I am about to write my first sweater pattern and as part of that, I am going to share how I go about doing it as a lot of people ask me about how they might start designing knitting patterns. I want to go into all the detail and hopefully dispel a few myths that people have mentioned to me about pattern writing. However, as that is going to take me a while, I thought I’d share how I went about my Totally Tweedy Hat which I released last week.
I am not a full time knitwear designer and have never had a pattern go viral. I haven't been published in magazines, although I did submit my 'Handbag Cushion' to Knit Now once ... I had very kind feedback - the submission was clear but the item a bit niche *lol*. I write patterns because I like the way yarn and stitches go together, and because I like to have patterns to include with yarn & to show people what can be done with the yarns that I sell. I think that sharing my experience, as someone who feels that way, and is not a big name in knitting, is useful as it shows that pattern writing is possible for everyone, even if you just think of yourself as someone with a needles, yarn and a desire to do some swatching : ).
Yes, I absolutely had to knit three samples ... absolutely and totally necessary
Where to start?
For me I either start with the yarn because it ‘wants’ to be something or I want to design something particular and a certain yarn will work well with it.
For the Totally Tweedy Hat pattern, it was both time of year and the yarn that made decide what to make! A super soft, cosy, aran weight hat to be released in November made sense and at the very least I’d have a hat for me at the end.
Once I had decided on the yarn and that it was to become a hat, I thought about what needles to use and what pattern/stitch to make it in.
Petrol, my favourite!
For an aran hat, experience told me a 4.5mm and a 5mm needle would work well. For shawls I’ve designed, I have to admit the needle selection is sometimes based on which size needle I have available at the time! I’m pretty sure that many designers have patterns out there where the needle size was also based on this scientific method.
When I don’t know what needle to use, I swatch with different sizes until I get a fabric I like the feel of.
What stitch etc?
For this hat, I had a fairly good idea of what I wanted based on my Knit Hatty Pattern. I wanted a variation of the pattern where the slip stitches were more prominent. Based on that pattern I knew I wanted a 5 stitch repeat with one stitch being slipped in that repeat.
Knit hatty, the original
Of course I rarely come to a pattern with such a precise idea of what I want. My Socks of the Galaxy pattern, launched yesterday (Dec 4th), started out with me swatching for a lace shawl! I was swatching a mesh lace panel when I noticed that the stitch pattern looked like daisies so I started swatching a daisy panel instead and that eventually became a sock pattern.
Knitting swatches from stitch dictionaries and other stitch sources, and modifying those, are a great way of working out how suitable a stitch is for what you want.
Swatching and gauge
Once I had the yarn, needles and stitch I wanted, I moved on to working out how to make the pattern work and the gauge.
I cast on a enough stitches to fill a short circular needle, and also a multiple of the 5 stitch repeat I had from earlier, and started knitting what I thought would be the pattern. I tested to see if the pattern should be knit inside out (yes), how to slip the stitch when working inside out (purl or knit wise) and then I tested how different decreases looked (purl 2 together v. purl 2 together through the back loops). Once I had tested all of these, I knit 5 inches in the main pattern and then measured how many rows/stitches to 4 inches.
If I had been making a garment or an item with no or positive ease I would have washed and blocked the swatch. For this, I didn’t.
Of all the patterns I love, it’s Tin Can Knits I love the most. I love how their patterns often go from Baby to Substantial so I have been aiming to include as many sizes as possible in my patterns.
Up until this version, my hats have been only adult sizes and based on my head size as the largest and working down from that. This time, because I wanted more sizes, I needed to find a good set of head measurements for both head circumference (easy to find) and ear to crown (much trickier to find).
I found exactly what I wanted on Woolly Wormhead’s site: https://www.woollywormhead.com/sizing
Based on the sizing details on that page, I decided I wanted to make the following sizes:
Baby, toddler, young child, child/teen, adult, adult large. To fit head circumference: 14 (16, 18, 20, 22, 24) ins
Once I knew what sizes I wanted to make, I then took my stitches per inch (from the swatch) and multiplied it by the head sizes I wanted. I do my calculations using inches because I have a better idea of what inches mean in terms of body size.
5.5 stitches per inch so I multiplied all the sizes I wanted by the number of stitches**.
77 (88, 99, 110, 121, 132) stitches
However, hats generally have negative ease (the finished size should be smaller than the body measurement they are going to fit) and in her size guide, Woolly indicated that she uses about 12% negative ease in her patterns so if it’s good enough for Woolly, it is good enough for me!
Therefore I calculated 88% of all of the stitch counts I had worked about above to make them 12% smaller:
67.76 (77.44, 87.12, 96.8, 106, 116)
Which with rounding and considering I wanted a 5 stitch repeat:
70 (80, 90, 100, 110, 120) which become my casting on stitch counts and also my finished hat sizes!
Next I calculated the height of each size of the hat.
I wanted a very shallow crown on my hat and I wanted to keep the slip stitch pattern as well so I worked out a decrease pattern to fit that. I worked the out the decrease to run over 5 decrease rounds with a knit row between. This was based on turning the 5 stitches of each repeat into 1 stitch and a final round of p2togs! This equalled 9 rows which corresponded to ‘just over an inch’ in my gauge.
Woolly’s sizing chart indicates crown to base of ear as 5 (5.75, 6.5, 7.25, 8.25, 9.25) inches
I took these are a guide rather than a hard and fast rule as I wanted my hat to go quite a bit below the ear. I knit one for myself and knit another for a toddler and from this I decided on a set of lengths for the pattern based on how the edge rolled a little when the hat was turned inside out, the overall fit of the hat and how long I wanted it to feel. This testing meant that I wanted the hats knit
Knit to 5.5 (6, 6.5, 7.25, 7.75, 8) inches from the cast on edge which would then equal
6.25 (7, 7.5, 8.25, 8.75, 9.5) inches as finished heights so closer for the larger sizes to Woolly’s but with more coverage for kids ears in the smaller sizes.
Do not be put off by doing the calculations required for knitting patterns! Sometimes I think when people hear ‘calculate the number of stitches’, they get flash backs to ‘There is a pole standing in the middle of a field at a 125 degree angle, the wind is blowing at 405mph, how hard does Joanne have to kick the ball to make sure she makes the 1pm train that left the station at 10am travelling at the speed of light’
Knitting pattern calculations are much simpler!
I want a piece of fabric to fit a 20 inch head. My gauge is 5 stitches per inch. To fit, with no ease, you multiply the number of inches required by the number of stitches per inch. 20 inches & 5 stitches per inch means I need 100 stitches.
Writing the actual pattern
For all my patterns I tend to ‘ugly type’ all of mine out into my template, print it to knit from and then correct it as I knit the pattern, trying to tidy up the grammar as well as the maths.
My original template was based on patterns I found really clear, Kate Atherley’s book and Designer Bootcamp by Joeli Creates. People have kindly told me that they have found my layout clear and easy to knit from.
If you are going to write patterns, start thinking about the template, layout and appearance around the same time you start thinking about writing patterns.
My pattern layout is usually a version of the above. All the details are on the first page because when the patterns are for sale at a show, people can see all the sizing etc details without having to take the pattern out of a plastic wrap
Making different sizes / samples of the hat before releasing it
Once I have a rough typed up version of the pattern, I knit one or more samples from it. I like to knit my own samples which is fine for hats but I will need to do something else when I get to sweater patterns in 16 sizes.
It’s when I knit from my patterns that I find the glaring gaps! I would suggest leaving it a day or so before knitting it if you can because I have found I get more ‘what in the name of goodness did I mean here’ moments when I leave it for a while. For this pattern, I knit the large version of the pattern from the calculations for the hat, rather than a printed rough draft, and of course cast on 130 stitches which was the no ease number of stitches! I knit the baby version too short and had to reknit it.
Then it was photography time, which for this pattern, as well as the misknits mentioned above, was where the delay was! Knitwear photography is not my favourite activity. It is usually me (modelling) and Simon trying to take the photos and we both dread it! When I ask Simon to take the photograph from the waist up, he seems to hear ‘from the knees up’! (This is definitely something that people who are not conscious of what their bottom halves look like in photos hear incorrectly all the time!!)
For this hat I went for, and I’ll be candid, for a Purl Soho style flat lay of the hats and one showing it on myself. Someday it'll be professional photos and models but until then, it’s going to be flat lays and me and Simon if I can bother him into it!
Not sure anyone would buy this pattern based on this pic!
Never underestimate how importance of photography says the person who never puts enough time in for doing it.
I have a checklist of activities to do when releasing a free pattern now that I have done it a few times. I usually forget one or more steps or it clashes with something else that’s going on!
- > Add the pattern to the TLYC blog
- > Create the pattern page on Ravelry
- > Link from Ravelry to the blog
- > Post on Facebook & Instagram
- > Post on Pinterest
- > Include in the next edition of my newsletter
- > Add a PDF version to my Facebook group
This time I did steps 1, 2, 3 & 5, 6 & 7 on the day of the launch and did step 4 at the weekend. That was because I was running a Black Friday campaign on FB and Insta and I didn’t want to interrupt it.
You may be wondering why not just add the PDF to Ravelry. I do that for paid patterns of course but for free patterns, I ask that people pop over to the site so they’ll have visited and may remember it next time they are buying yarn or they might have a look around while after checking out the pattern. I hope that seems fair.
I add the PDF to my Facebook group because I used to add free PDFs to the website but as people had to register to download them (it’s a feature of my website), I got the occasional angry email from people who didn’t like that so I worked out that it’s easier to add them to the FB group and easier for people to join, have the pattern and if they don’t want to stay, leave.
Adding files to the TLYC Facebook group has definitly made my life easier! : )
For people who aspire to be designers, the launch activity is where the rubber hits the road and is something to think about as you set out as a designer and not just as you are going to release your first pattern. I have not cracked this for myself just yet but I’ll share what I know about promoting a paid pattern in my design mini series about the sweater pattern. Do not be put off by learning how to do this, there are many resources on building a community online but do be aware that there is as much, if not more, graft in this than there is in writing patterns!
And that’s it! I think this post might actually have taken longer than writing the pattern! None of this has to be done in a linear way either, I went back and forth with the pattern sizing a few times as I knit it. I always end up doing a number of drafts of the final layout. I took some terrible photos and had to take some more. I planned the launch dates before I had the pattern and the samples finished.
Now, I better be off, before this post gets any longer!
I’m happy to answer any questions you have about this. If you want to join the FB group it’s probably the best way. The website has stubbornly resisted allowing blog comments! Honestly, it’s not a trick to get you to join, it’s just one of the best places for me to help folk : ) I’m always online somewhere!
Oh and to mention, technical editing! This is so so important for all patterns but I have to admit, I did not get it done on Totally Tweedy... I ran out of time! All my paid patterns are tech edited by the amazing Deb of Find Me Knitting. Having your pattern edited saves all kinds of pain!