Design Update: Hatching Ideas

As eggs come in different sizes and shapes, so do design ideas.

As eggs come in different sizes and shapes, so do design ideas.

There’s a lot of wrangling in design work. Often, I work backwards: when do I want this design out? Then comes the reckoning…

Designing is a fine juggling act. Or possibly a chess game, where you need to think several steps ahead and schedule things. Otherwise havoc ensues before you know it. I have been juggling and chess playing for a while now.

In designing for knitwear,I need to work several months ahead, usually 3 to 6 months being typical for bigger projects. Sometimes I’m designing an entire year ahead. This is similar to fashion design in general when things are about 6 months to a year ahead too. The reason for this is not only to meet the call for submissions to magazines and the like, but even self-publishing as I mostly do, there’s several stages to the design process.

First I need to incubate an idea. Or eight. And sketch them down in my design book. Usually I sit on the idea for a few days and revisit the sketches. Sometimes I work on fashion style illustrations to visualize what a garment will look like on an actual body. I love sketching and planning out a design.

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Gauge swatch in progress.

Next step: swatching phase. I like this because it’s quick to get results.  To really start planning a garment, I need a swatch of my gauge for the design idea in question. The swatches really vary in size. Sometimes I make multiple swatches testing out different stitches and yarn colours. After blocking, I can then get an accurate count of stitches to continue planning.

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I also use the latest in mathematics technology.

Then comes the math phase… admittedly, this is my least favourite part but I have to pay close attention. I can do this by hand for a simple design with calculator, pencil and paper, or for more complex graded designs I spend a lot of quality time in Excel making formulas. As I’ve mentioned before, I use existing standard measurements for determining garment sizing. I can spend a lot time making calculations and revisions.

Next comes the knitting phase, which can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. Partly this is due to the fact that I have various works in progress that I juggle between, usually due to scheduling practicalities further ahead. Sometimes I like to work on projects of different gauges to mix things up for my wrists. I’m always excited when I finish a sample and have a tangible result from my original design idea.

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The knitting phase mixes in with the pattern writing phases, which really begins back with the math. I take detailed notes as I knit.  I sit down at the end to write and formalize the pattern.

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Photography! There’s both excitement and nervousness when planning a photo shoot. I have to coordinate not only my schedule, but my photographer’s too. Locations need to be thought about, lighting and more. Photo editing can also eat up a good bit of time.

Next stop: the tech editor. My patterns are then sent to the tech editor to check my directions, wording and math. Usually this is a couple of weeks’ turnaround time. Occasionally I also use test knitters too, which can add on a month to six weeks.

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I also like to juggle like the ancient Egyptians did.

At last, with any necessary revisions made, the pattern is ready for general release. See how this can eat up some time? Right now I’m juggling several projects behind the scenes which are in various stages of the design process.

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Sometimes I don’t feel so patient and I just want the pattern to be ready. 🙂 But slowly and surely, the hatchling idea takes flight and a new pattern is released at last.

x Rena

A Beautiful Mind: Designing Knitting Patterns

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Swatching, always swatching. And this…

I am truly in awe of knitting designers who can create –and most importantly, recreate– knitting patterns out of thin air with stitch patterns beyond stockinette or garter stitch (and not I’m not being sarcastic for once) and making decreases and increases as they see fit… without writing any of it down until they’ve knit the pattern a few times. Rest assured this isn’t my method.

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…becomes the Star Slouch Hat

As my sister was looking over my design notebook the other day, she remarked that it was like the film ‘A Beautiful Mind’ (yes, with Russell Crowe) from a few years back. I’m not quite making calculations on glass and mirrors, but I definitely do a lot of sketching and measuring, calculating and recalculating. And there’s sometimes muttered curses. However, I have a new found love for my old school calculator and Excel. And I don’t think there’s a coloured pen that I can pass up.

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A glimpse into one of several sketches for the Edinburgh Mittens pattern

Everyone’s process is unique. I can’t imagine what anyone else – like my sister- would make of my notes with seemingly random numbers and tallies and sketchy looking pseudo-technical drawings of accessories and garments. And she’s a knitter, so she totally gets the idea about the effort of designing. She’s designed herself. But my sketchbook does look a bit like a descent into madness. But a beautiful madness, I hope!

Just like making lists, whenever I need to remember anything important beyond my name and address given my rotten memory, I sketch to visually jot down what’s floating about my brain so I can stop thinking about it. Of course, then I can’t stop thinking about the changes I want to make. And inevitably I won’t have the desired materials at hand for this, so it’s a good exercise in patience for me. At least there’s the sketch for reference.

So lately I have a stack of Excel charts and a sketchbook full of ideas and seeds of patterns. Fear not, there is plenty more to come and so very much more to learn.

x Rena