How I Do What I Do (or my knitting pattern design processes)

My newest knitting pattern for a tiny sock yarn Mouse, is almost ready to be tested. But how does a Natty Knits knitting pattern get from my brain to your inbox? And why does it take so long?

A Rough Sketch

I always start with a pencil drawing or two. It cements what I’m trying to achieve. Sometimes the drawing is really detailed and sometimes it’s no more than a scribble. As you can see, the Mouse sketch is very basic.

Practice Yarn

When I first cast on a new project, I usually have an idea of how the overall construction will work, so I start with a part of the toy that’s less obvious. With the Mouse, that was the nose. I always use a “practice yarn” in a neutral color and weight for these shape experiments, so that the bare bones of the construction are obvious.

I often knit a lot of strange looking things during this stage, half-formed creatures, knitted nightmares and things that accidentally look like other things. I usually unravel these and cast on again with a slightly clearer vision. I recently designed a hedgehog and didn’t unravel any of my imperfect attempts.  I’ll share photos of them one day. Maybe at Halloween.

Write it Down

I write notes as I knit, but the notes don’t look like a knitting pattern, most of them don’t even look like English. When I feel that the pattern is at least close to being right, then I type it into the computer as a draft pattern.

Yarn Suggestions

Even though I love Knit Picks Swish DK and Berocco Vintage, I’m always looking for new yarn. I mostly look for washability (after all these are toys) and plenty of color choices. My patterns don’t normally include a yarn suggestion, but I still like to knit the designs in a few different yarns to make sure the pattern is robust.  Sometimes a pattern looks better in a different weight yarn, that’s how the Mouse became a Fingering weight pattern.

Freak Out a Bit

This is the part of the process I wish I could cut out. The part where I start to question myself. With the Mouse, I became obsessed with making tiny feet. I tried everything, sewn on feet, short rows, increase and decreases and even cables. In the end I had to admit that the feet were superfluous. He’s two inches tall, he has no room for feet!

Photos

I take all my own photos using a small digital camera and a homemade light tent. Sometimes I have to wait for a sunny day to get good shots.

Test Knitters

I knit one more version from the draft pattern, then send the draft for testing. I am immensely grateful to the independent testers who work on the early draft versions of my knitting patterns. They are often professional, enthusiastic and really helpful. I don’t pay them, (although I’d like to one day) which makes their work even more valuable. I find these amazing knitters in the Free Pattern Testers forum on Ravelry.com.

Tech Checks

The testers find my missing commas and the part where I wrote “PU sts with RS facing”, when I meant “PU sts with WS facing”. Now I look at the technical nitty gritty. I worked with a real technical editor for a while and she taught me a lot about the weaknesses in my patterns. So, I check stitch counts and abbreviations and try to tame the wandering tenses in my sentences. Then I worry about whether I should rewrite part of the pattern or all of the pattern, but I don’t rewrite any of it and a week later it’s ready. I write the Hints and Tips blog entry, make the Etsy listing and upload the PDF to Ravelry.

Creating a new knitting pattern is a long term commitment, especially for me. I hope that eventually, as I learn more and as my little boy gets older, I’ll work faster. Of course, I could cut out the self doubt stages now and save about two weeks!

My husband is a computer programer. He says that code is never finished, it can always be tweaked, changed, rewritten, added to or edited. It’s up to the designer when to say “stop, it’s ready”.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “How I Do What I Do (or my knitting pattern design processes)

  1. Raven

    I like to hear your process. I am going to start a blog of my painting and encaustic process too. So, for me I really appreciate that you took the time to put that down. I like the mouse and I don’t think it looks like an elephant.

    • nattyknitter

      Thanks Raven. He doesn’t look like an elephant now. I changed the pattern (and then the photo on this blog entry) last night. Did I mention that I don’t know when to stop tweaking a pattern?

  2. How funny that you and your husband both write ‘code’. As a former computer programmer, I totally understand your husband’s statement and he is wise to give you that advise. Such a cute mouse!

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