Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mystery of the Blue Train

I don't usually post about a design until it's ready to be released. But I'm really excited about this one for several reasons. It's going to be hard to squish all the back story onto the pattern page on Ravelry, so I thought I'd dedicate a blog post to the story of these socks.
There is a distinct left and right foot,
with the Train pattern running down the
outer front of the sock.

Blue Train, as I'll call these socks for short, was inspired by the Agatha Christie novel The Mystery of the Blue Train. It's going to be the fifth of six in my Hercule Poirot design series.

I was browsing through my stitch dictionaries and flagging photos which caught my eye. Then I went back and tried to find commonalities and that 'spark' of inspiration.

I love the look of twisted stitches, so the motif which became the front of the sock naturally caught my eye. It reminded me of train tracks, which got my imagination churning away. A number of Christie's novels involve train journeys, so these titles naturally started coming to mind. In addition to train tracks, the 'parallelogram' shapes made me think of the sleeper compartments on trains, with the twisted stitches representing the passengers (and the bobbles in the original motif being the passengers' heads).

Okay, so I had a train story. But what else? I didn't want to simply create a sock with a motif taken straight out of a book. I wanted to make it more 'mine'. But it had to make sense. It couldn't just be "more" without making sense to the design and intent of the overall Poirot series.

Back of the sock.
Strands of a jeweled necklace.
Looking back over the motifs I'd tagged with a sticky note, one seemed to stand out. It had cables - bringing it in line with what I'd picked out for the front of the sock. Ditto the twisted stitches.

To top it all off, it made me think of the strands of a jeweled necklace. All the pieces slid into place and I had "The Mystery of the Blue Train" in which the famous ruby necklace, "Heart of Fire" is stolen and its owner murdered on her way to the French Riviera. The Blue Train was the name of the regular train which brought the English elite down to the French Riviera.

I set about tweaking the motifs, adjusting a few things here and there. I wanted this design to accommodate several official sizes as well as being totally customizable for anyone who wanted to adjust it for their personal foot size. I decided to put the stitch patterns on a stocking stitch background - that would make the total number of stitches very customizable. Not every design I document is 100% customizable (it depends on the stitch counts), but I really do want (and expect) people to be able to customize them if they need to.

5 stitch nupp option.
The original stitch patterns called for bobbles as the passengers' heads. But from browsing Ravelry forums I realize that not everyone likes bobbles. Plus, I didn't want bobbles on my socks. So I experimented with a 5 stitch nupp. It didn't add as much bulk, which was good. But something was missing (and I recalled many Ravelry posts bemoaning the difficulty of doing nupps).

One morning, as I was getting ready for the day, I was thinking about the design and pondering bobble/nupp alternatives. Then it hit me - beads! Giving knitters the choice of a nupp or adding a bead would be perfect! I'm all about choice/modifications in my designs. Plus, the beads would align perfectly with the whole jewelry robbery theme. To maintain a sense of balance (and belabour the jewelry analogy) I added beads to the cabled necklace pattern on the back of the sock.

The reason I'm so pleased with the bead idea is the fact that I am not a bead person when it comes to knitting. I've done one or two beaded shawls, and I think they look lovely. But it's not a natural choice for me. So in a small way, the very idea represented a moment of growth for me as a designer.

The cables themselves are a bit unusual and may seem intimidating when you look at the sheer variety of cables in the pattern's stitch definitions. But they're all variations of 1/2 and 2/1 cables. The variations are the result of knitting each of the 3 cable stitches either through the back of the loop, purling them, or just plain knitting them - it all depends on the flow of the overall pattern. If you know how to read your knitting and can read a chart, it will quickly make sense to you. Being able to read the charts isn't a necessity though. Just take your time with the different cables and it'll come together.

So there you have it - the story behind "The Mystery of the Blue Train" socks. They're in test knit now and should be released in mid-late June. As usual, they'll be available in toe up and cuff down, in 3 sizes. Beads, nupps or neither as you prefer.
Side view

Inside view.

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