Submit. Really.

In one of my many previous incarnations, I was a fine art major.  I spent more hours of my life than you can imagine sitting in a large, open studio with cracked windows and creaking wood floors, perched on a metal stool, looking at seas of drawings, paintings, and prints.  We would sweat in those old studios summer and winter alike, always after a seat near the floor to ceiling windows that were drafty and let bites of fresh air in.  Nearly each day there was a critique and for the young, eager artists with wide eyes and big dreams, crits cut.  My first day, drawing 101, my professor, David, asked the class to raise their hands if they'd taken drawing in high school.  Nearly all of us raised our hands.  He continued, "How many of you were one of the 'top' in your drawing class?"  Our hands stayed in the air.  All of them.  "Look around.  You're a small fish now."  I think 30 hearts broke that day.  He drove salt into our fresh wounds by having us draw apples every single day for the entire semester.  Every day we would crit, and every day he would trash my apples.  I had graduated early from high school and was still only 17 during my first semester of college.  I didn't see it through then, because I didn't have grit, I didn't have self-esteem, I didn't have hindsight.

Many years later, I returned to those familiar studios with a baby girl in tow most days.  I found myself cornered into one of David's classes once again and I shuttered at the thought.  Fortunately, I was also taking a class headed by one of David's long-time friends, Mark.  Mark was the complete opposite of David as a professor and rather than slicing us all down at the knee, he opened his first crit by addressing a singular truth for artists.  He said, "When we critique your work, we are not critiquing you.  You made a thing, you are not the thing.  Please don't take what is said here personally."

I tell you all of this because the same can be said for every creative endeavor, including knitwear design.  When you submit designs for publication, you may feel exposed, but the decision made by the editors is not a reflection on how they see you or feel about you - it may not even be a refection of how they feel about your design!  When editors are putting together a collection, they are getting proposals from many, many designers - they then need to determine which designs are going to fit in best with their theme (there's almost always a theme), the designs should probably work well together, and maybe there are two that are very similar and one is just not going to make the cut because of it.  Perhaps your design is a bit to advanced for their audience!  When you hear "no" they're usually just saying, "not for this collection".

I can be here now, because I was sitting at the dining room table with my husband not so long ago, crying real tears because I was afraid - still - of the critique, I was afraid of the no, I was feeling exposed and vulnerable, so I understand.  My guy, the ever gentile, told me that if this is what I want to do, then I'd better put on my big girl panties and get to it.  I did.  And my first design submission ended up being accepted and gracing of the cover of Interweave Knits.  Don't get me wrong though, I've had the no's come rolling in, but I kept Mark's words close to my chest and let it go, moved on to the next, and found some success.

SO, you're ready to get in there, game face on and hyped, right? How do you submit?  Honestly, the first thing I did when I was trying to answer that question for myself was google, duh.  I just started searching "knitting pattern design submissions" or "knitting call for submissions" and a fair amount began popping up.  Creative Knitting, Interweave, Pom Pom Quarterly, Knitty, etc all have pretty good, clear, open calls for submissions and you'll be able to find their individual submission requirements pretty easily.  Check Knit Picks, too.  They not only have calls for their collections, you can also submit designs for their Independent Designer Program (IDP) where you will receive yarn support and they will post your pattern on their website, but you're responsible for editing and photos.  It's a great toe-dip into the arena though.  Ravelry, of course, is another great place to test out some of your patterns but, again, you're responsible for everything from yarn to editing to pictures.  

If you decide to try self-publishing first, do not follow in my foot steps and trust that your knitting friends are going to be good enough editors.  Unless they're actually knitting editors, they're probably not going to cut it.  Investing in an actual, real deal editor is probably the opposite of what you're wanting to do (spend money rather than make it) but in the long run, it's a must.  Again, google is your friend.  Search for knitting editors and read all of their information carefully - most will have prices listed on their websites.  If they don't have pricing, everyone I've ever worked with has been great about discussing my specific needs via email.  Many of these tech editors will offer comprehensive support including formatting, consistent wording/abbreviations, and even schematics.  Of course, the more work your pattern needs, the more services you're looking for, and the more time it takes to edit is going to impact how much your cost is going to be.  I try to send a very clean pattern to my editor with no formatting or verbiage issues because I need a set of eyes on numbers - that's always my end goal.  A good editor will also catch any wording that may be confusing and give some recommendations for alternative instructions. Because I do the work first, my end cost is extremely low.

Now, later on I'll provide some useful links in regard to pattern styles, but for now I'm still focused on submissions.  Pattern styling is something that evolves over time and something you can fine-tune as you settle into your design voice, but submissions are much more sterile.  As I mentioned above, each publication is going to have specific requirements about what information and how much of it they need.  The majority do not want actual patterns or partial patterns - they don't want something you've tried to self-publish already - they want to see a snapshot of your vision.  Most submissions should include a brief description of the piece along with construction, yarn ideas, a designer bio, your Ravelry username/link to your website, your address, phone number, email, a sketch (as detailed as you can make it) and a generous swatch.  Some will also want a sample schematic and your inspiration.  The catch is that many editors only want single page submissions - others only accept mailed in submissions with all of the swatches, sketches, etc in the package.  If you fail to submit according to the guidelines, a real show-stopper will be denied on technicality.

So, get out there!  Start researching yarn companies, magazines, and online sources that accept submissions.  Check out how much they pay out and if you can sign up for call alert emails. Then, put on your big girl (or boy) panties and start submitting.  Really.

...there are few knitting problems that will not yield to a blend of common sense, ingenuity and resourcefulness...
— ELIZABETH ZIMMERMAN, THE OPINIONATED KNITTER

Patterns to paper.

I think every designer has their own methods for documenting their pattern writing process and each has its pros and cons.  When I first started out I would be working on a section, take a few cryptic notes and think that surely I would recall what I was doing in this moment to put it all in writing later.  Pausing every few minutes to write down the action was time-consuming an annoying to say the least.  The result was disastrous.  Not only did I end up with incomplete pattern notes, all of that I'll-remember-later crap was the perfect equation for errors on top of errors.

These days I have two approaches that I use in conjunction to make my writing go as smoothly as possible.  First, I have a pretty detailed plan of attack before I cast on my first stitch.  This way, I can actually write out much of the pattern before I ever get started.  I know my gauge, so I know how many stitches I need to cast on, I have my stitches selected in advance so I know if those stitch counts need to be altered, I have a rough schematic with measurements so I know how long and wide the pieces are going to be.  I can get about 80-90% of the pattern down on paper before I even begin; this helps tremendously.  When I begin knitting, I can then make adjustments as needed as I go.  The easiest way for me to do all of this is by writing the pattern directly in word using the pattern template provided by the company I'm working with, or my own design template for self-published works.  When it comes time to make adjustments, I track changes and keep detailed notes using comments.  I will add a comment with all math equations for certain sections so that when it's time to repeat those equations, I have them easily accessible.  For example, I was recently working on a semi-circle shawl from the top down and was calculating increases - the way I was doing this was taking the total number (t) and subtracting the edge stitches (e), then multiplying the resulting number (x) by 2 (y) and adding e+1 for my new stitch count (z) -> t-e=x; xx2=y; y+e+1=z -> and who said you'd never use algebra in your day-to-day life?  Honestly, I failed algebra once and slept through it once so if I can figure this stuff out, I have faith that you can, too.

BUT, the point is that I was keeping notes on the calculations I was using so that the calculations could be repeated throughout the pattern.  There are still going to be errors though, always, always there are errors.  No matter how many times I go back and look everything over, as soon as I hand it off to the next set of eyes, there's an error jumping off the page.  This used to infuriate me - and now, it's annoying for sure, but something that I've come to accept as a part of my humanity, a reminder of my very organic being that is fallible in an alarming amount of ways.  This concept has been cemented for me over the years because after the editor puts their eyes on my pattern and makes adjustments, it goes to print and we all feel cozy in our ability to see and correct.  Right up until some other eyes come along and start knitting.  "What's going on with this stitch count?  It's like, 14 stitches short." or "These sleeve decreases are doing something funny." And then I go back and see that there was a typo when the pattern went to print and that the corrections to the sleeve decreases that we discussed never made it into the final pattern.  I tell you all of this now because if you want to design, you must be prepared to speak with the knitters of the world in regard to errata.  It is a part of knitting life that sucks, but it can't all be wool sniffing and wine drinking, right?  Where's the fun and adventure in that!? (and when I say fun and adventure, I do mean frustration and second-guessing nearing the point of insanity).

Now, my second plan of attack is similar in that I write out much of the pattern before getting started, but I use my trusty notebook.  Each year I buy a fresh, new college-ruled notebook with dividers and I assign each section - maybe one is for self-published work, one is for published works, one is for proposals, etc - and I will use this in a similar fashion to going directly to the computer.  I have all of the equations written down and detailed notes... but I do this for a pattern that is maybe a bit less complex - I can really just say to myself, "work st st, inc in patt 19 more times - 236 sts" and move on to the next section without all of the verbiage required by different companies.  I can use my own short hand and make the process faster.  I do, of course, then need to transfer that information to the provided template which can take 30 min to an hour.  Related to this method, but still using the computer is using OneNote.  If you have access to OneNote on your device, it can be a great tool for jotting down simple patterns the same way you would use a notebook - files can be organized easily and its user friendly.

Of course, there are tons of methods that designers use to work up size grading calculations also, and I've heard a great many use excel for this.  I don't know if it was the excel class I had to take in middle school in the room with no windows where I felt like I was starved for air that makes me avoid the program or what, but just opening it with all it's wicked little cells gives me the creeps.  If you didn't suffer some sort of bazaar childhood trauma, use it!  Do what ever makes the process easiest for you!  I just run my size grading calculations the old fashioned way with my brain and/or a calculator.

So, what about the basics... what does every pattern need?  The most basic of basic is going to include sizes, yarn, gauge, needles, and notions.  Sizing is one of those weird knitting things that even experienced knitters have to pause and really think about when it comes to knitting a pattern because each designer will write the sizing a bit differently.  I have found that the best way to go about it is to list the finished piece measurements (like the sweater's actual measurement with ease) with the ease AND the wearer's bust size.  So, say 40 (44, 48, 52)" bust worn with 4" positive ease to fit 36 (40, 44, 48)".  This is wordy and most publisher's aren't going to phrase it like this, but it will save you a lot of emails from knitters that need clarification.  For yarn, you will need to fill in the yarn used for the sample, including the weight, yardage, colors, and how many skeins used for each size but you can also suggest some other yarns that would be suitable for the project - maybe the yarn used is more luxury and out of the median price range of the average knitter, if you add suitable alternatives at a lower price point, your customers will be grateful.  Gauge is usually very important and you should let your customers know if the gauge is worked flat or in rounds, what stitch is used to determine gauge (and if you read my previous posts in reference to needle material and its effect on gauge you can even say - wooden needles or metal needles or whatever), and gauge for each stitch used in the pattern if you feel it's necessary.  I think needles are self-explanatory though it is important to mention straight, circular, double-pointed or a mix of the three.  Notions, too should be included even if it's just a tapestry needle for weaving in ends.  I find it's useful to mention under notions if there are multiple markers that will be used though - for instance, you may have a contrasting marker or a removable marker that will be needed and for those organized people that like to gather all of their materials before casting on, it will be helpful. 

Schematics are tricky and though they're very useful to knitters, they can be a pain in the neck for designers.  If you just search "how to make a knitting schematic" your're going to find a plethora of information - whether you are going to have the patience or skill to make your own computer-generated schematics?  That's for you to decide.  An alternative to computer-generated is, of course hand-drawn, but maybe that's troublesome for you also.  The simplest way to add some measurements for your knitters it to simply list them!  Find a good spot in your pattern - maybe with the notes or at the end, it's up to you - and simply list: Sleeve length from underarm X(X, X); Neck opening X(X, X); etc.  What ever measurements you feel are important.

As with everything else that goes into pattern design, you will find the sweet spot for yourself and what information, how much of it, and how you want to present it in your own unique voice.  Try to stick close to the standard abbreviations for where you live (they vary by country) and think about what you can add to your patterns that make them user friendly.  Keep readability at the top of your list, but put your own spin on your template.  When you get into published works, you'll be required to follow their standards and templates, so use your self-published patterns as a platform for your unique perspective.

This is where I leave you today, but as always I leave you with these words:

...there are few knitting problems that will not yield to a blend of common sense, ingenuity and resourcefulness...
— Elizabeth Zimmerman, The Opinionated Knitter

It always goes back to gauge and stitches.

From my previous post:

"Now, what's the next step?  Back to gauge and stitches.  It always goes back to gauge and stitches, doesn't it??  The next installment will be short and sweet.  I will briefly cover how to translate all of those measurements into stitch and row counts, making adjustments depending on stitch patterns, and simple ways to work stitch patterns in to an ever-changing landscape. "  

To begin, yes, we need to know what stitches we want to use, the yarn, the needles size, and we need to swatch. Just as we covered in the post, Stitches, gauge, and dreaded maths, you will first need to know how many stitches per inch are in the selected stitch pattern and yarn along with the rows per inch.  A quick word about rows per inch though because this is undoubtedly the hardest thing to match for one simple reason... needle materials.  Stitch counts can vary also, but for me, row count is definitely more noticeable.  Please go read THIS post over at Knit Darling... it may save you hours of swatching just in your regular, every day knitting!

Now, once we have our gauge for both rows and stitches, we can begin calculating.  Take your measurement - in our example from the previous post, 36" circumference - multiply that by the stitches per inch (for this example let's say 5 sts/inch) equaling 180 stitches.  This is the number you would cast on.  

However, we also need to take into consideration our selected stitches and how they fit into our cast-on number.  Maybe we are starting with a 1x1 rib hemline in which case there's no problem, but say we are changing to an all-over textured stitch that is worked in multiples of 7+2.  If the +2 are edge stitches and the garment is worked in the round, we can omit them and divide 180 by 7 which equals 25.7 repeats of the 7 stitch pattern.  When this happens, you have 2 options: take 7 and multiply it by 25 which equals 175 and decrease after the hem (or simply adjust from the cast on in which case you need to be sure you have a stitch that will work for an odd number cast on) OR you can just bump the 25.7 to 26 and multiply by 7 giving you 182.  Again, you can increase a couple stitches after the hem or simply cast on 182 from the start.  When you go back to your schematic though, you will need to make adjustments based on these changes, so if you decided to simply bump up to 182, the measurement will be 36.4"; if you decided to go down to 175, the measurement is now going to be 35".

Row measurements are going to come in handy in two places in particular: sleeves and necklines.  It's normally pretty easy to throw out a line like, "work even in pattern until piece measures 14.5 inches from the cast on edge, ending on a WS row" however, as I mentioned in the previous post, you will need your row gauge to calculate sleeve decreases, even if you use one of the calculators linked to.  If you have 7 rows per inch, you will simply plug this into the calculator (or if it asks for total number of rows you multiply 7 by the sleeve length before the cuff; for example 14.25 multiplied by 7, equals 99.75 rows rounded up to 100).

For necklines, it's often going to come down to just a few rows in the neckline shaping.  You can instruct to knit until the armhole measures 4 inches and start the neckline shaping, but then it's best to go in row by row with specifics from there.  

There will be times, too when calling out rows is necessary because of a particular detail. When I wrote the Patou Pullover pattern, I had initially instructed to knit to a certain measurement and my sample knitter was running out of room for the eyelet "V" around the neckline.  Why?  Because even though she had knit to the desired length, she was running out of stitches due to the neckline placement against the "V". I decided to call out how many rows needed to be knit from the underarm break instead to ensure there would be room for the decreases.

Now, in regard to size grading, you will have to make a few decisions as a designer about making adjustments to fit the stitches you intend on using, and there are a lot of ways to get around a whole bunch of weird math situations.  The easiest way to size grade without mucking up the stitches is to grade according to your stitch repeats.  Say you have a 6 stitch repeat and you're working at a gauge of 5 stitches per inch.  Rather than strict 2 inch size increments (10 stitch), do closer to 2.5 (12 stitch) increments.  Your sizes would go from 34 (36, 38, 40)" to 34.5 (37, 39.5, 42)".  It's not a huge difference and it's going to save loads of time in the long run.  Another easy way to add stitches is by placing them into vertical panels.  Each size may change stitch count on either side, but the panel can stay the same. This will allow you a lot more freedom in sizing without the headaches of adjusting the pattern for each new measurement.

This is a series aimed at budding designers, so be mindful that you aren't biting off more than you can chew in these early stages.  There's no shame in working up Stockinette or garter stitch patterns as you get your bearings! I'm a big fan of the "work smart, not hard" motto and I will simplify patterns any way I can so that when it comes to writing the instructions, it's as streamlined as possible.

I leave you here with this as always...

...there are few knitting problems that will not yield to a blend of common sense, ingenuity and resourcefulness...
— ELIZABETH ZIMMERMAN, THE OPINIONATED KNITTER

Grades are important.

I think when we think about size grading, we're primarily thinking of sweaters even though size grading is going to play a part in everything from hats to socks to gloves - don't even get started on all the little people wears like soakers, rompers, and dresses - and figuring out where to start can be so daunting that it can cause designer brain freeze.

There are ways of working around this (so I'm told) and I have heard of designers publishing a pattern in a single size with the recommendation that if that size isn't your size, you can simply adjust the yarn weight and needles to make it larger or smaller as needed.  I don't know about you, but I think that's bonkers and if I were a knitter looking for a  pattern, one written this way wouldn't make it into my cart.  However, there is another extreme in regard to pattern writing which is something that has been discussed in the design community at length: idiot-proof pattern writing.  Again, I can't really be on board with this either - though not directly related to size grading, it's the polar opposite to the here's-the-idea-now-figure-it-out (and thanks for the money, btw) pattern. We've all heard the phrase: If you give a man a fish he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he never goes hungry. I'm a firm believer that knitters should be educated, or at least have the ability to do a small amount of research in order to have a basic understanding of the techniques used in a given pattern.  Though patterns are great resources and will surely teach you a lot, they aren't teaching devices.  As a designer, you will find where your happy medium lies and how much you're willing to spell out in your own patterns. Once you break into designing with publishers, they will have their own guidelines and will be in control of how much information will be presented in a pattern.  No matter what though, I promise you they will require size grading.

So, where do we start?  How do you know all of the various measurements, and what measurements are actually needed to grade a pattern?

Obviously, it's going to be different for each type of garment, what the style is, and how the fit is supposed to be.  Part of size grading is also determining ease (how much or how little is added or taken away from the actual body measurement) which is going to greatly effect fit.  Certain styles lend themselves nicely to different types and amounts of ease which is something I think anyone who wears clothes, has a certain basic understanding of.

Let's begin with a basic sweater.  The most basic sweater can be a cardigan or a pullover, it can have a circular yoke, raglan sleeves, or it can have drop shoulders.  For this exercise,  we're going to work through a traditional drop sleeve pullover from cast-on to bind-off, the progression of construction, and what measurements we're going to need.  For the example, I'll show you the measurements needed to work a 32" actual bust measurement pullover and how to adjust ease and length.  This pullover will be worked bottom up in rounds, the yoke will be worked flat, shoulders seamed, then the sleeves will be picked up and knit in rounds from the top down, decreasing to the wrist. The neckband will be picked up and knit in rounds.

First things first, once we have the basic idea down, we can put together a little flat schematic.  For this I'm using some graph paper and assigning each square 2" - that means each square represents a 2" measurement.  I used to use 10x10 grid paper and was able to assign each square 1", but this is what I have on hand so... making it work!

Most of the time, a publication is going to give you an example of their schematic and ask you to produce one similar with specific measurements included.  All of the time, they are going to happily accept a little sketch just like this.  I've labeled the measurements A-K in the order that they'll be worked - this is not necessary, it's just my way of working - but I give them letters so that on my document I can fill in A-K with all measurements in parenthesis and it's easy for the publisher to translate.

Now, I have worked so many sweater patterns that I can whip up this mock schematic without even glancing at my grade chart (I don't know if that's a good thing or not!), but you will obviously need measurements before getting pencil to paper.

You'll notice that the marked measurements cover the pullover pretty completely - again, different publishers will ask for more or less depending on their format and you will develop your own schematic style as you become more accustomed to working them into your patterns if you're self-publishing.  You may also notice I have straight line measurements and oval measurements. I think this is self-explanatory, but for the sake of being thorough, the lines show length/width; the ovals show circumference.  The armhole measurement "D" is length, the sleeve opening "I" is circumference because for this example pattern, the armhole is going to be created by working flat to a certain length and the sleeve will be worked in rounds from picked up stitches.  Still with me?  Okay... now to get more specific...

For the example, as I mentioned above, we are working an actual bust measurement of 32" but I'm adding 4" of positive ease for a loose fit, so the schematic shows 18 squares across (x2") for 36" circumference; measurement "A".  The length, measurement "B" is 14" because the actual underarm to waist measurement for someone with a 32" bust should be roughly 7.75", but I want this to be just below hip length so I'm adding an additional 6.25" to the underarm to waist measurement.  The upper arm circumference should be about 10" around and you'll see in the schematic that each armhole "D" is 6" - this is going to result in "I" being 12" but I've got little tabs at the underarm - these represent held stitches equaling roughly 2" (this includes the held stitches for the front and back) - making the actual circumference for "I" 14".  This brings us back around to "C"... the underarm stitches are going to be held when we break for the front and back of the yoke at 1" on each side of the front and the back so, half of the circumference "A" is 18, subtract those 2" for the underarm stitches (1" each side for the front only/back only) and "C" is 16".  Is this starting to come together for you?

When working the yoke, you can easily work the neck shaping by working the armhole depth minus the neck depth ("G" for the front and "H" for the back), then work the right and left shoulders separately for the front and the back. I normally work the bottom of the neck slightly more narrow and decrease along the edge at a fairly quick rate until the remaining stitches reflect the measurement for "E".  For the simple drop shoulder, there is no shoulder shaping and the stitches can be grafted together, joined using a 3-needle bind-off, bound off and seamed - the choice is yours!  The sleeves are, as I mentioned before, picked up and knit in rounds starting at the live stitches held for the underarms and working clockwise around the entire armhole.  When it comes to shaping sleeves, there are many different ways, but for this example, we should look at the sleeve length "J" which is the full sleeve measurement minus the 2" cuff ("K").  We then need to figure out how many decreases it will take to go from measurement "I" to measurement "L" and how many rows will fit in between based on measurement "J".  Basically, we need to reduce 14" (upper arm circumference) to 7.5" (wrist circumference) over the span of 14.5" (sleeve length minus cuff).  I can go through the math with you based on pretend measurements, but there are tons of great plug & go systems out there for evenly distributed decreases.  Obviously there are times when you don't want evenly distributed decreases (or increases if you're working sleeves from the cuff up), but for the sake of simplifying and staying in the starter's format, I'm sticking to even decrease rates.

HERE is a great sleeve calculator to get you started that calculates instructions for knitting in rows, rounds, and for machine knitters.  HERE is another that gives increase and decrease calculations... and HERE is one more just for fun.

I know that this is a whole lot of information to try to digest all in one go!  So, very simplified, when dealing with adding with ease, I usually add the bulk of ease to the bust circumference only.  I add length to the sweater based on the underarm to waist measurements of each size depending on the style of sweater I'm going for.  As a general rule, I add 6" for a hip-length sweater and 11" for a tunic length.  These are the standards provided by the Craft Yarn Council - HERE is the full Standard Body Measurements page they provide.  Sleeves can either be worked with no ease or very little ease and added based on the upper arm circumference measurement.  I find that there is rarely a time or place for giant, over-sized sleeve circumference unless kimono, bat wing, or extreme dolman sleeves are part of the design.  Also, related to sleeves, I often keep my sleeve length pretty close to the under arm to wrist measurement for full-length sleeves.  I know a lot of folks love the long, cozy sleeves that you can tuck your hands into and that's great, too!  It's just something you have to consider when developing your design.  Remember that when working size grading, you will always start with the actual body measurement and make adjustments from there.

I've added a chart below for all of the pertinent measurements involved in a 32" bust for size grading, compiled over the years from dozens of sources.  These are the measurements I work off of for my designs.

You can compare these measurements to the schematic and see that the neck opening, neck depth, sleeve length, etc are all pretty close.  The wrist, however is 5.5" on the chart and closer to 7.5" on the schematic.  I always add a couple inches to the wrist circumference if I'm going to add a ribbed cuff.  With my hand-knits I'm particular about dragging sleeves for wear and tear purposes.  Again, this is something that will depend on your preference, the aesthetic you're going for and the sleeve style you're creating.

I have a file available for download that includes all size grading for women using various formats such as the bust measurement used in the example ranging from sizes 31 to 56, sizes as XS to Plus, and juniors sized as 3 to 17.  This file is available for purchase HERE.  Use these foundation measurements as a tool and adjust your ease and length accordingly to the look and feel you want in your finished garments.

Now, what's the next step?  Back to gauge and stitches.  It always goes back to gauge and stitches, doesn't it??  The next installment will be short and sweet.  I will briefly cover how to translate all of those measurements into stitch and row counts, making adjustments depending on stitch patterns, and simple ways to work stitch patterns in to an ever-changing landscape. 

Below are pieces I designed using the basic construction as in today's example - simple construction, drop shoulders with little or no shaping, lovely results.  Small differences is ease, necklines, and length paired with a wide variety of yarns and stitches create a group where no two look remotely similar.  They sky really is the limit.

Top row from left to right: Owinja Pullover (Berroco Yarn Co), Patou Pullover (Knit Picks Collections), Nineveh Cardigan (Knit Picks Collections), Frosting Pullover (Knitscene).  Bottom row from left to right: Greco Pullover (Pom Pom Quarterly), Worthington Gansey (Interweave Knits), Latham Gansey (Family-Friendly Knits), Meeting Point Pullover (Holla Knits).

I leave you here, the same as always...

...there are few knitting problems that will not yield to a blend of common sense, ingenuity and resourcefulness...
— ELIZABETH ZIMMERMAN, THE OPINIONATED KNITTER

Stitches, gauge, and dreaded maths

Now, in the last post, I was really focused on just getting pen to paper, starting the process of garment design, and getting the juices flowing.  The next logical step is figuring out what stitches you're going to use because in knitting, you are the fabric designer, too.  Again, you'll want to start thinking of yarn fibers and weights that will give you the desired look, but this is also going to become a key factor when you start narrowing down different stitches, and gauge steps into the ring.

First off, where do you find knitting stitches?  I think any knitter can roll out Garter, Stockinette, and even a fair bit of ribbing, moss, and seed stitch... but we're not here to be simply knitters!  We're here to be creative, fabric designing, texture and structure superstars (that may be going  a bit far, but we're definitely not just knitting here, right?).  Obviously, there are boat loads of books dedicated to the art of the knitting stitch.  You can find some that are focused on color work, lace, cables, texture, and you can find many that include a mix of various stitch types (and a quick trip to Amazon.com will give you plenty to drool over).  I would start online though because the internet is right here at our literal fingertips and sourcing free stuff is a good thing, even if it's just to start narrowing down what stitches really catch your eye before investing in a book.

Knitting Fool is a great resource with a lot of ways to browse stitches - including by stitch count which is going to be very handy in just a moment.  Knitting Stitch Patterns is, as the name implies, another treasury of stitches. However, don't limit yourself to a single source.  I can spend hours on Pinterest searching things like.... interesting cable knitting or large lace knitting pattern or unusual knitting stitches. Of course, not every result is going to take you to the stitch pattern, and if it does, it's not likely to be in a language you understand BUT, if you have the patience and the desire to press on, you'll be rewarded.  As a sort of side step/tip, Pinterest is also a great place to store inspiration and any knitting stitches you find that speak to you (even if it's in Russian).  Set up a private board and pin, pin, pin anything and everything that you love.  I have many different private boards that hold precious information that I've gathered doing research for my books - and I pin it all - stitches I think are interesting, new yarns I'd like to work with, color palettes that inspire, photos that meet my vision for design... it really is a great tool for letting that energy loose.

So, let's say you've decided on a particular stitch and you have your rough sketch.  You took my advice and started pinning all sorts of things, and along the way you found a yarn that you love and want to use.  Now, I'm a firm believer that rules are made to be broken, but in deliberate ways.  When I was one of those moody fine art majors, I would have headaches from grinding my teeth in critiques.  Nothing pissed me off more that someone defending their work by, well, a) getting defensive or b) saying the dreaded phrase "I meant for it to be that way" WHY oh why... I, as a peer, often spoke up and pleaded for these budding artists to learn the rules so that when the time comes to break them, they'll be prepared to do so in a deliberate and effective way.  I believe this to be true in all things and knitting is not exempt.  But, where the heck am I going with this??? What does yarn and stitches have to do with rules of fine art? Nothing, but there are general rules to knitting.  For example, yarn structure plays just as much of a role in finished fabric as the fiber and weight.  Generally speaking, there are three major yarn structures: single ply, two-ply, and round ply (being 3 or more yarns plied together).  Of course, there are yarns with all sorts of interesting structures apart from these three major players like chain-ply, tape yarn, filled tube, art yarn, etc... but knowing how these different plys function will take you far in selecting appropriate yarns to pair with the stitches you've selected in order to create your desired fabric.  Worsted vs woolen also plays a role here, but for the sake of this starter series, I'm not going to dive those depths quite yet.

As a rule, single ply is a versatile yarn that will knit up into lovely lace, and depending on the fiber you can pull some nice stitch definition for textured and cabled patterns however, this is generally the least durable yarn style and is most prone to pilling. Two-ply is best suited for lace patterns - eyelets open up nicely with these yarns - and though it's not unheard of to use for textured stitches, the definition may be lost.  Round yarns are the ones you're going to use for seas of stockinette or garter, textured stitches that pop, and cables that hold crisp outlines; these yarns will fill eyelets and aren't usually a first choice for lace unless the lace is an accent and/or the fiber has good blocking power; round yarns are generally the most durable yarn style.  Of course, fiber content plays a large role in all of this, but this is information for you to use as a platform so that you can make some educated decisions about pairing yarn and stitches.

With (all of) that said, let's rewind - you've found a stitch pattern and a yarn that you want to use.  If you're knitting a sweater, a sock, a hat, anything that needs to be a precise measurement, gauge is going to slide in here.  Shawls are a bit different beast, which I'll get to momentarily.  

There are a few factors that are going to come into play here - how many stitches per inch is your gauge, how many stitches are in the repeat of the pattern, and how many stitches do you need for your garment to fit?

For now, let's say the yarn you're looking at has gauge of 24 sts/4 inches in St st.  I'm going to divide 24 by 4 to get a manageable 6 sts/inch, and now we can start thinking about our garment and how it might be size graded.  Size grading for sweaters is a little beyond where we are now, so let's think in terms of hats for adults... say you want to offer 3 sizes, S, M, L, and the hat circumferences are going to be 19", 20", and 22"; your target stitch count is going to be 114, 120, and 132 for any knit/purl patterns if you're gauge is 6 sts/inch.

The easiest course of action here - especially if you're really green - is to find a stitch pattern that has a multiple of 6 stitches.  Remember how I said Knitting Fool has a search tool by stitch count?  All you have to do is click the selection for 6 sts and you know that every stitch listed is going to fit the number of stitches you need for your desired hat.

What if the stitch pattern I like isn't a multiple of 6?  Well, that's where the maths come in.  Maybe your stitch has a multiple of 9 +2.  

In the case of + stitches, you're going to take the first number and and use that to do all of your calculations, then add what ever the + number is at the end.  

So, you want to have 114 sts... divide this number by the first number (9) to get 12.6.  If we round down, multiply 9x12 for 108, and don't forget to add that +2, leaving you with 110 sts - this is how many stitches will work for that particular stitch pattern.  

Since the yarn swatched at 6 sts/inch, those 4 less stitches may not make a big difference.  You can then repeat for the other two sizes, giving you 110, 119, 128 stitches from the initial 114, 120, 132 stitches.  This is where you have to problem solve, make some decisions about fit, and decide if it's going to make more sense to scrap this stitch pattern or if you really want to move forward. This is also why you really, really have to swatch every stitch pattern that you're considering. If it's a lace pattern that gauge is going to change quite a bit from the base St st swatch, and you may find that you're going back to square one, but if it's a small cable pattern, you may simply decide to add 9 to each stitch count so that the repeat will be even and the hat won't be too snug (in this example, you'll end up with 119, 128, and 137 stitches).

When we start talking about shawls, things can go in just about any direction.  As I said in the last post, I'm not going to spoon-feed you here, but I am going to offer some tips for digging in.  Shawls have so many options when it comes to shape, construction, and how you put the two together that I can't give you any simple how-to answers however, there are a couple simple things to think about when you begin piecing together a shawl concept.  First, is there a center point or multiple edges that you're increasing/decreasing from, a single edge, or two edges?  What is the rate of increase/decrease? How do you want your stitch pattern to be centered within the shawl shaping?  With all of the stitch count changes taking place, I would recommend starting simply with stitches that you'll be able to keep track of.  This is probably not going to be the best time to try some 23 stitch lace repeat from hell.  Learning how to chart correctly is also going to save you a lot of time and anguish down the road - which brings me to Stitch Mastery.

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Though it may seem like a huge investment when you're first starting out, I highly recommend the Stitch Mastery program.  I was using some junky free download program when I first got started and it made my life unnecessarily difficult.  Not only is Stitch Mastery really easy to use, they are a lovely company to work with. When I finally dumped my old brick of a lap top, I did't realize I could use the software code they sent me with my download a zillion years later to transfer the software to my new computer so, I re-purchased it.  Not a day later I had an email asking if I had gotten a new computer - um yes, I did - well, here's your refund because you could have just used your old software code (dummy).  HA!  Obviously they were ever so gracious and kind about the whole thing (I mean, what company sees a double purchase from a customer and reaches out to them to give them a refund!!?).  Bonus, if you head to the Stitch Mastery Blog, you'll learn tons of tips for charting along with tutorials for using the software. 

My challenge for you this week is to take the sketches from last week and start really narrowing down those yarns and stitch patterns.  Do a fair bit of swatching and start thinking out edges, borders, and hems in a less abstract way.  Start pairing different stitches with different hems and see how they line up.  Can either be adjusted so that line line up more cleanly?  Maybe you like 2x2 rib, but it just seems a bit off center - try this: k1, *p2, k2; rep from * to last st, k1.  Does that line up more neatly?  What other ways can you adjust stitches ever so slightly to bring about the look you need?  Think too about different cast-on and bind-off methods for the stitches you're working with and how you can use them to either disappear into the edge or stand out as an added detail.

This is where I leave you today, but as always, remember...

...there are few knitting problems that will not yield to a blend of common sense, ingenuity and resourcefulness...
— Elizabeth Zimmerman, The Opinionated Knitter

Beginnings and where to find them.

How do you start designing a knitting pattern??

Well, I started where I think a whole lot of folks start - with pattern adjusting.  I would buy a pattern or a book and start reading only to find that the piece is knit flat when it could so easily be knit in rounds with better results, or there would be one type of bind-off used when another would leave a nicer edge.  For me, this is where it began.  It started off simply and grew.

Construction was the next thing that began to pique my interest, so whenever I saw a pattern that looked interesting to knit, I bought it and knit it (shocking!) - but in all seriousness, this has always been my number one advice to anyone really interested in design.  Knitting is the best research tool and there is no shortage of great designs already out there. I was usually really interested in techniques like short rows or picked up stitches or a sweater knit in one piece that magically transformed in finishing.  I bought patterns that used a wide variety of techniques and then turned my focus on garments knit in many different ways.

For example, how do you knit a sweater?

Is it knit bottom up, top down, front to back, or side to side?  Is it a cardigan or a pullover?  Is it knit in one piece or assembled? Is the yoke raglan, circular, square with set-in sleeves, drop sleeves, dolman sleeves, or a hybrid?  What about contiguous sleeves or saddle shoulders?  What neckline does it have and how is the shaping calculated for it?

Or, maybe you're thinking of knitting a shawl.

Is it knit bottom up, top down, side to side, or a hybrid of many different techniques?  What shape is it and how do you work the pattern within that shaping?  Is there an applied edge?  Is it long and skinny or short and fat?  How is it supposed to be worn?

Once you start cultivating your designs, these are just a fraction of the questions that are going to pop up immediately.  However, when it comes to designing something like a sweater, the big one is size grading.  Of anything I've researched over the years, size grading takes the cake for being the biggest pain in the rear.  And then, once you have your size grading compiled, what about ease and body length and gauge? But that's something I'll talk about more a bit down the road.

For now, we're focusing on the beginnings and so my challenge for you new designers is this: Start sketching.

Long before the Fashionary collection was available in the states, I was ordering it online from Hong Kong, waiting weeks for it to arrive.  Those days are gone and I highly recommend getting a book - unleash your ideas, letting your design wheels turn. HERE is the Fashionary website; HERE is the Fringe Supply Co. website where I've purchased books from Karen, the lady behind the Fringe Association blog which you can find HERE.

If you're more interested in sketching out flats, get your hands on some graph paper and start thinking about the shapes you'd like to see your garments take on.  Play with necklines and sleeves, think about length, shoulder styles, and whether the finished piece should be shaped or boxy.  Is there a simple way to knit something that might look complex?  Play with split hems and curves!

If shawls are more your speed, graph paper would be appropriate also.  You can find a lot of great information and downloads with easy-to-follow guides on construction for just about any shawl out there from Laylock Knitwear. When you're thinking about your stitch patterns within these different shapes, think too about what increases and decreases are appropriate.  If memory serves, most of the increases are yarn overs in the "cheat sheets" provided by Laylock, but perhaps you're thinking about a thick, squishy cable shawl where yarn overs are going to take away from the aesthetic you're looking for.

Another tip - once you have a shape you like, whether its a sock, a sweater, a shawl, or a hat, outline the basic shape with a fiber-tip pen like a Micron 05 and make a few photocopies.  Then, channel your inner kid-o and start imagining what the fabric will look like.  Add color or block out where there might be interesting stitch patterns, then compare and contrast, narrowing down to the one that speaks to you the most.  This is a good time to really think about what the piece will look like from afar before getting into the nitty gritty of specific stitches and gauge.  Think about borders, hems, cuffs, and add those, too.  When you are ready to start researching stitches, you can then go back to these flats and start filling in more details, but I'll have more information on that for the next post.

Now, this fill-in-the-blank approach is a great exercise even for established designers.  I recently felt like my design energy was jammed up and I was having one helluva time freeing it.  I started sketching and playing with stitches but nothing was working up in a way that really spoke to me.  So, I went outside the box and started a one woman mystery KAL for myself.  I knew I wanted a semi-circle shawl and I knew I would knit it top down.  I had a buttery soft DK weight alpaca that was going to have pretty good stitch definition in a light, warm, dove grey...  I started with a half circle and decided on Pi shaping so that I could use a single stitch pattern within a segment without worrying about increasing in pattern.  I was having enough trouble as it was without the added weight of that nonsense!  Here she is as of today:

I have a fair amount of design work for publications right now, so this beauty is on hold, but I do look forward to getting back to it!

And remember, as you start on this great, terrible, frustrating, rewarding, and altogether challenging adventure, in the words of the great EZ...

...there are few knitting problems that will not yield to a blend of common sense, ingenuity and resourcefulness...
— Elizabeth Zimmerman, The Opinionated Knitter

Introduction to the New Designer Resource page!

Over the years since I began designing, I've realized two very important things about breaking in so to speak: even though there are many resources out there for knitters, the design world keeps their secrets close & just as in any industry (maybe especially the creative ones), talent only gets you so far.  The folks that are gifted aren't always the ones that "make it" - it's the folks with the drive to take it all the way that become successful.

I would say I fall somewhere in the middle of the talent/drive scale, and that's exactly where I need to be right now.  I have two kids that are in critical developmental stages and one that needs just a bit of extra mama energy - but my desire to design and knit is compulsive. I think because of this, and because I really believe that knowledge should be shared if you want to cultivate community and inclusion, I am always handing out what I've learned to anyone that asks.  I've been an open book in interviews over the years, just cracking open my brain to the universe, and I've gained some really wonderful friends along the way in doing so.

Now, my husband, my defender, my partner in all things, worries that I give too much.  He is under the impression that my years of research, trials, and effort shouldn't be handed to the first ya-hoo that asks for it.  There are days I agree.  There are days when I'm tired and I've been wrestling with a design problem and I get an email from someone unwilling to do the work, asking for me to hand the answers to them in a golden cup, spilling over with hand-holding, and I grit my teeth.  Other days I answer those emails jubilantly and wish them success in their endeavors.

So, I've decided that there's a happy medium and a small series dedicated to the knitters out there that want to take the leap into design is a good thing. However, I'm not going to spoon-feed "how to be a knitwear designer", rather I'll be sharing tips I've learned along the way with tons of useful links to materials, tutorials, informative websites, and blogs along with posts dedicated to things like size grading and successful pattern submissions. This is a budding resource space, 99% free to all, balanced with some information packets for purchase.

I will have comments enabled on the individual posts as the series goes on, but to be quite honest, I have a heck of a time getting back here to reply regularly.  SO, if you have a specific question regarding any of the information shared, please get in touch with me via the contact page and I'll be able to get back with you promptly.

Until next time, happy knitting.

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