Since 2011, I've created a design in honor of the Chinese zodiac. For 2011, the Year of the Rabbit, it was the Bunny Yoke Pullover and Hat; for 2012, the Year of the Dragon, the Dragon Lace Pullover, and for 2013, the Year of the Snake, it was the Nerodia Cardigan (for both children and women). 2014 is the Year of the Horse, and this year's Chinese zodiac pattern is the Lijiang* Hat.
There are some similarities to the design process for the Bunny Yoke Pullover/Hat and the Lijiang Hat; both were projects intended for new babies born in that year, and both use more than one color. In both cases I found animal sketches that I liked, used them as a guide to create sketches on graph paper, and then simplified those sketches as much as possible until I came up with a motif that could be reproduced using a relatively small number of stitches.
But in the case of the horse, I originally wanted to do something different: I tried to use a combination of cables and textured stitches to create the horse's image, using only one color of yarn. It wasn't a success! So I returned to the idea of using two colors of yarn, but I still didn't like the idea of a bunch of horses prancing around the hat's brim, nor did I want to do a single big intarsia horse; I wanted the animal motif to end up being a more abstract element (more like the bodies of the cabled snakes in the Nerodia cardigans). That is when I decided to incorporate the simplified Chinese character for horse into the design. I also decided to add a corrugated rib edging (which could easily be changed to regular ribbing instead).
The pattern is written so that the Chinese characters can be used alone, or in combination with the horse image, and includes baby to adult sizes.
And now it's time to start working on my design for the Year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram!
*The Lijiang Pony is a relatively new breed of horse from the Chinese region of the same name.