Guest series Knitting 2012

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.


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.

Melissa is a knitting addict who lives in New York city. You can see more of her work at neoknits. I asked Melissa a few questions about her designs and background.

You studied fashion design and specialised in knitwear – can you tell us a little more about your course – sounds pretty exciting – how/why did you decide to specialise in knitwear?

I studied Fashion Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. FIT offers a 2 year AAS degree with an optional additional 2 years for a BFA. For the first two years, we concentrated mainly on draping, pattern making, and tailoring – very woven centric. In my fifth semester, we had the opportunity to take exploratory courses, one of these being knitwear. It was taught on old Brother knitting machines that sometimes felt as though elephants had trampled on the needles! Nevertheless, it was a fantastic class and I decided to specialize in knitwear for my final 2 years. It was refreshing to be able to not only design a garment, but develop the fabric it is to be made of as well.

And now you work as a knitwear designer – can you tell us a little about the process of designing for a large manufacturer vs designing for hand knitting patterns?

When designing for a large manufacturer, I’m definitely not as involved in the process as I am with hand knitting. I create a sketch and a spec (a set of measurements) and off it goes to a factory overseas. Once the garment comes back, unless corrections need to be made, that is the end of my involvement. Our sales and production team take it from there. Also, there are so many things to consider when designing a machine knit garment, most importantly, how much is it going to cost. There is a fine line between getting the look I want and the price the buyer wants to pay.

When designing hand knits, I have much more freedom. I can use more complicated stitches, more expensive yarns, and combine the two to my heart’s content! While I still may have a knitter in mind for my patterns, being less restricted is much more rewarding for me as a designer.

Can you tell us a little about your process of designing? Tell us about your thought processes as you design – how does fit and texture come in to your design process?

My design process doesn’t always follow the same straight line. Sometimes it’s a stitch that inspires me, sometimes a particular silhouette. It could even be a small little detail that I build an entire design around.

I suppose I try not to think about the process too much and let the ideas flow as naturally as possible. Sometimes I’ll sketch up 10 sweaters in one day and won’t sketch another for a few months. When I’m ready, I come back to my sketchbook, revisit the designs and choose one that speaks to me. From there, I polish it up a little bit, add a detail or two and decide on the fit, stitch, and yarn. My designs are typically a work in progress.

For example, here is the sketch and final version of Guinevere. My initial sketch looks a little different than the final sweater. While the general shape stayed the same, the stitch plan had changed once I started swatching in the actual yarn I was going to use.

You have just finished writing a book – can you tell us a little bit about it? The process of designing a whole collection, knitting them all in a short space of time and testing the patterns – it is just a little bit crazy? What is next?

My book is a collection of patterns inspired by New York City, mainly sweaters. It was a pretty intense process! Designing a whole collection came fairly easy due to my training and catalog of rough sketches. The hard part was not only selecting the perfect yarn for each project, but also making sure the colors I chose all worked together in each story. When you can’t dictate what color you need a particular yarn in, things become a little more complicated.

I had about a year to knit 20 projects and I managed to knit 18 out of the 20 projects myself. In fact, looking back, I don’t even know how I managed that! I had a printed calendar with a strict knitting schedule that I tried to follow. I think I ended up going over deadline by only two weeks. The key to keeping it all together was good organizational skills and maybe a little chocolate!

What’s next? At this point, I’m not really sure where my knitting will take me. I’m still winding down from the book, so I’m at the stage where having a deadline is just starting to sound reasonable again!

Your designs all have a little bit of a vintage / romantic flare to them. Can you tell us a little about your inspiration sources and how you incorporate these into your designs?

I design what I like to wear, but most importantly, things that can be worn season after season. I feel when choosing a sweater for knit, it’s important to think about the lifespan of the design. The more timeless the design, the more it will be worn. Between the cost of the yarn plus the time spent knitting the sweater, it’s always nice when your investment pays you back season after season.

I am definitely inspired by all things vintage, but reworked with a modern flare. My inspiration sources range from old vintage patterns, runway shows, museums, and the streets of New York.

{ 1 comment }

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.

Jennette Cross is the dork behind Doviejay Knits. She loves natural fibers, good stories, cocker spaniels, and cold, gray days. You can find her on Ravelry, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Enchanted Rock Cardigan, in its final version. Photo by Kennedy Berry.


Designing in a vacuum can be a little scary. Two years ago I started doing just that and there were so many choices and possibilities that I found it paralyzing. For the first few months I got almost nothing done. It wasn’t a conscious decision to start designing with stories as inspiration, but in the last year I’ve been thinking about my design process and the new understanding that I’ve been doing this all along has made a huge difference. Maybe the biggest surprise was realizing that I learned this approach a long time ago.

When I was in high school I worked at the National Park in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. I had a wonderful boss and mentor who taught me about interpreting everyday objects to find the story underneath, a technique which goes by the fancy name Material Culture.

One of my favorite ways to do this was to repair clothing in the exhibits and talk about the amount of work it took to make clothes all by hand; in the days before Ready Made clothing was widely available, several friends might all go in on one of the new Singer sewing machines and share it round robin. It’s a small story, but the reality is that access to that kind of technology could completely change your life.

The point of Material Culture is to clarify a larger idea – to make a concept as big as the Industrial Revolution small enough to be relatable. We learned to do this with thousands of objects in the Park’s exhibits and I suppose at some point I started working backwards – instead of telling stories found in old objects, I wanted to start making new objects that told stories.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, from Maryland Heights. Photo by CB Cross.

Mood board

For the Enchanted Rock Cardigan [pictured at top], I knew that I wanted something that would work with Hill Country Weavers’s theme for their new book, Prairie Bliss Book 1, but I didn’t know the story yet. I started building an inspiration board in Pinterest, using search terms like Prairie, Texas, Austin, Cowgirl, and Hill Country.

After I assembled the board I took a step back to let the photos all slip to the unconscious part of my mind. Mostly when I use Pinterest this way I’m trying to get the overall feeling right, to put myself in the mood I want to create.

Then I started swatching, and I swatched hard. My guiding principles with the Enchanted Rock Cardigan were: feminine but not girly, outdoorsy, vintage. I started thinking about walking through the Hill Country and seeing little streams running between the rocks; that led me to my lace pattern. I wanted something Cowgirlish too, and that brought me to my edging.

Swatch and Sketch of Enchanted Rock Cardigan – my working title at the time was “Follow the Creek”.

When I had a concept I took my swatch and sketch to the Hill Country Weavers and we had a small summit meeting over the matter of yarn. We eventually chose The Fibre Company’s Acadia; a yarn and a color combination we all thought fit in with the mood and guiding principles. The name came after I remembered a previous trip to Enchanted Rock – a park in the Hill Country with an enormous pink granite hill that gives it its name.

Designing based on stories

That project came from a story I made up – walking in the Hill Country. I often work the other way around; starting with the story and going toward images. This spring I reread one of my favorite books, The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery, and I decided I was going to spend this summer designing three shawls based on it.

The Blue Castle takes place in the early 1920s, in and near Deerwood, Ontario, Canada, (the town is probably Bala, Ontario). It’s a romantic little story about Valancy Stirling, a very sad woman who lives a miserable, poor life with her controlling and unpleasant family. She gets a little brave and moves out to an island on Lake Mistawis (probably Lake Muskoka) and the more she lives with the woods and the water the more her world starts to come alive. Also, there’s a man.

I decided to do three shawls about very specific places in the book, and that their names would be Valancy’s Island, Up Back (that’s the rough-and-tumble area outside of Deerwood), and Mistawis – the last two will be coming out in a couple of weeks.

Swatch and Sketch of Valancy’s Island.

Valancy’s Island would be related to the woods and the water, with a certain springlike, flowery-lace quality. Again, I swatched prodigiously. I decided there would be a panel in the center that was flower or tree inspired, and that the edges should wave and scallop. I didn’t want to get too busy with the lace, so I added in some plain rows between the lace rows, to emphasize the waves. I ended with lace and really wanted to show the delicate nature of the edging so I added a picot bind off. In the end I do think the shawl captures the outdoorsy-romance I love so much in the book.

Valancy’s Island, in its final version.

I find that at its root designing is about making decisions. I like to work within the framework of a story, whether it’s a one-line story I tell myself, or a 300 page story told to many thousands of people because it gives those decisions some structure. And it’s an inexhaustible source – finding inspiration in stories is like being the only person fishing in the ocean with one pole – you’re never going to run out of fish. There are such an infinite variety of strange, beautiful, sad, and odd stories out there, and they mean such different things to each person who reads, or hears, or knits them. I’ll never be able to knit all of the stories I want to in my life. But I’m willing to try.


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.

Anna Hrachovec is a toy designer and artist living in Brooklyn, New York. Her cute and crazy world of knitted toys can be found at mochimochiland.

In my job as a designer, there is nothing more exciting than dreaming up a new knitted toy and then seeing it multiply in different variations in the hands of knitters all over the world (through photos that they post on Flickr and Ravelry). Between the idea for a character and its wildly diverse speciation, though, is the complex process of creating the design and the pattern.I was just about to begin designing a new knitted toy when Kathreen invited me to write a guest post on my process, so I documented the steps as I went, having no idea how it was going to turn out in the end. So without further ado, let’s make a monkey!

Sketching is the starting point for me, both when I have something specific in mind to design and also when I just need to get ideas flowing in a general way. I’m not much of an illustrator, and I’ve never used a proper sketchbook, but I’ve found that making this part of the process as low-fi and homely as possible helps me be free with ideas and make new discoveries.

I already know that I want to make a monkey, but what kind of monkey? I sketch a new concept over and over again until it takes shape in a way that clicks with me.

I always try to include a fun design detail, so I experiment with different props and features. I’m thinking I want to give my monkey an extra-long tail to play with, maybe finding a way that he can grab on to his tail with his arms – I circle the monkey that’s closest to what I want to execute, and then I go on to sketch him in more detail.

If the pattern has a specific design element that needs a little math or engineering, I work it out in a general way at this point. This monkey will probably consist of basic shapes, so it will be more about getting the proportions right as I go and less about deciding (at this point) exactly how many stitches I will have on my needles or how many rows I will knit.

Color choice is important to the personality that the final toy will have. Will it be more natural and subdued, or cotton-candy-like and silly? I decide to go with a bright orange as the main color – it’s fun, but still somewhat rooted in nature. I often end up knitting different color variations in the end, so I try not to obsess too much about colors at this point.

Unless I’m planning an especially large design, I like to jump right into knitting the main body piece. I’ve spent the past five years designing my characters out of basic shapes (balls, tubes, triangles, and the like), so I already have an idea of what ratios of stitch increases and decreases I should use to get the shapes I want. I like to work my designs from the bottom up, both because I find it easier to shape them that way, and also because decrease stitches look nicer than increase stitches at the top of a toy’s head. So here we have a monkey butt.

As I knit, I note what I’m doing round by round on a text file on my computer. I use a shorthand at this point that’s just for my own reference.

I’d like to add a yellow patch to the monkey’s tummy, so I experiment with adding colorwork, using Illustrator to plan out a chart. …But I decide the colorwork isn’t the best fit for this pattern, so I scrap this plan and go back to where I was.

As my monkey takes shape, I occasionally check the progress by stuffing it and comparing it to my sketches. I’m not looking for a perfect match – sometimes I find that my yarn and needles do something better by chance than I had originally planned. And often I keep going even if I’m feeling uncertain, because it’s hard to tell at this point what it will look like as a finished piece.

I’ve also switched from using double-pointed needles to a circular needle, which makes it a little easier to see how the piece is shaping up.

After finishing the body, I move on to the rest of the body parts, using the body as a reference point for getting the other shapes and proportions right.

As I make all the other parts, I pin them in place and begin stitching some of them, but I wait to get everything assembled before finishing the stitching and weaving in all those loose ends, so I can more easily make adjustments.

I think I should mention my extremely messy desk – I used to try to keep it neat, but I find that I’m more creative and happy when surrounded by lots of colorful randomness!

At the last minute, I decide on a different arm position, which will also affect the way the tail works with the body.

I finish weaving in all those loose ends, and my monkey is done! At this point, I’m so excited for my new little friend that I want to take some pictures with him in the park. This one may or may not end up as the “beauty shot” in the pattern, but photographing my monkey helps me get a sense of his personality and might inspire a name.

Looking at this photo makes me decide that I should knit up a second monkey so that I can show the front and back of the design in one photo, while also featuring a different color combo.

My work is only about halfway done right now – I still have to edit my pattern notes into a readable, step-by-step format, and I have to take additional photos, including any necessary technique photos. Then I turn to my small pool of sharp-eyed test knitters, who point out errors and typos, help me word all parts of the pattern more clearly, and make suggestions for additional photos. And my monkey still needs a name! (Suggestions are welcome.)

All that is still ahead of me, so I’m aiming for a November release for this little guy, at which time the pattern will be available as a PDF download in my online shop. Then if I’m lucky, a few days or weeks after that, I’ll get to see some monkey cousins pop up online!

[ps. Anna has a new  book just out Super-Scary Mochimochi: 20+ Cute and Creepy Creatures to Knit]


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.

Alex is a self-taught knitter and designer who lives in Michigan with her husband, two dogs, and a languishing degree in psychology. She likes soft wools, kettle dyes, and ducklings. You can follow her adventures at

Hello nice internet people! The folks at WhipUp asked me to talk a little bit about my design process, specifically for hats (which is about 90% of what I do, haha) and talk a little bit about self-publishing. I thought I’d break it down step by step…

1. Idea Generation

Before you can create, you have to have some idea what you’re creating, of course. My inspiration comes from a ton of sources. Often times I’ll start with a design feature or stitch pattern that I saw somewhere and really liked, like the keyhole in Peek (which is a common feature on sweaters, but not as much on hats), or the welts on A Hat for Eudora [Image above] (I actually ended up doing four patterns with welts, just ’cause they’re fun to experiment with). Then I’ll design around that – figuring out how to shape the rest of the hat around that element.

I like to mix up my brims- folded? Hemmed? Ribbed? Split?- and I try to avoid falling back on the same old plain spiral decreases. They’re a classic for a reason, but sometimes it’s fun to mix it up.

Sometimes I’ll do a sideways brim… or maybe I’ll just knit the whole thing sideways, like Wale and Course.

It can also be fun to dive into historical styles and classic, traditionally non-knitted hats. In the case of colorwork, just about anything can be a starting point! I recently did a design called Voluta for Malabrigo’s upcoming book, which is inspired by those old, swirly wrought-iron fences. And sometimes the yarn itself is an inspiration, like with Phoncible [image below], which just wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for the slowly-changing colors.

2. Sketch and swatch!

I’ll admit I don’t always sketch… sometimes I just dive in with a few ideas and see what happens. That method often leads to twice as much knitting though, as I have ideas halfway through that I have to start all over to execute! So I definitely recommend taking the time to sketch and really think out the design. Do your experimenting on a swatch – you need to get your gauge right anyway, right?- rather than the actual hat. Trust me, it saves time in the end!

3. Math it out…

Head circumference x gauge + or – whatever you need to make your stitch pattern and decreases fit, and you’re pretty much good to go, unless you’re doing short rows, anyway ;-)

4…. and cast it on!

Now, the knitting! I record every row I knit, as I knit it. The better notes you take now, the less you’ll hate yourself in the morning when you’re trying to type it up! If all goes well, I block it out and remeasure the gauge, to make sure I have the right one written down in the pattern.

5. Photographs!

I can’t overestimate the importance of photographs! I wrote a whole post with a dumb name on the topic over here . I strongly suspect that the simplest garter stitch scarf photographed by Jared Flood would sell better than the most gorgeous lace shawl, photographed by a shoddy cell phone camera with a flash. I used to have my good friend and knitwear photographer Vivian shoot most of my patterns, but since moving I’ve had to train my husband in the fine art of “don’t point it at my face! Point it at the hat!” As long as you are careful about lighting conditions and the person behind the camera knows how to make it focus and shoot, you can get some decent shots. Take more than you think you need. A lot more. If possible, shoot in RAW mode, which will let you tweak exposure and white balance more effectively when you get it into a photo editing program.

6. Formatting

This is the least fun part of designing (except for maybe size grading, which I don’t do much of with hats!) I have a template that I use for every design, and it’s actually based in Powerpoint. When I tell people that, their first reaction is “Oh, no, honey, use a desktop publishing program, please.” But y’know what? The people who look at the finished pattern never suspect that it’s done in Powerpoint and I’ve only ever had positive reactions to their appearance. Use what works for you, that’s the important part! Once everything’s laid out, it gets compressed into a pdf for ease of distribution.

7. Testing and Tech Editing

Every pattern I publish is tested by a handful of fastidious knitters before it is released for sale, and the more complex ones are also edited by a tech editor. It’s sooo important to catch as many silly mistakes as possible before putting the pattern up for sale. It’s better to catch them late than never, of course, but sending out multiple errata updates is a huge bummer and makes you look a bit disorganized or (worse) unprofessional.

8. If you love it, let it go! Time to release!

Right now I sell my patterns through three primary venues- Ravelry, Deep South Fibers (my wholesale hard-copy distributor), and Craftsy (though I still haven’t gotten all of my patterns up over there, yet). Then I tweet about it, post on Facebook (both my personal one and the Dull Roar page), blog about it, send out a notice to my mailing list subscribers, and post it in my Ravelry group as well as any other relevant groups such as Designers, a Hat-lovers group, sometimes a yarn-specific group if I used a particular yarn. I also add it to the pattern listing page on my blog. And you’re done! I don’t do a ton of promotion for specific patterns past the first day of release- either people will like it and it will soar, or they won’t and it will slip quietly into obscurity. It’s nearly impossible for me to guess which it will be- you think I’d have noticed a pattern by now, but nope!

So how does this differ from non-self-publishing?

Usually, if you’re working with a third party publisher such as a magazine or webzine, this process is a little different.

  • You may start with a submission before diving into the actual design. If they approve it, they may ask for certain changes or select and provide the yarn that you’ll be working with.
  • You generally don’t need to do testing, since they will provide tech editing- which is good, because you’ll also almost always need to keep the project a secret until its release!
  • Photography is often their responsibility, though not always.
  • Generally the publisher handles most of the nitty-gritty on release day, as well, though designers are often expected to promote the pattern in similar manner to self-publishing.

I do a mix of self and non-self publishing- I prefer to have the extra control that self-publishing provides, but I occasionally enjoy collaborating with publishers. I’m too impatient to deal with the submissions process much anymore (I want to just start designing, RIGHT NOW!) but occasionally people invite me to contribute to something and that’s always wonderful :-)