How I Design

People often ask me how I go about the process of designing, so here is an outline of the way I go about things.  Every designer has their own way of working.  Some do it all on the computer, some use notebooks.  Some are completely organised and some are completely disorganised.  I am somewhere in between!


Over the years I have tried using notebooks, but I found I never had them to hand when I had ideas.  So I use paper, mainly scrap A4 sheets printed on one side, which I tear in half.  I also have one of those square paper blocks and use those, and also the back of an envelope if one is beside me.


Rough ideas come first.  I do a lot of the early work in my head, often when walking the dog, so that when I get as far as pencil and paper I usually know fairly clearly what I want.  I play with exact shapes before starting to jot down numbers.


At this point I may start swatching.  Sometimes I already know the yarn and stitch pattern, other times I play.


These swatches are not 10cm x 10cm; that comes later!  I watch for stitch pattern first, then needle size, and only then do I do the ‘proper’ swatch for tension.  Often early swatches are pulled back, and it is only when I am pretty sure I have what I want that I wash and block the swatch to check it IS what I want before knitting the final swatch.


If the item is a large one in a stitch pattern or yarn I am not familiar with, then I do a big swatch.  Which I will later turn into a hat!

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At this point I decide on the size I will be knitting.  Usually it is to fit a 34″ bust if a ladies’ garment or 40″ chest if men’s, but I may use a different size if it is for a specific person.  Where possible I like to knit up one of the sizes in the middle of the range.

Once the sample is knitted, washed and blocked, I do a final measurement check and if necessary adjust the tension before grading (working out the stitch numbers for other sizes).  I have tried using various computer programs for this, but personally I find they don’t give the knitters’ answers, and it is more work getting the computer’s numbers into real numbers than it is to do it by hand.  In addition, the ‘percentage system’ works very well over the middle of the size ranges, but does not work for smaller and larger sizes.


I find working with a calculator and pencil works best for me.  Pencil because you can rub out!  Sometimes this process goes smoothly, but often I find I have to tweak the numbers to make knitting sense for each size.  As I am almost always working with some sort of stitch pattern, I work on pattern repeats, not on set chest sizes.


Some stitch patterns need extra tweaking and again scraps of paper come in handy!

Once I am satisfied all is well, the numbers get put into the pattern, and the design stage is over.

What is left is the paper-based stuff.  The pattern is read and re-read, looking for mistakes and then it goes off to the TE (technical editor) who checks the numbers and suggests changes to wording to make instructions clearer etc.  Photos need to be taken and the words and pictures need to be put on to the final page.  A final check and the new pattern is ready to go.   By this point, I will be well into the next project…!



5 thoughts on “How I Design

  1. Mmmm… you have no idea how much of a relief it is to see that at least one person doesn’t sit down and write the entire pattern first! I always design my own and I also write patterns for a friend to sell at craft fairs around Australia and New Zealand. So many people say “I don’t know how you do that.” Talking to them I have come to the conclusion that they expect the designer to write the pattern first and then knit the finished item from that.
    I do use a simple computer programme to help – but I don’t rely on it!

  2. Hi Liz, I am so glad there are people like you in the world for people like me. I couldn’t design my way out of a paper bag! I am so grateful for the beautiful patterns and stitches that designers come up with. The entire process is mind boggling–thank you for giving us “blind followers” the bare bones outline. I am sure it is much more work than you are sharing on your blog.
    Melodye Traupel

    PS Hoping for some new pictures of the dear Scotties soon?

  3. I found this so interesting, Liz. I have tried to design knitting but fail miserably with anything not small – and flat! I even have trouble getting the guage of something right. I learned to knit when I was five years old and I think the reason I have ‘survived’ to make garments that more or less fit is that I knit to a ‘standard’ guage. I no longer knit jumpers or any of that kind of garment (except for my granddaughters and the ones I knit often last a couple of years) preferring to make shawls, scarves and occasionally things like socks, mittens and hats. I also feel at home with modular knitting.
    I don’t seem to have the numerical skills to work with pattern designing, although a little voice does keep saying that it is lack of confidence. However, I also think it is the will to work with the whole scene that I am lacking too. I struggle to be systematic, too, I think.
    Thanks for taking time out to write about it.

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