Monday, February 27, 2012

How To: Wear Bobbles

Oh, poor bobbles.

This much maligned knitwear design element strikes fear, hatred, and disgust into the hearts of many.

Even the most fair-minded knitter can fall prey to the bobble prejudice, and I really don't blame them. Bobbles are tricky things to get right.

This post is an attempt to make a case for the bobble. Particularly, because I think it's wise to explain how they're best worn before I show you how to make them next week. Responsibly.

Please note: while I understand it's really quite useful to have images to illustrate something done wrong as well as something done right, this blog will refrain from naming the guilty.
You'll know them when you see them.

Here's the Rules for Wearing Bobbles

Watch the placement.
Cluster carefully.
Keep yarn weight in mind.
Combine with other design elements sparingly, if at all.
Contain bobbles visually in a motif or other restraining surroundings.

Now, let's see how these talented designers apply these rules, in variation, to their successful and really very tasteful en-bobbled patterns.


Big Bobbles, Little Bobbles

Yarn weight is very important: obviously, heavier weight yarn's going to give you larger bobbles. This, though, isn't necessarily a bad thing. See the large bobble used in the Woodland Mittens.

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© Bethe Galantino

It's the weight of the yarn that makes these bobbles great, adding visual interest and texture to these otherwise basic mitts.

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Socks, and their attendant weight of yarn, make a great backdrop for bobble play. The Bacchus Socks (photo © Interweave Knits 2008) are one of my favourites (I totally made a pair for myself, I love them so).
Here, the bobbles are well-placed, and not overwhelming to the garment, even though there are a fair number of them. Using bobbles as part of a logical motif (in this case, grapes on a vine) helps to restrain, contain, and maintain order with a knitwear element that could, let's face it, get easily out of control.










Many Bobbles, Few Bobbles

Let's compare two similar items, and see how bobbles are tastefully applied to the design.

First there's the pretty and slightly whimsical Orchids and Fairy Lights.

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Bobbles are used in an all-over motif but aren't overwhelming. This is achieved through a variety of means: first, they're visually restrained within the motif. Second, while there are a lot of them, they're balanced out across the hat. This creates a rhythm, where your eye is drawn through the design equally, waving slightly up and down with the bobble placement. It's a pleasing rhythm, one which is the central interest point in the hat. It's not cluttered by loads of other elements (lace, tassles, thick cables, and so on).

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© Vogue Knitting/Rose Callahan

The second example, Bobble Cap, utilizes this element sparingly. There's a visual rhythm here too, but one that isn't dominated by bobbles. Rather, this design has them take a back seat to the more eye catching cables and textural stitch. It's the cables that lead your eye around, not the bobbles. They're just there, clustered in little contained areas, to add a punch of design interest.

Bobble Placement

The garments we've looked at so far don't really run the risk of anatomically-suggestive bobble misplacement.

This is certainly an issue to keep in mind with bobbles on sweaters. See here some examples of it done right.

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Look at what the Breena cardigan does: rounds of bobbles and cables (again, contained within a motif and balanced out carefully with other design elements) draw the eye upward to the wearer's face. Always a flattering design tactic. These bobbles are reasonably sized, and kept away from any particularly "bad" placement.

The Grown Up Girl cardigan sprinkles bobbles on different parts of the design, creating a balanced and interesting piece of knitwear (this might be, incidentally, my new pattern crush. I just think it's awesome).

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Keeping the different bobble placements visually separated (between the back, front and cuffs of the design), keeps the fun and surprise level of this piece really high. Again, note that it's within a motif, combined sparingly with other elements, and carefully clustered to create popping points of interest.

Bobbles on Items

So far we've focussed on en-bobbled clothing. It's also worth pointing out that they're a great, and very fun, element to apply to non-wearables.

The Winterberry hot water bottle cover follows the same successful bobble rules as all the above-mentioned garments.

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see the designer's blog here

The adorable whimsy Sea Urchin takes bobbles and visual motifs to the next level. The bobble become so much of what describes the urchin shape, it's really very charming (

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see the designer's blog here

Hope this defense of the bobble has (maybe? possibly? hopefully!) won over some previous bobble haters.

4 comments:

Erin Kate said...

I might have giggled a little about "bobble placement" haha. :) I personally only wear them on hats, mittens, etc. Not sweaters, just in case!

kingshearte said...

I still think they're a little weird, but they do look nice in the right context. I'm curious, though: Can you wear shoes comfortably with bobbles on your socks? It just seems like a very impractical place for bobbles.

Denise said...

I have to admit that I do not care for bobbles, but, you have shown that some can be a nice element in a design. I have made them in the past and not afraid to make them it is just that like you said, a lot of patters don't take into consideration placement or design.I particularly like the mittens and water bottle.

LoriLou said...

Me likey the bobble now!