a hoop away from you. This is why we move our working yarn from front to back and back to front when we change from knits (pulling toward) and purls (pushing away).

We have to do the same kind of visualizing when we translate flat patterns to round ones. When you and I are standing on opposite sides of the hoop, everything you do look like the opposite to me, and everything I do looks like the opposite to you.  When I push, you are pulling, when I pull you are pushing.  So my knit stitch looks like a purl to you and vice versa. In flat knitting, we turn our work over at the end of each row, effectively switching to the other side of the hoop.  That means what looked like a pulling knit on the first row, now looks like a pushing purl. Flat patterns are written with this switching sides in mind. Everything on the second row is backwards and opposite. But with a round pattern, we are always going to stand on the same side of the hula hoop so we need to reverse everything that was reversed to begin with. And, gee whizums, that’s kind of a brain twist. And it gets more complicated when we have to consider directionality of twists or decreases. What appears to be a right leaning decrease on the front side will appear to lean left on the back side. It’s enough to make your head explode.

So…enough with the visualization. Here’s a simple way to think about it. Remember Opposite Day when you were in grade school? If you meant yes, you said no. If you meant “I love you,” you said, “I hate you?” When translating flat patterns to round, it’s opposite day. Read the row backwards (from right to left); if it says knit, purl; if it says left leaning decrease, do a right leaning one, etc. And it’s going to be so much easier if you make a chart and work from that…as long as you remember to work from right to left on every round.

Here’s an example of a translation from round to flat, just to give you courage.

Barbara Walker’s Garland Pattern: Flat version

Row 1 (Wrong Side): Purl

Row 2, 3, 4, and 5: Knit

Row 6: *k1, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, ssk, k1; rep from *

Row 7: *p2tog-b (purl 2 together through the back loop), yo, p3, yo, p2tog; rep from *

Row 8: k1, yo, k2tog, yo, s1-k2tog-psso (slip 1, knit 2 together, pass the slipped stitch over), yo, k1; rep from 

Row 9: *p1, yo, p2tog, p1, p2tog -b, yo, p1; rep from *

Row 10: *k2 yo, s1-k2tog-psso, yo, k2; rep from *

Row 11, 12, 13, and 14: knit

Row 15: purl

Row 16: knit

(from A Second Treasury Of Knitting Patterns, pg 252)

Garland Pattern: Round Version

Round 1, and 2: knit

Round 3: purl

Round 4: knit

Round 5: purl

Round 6: *k1, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, ssk, k1; rep from *

Round 7: *k2tog, yo, k3, yo, ssk

Round 8: k1, yo, k2tog, yo, s1-k2tog-psso (slip 1, knit 2 together, pass the slipped stitch

Round 9: k1, yo, ssk, k1, k2tog, yo, k1

Round 10: *k2 yo, s1-k2tog-psso, yo, k2; rep from *

Round 11: purl

Round 12: knit

Round 13: purl

Round 14, 15 and 16: knit

You can see that Rounds 7 and 9 are the only tricky ones.  But read each one backwards, using the opposite of every stitch, and Babs’s your auntie.


And now, just as a reward for reading all the way through this brain bender of a blog post, I’ll direct you to somewhere where it’ll do you some good. Please make the acquaintance of Trevi Fountain Mitts. Using the Garland Pattern we just took a look at as well as a round version of Ms. Walker’s Fountain lace, these mitts are delicate, close fitting, and free this week. Enjoy!

For a complete listing of classes and events, take aOTR smaller? look at our events page.  We have beginner knitting and crochet classes, as well as classes for more experienced fiber artists. We also have social Stitch-And-Spin circles several time a week, and events throughout the year. 

Written by mim


One Comment on “Barbara Walker and Me…And You

  1. Thank you for the beautiful pattern, just want we need this spring.

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