A square for Adrienne Rich

Are you interested in designing your own blanket squares using the Square Share pattern template? If so, this post is for you! In what follows, I’ll describe my process when developing and designing a chart for a blanket square, inspired by the work of Adrienne Rich.

If one has favourite poets, then Adrienne Rich is mine. I first came across her writing when I was 18; and followed her work throughout the 1990s. She really shaped my politics and my feminism and decades later, she’s someone whose words somehow never fail me and to whose poetry I often return in quiet moments. I first read Rich’s Atlas of the Difficult World in the context in which it was first produced — the aftermath of the Gulf War — but it still speaks very powerfully to me today. It’s a difficult poem full of grief and loss and all sorts of careful thinking. It’s a poem that explores the pain of challenging one’s received ideas of country or community or belonging or identity. Full of what Rich referred to as “passionate scepticism” it’s a poem that defies all easy answers, but it’s a poem that I find full of hope as well. Part of section 12 of the 13 section poem reads:

Those low long clouds we were driving under a month ago in
New Mexico, clouds an arm’s reach away
were beautiful, and we spoke of it but I didn’t speak then
of your beauty at the wheel beside me, dark head steady, eyes
drinking the spaces
of crimson, indigo, Indian distance, Indian presence,
your spirit’s gaze informing your body, impatient to mark what’s
possible, impatient to mark
what’s lost, deliberately destroyed, can never any way be
your back arched against all icons, simulations, dead letters
your woman’s hands turning the wheel or working with shears,
torque wrench, knives with salt pork, onions, ink
and fire
your providing sensate hands, your hands of oak and silk, of
blackberry juice and drums
–I speak of them now

These powerful, loving lines were the starting point of my design, and I knew I wanted to somehow use a simple open, flat-palmed hand print to try to speak back to them – the imagery of which has always seemed to me simultaneously gentle and gestural but also primal and intentional, a making of a mark.

Online images of hand prints aren’t too hard to find.

Really looking at hand prints, and hand-print related art, and understanding the kinds of marks that the fleshy and bony parts of hands and fingers make is in itself very interesting and very meditative. I spent a few days doing this.

Then I chose some colours – first a dark shade (Milarrochy Tweed shade Bruce) for the hand print itself . . .

and four softer shades which work well together (Smirr, Hare, Birkin and Hirst) for the square’s background.

Then it was then time for me to figure out how to render a handprint in a colourwork chart and knitted stitches. There are lots of online tools you can use to ‘pixelate’ or ‘gridify’ hand drawn or digital images, but I’ve always found them a wee bit crude and have never really got on with them. So the way I generally like to work when producing a chart that’s been inspired by, or refers to, a different kind of representation is to really study what I’m trying to depict; to have an image, or series of images of my inspiration source open on my desktop, and, switching my gaze between the image(s) and my potential chart, to try to develop a new shape in Adobe Illustrator.

So first I drew one quarter square, laying out one of the four triangular wedges that makes up the blanket square, creating a stitch-by-stitch grid.

This is what a quarter square looks like when you are knitting it, from the outer edges in. . . .but, depending on how you want your design positioned in the square, this rotation might not be the best way to develop the chart. I wanted to be able to draft a hand print as I saw it, so I flipped my blank chart upside down.


As you can see, the basic one quarter shape imposes its own (significant) restrictions on what one is able to design. Here, I wanted to fill the space as far as was possible with my charted hand print, but for that to work I also had to think about proportion. Was there even enough room in each quarter for a palm and five well-proportioned digits? Would a hand print design fit in this charted space at all? When I began I wasn’t completely sure.

I began moving my coloured squares around, and at this stage of the process there was a fair bit of back and forth shouting out for Tom (who works in an adjacent room) to come and squint at my charts with me.

“how about this?”
“the forefinger looks really wonky”
(30 minutes pass)
“how about now?”
“well, now it kind of looks a bit too even”

With quite a bit of input and suggestions for improvements from Tom, I developed and reworked my hand print chart over the course of one long afternoon. The point at which I finally felt satisfied was this:

But was this going to look ok as a full square? If I need to visualise how a finished piece (or a hat crown, or a colourwork yoke) is going to look from a chart that I’ve designed, I often find it useful to duplicate and arrange my chart repeats – like this

This layout gave me a reasonable idea of how the background shades worked with, and transitioned between, one another, and allowed me to get a better idea of how finished square might look. Happy with the basic chart, I now I needed to rearrange it into a format that could be knitted. So I flipped it back over again.

. . . and then laid it out for knitting, charting the centred double decreases – thus.

So here’s the finished square for Adrienne Rich:

your woman’s hands turning the wheel or working with shears,
torque wrench, knives with salt pork, onions, ink
and fire
your providing sensate hands, your hands of oak and silk, of
blackberry juice and drums
–I speak of them now

A couple of things might have occurred to you reading this post. First, you’ll have realised that this is stranded knitting and the gaps between some of the areas of colour are very long. I’m not afraid of long floats, but 16 stitches is my somewhat arbitrary personal limit, and the dark stitches you might have noticed beneath the decrease column at the bottom centre of the chart are there partly to ensure these long floats are kept within my 16 stitch goal. Second, I didn’t swatch. One of the interesting things about working with Felix on this project has been gaining greater understanding of each other’s very different approaches to colourwork design. When developing charts, Felix is an incredibly creative swatcher, and I take my hat off to both her swatching and her swatches (which, as records of a process, are extraordinary creative objects in and of themselves) For me, though, most of the creative stuff of colourwork design takes place in Adobe Illustrator. Part of the reason for this is undoubtedly that I know this yarn and these colours very well (having knitted with them almost exclusively for around three years). I’m also accustomed to a very particular workflow which has developed through designing and producing countless samples with my friend and colleague, Mel. The way we managed this collaboration was for me to design the squares and Mel to knit them. Mel and I always get different gauges, but when I’m working on a project, I know Mel’s knitting hands well enough that I’m always able to suggest what needle size she should knit with to achieve the fabric that we need. And in relation to this project, Mel’s knitting from the designs that Felix and I created often worked as a kind of swatching too: there were several instances where she felt a chart wasn’t quite working out and suggested Felix or I go back and make amendments. Felix’s process is very different, as I say, and I think you’ll find it interesting to read about her different ways of working, when she writes more about her involvement in this project on her blog.

I hope you’ve found this post interesting and whatever your own design process, that you enjoy developing and creating your squares!

Find out more about our blanket
Download the Square Share instructions and chart template
More about Adrienne Rich