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.