P B K | Pink Brutus Knits
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New Designer Resource

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