Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Design Behind the Scenes, Part I: Sketching and Swatching

This is the first in a series of posts I'm doing on what the process is like to design a knitting pattern for self-publishing.

As I'm sure is the case for many creative types, ideas for patterns come to me at the oddest moments. There are times when I can sit down with the intention of coming up with an idea, of course, but those moments are rare and rarely fruitful. Instead, ideas usually come when my brain is occupied with something else, like when I'm at work or reading a book before going to bed.

Because I'm usually busy with something else when I get an idea, I'll usually jot down a brief description and a rough sketch on a scrap of paper. As a result, I have a fairly substantial pile of these bits of paper on my bedside table and even more in my design notebook, which is where they go to live when the ideas start to become more than just a rough sketch.

Once I've got the initial idea, the next step is fleshing it out a bit and seeing how (or sometimes if) it will work. If there's a lace or texture or colorwork pattern involved, I'll get out some graph paper and a pencil and make a rough sketch of the chart. Sometimes I'll do this using a charting program (I use StitchMastery at home to create my charts for my patterns, but sometimes I'll doodle in an online program like Stitch Fiddle).

An early sketch for Schmur

Often there's swatching at this point, too. Seeing a lace pattern on paper is one thing, but usually I have to knit it in the yarn I'm thinking of using (or at least something in the right weight and fiber) to see if it looks as I want it to. Swatching is also important for determining gauge and sizing. This is less important for an unfitted item like a shawl -- in that case, what's most important is a fabric I like. But if I'm knitting something like a hat for which I'll grade the pattern for multiple sizes, then I need to get a fabric that works well with the stitch pattern and figure out the gauge to do my grading math.

There are other things to consider with swatching, too. Fiber choice is important. If I'm designing something that really needs to hold a blocked shape, then I'm likely to go with a wool or wool blend. There's color to consider. If there's a lace or textured stitch pattern, then I have to consider whether the color of the yarn will help or hinder its visibility (and this point is why you'll very rarely see my pattern samples in variegated yarns). And I also think about my yarn choice and my intended audience. Is this pattern going to appeal to people who like hand-dyed yarn? Is the pattern going to require many skeins of yarn or just one (so what's the total cost of the yarn for the project)? Is this a yarn that will be easy for a knitter to obtain should s/he want to use the same yarn as the sample?

Swatches for Ravessa Scarf and Margalit

Once I've sketched, swatched, and selected my yarn, I move on to the next step: writing the pattern and knitting the sample. But I'll save that for the next post.

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