knitting hats

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 :-)