» 4-ply wool Colors and quantity will
vary depending on your design.
» Spreadsheet software
or graph paper and pencil
» Tape measure
» Darning needle
» Pair 3.25mm (US size 3) for the body
» Pair 2.75mm (US size 2) for the rib
1. Choose a typeface.
You need a typeface that’s suitable for knitting,
and it’s a lot quicker to use an existing one than
to design your own. I use one already laid out on a
grid from Sheila McGregor’s The Complete Book of
Traditional Fair Isle Knitting. Designing with text is
essentially typesetting. There are probably whizzy
bits of software designed specifically to help with
this, but a spreadsheet works just fine.
If using software, format the cells so they are
square, and then use the Shading ⇒ Color function
to fill them. Keep in mind that each square cell
represents 1 stitch. Blocking out each letter is a bit
time-consuming, but you only need to do it once.
Set up a page with your alphabet and maybe some
words that you’ll use a lot (Figure B), and just copy
and paste them into a new worksheet to create new
words and sentences for each new project. If you’re
seriously technophobic, just use graph paper instead.
2. Choose a song.
You’re going to be wearing this sweater (or someone
is), so the song had best be something you or they like.
The quantity of lyrics can be a barrier. Don’t attempt
“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues
Again” unless you’re knitting for someone who’s
XXXXL, and you’ve got a lot of time. It’s better to
choose 1 or 2 verses and display them really well
than to try to fit everything in.
It’s helpful to use words that make sense when
someone tries to read them. Repetition and nonsense words sound great in songs but don’t work
particularly well in print or when knitted. Attempt
The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron” at your own risk.
3. Make sure the text fits.
It’s amazing how little text you can get on one side
of a sweater, so this isn’t going to work if you use
big needles and chunky yarn. I use 3.25mm (US
size 3) needles for the body, and 2.75mm (US size
2) for the rib. This works well with 4-ply yarn. Find a
basic 4-ply sweater pattern you like (I use one from
McGregor’s book) and see how many stitches and
rows you’ve got to play with. In this sweater, I used
2-ply “jumper weight” Shetland wool (which knits as
4-ply) from Jamieson & Smith,
4. Create a design around the lyrics.
There’s no substitute for inspiration and creativity
here, and an appropriate design depends hugely on
the song you’ve chosen. It helps if it has a clear theme.
“1952 Vincent Black Lightning” has strong imagery,
which inspired the gravestone design on the back.
For simplicity (and readability), I suggest keeping
the other design elements away from the lyrics. Also,
don’t forget the sleeves: adding or echoing part of
the design here can be really effective. Use the spreadsheet to block out the design around the lyrics.
5. Sort out the spacing.
Getting the spacing right is fiddly but important. You
just need 1 clear background stitch between each
letter within a word. To separate words on the same
line, use at least 3 background stitches. Adjusting
the spacing to justify the text (align left-hand and
right edges) is easy and looks really good. For vertical
spacing between rows you need at least 1 background row, but more looks better. You also need to be
careful to leave enough rows to separate the tallest
letters (in this typeface all the uppercase letters and
lowercase ones such as ‘h’ ,‘l’, and ‘t’ are 7 rows high)
from the lowest ones on the row above (letters such
as ‘g’, ‘p’, and ‘y’ descend 3 rows below the others).
6. Choose your colors.
I normally use plain colors when I’m working with
text. You need to be careful to maintain a decent
contrast between the text and the background. If
you use a variegated yarn, then the color variation
needs to be quite subtle to make sure the text stays
readable. In the sweater designed around Tom Waits’
“Dirt in the Ground” (Figure C), the text and the