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A few too many words about knitwear design

Can I actually design a knitted garment?

It turns out, yes.. I’ve given it a go anyway!

What makes me qualified?

Absolutely nothing! Apart from A LOT of grit, determination and a decent knowledge and ability to knit…

I am an experienced knitter having learnt as a child and have taken it more seriously since my mid 20’s. I had a vast array of knitting skills but there are also plenty of techniques I am unfamiliar with. I am always learning something new and will give anything a go. If I don’t already know it then I can learn it. Youtube/online tutorials make anything possible these days!

So why cross over from knitter to designer? Well it started with an idea of a style of jumper I wanted to knit for my daughter but despite spending many hours searching, I never found a pattern that fit the image in my brain. I have test knit patterns for a few years and have a generally good understanding of garment construction as well as definite knowledge of what I like and dislike in a pattern… so how hard can it be?

Well, I’ve made it pretty hard for myself to tell the truth. I knit Garter Squish Kids a total of 5 times before I was happy with it, and I’ve lost count of how many times I partially frogged. Now I’ve moved onto other patterns would I say this has got better? Somewhat.. I haven’t frogged a whole garment again yet but I have ripped out many many stitches. This will always pain me! But I am a perfectionist and would much rather get it right!

Now, let’s talk about grading… oh my… grading!! My dear, long suffering, forever patient, mathematically minded, computer engineering husband was definitely the mastermind behind the grading of Garter Squish Kids; and a decent proportion of Garter Squish Adults too.. I have learnt SO much from him and he was so patient while I tried to explain knitting to him so he could convert it into workable numbers for me. With my more recent designs (which are all still in the making), I have managed to grade pretty much on my own. Well, with maybe running the odd thing past him every now and then but still, I have come a LONG way! It’s a process I wouldn’t really know where to begin if I tried to explain it to someone else. Mainly I (we) have played with numbers and sizes until it has worked out the way I want. The few tutorial I have looked at have only been semi-helpful, mainly confusing. I’m sure everyone designs differently but for me, I like to have the design idea in my head but then start with the numbers/grading. Many of my early mistakes were made because I just started knitting the design from my head, with no thought to how things might pan out, not only for the size I was knitting but also how it would then work out over multiple sizes. Now that I start with an outline of graded sizes, I find it much easier to design the full garment, and feel more confident it will work overall.

The hardest part about grading is by far knowing how you want each size to fit the body intended. There are some general sizing standards available but they are by no means extensive and absolutely not inclusive. Designers are expected to produce patterns to fit every body but that’s actually really difficult to do without one single ‘go to’ place to find reliable measurements. I completely understand that this is simply impossible because ALL bodies are different so such a resource just doesn’t exist, but that creates a catch 22 doesn’t it? Of course I can create a garment to fit myself (husband or my kids) perfectly. I have those bodies in front of me to measure and try things on, over and over again until it’s right. But how do I then convert that to fit a body a completely different shape/size with very little guidance? One really basic measurement I really wanted was a neck circumference. If anyone who designs is reading this and has a good, reliable source for neck circumferences then please share with me!! I think I have a good basic formula to use now but as a newbie just starting out with a top down design, this was the first measurement I looked for and I really struggled to get the the neckline right…

This leads me on to my next point, how much inspiration taken from other patterns and designers is too much? Very little in a knitting pattern is copywrite-able which effectively means that you can take as much ‘inspiration’ as you like from other people. However we ALL know (or at least should know) that this doesn’t make it right to take other peoples hard work and pass it off as your own. I absolutely do not own the right to all garter stitch jumpers, nor do I own the right to a dropped hem, two obvious design traits of Garter Squish. However, I worked hard to develop the pattern in it’s entirety. From the obvious, repeatable elements to the slip stitch design which flows from the neckline, through the raglan into the underarm detailing and faux seams. I would argue that this is unique to my pattern (as best to my knowledge anyway) so if I saw it being replicated elsewhere I would be upset, and angry. However, I would also be lying if I said that I hadn’t pulled information from other patterns. When I say this I am referring to gathering information from a variety of patterns in regards to sizing and then making informed decisions on how I wanted my own garment to fit. I did this by interpreting gauge and stitch counts of pattern elements I liked and then applied a variation to my own work. I would never copy anything like for like. Additionally, I have worked hard to make sure I am not accidentally creating something similar to someone else (again, to the best of my ability) by searching pattern databases for similar styles and pattern names etc.

Speaking of details, I enjoy designing relatively straightforward garments but giving them little quirks to make them more interesting. For example, the simplicity of a Garter Squish was completely offset by the neckline/slip stitch raglan/underarm detailing. Was that an easy creation?? No. No it wasn’t! It took so much brain power to make that happen. Even now I look at it and feel I could have done it better! Maybe in the future I’ll revisit it but for now I have knit all the garter stitch I can manage! I am still really proud of it even though the Virgo in me will always mean there will be room for improvement.

The first draft of Garter Squish was an absolute mess but my tech editor was incredibly kind and patient with me. I learnt SO much from that experience and would wholeheartedly recommend a tech editor to any wannabe designer. Or established designer for that matter. Now I have a little experience under my belt, I have started to recognise where I am likely to make mistakes with my pattern writing. For example, missing instructions like a ‘m1l’ or ‘sm’ when writing raglan increase instructions. I find that because I know what it should say, or what I want it to say, when I read over something, I don’t ‘see’ the missing bits. Knowing I do this has meant that I have managed to catch more and more of these mistakes before the tech editor or even testing phase begins, which good! However I would never underestimate a tech editors input as they also check your math calculations and simply whether your instructions make sense. One section of Garter Squish Kids needed rewriting entirely because although it made perfect sense to me (as I had literally just knit it) a person specifically trained to understand knitting patterns couldn’t make head nor tail of it! Woops! As it happened, Kids Squish still went to testers with loads of errors but I think this was down the the sheer amount of work needed overall. I needed to learn and I am a better off for it now. I will be forever grateful to my testers, that pattern went through so much development and they stuck by me through thick and thin and didn’t complain when they had to frog. No out loud anyway!!! That pattern would not have been possible without them.

I have leant that I obviously quite like making life difficult for myself. One thing I would recommend to any wannabe designer would be start with something you know. Granted, I started with a top down raglan design, a construction I am very familiar with BUT, I chose to do it with a chunky/super chunky yarn (I very rarely knit with chunky) and with two very different bases which acted completely differently under blocking; the first yarn was an high percentage acrylic mix (not a usual choice for me either) which kept it’s shape pretty rigidly. This was in great contrast to the hand dyed superwash merino chunky which was super springy and grew an incredible amount with blocking. In fact,  the garter stitch itself was very difficult to predict which is why the pattern comes with quite detailed gauge advice!

Despite the design process in itself being very challenging, by far the most stressful bit for me is the testing process. In many ways, this should be where I can sit back and relax for a bit, the majority of my work is done and now it’s over to other people to recreate my work… only that’s where the problem lies! I feel such great responsibility over the success of my testers knitting and struggle not to take everything to heart. To be fair, my testers for both patterns so far have overall been great. Very supportive, patient and understanding (Adult Squish has been a breeze compared to Kids Squish) but I still find the testing process difficult to navigate. I absolutely hate the thought of someone putting time, money and effort into testing for me and then them not being happy with the end result. I know that this is life and it can happen with any pattern as there are so many variables involved (gauge, needle choice, swatching success, knitters experience, commitment and how fool-proof the pattern is, for example). I guess for me I know how many hours of hard work have been put into that pattern then to offer it up to people to pick holes in and criticise (a very literal and crude way to describe the testing process but you know what I mean) is difficult for me. It feels a little like Cercei’s walk of atonement in Game of Thrones, only I hope I’m not as much of a Bitch as she!

Having said all this, I have COMPLETELY  caught the designing bug. Now I have created one design, I have so many more to give! I have always been creative when it comes to craft such as knitting and sewing. However I am God awful at art. I can draw nearly as well as I sing. My husband will happily confirm that I sound like a downing cat when I sing so you can just imagine how my art skills compare. However, I find knitting a massive creative outlet for me for which I think I am good at. Designing has added another fascinating dimension to my skill. I will never ever be the next Andrea Mowry or Stephen West (the first two designers that happened to pop into my head) but, even if I can break even with sales verses costs then I will be happy. I have always paid for my patterns and not grumbled about the price of them but now I have done it myself, I will never question the true value of a pattern. Let’s be honest, if designers truly charged what they should for a pattern, taking into consideration cost of supplies and hours spent on it, no one would pay for it.

As always when I blog, I have gone from not knowing what to write, to not being able to shut up.

Now stop wasting your time on me and get back to your knitting!!

Thank you and much love,

Cat xxx

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