Making patterns: 5 reflections from a new knitwear designer

Earlier this year, I took the plunge and started drafting my own patterns. I’d been knitting for around a year and a half and felt that I was ready to take the ‘next step’, as it were. I figured if other people could do it, why not me?

Reader: this was the start of a new obsession. I love pattern design. I was quite creative in school and have always been interested in the design process, but I never thought it would be something I’d actually be able to do. It’s been so nice to branch out with my knitting and learn a new skill in the process.

There have been real highs and lows, and far too much time spent thinking about stitch counts when I surely should have been working on my PhD thesis… But, after the release of a few designs which (thankfully!) have been positively received, I thought I’d share my thoughts and experiences about the design process. So, here are my 5 biggest reflections as a new knitwear designer that you may find useful or (dare I say it?) interesting. After all, if I can knock out a few knitting patterns, why can’t you?

1: ‘Where’s my notebook?!’

I really do love a good notebook. When we last moved house, I think I had almost 10 on the go. They’re all for different things, though, so it’s perfectly reasonable behaviour…

Aside from my PhD drafting notebook, my most reached-for notebook is my pattern book. It’s where I first jot down a concept for a garment and where I track any changes I make. They don’t always work out, but it’s always where they start out.

At first, however, my note-taking strategy was… chaotic. To non-existent. When I was first working on the Lucca Cardigan, I had my notes split between two other notebooks… Not to mention my laptop, my phone, and my partner’s phone. Re-constructing them back into a whole to write the pattern draft was not fun!

All this is to say that it’s a good idea to have a single place where you keep you notes and to know where it is at all times! If you, like me, tend to fudge the details as you draft, try your best not to. Trust me, I know that it’s hard! But it’s much easier to type up a pattern draft from thorough notes than from random scrawlings across a page, a phone, and a computer!

2: Numbers are not my strong suit

I’ve never been confident with numeracy. I can deal with logic problems and love writing, but maths never clicked for me. This can be a real issue when I’m working on pattern sizes. The numbers just slip away from me and I make silly mistakes that are easily corrected by more careful eyes. It makes the whole process of grading a pattern much more intimidating, even now that I’m more confident in my abilities.

Sadly, I’ve not found a bulletproof solution to this problem. I just have to take my time and try to think about each problem slowly, using a spreadsheet to fix the calculations and rely on the generosity of test knitters to find my mistakes.

I find it’s best to go into a pattern knowing how many stitches you need at the widest point of the garment. It also helps to have a really good idea of the garment’s tension. It then begins to feel like a logic problem rather than anything to do with maths. If the yoke fits a 100cm bust and the tension is X, how many stitches will you need..? You get the picture!

3: ‘In praise of the knitting community’, or, ‘Test knitters and translators are wonderful people’

This brings me to the wonder that is the online knitting community. I am always blown away by the number of people willing to give up their time (and yarn!) to help me develop a pattern. I really enjoy test knitting myself, and have written about the benefits here. But (at the risk of sounding overly self-deprecating) I’m always surprised that people would want to help me

I’ve been really lucky to have had wonderful test knitters. They have patiently helped me to work out the kinks in a pattern and produced (I think!) beautiful garments in the process. Their efforts are so deeply appreciated.

I’ve also been lucky to have had people generously offer to translate my patterns into other languages. Although I’m just about able to read French and Italian, much of my vocabulary relates to early medieval numismatics and not knitwear. One of the many joys of PhD life! Thanks to the generosity of translators in the community, however, I’ve been able to offer some patterns in French and German. Hopefully, more patterns will be translated into more languages in the future… But, again, I’m so deeply grateful to the people who have worked on these translations. (Incidentally, if you want to collaborate with a translation, email me here.)

4: ‘BUT WILL ANYONE ACTUALLY WANT TO BUY THIS?!?!?!?!’

So, you’ve written your pattern, had it tested and maybe translated, teased it on your social media… But will anyone actually want it?

Launching a pattern is scary! If it goes well, then that’s great. It’s such an amazing feeling to see other people working on your designs over on Instagram, and for people to (hopefully!) like the results. I’ve never felt anything like it, to be honest.

But if it doesn’t go so well, it’s really disheartening. It can feel like a lot of your work and time has been misspent, knocking your confidence. It’s hard, but you have to pick yourself up and keep going. If you enjoy it, then it’s worth the effort.

I’ve found a nice way to boost my confidence with each pattern is to run a ‘soft launch’ the night before release day. I tend to release my patterns on Saturdays, as it fits my schedule best. But on Friday evening, I’ll finish off all the details on the patterns and launch it on my website and Ravelry. This soothes my nerves, knowing that everything is ready to go. Occasionally, I’ll even get a sale or two in before the pattern has even ‘been released!’ It’s nice to feel ahead of the game.

5: Try, try and try again!

I’m a fairly obsessive person. Once I get an idea in my head, there it will stay until I’m able to execute it in some way. Honestly, it’s a very annoying character trait which leads to a lot of wasted time, but sometimes – sometimes – it’s quite handy. This is one of those times!

Before I’ve even halfway finished a project or a new design, you can bet that I’ve had some idea for the next one. Maybe it comes from an Instagram comment or a jumper in a shop. Maybe I’m cold and wish I had… XYZ. Maybe I want to try a new technique. Who can say? As soon as the idea has taken route, though, I have to see it through.

This process has led to some great projects and some that haven’t worked out. Over the summer, I became a bit obsessed with Feather and Fan stitch and was determined to use it in some kind of project. As pretty as it looked in a swatch, it just wasn’t working out when I tried to make it into a summer top. But I still learnt a lot in the process. It made me reconsider more simple stitches, like Andalusian stitch. In turn, I started to work on the Lucca Cardigan… And then the Vicenza Cardigan, Aosta Sweater, Aosta Cardigan, Aosta Slipover (currently available in men’s sizes), and the Aosta Blanket… With the Slipover soon to be available in women’s sizes and the Aosta Sweater Chunky Edition coming soon… And so on and so forth!

My point is this: even if an idea doesn’t work out, follow it to the n-th degree. Keep trying. You never know what might come from it!


Have you ever tried pattern design? If so, how do you reflections differ from mine? If you’ve never tried it, do you want to?

Comments (5)

  • Charlotte

    December 4, 2020 at 7:36 pm

    Hi Sophie – thanks for this. 🙏What a lovely read. Especially since the thought of trying out designing my own patterns has been entering (and re-entering) my space lately. So I’ve decided to just go with it – see where it leads. Curious and entrigued by the journey. 😁

    (And I’m one of those ideas-attactors too – find that it’s a wonderful trait).✨👌❤️

    And all the best with your launch – I’m sure it’ll be a hit. (How can it not!?)

    //Charlotte Luxhøj
    (The Yarn Diaries)

  • Laura Holmes

    December 5, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    An intriguing look into the process, thanks. I appreciate good patterns and pretty much slavishly follow them, not having the confidence to do much more than knit a few decreases to make a straight sleeve slightly balloon. Forget about changing a neckline! So reading your perspective is a welcome window into a mysterious world. I’m glad I stumbled across you on Instagram, which brought me here for the patterns…and now I get to enjoy the writing, too. Thanks very much!
    LTHolmes

  • Iva

    December 7, 2020 at 2:58 pm

    Hi Sophie,

    thank you so much for this post. I started designing patterns myself few months ago so I can relate to the most of the stuff you described here. But right now, I’m in the “discouraged” mood – I find it quite hard to disconnect my self-worth or ranking quality of my designs from likes on Instagram or Pinterest engagement. In fact, I released 3 patterns so far, and none on which is an inch close to “success” (a.k.a purchase or worth people time to try on). Right now, I’m feeling pretty heartbroken because I put a lot of myself into the patterns. But there is still hope and I can see that I’m improving with every one of them, so maybe, maybe, one day, someone will notice 🙂 And your post and work sparked another light of hope that is possible. THANK YOU for that!

    xoxoxo,
    Iva

  • Fe

    December 30, 2020 at 11:19 am

    Hi. It is so inspiring to read this. I do not design knit and crochet wear, but I love how you organize your thoughts and how it has materialize in your designs. Keep it up!

    1. Sophie

      December 30, 2020 at 3:41 pm

      Hi Fe! Thank you so much for the feedback – really appreciate it 🙂

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