Design Series: Nancy&Judy

March 18, 2010: Design Series

I’ve wanted to do something different with my blog for some time now. However, I found myself constantly too busy with other life things. Finally I have some free time to dedicate to this space.

My plan? A series of posts that walk through my design process from initial inspiration to finished pattern. I am not sure how long the series will run, as the whole process will be ad-hoc.

Are you interested? Check back weekly for updates; I will post every Monday starting March 22nd.

March 22: Inspiration
March 29: Sketch & Swatch
March 31: Q&A – Submissions
April 2: Q&A – Sizing
April 5: Prototyping
April 6: Q&A – Charts/Copyright
April 12: Testing & Tools
April 19: Publishing
April 21: Free Pattern

March 22, 2010: Inspiration

Welcome to the first installment of the Design Series: Inspiration.

I want to preface this posting with a disclaimer of sorts:
I am calling myself a designer because that is what I am striving to be. However, you will find that my design resume is rather short. I have one design self published, one design to be published by a magazine, and several more self published designs waiting for their final write-ups. I don’t intend for this series to sound like it’s coming from a professional design perspective. I’m a beginner, maybe as you are. I just wanted to share my process, and possibly inspire some other knitters to take the reins of their own design dreams.

And now, inspiration…

The inspiration for a design could come from anywhere. Sometimes inspiration sneaks up on me and catches me unaware at the grocery store or during my commute to work. I keep a little notebook with me at all times in order to capture these ideas. Other times, it’s like trying to get my husband to take out the trash. For those hard times, I like to surf around on Ravelry or Flickr for ideas and inspiration.

When designing for a magazine submission, you can sign up to get inspiration boards from the editor. Shortly before submissions are due, the editor sends out an e-mail, or posts a PDF online, with pictures and ideas to guide you to what types themes, colors and feel they are trying to achieve. These boards are like writing prompts, something to get your brain moving.

This is nice for designers looking to be published in a magazine. However, one of the things that makes magazine designing difficult is the time line. Magazines are planned well ahead of the season. So it can be hard to think of heavy winter designs when it is ninety degrees outside.

One of the strongest influences for me is nature. Not just flowers and colors, but even simpler things like seasonal weather. As spring blooms around me I know the temperature is going to fluctuate both inside and out.

Spring Boards

1. Early Spring, 2. Dew, 3. Y’a d’la joie! – There is joy!, 4. Shadow Dance

I work in an office where thermostat wars keep the temperature ranging from “Antarctica” to “Surface of the Sun”. The perfect accessory for the office is a wrap or shawl, something easy to take off or put on when the wars heat up.

If I were only making a personal pattern, inspiration would stop here. This is something that meets my needs, and that is what matters. However, I really want to design something that not only I will use, but also something that I hope other knitters will want to knit and use as well. Therefore, I also keep in mind trends in knitting as I see them.

For example, I know that a lot of knitters are interested in knitting shawls. There is a popular knit-along called 10 in 10 – where knitters around the globe are attempting to knit ten shawls during the year 2010. So I pop over to that group in Ravelry to check out what types of shawls these knitters are excited about.

One of the trends I see is that for many, the idea of knitting a delicate lace shawl with impossibly thin lace-weight yarn is impractical, time consuming, and downright scary . Lots of knitters are gravitating towards small patterns designed for fingering weight yarn. Not only do they work up quicker, but sock yarn is something that everyone seems to have plenty on hand – including me.

I have a HUGE sock yarn stash, and a shawl would be a great way to use some of that yarn for a project other than socks. Recently, I made a shawl using Dream In Color Smooshy. I loved working with it and happen to have several other skeins. Other sock yarns I have generous amounts of include Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks that Rock (I have also used this to make a shawl) and Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock. I will try out these different yarns when I start swatching.

I also use Ravelry in a different way. I want my shawl design to be unique and memorable. So, I spend quite a bit of time researching to make sure that I don’t end up stealing someone’s ideas. This may or may not work for you. It can be hard taking in all those ideas, and not being influenced by them. But I feel better about my finished pattern if I know I tried my best to create an original piece.

The next step for me is taking all these ideas and distilling them into sketches and swatches. Come back next Monday to see how the inspiration starts to take shape!

March 29, 2010: Sketch & Swatch

Welcome back!

This last week I have been swatching like crazy.

Stitch Dictionaries

Stitch Dictionaries

I love my stitch dictionaries as they provide instant inspiration. This stitch might conjure images of sweater cuffs, this other one, scarf designs, etc. All the possibilities can be quite overwhelming, jumping out of the page, begging to be turned into a project.

Woven Mesh

Woven Mesh

One stitch in particular has been catching my eye lately. I love how the stitches form an open work lattice. The diagonals almost look woven. I swatched this pattern with Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks that Rock medium weight. I also started a swatch with the Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock (not shown), but immediately found it to be too thin.

The pattern itself is rather versatile as it can be worked over (almost) any number of odd stitches. I worked this as a mini shawl swatch to see how it would work with the regular increases (yarn: Dream In Color, Smooshy).

Mini Mesh

Mini Mesh

Looks good, except…do you see it? The pattern starts at the top/middle of the neck and expands out and down so that the resulting stitch pattern is on a diagonal. The diagonal lines of the stitch then become vertical and horizontal lines instead. I’m not sure I like that. If I want to use this pattern and care about it’s orientation, one option would be to construct the shawl in a different way.

All shawls I have made have started from the middle neck. However, there are several other ways to make a shawl. I could start at the bottom point and increase on both sides, which would allow me to maintain the original diagonal lines of the mesh. The same would be true for starting from the wide edge, decreasing on both sides down to the point.

After some research on Ravelry, I decided that I don’t really care for most shawls knit in this way. I think maybe the stitch would look better if it were moved out from the start some. Here is a sketch.



The question then arises, what to do with that big empty section at the beginning? The easiest thing would be to work that in garter or stockinette stitch. However, I think I want to do something a little different. I would like to give it some texture without it taking too much away from the mesh stitch. I contemplate using some other lacy pattern, but push this idea away. I’m leaning towards a more modern looking shawlette; something relatively simple and not overly busy – casual.

I conclude that I actually don’t mind the diagonals running vertical and horizontal. And I like the diamond like aspect of the woven mesh. How can I expand that theme? Back to the stitch dictionaries for diamond or diagonal themes. Two that catch my eye are swatched below.



The bottom one I liked most for its simplicity however, with the slightly variegated yarn the pattern gets lost. The top one stands out more and shares another common theme with the mesh stitch – twisted stitches. It is a little too tall – meaning that I don’t like how many rows the pattern repeat is for. So I decided if I use it, I will have to shorten it a bit.

The next step is to swatch the two patterns together to make sure I like the transition. The diamond theme has a much bigger repeat, but as long as I end with sections with odd numbers, the mesh section will fit in.

All Together

All Together

Next, I decide that my first sketch is too boring; I want to break it up a bit. With the versatility of the mesh pattern, I can do virtually any number of repeats of the diamond pattern followed by the mesh. Here is another sketch of what I think it will look like.



At this point if I were planning on submitting this project to a magazine, I would have nearly all my materials ready. Armed with swatches and sketches, I would now organize my plan into a proposal document. But since I am self publishing, it’s time to start knitting!

Next week I will be sharing the grueling* process of knitting the prototype while trying to work out the final pattern. Please feel free to leave your questions and comments and I will address them in my next post as well.

* I say grueling because this part is probably the hardest step in the process, but it is also quite fun. Here is a sneak peek:



March 31, 2010: Q & A – Submissions

Kim and Laurel asked: I’m curious about the proposal documents. What’s all entailed with that? [Tell us about] submissions to magazines/yarn co’s etc.

Each publishing house has their own requirements. For example, Interweave posts their submission guidelines on their site. Vogue has an online form. Knitty requires that you submit a finished project, including pictures, using their template. Twist Collective accepts all submissions by e-mail. There are of course many other places you can submit patterns to, these are only the ones I am familiar with. The Designers Group on Ravelry is a great place to pick up tips on calls for submissions.

They all really want the same information (with the exception of Knitty, which wants more than a proposal). Here are my suggestions, but be sure to read the requirements carefully so that your design is not disqualified because you didn’t provide the correct information.

Introduction - This is similar to what you would see at the start of the pattern, say something about your inspirations for the design and anything interesting like special techniques you employ. This is your chance to tell them why you think every knitter will want to knit your pattern.

Overview - Get down to the technical bits here. This may include charts of the trickier parts and descriptions on special sections of your project. If you have any sketches or schematics of the piece, include them here.

Details - This section is where you might talk about the yarn and needle choices. Why did you pick the yarn you did? What qualities of the yarn work for this pattern, and why?

Remember that you are sending this document out into the world to represent you and your design. Make it clean, organized, professional. Think of it as a cover letter or resume.

Depending on where you are submitting, you will probably need to include either physical swatches, or scans of swatches. Different companies have varying policies on returns of physical submissions. Some will send your materials back, others will not.

Submit your materials in whatever format is applicable to the publisher. Wait.

It’s true, the waiting IS the hardest part. Again, depending on which publication, the waiting can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. During this time, I try to forget about the design completely and start working on other things.

Later this week there will be another Q&A about sizing garments. Keep your questions coming!

April 2, 2010: Q & A – Sizing

Daniella asked: [I] would love to know how you go about sizing a garment pattern.

When I was planning this series, I almost chose to do a sweater pattern. I think for new designers, creating a pattern that requires sizing is perhaps the scariest undertaking. Admittedly, I have only designed sweaters for myself, and never had to expand the pattern to multiple sizes. I would still like to design a sweater pattern “live” on the blog – maybe a Design Series 2 is in order!

Anyway, for me size is all about gauge. I know my measurements and my gauge and figure out my stitch counts from that. This is a really great skill to learn even if you are not looking to design. Customizing a garment to fit you exactly is one of the greatest joys of hand knitting.

When writing a pattern of course you need to take into consideration many body types and sizes. There are some great resources that list some standard sizes. I also found this excellent tutorial on how to use a spreadsheet to help with the math!

April 5, 2010: Prototyping

Thanks for stopping in again for this week’s installment of Design Series. This past week, and as hinted at, the week before, I have been busily trying to knit this shawl pattern.

The first knitting is something I call a prototype. It may or may not end up being the final product, but rather, it’s a way for me to write the pattern as I knit it. I will probably end up knitting another. This method of knitting twice is excellent for a project like socks where you want to have two (even if they are slightly different). This time, I will just have to live with having two of the same shawl.

The first step to prototyping is taking all my swatches from the previous week and attempting to chart the stitch patterns. I like to read from charts. Most knitters have a preference of either charted or written directions, and so I try to provide both. One of the stitch patterns I have chosen came right from a stitch dictionary. Charting is then just a simple matter of translating the written instructions to picture. The other pattern is my modification on a stitch, so I need to work that out for both the written and charted versions.

I love using a notebook with graph paper as it allows me to play around with charts easily. I quickly find out that the mesh pattern, the one I just stated should be easy to chart, is really not. The stitch count varies between rows, and so the charting can be rather tricky. Here are a few attempts.

Tricky Charting

Tricky Charting

The other pattern is much easier, and I chart that one quickly. I even work out how it will appear with regular increases. For me, charting the entire repeat is important, as it allows me to analyze the pattern to establish repeats that make sense to the knitter.

Easy Chart

Easy Chart

All throughout the knitting of this prototype I keep copious notes. This is a huge step towards writing the final pattern. Without notes I would surely make many mistakes and no one likes errors in their patterns.

Draft Pattern

Draft Pattern

During the prototyping phase there are actually several parallel processes taking place in my head. First, as stated above is the charting procedure. The second is closely tied to the charting, thinking about how the patterns will transition into each other, stitch counts etc. I do this during the charting, taking care to note how many stitches are required for a repeat and how many stitches are increased every row. I found out I need to have transition charts as well.

Draft Charts

Draft Charts

Third, during the other two processes I am constantly thinking about inspiration, creating a story for this pattern. This third process really occurs at all stages of the design. Initially I was inspired by a need: cold office, springtime. Then I was inspired by stitch patterns. From those stitch patterns I start to relate to things in my life. It’s kind of strange, but I started thinking about sisters.

The stitch patterns I chose are like sisters. They are both constructed with similar components (twisted stitches), they both have details on the diagonal, and they both form little diamonds. But yet they are very different. One is organized, straight lines crisscrossing across a field of plain stockinette. The other is more wild and open.From here my mind jumps immediately to my mother and her sister. Both are strong beautiful women, but like so many other sisters, they are at once both similar and different.

My Aunt Judy lives in the city and is so organized that President Obama could drop in without her having to worry about cleaning or even tidying up. My mother, Nancy, is a country girl in heart. Living in what used to be a rural area, she is carefree and open to a little chaos. She’s not exactly disorganized, rather she has a more organic view on life.

Inspired by these women, I have decided to name the shawl for them: Nancy & Judy. I think about them continuously as I knit my prototype, it’s almost like they are here with me. Maybe having two will be nice. I will be able to give them as gifts to my muses.



Next week we will talk more in-depth about the technical pattern writing bits. The layout, the charting, the tools I use to help me. Again, please feel free to leave questions. I will post responses as special mid-week Q&A posts.

Preview 2

Preview 2

April 6, 2010: Q & A – Charts/Copyright

Ida asked: First, you mentioned using graph paper. Do you use graph paper that is especially made for knitting (since the squares of the regular don’t always mesh up)? Also, do you ever use chartmaking software, like KnitVisualizer? Why or why not?

and Kim asked: I tried finding something online to create my charts but wasn’t sure where to find it, if there are any free ones?

First, the graph paper. I use simple square graph paper with the understanding that I know the stitches on it are going to be taller than in real life. This is the notebook I have – although it says it only comes ruled…clearly mine is graph paper. So maybe they don’t even make this size in graph paper anymore. I do know that there are ways to make your own graph paper with spreadsheet programs like Excel. Custom made paper like this can be VERY custom, as you can get your exact row and stitch gauge proportions. For whatever it’s worth, most commercial charts use a grid that is square.

Second, for knitting/charting software. I will cover this more in next week’s post. Briefly, I use Adobe Illustrator but there is at least one free tool, and several ways to go about making charts. Next week I will be linking to tutorials and references galore. I would say that I don’t want to pay for chart making software, but that seems to contradict my use of Illustrator. However, I bought the Adobe products more for web design than for knitting, so maybe that makes more sense.

Ivana asked: My question is of copyright nature. You said that for this shawl you used a stitch pattern directly out of a stitch dictionary. How does that work when you publish the design – do you have to give credit to the source of the stitch pattern? Is it even allowed to make a commercial pattern on the basis of it? I know the creative community pays great attention to copyright (and rightly so), but I’m not clear where this would stand. I mean, stitch dictionaries are there to provide stitches for larger designs after all…

It is my understanding that stitch dictionaries are like reference books. I feel better referencing them, but I know other designers (sometimes very famous) do not. When writing the pattern, I will most certainly cite my sources, like I do here. Here are some interesting Ravelry discussions on the topic.

April 12, 2010: Testing & Tools

Welcome back again. This week’s post is going to be a little brief as I have been quite sick lately.

During the knitting of my prototype I start to type a rough draft of the pattern. This I send off to a test knitter, as well as use it to test the pattern myself. Using only these directions, I knit the pattern for a second time.



A test knitter for a complicated pattern is a must, at least for me. As the pattern writer, it is hard to follow the pattern exactly without making assumptions. A fresh pair of eyes and a different perspective help to point out errors and help to make the pattern language clearer.

I like to provide the test knitter with the yarn I am planning on using for my final pattern. This is nice for both the tester, as they don’t have to purchase or use their own yarn, and also for me, as I will get a good idea about yardage and compatibility with the pattern. Other designers have the tester provide their own yarn; really it’s whatever you and your tester agree upon. There is even a group on Ravelry dedicated to helping you find test knitters.

The document I prepare for testing is very basic. If I use charts, I try to have both the charts and the written instructions for the test knitter to compare for equality and accuracy.

There are several ways to create charts. I touched on one of these ways in the Q&A post last week. This free Java program is great for most all of your basic stitches. Other methods include using a knitting font in conjunction with a spreadsheet program, using vector image software such as Adobe Illustrator, and using software specifically for knitting design.

Personally, I enjoy using Adobe Illustrator. As I mentioned last week, this program is quite expensive, and I just happen to have it because it came bundled with other software I use for web design. I found this tutorial to be excellent. For me, the biggest advantage of using Illustrator is that the resulting images are vectors, meaning they can be re-sized while remaining clear and sharp.

I have played around with the knit font and a spreadsheet, but found it to be cumbersome and time consuming. I don’t have any experience with knitting design software, but would love to hear your opinions if you have used any.

Once I have my charts and written instructions sent off to my test knitter I start knitting my second sample and compiling the final document.

My first pattern was drafted entirely in Adobe Photoshop as separate images, converted into PDF’s, and merged into a single PDF using Adobe Reader. I found however that this merged PDF created problems for some knitters (Mac users were not able to view the merged file) as well as the document itself was rather large. I had to then release the pattern again with single pages.

I have since started using the free word processing tool included in Open Office. I like using this program better than even Microsoft Office because it gives me more flexible image placement, it allows me to save as a multi-page PDF, and its free. I still make images in Photoshop, but then import them into Open Office for the final layout.

Photoshop is not the only tool to use for images, again I just happen to use this tool for work. There are other great tools available. Two noteworthy (and free) ones being Paint.NET and Gimp.

With my first pattern, I tried to establish a layout theme so that all my patterns will all have a similar look and feel. I took some time to look at how other designer’s lay out their patterns. Some are in column format, others are more casual, some have distinctive design elements around important sections.

My theme contains blocks of color with silhouetted images of flowers or leaves. I also use the same font for all my patterns for uniformity. It is not necessary to develop a theme, but I think it’s nice if knitters can pick out your patterns with a glance. Here are some images I made for this shawl pattern:





Next week I will talk more about the final pattern formatting and publishing options. Again, sorry for the shortness this week. To make up for it, have a look at the shawl during it’s photo shoot.


Photo Shoot

April 19, 2010: Publishing

Welcome back for the final week of Design Series. For this last post, I will get more in depth about publishing.

I want to expand upon one thing I mentioned briefly last week: the use or creation of a pattern template. I talked about giving your patterns a consistent look and feel or theme, which is really part of a template.

When designing for a publication, they will have you write your pattern using a guide. Knitty has a template posted so that your submission (a completed pattern) follows their style guidelines exactly. Other publications will send you a template once your pattern has been accepted for publication.

Following a guide allows your pattern to match the format of the publication so that all patterns are consistently laid out. Every publisher tends to express things like materials, pattern sections, and abbreviations a little differently. For example, Knitty has you list a yarn source like this:

[MC] Manufacturer Name [fiber content; #yd/#m per #g skein]; color: ColorName; # skeins;

While Interweave Knits has you list it like this:

Manufacturer and Yarn Name (fiber content; #yd [# m]/# g): color name (MC), # skeins;

When self-publishing, you are the editor, and therefore you may create your own style guidelines. One of the best ways to know how to layout your own patterns is to take a look at existing patterns from various sources. What pieces do you think make reading the pattern easier? What elements confuse you? Do you like when the designer/publisher lists the basic stitches first and only refers to them in the pattern later? Do you like seeing k1 or k for a single knit stitch?


Layout Preview

One of the scariest parts to designing is putting yourself and your design out into the world. It will be judged. There will be people that love it, and those that hate it. When you make something public, you invite the world to critique, comment, and otherwise share their opinions openly. Every published design is a new learning experience. Embrace the good, and use the bad to improve your next design.



When it comes to self-publishing there are several options. You can list it electronically on your blog or webpage, Ravelry, Patternfish, Etsy, Artfire, etc. You can also choose to offer it to your local yarn store or other online retailers on a wholesale level.

A word of caution about selling a pattern on Etsy or Artfire: be sure to state clearly that it is a pattern and not a finished garment. Some shoppers see a picture of a finished piece and assume that is what they are buying. Imagine how disappointed they are when they receive a pattern instead.

For me, the best option at this time is to offer my pattern for free both on my blog and on Ravelry. There some controversy about designers offering free patterns, but until I become better established, I feel this is appropriate for me. Any future Design Series patterns will also be free.

Speaking of free patterns – when am I publishing Nancy & Judy? I am almost finished the layout, and just need to go over it a few times before it will be ready. Look for it mid-week!

ETA: It’s available now!

April 21, 2010: Nancy&Judy

The culmination of Design Series, Nancy & Judy emerge as a shawlette of sisters. Stitch patterns from Barbara Walker’s Treasuries inspired and transformed into alternating sister sections of a shawl. Both made from the same essential twisted stitches but expressed quite differently. Judy is straight arrow, clean crisscrossed lines over a field of simple stockinette. Nancy is the wild child, open and free.

Follow the journey from inspiration to published pattern:

Nancy & Judy

Nancy & Judy

Nancy And Judy2

Nancy And Judy

(An updated version has been posted (5/18) which corrected an error in the chart legend. The symbol for k2tog should read RS: k2tog; WS: p2tog)

Download the pattern (PDF) directly from the site HERE.
Download the pattern from Ravelry HERE. (no account needed!)

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