Sunday, November 7, 2010

Knitted text: why & how, plus inspiration

Knitted text can be beautiful as well as meaningful, as you’ll see if you explore Susette Newberry’s knitted abecedarium on Flickr. Don’t miss her blog, Knitting Letters: A to Z, a wonderful compendium of knitting tradition and history with a typographic twist. Here’s her Turkish “T”:


We ordinary knitters might like to use much smaller letters than this one to knit a loved one’s name or a secret message into a Christmas stocking or the hem of a sweater.  Or, how about knitting a favorite quote into a mitten or sock? If you’re like me, the difficulty of charting a phrase, much less a poem, means not even trying.

I’ve recently come across two great resources for charting letters for knitted colorwork. First of all, there’s Chemknits’ assembly of alphabet charts. This post lists links to more than 40 charted alphabets – lots of different letter styles and sizes, plus Hebrew and Greek letters.

WinRKA is a simple freeware application that will chart a name, word, phrase, or a whole message or poem for you. You specify your own stitch and row gauges, how many blank lines you want between lines of text, how many blank stitches between letters, and so on – then type in your message, and voilà –WinRKA generates a printable chart for you. No font choices; letters are sans serif capitals – but you can choose font width. You can specify centered, right- or left-justified, or fully justified text, and numerals and basic punctuation marks and symbols are available as well (period, comma, question mark, quotes, etc.). For Windows only (95, 98, ME, 2000, XP); no Mac version. Download WinRKA here.

Patterns and projects for textual inspiration

Lynny’s Dale sweater, knitted for her firefighter son, has the message “from heaven to the gates of hell and back to heaven again,” plus his name and the date, inside the hem.

Susette Newberry’s P Chullo hat pattern is a free Ravelry download, designed for her P is for Peru abecedarium post. The pattern has a full alphabet chart so you can knit your own message into the hat, as Susette did, plus a second chart for triangular initials for the earflaps:


You’ll find several glove, mitten and sock patterns on Ravelry that feature knitted-in poems or other quotations:


Left: Nanette Blanchard’s Bewitching Gloves, with the witches’ chorus from Shakespeare’s MacBeth on the gauntlet. Center: The Poetry Mittens were designed to accompany a Piecework article on the 18th- and 19th-century tradition of poetry on mittens; the poem goes

"When snow swirls
We begin to dream
Of dancing firelight
And hasten gaily home
Clapping hands
And words to
Warm them. "

On the right, the Pearls of Wisdom socks appeared in Socks, Socks, Socks from XRX Books (1998). They feature the last few lines of Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Ode to My Socks” in the original Spanish (English translation by Robert Bly; or listen to Neruda read the poem). The pattern is not available online, but the book can often be found in libraries, or you could reverse-engineer them.

Two wintry patterns:


On the I Heard the Bells mittens: the first stanza of Longfellow’s “Christmas Bells,” familiar as a carol. Christmas stockings often have names or messages knitted into them – above, the Peace stocking. Patterns usually include alphabet charts so you can choose your message or name.

Perhaps you’ve got a political opinion to express, as all three of these free patterns do:


With a creative combination of stranded knitting and intarsia, Laura Chamberlain’s Inspiration scarf reproduces this quote from an 2008 Obama campaign speech:

“When we’ve faced down impossible odds: Been told that we’re not ready, or that we shouldn’t try, or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people… YES WE CAN!!”

The short version - Jaala Spiro’s Yes We Can Hat. And at right, Lisa Anne Auerbach’s Body Count Mittens are designed to memorialize war casualties – the dates and numbers will vary, depending on when you knit them. See more of Auerbach’s work here.

Of course, you needn’t knit in English or another Western language. The sock patterns below both feature the Arabic word for “blessing”:


Miriam Felton’s Blessing socksBaraka/Blessing socks from Dar Anahita. This would be a nice sentiment for a baby hat or sweater, too. Find charts for Arabic letters, inscriptions and Quran verses at Islamic and Arabic Cross-stitch and Islamic Cross Stitch Patterns.

I haven’t been able to find good sources for charted Chinese or Japanese Kanji characters. Here are just a few charts I came across – let me know if you find anything else:

Patterns featuring kanji on Ravelry
Kanji charts for Chinese birth years (from Knitty tabi sock pattern)
Patterns featuring Chinese characters on Ravelry

Writing in lace

Finally, if lace is your preferred medium, Bridget Rorem’s Lace Alphabets Scarf Sampler (available from Schoolhouse Press) has two alphabets you can use to knit messages into any lace project.

Rorem’s Near Solstice Shawl, for instance, has an original haiku knitted along the top edge (unfortunately I can’t find a better photo).

Have you knitted a message or statement into a project? If you have a good photo, please comment and give us a link!


  1. Here's another way I have integrated text and knitting:; see the first two photos. Also, have you seen this? I believe it is the world's largest knitted poem.

  2. This is a well written article with stunning photographs. You have shown ways to incorporate letters into knitting that I have never considered before!

  3. I want to make a blanket for the baby of friends in Israel. What I would like to knit is the Hebrew alphabet - but in a lacy knit.

    Kooler Designs has the aleph-bet for ccs but that's not lace. I made a beautiful ccs design from their freebie.

    Hope someone will have ideas.

    Marny CA (not anonymous but other ways to post are a pita)