Pattern 2: Rajang River Delta in Sarawak, Malaysia

I’m getting ready to present this project in a seminar on Monday. In preparation for this, I wanted to start a new pattern so I could walk everyone through Chart Minder and show them my process. A couple of days ago, the Landsat Facebook page posted a photo of the Rajang River Delta in Sarawak, Malaysia. It’s quite striking and squiggly, which means it’s not going to be easy to turn into a knitting pattern. Of course, that makes it the perfect example.

Malaysian Rivers Landsat Original
Image description: A picture of the Rajang River Delta in Sarawak, Malaysia. This image was taken by Landsat 8 on June 16, 2016. There are labels on the rivers as well. The river in the top lefthand corner of the photo is the Batang Paloh River, and it connects to the Hulu Seredeng River on its right. The Rajang River sits at the bottom of the photo. The picture’s color palette consists of greens, browns, yellows, and even some brick red and muted turquoise. This NASA Earth Observatory image is by Mike Taylor. You can find the original image here.

I won’t include an in-depth description of the science behind the image in this particular entry. But if you’d like to learn more about it, you can read about it here.

Instead, I’ll tell you about Chart Minder, and about the process I use to turn an image like this one into a Fair Isle pattern.

First, I scan the image into Chart Minder, like so:

Chart Minder 1
The Chart Minder interface. There are options to change the color palette, the chart size (or the number of stitches there are in width and length), the stitch size (which is like the project’s resolution, or the number of stitches per image), and the opacity of the stitches over the original image. There is also a zoom feature and two options for the Chart Minder algorithm’s settings: it can choose stitch colors by center (“centre,” because it’s British) point and average color (“colour”). I’ll explain these features in more detail in another post. At this point, the image is just a quite opaque (at 80% opacity) grid of stitches in black and white, lying on top of the original image.

Then, I pick my colors. As you might recall from my very first post, Fair Isle patterns traditionally contain two to five colors of yarn. Chart Minder allows you a maximum of five colors — at least, that’s what its algorithm lets you have. You can add more colors in manually after Chart Minder creates your image. But we’ll get to that later.

Color Palette 3
Here’s a view of my Adobe Illustrator window. The original Landsat image is here. Next to it is a color palette of what I’ve deemed to be the five most important colors in the image. There’s a buttery beige, a forest green, a muted brick red, a black with touches of grey and green, and a jade hue.

I use the dropper tool in Adobe Illustrator to choose the five colors that I see as most prominent in the image. I then take those colors’ hex codes and input them into Chart Minder. WordPress wouldn’t let me caption this slideshow, so I’ll include the caption in this text: there’s a view of the Chart Minder interface. There are five different pictures, one for each time that I added in one of the five colors described above. The image becomes more detailed with each color I add.


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Then, I make the stitches smaller. This is the knitting equivalent of increasing the project’s resolution:

Chart Minder 10
Here’s our good ol’ Chart Minder interface again. By making the stitches smaller, I’ve given the project the equivalent of a higher resolution.

Now, here’s the cool part: Chart Minder officially produces the pattern:

Here’s the Fair Isle pattern that the Chart Minder algorithm created. Each row and column are numbered as well, like a graph. The pattern looks like a “pixellated” version of the original image. However, it’s not nearly as detailed. This is partially because the original image has a lot of delicate squiggles that the chunkier stitches whose detail this “lower-resolution” knitting project simply can’t accomplish. Additionally, the original image has far more than five colors in it. Therefore, the algorithm’s ability to map the five colors onto the image misses the detail from the original. There’s a lot of work to do here…

This image is sixty-five by fifty stitches, which means it won’t be very large at all: it will be about the size of a baby blanket, or maybe even smaller, depending on the thickness of the yarn and the size of the knitting needles. I’ve done this on purpose, because I wanted to challenge myself to make a very squiggly pattern out of a grid with few stitches.

Now, here’s the extra fun part: I go in and manually paint in stitches and colors that the Chart Minder algorithm missed. In the case of this pattern, it’s quite a bit of work. I would say that it took me a couple of hours to get the image to a point where I was pleased with it. I added four more colors that I thought were necessary to make the image work and, as you can see, I had to improvise a lot of the squiggly river parts (and leave some that were just too small and squiggly out).

So, here’s my final color palette:

Malaysian Rivers and final color palette
Once again, the original image in illustrator, now sitting beside a slightly more detailed color palette. I’ve added a deep seafoam, a yellow-y olive, a kelly green, and a color that I think I can only describe as a cross between tan and lime green. I actually think it’s really pretty, but the descriptor doesn’t quite do it justice.

And here’s the final image, after a couple of hours of manual stitch-“painting”:

Malaysian Rivers Landsat Pattern
A far more detailed Fair Isle pattern with all nine chosen colors. This pattern is also the feature image for this post. I don’t want to claim that it looks just like the original image (it doesn’t). But it’s semi-squiggly.



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