Knitting designer series: What a small world

by Admin on 10/10/2012

in Guest series Knitting 2012, knitting+crochet+yarn

Knitting designer series: I invited a few of my favourite knitwear designers to discuss their design process and inspiration and to share some tips and ideas too.

Robin Ulrich: lives and knits in central Ohio where she focuses on offering stylish knit designs with a timeless quality at her blog Robin Ulrich Studio, on Ravelry or on Craftsy. When not designing knitwear she can often be found on Pinterest, Twitter, or running hither and yon through yarn shops and wool festivals trailed by her patient husband and trusty Pomeranian crafting buddy.

Robin is offering a free copy of her Brandywine Falls wrap pattern to a reader [leave a comment to be in the running, a winner will be drawn at random after 48 hours]. If the winner is on Ravelry the pattern can be added directly to their library or it can be emailed as a pdf. [Winner has been contacted]


“How did you come up with the idea for that pattern?” This is a question I’m frequently asked. If only getting ideas was the final destination rather than the beginning of the journey! For me, finding ideas is the easy part of the pattern design process. Taking steps from those first kernels of inspiration on through to the creation of a published knitting pattern is the much lengthier and more involved part of the trip.

Ideas and inspiration for my designs can come from almost anywhere; my personal history and experiences, interests in art, architecture and nature are all influences, as is my love of exploring new places. Even a quick trip to the grocery store can spark an idea, like when I purchased some lovely ripe pears last autumn, and was struck by their graceful shapes and rich color variation, resulting eventually in the designs for my Bosc Hat & Scarf [link]. The internet has opened up a vast world of knowledge and inspiration as well.

The first challenge I usually face is sifting and sorting through the barrage of ideas in my head. Too many design possibilities can be more daunting than too few, and many ideas may not work, so figuring out what does or doesn’t make the cut takes much time and consideration. It’s also easy to get distracted by a single small detail. Often I mull over my ideas for days, picturing various details in my mind. I do a lot of thinking about designs during my daily runs.

Sketching several variations on a chosen theme, experimenting with subtle changes in shape, size and proportion is one way I begin a new project, so keeping a notebook available at all times helps me keep track of ideas. I have several inexpensive blank notebooks on hand — in my purse and knitting bags, at the kitchen table, and at my desk. I fill these notebooks with words, sketches, pattern name ideas or other notes that will jog my memory later. Adding photos, buttons, color chips and potential yarn swatches to the notebook is another early step. Once I get a few design details settled upon, I’ll often remove and pin these items to a bulletin board in my studio, and as I work and make changes to the design I’ll add to, or take things down from, the board.

Although art classes put me in good stead for working with a color wheel, I’m not usually color driven as in say, ‘I want to make a purple shawl’. Usually something else serves as a starting point, as was the case in my most recent shawl design, Amethiste. For Amethiste, my interest in minerals and crystals led to an interpretation of the points, planes and facets of crystals through the stitch patterns.

To begin the process I photographed a few mineral specimens I’ve collected over the years and did a lot of reading and internet research on the formation and structure of crystals. This research helped me select several stitch patterns to experiment with and after swatching dozens of stitch possibilities in several yarn options, I ended up with a combination that stood out as the clear winner.

Once the chosen yarn has been swatched and blocked for gauge, I’ll write a rough pattern draft and knit a sample project from that draft, making changes and notes for photos, graphics, or other details that might go into the final pattern PDF. I enjoy doing the photography and graphic design for my patterns as part of the creative process and I’m always thinking of how to craft a pattern that is concise, easy to follow and still visually appealing at the same time.

After updating and perfecting a pattern as much as I can, I send it to a professional technical editor who looks it over for every possible error or format issue, then it’s returned to me for further corrections and polishing, and I send it on to my fantastic team of test knitters. Test knitters work from the draft pattern, making their own version of the project, and provide me with feedback about things like wording, clarity and exact yarn yardage and project measurements to compare with my own, as well as input on the finished item. I usually knit at least one or two more projects along with my testers, looking for the same issues that they might describe.

Along with the release of my most recent patterns I’ve introduced YouTube demonstration or tutorial videos to highlight techniques featured in the design, like adding fringe to a scarf for my Frostlight [link] pattern, or the garter tab cast on method used for Amethiste [link]. These videos were way more work than I first imagined, but my very talented husband loves producing them and I love knowing I’ve been able to share information in a way that is much easier for many knitters to learn from than a printed page. The advent of tablet computers has also made it easier than ever for knitters to link to online resources like videos.

The process of producing a knitting pattern is lengthy for any designer and my own extended version is certainly not going to win me any trophies in the productivity race, however, the very best prize I can imagine is seeing a beautiful finished project a knitter has made from a pattern that started out as an idea in my head. It completely blows my mind that I can imagine a design, write a pattern, post it on the internet, and watch as a person in Rio de Janeiro, or Helsinki, or Los Angeles, knits the project! What a small world it has become indeed.

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Louise October 10, 2012 at 7:32 am

What a beautiful hat!


2 Jio October 10, 2012 at 7:41 am

Love your designs. Just fav’ed a several in Ravelry. Thanks for sharing your process. Jio


3 Bonney October 10, 2012 at 7:54 am

I love the sophistication of these designs. And a very interesting process. Just beautiful!


4 virginia October 10, 2012 at 8:33 am

I am enjoying this series, and these designs are so lovely! Thanks for sharing your “process!”


5 Erin October 10, 2012 at 9:14 am

These designs are gorgeous – I’m looking forward to getting home so I can add some of them to the rav queue!


6 Suzanne October 10, 2012 at 9:20 am

That brandywine falls pattern is awesome! I love the smocking and scalloped edges. Thank you, Kathreen, for asking Robin to share her thoughts. She and I are almost neighbors–another example of how knitting brings people together.


7 tina October 10, 2012 at 9:49 am

Robin’s Brandywine pattern is the perfect fall go to accessory. A chic twist to an old school classic. Love it! Thanks for the giveaway.


8 Kim K October 10, 2012 at 10:07 am

Thanks for this lovely peak into your process!


9 Cecile October 10, 2012 at 10:30 am

Great article: I didn’t know about this designer and I don’t understand how I could miss her on Ravelry, as her designs are gorgeous. The Sothia shawl, the Bosc hat and Grey Haven cowl are in my Ravelry queue now! The Brandywine Fall will definitively join them if I don’t win this giveaway ;)


10 Pam October 10, 2012 at 10:43 am

Brandywine Falls is gorgeous, as is all of your stuff! I’ve been trying to figure out a good contender for a new project…


11 Deepa October 10, 2012 at 11:05 am

Brandywine is gorgeous! Please pick me. :)


12 andrea October 10, 2012 at 11:06 am

thank you for the chance to win. what a beautiful shawl and matching hat.


13 Dianne October 10, 2012 at 11:33 am

Lovely patterns! I particularly love the hat and the purple shawl…just gorgeous.


14 KathyC October 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Interesting article – I browsed Robin’s patterns on Ravelry and like all of them!


15 Dr Lemur October 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm

It’s frustrating to see those beautiful patterns and not a link directly to them! Please add links!


16 Debby October 10, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Beautiful designs, Robin! Thanks for the chance to win one.


17 Marsha October 10, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Ooooh, I would love to knit a Brandywine Wrap. It’s just lovely! Thanks for posting this interesting interview!


18 Roseflora October 10, 2012 at 3:23 pm

I like the lace pattern very much.


19 Lourdes October 10, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Just bought the hat pattern!!


20 Megan October 10, 2012 at 7:33 pm

I’m quite enjoying this series! Very inspirational and too cool to see how different people design patterns.


21 TK October 11, 2012 at 3:13 am

So gorgeous! Thanks for sharing!


22 jezz October 11, 2012 at 3:24 am

What a beautiful hat design–I’d love to be able to knit it!


23 Alverdine October 11, 2012 at 9:09 am

That cream lace is really beautiful. Oh, to be able to knit so beautifully! I’m more of a T-shirt yarn and inch-wide needles kind of knitter :)


24 tatjana October 11, 2012 at 10:40 am

beautiful intricate pattern – and my favorite color!


25 Nancy N October 11, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Great post, and thanks for the lovely chance!
Nancy (n2n on Rav)


26 Ivy October 12, 2012 at 6:05 am

What a fascinating interview — and a gorgeously designed wrap!


27 Janet October 12, 2012 at 7:02 am

As I struggle to design my own knitwear, I read Robin ‘s description of the process and can really relate. Thanks for the post and I love your work.


28 Kathy October 12, 2012 at 8:14 am

Such gorgeous patterns – what an amazing designer!


29 Betsy October 12, 2012 at 8:24 am

Thank you for helping us get insight into the design process behind these beautiful patterns.


30 Evelyn October 12, 2012 at 11:41 am

I’ve been an admirer of Robin’s work for quite some time. Thanks for a great interview.

projectstashEL on Ravelry


31 Robin F. October 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Love your patterns. I read your blog (Robin’s) thru my google reader so I don’t miss a post.


32 Connie G. October 13, 2012 at 8:22 am

What a great post about a great designer! Thanks a million for sharing.


33 Daisy October 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm

How cool!


34 Rebecca October 15, 2012 at 9:33 am

I love your description of the design process for the Amethiste shawl. It’s always nice to learn a little more about how such beautiful things come about. Thanks!


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