How I design knitting patterns

This is a question I have been asked more and more frequently of late, and one I didn’t think too much about before hand. I grew up in a rural area of New Zealand, where knitting wool was relatively common, but patterns were less accessible and more expensive.

When I was super young, my father and sister were sick. My mother taught me to knit as a way of knowing that I would be sitting quietly minding my own business as she took care of them both. She had a flyer from a womens magazine that was supposed to have full patterns in it… but some of the pages were missing. I wanted to make the teddy bear, which all that remained of the pattern was a diagram of the finished pieces. I think she was a bit exasperated when I asked how to do it, and she told me to follow the shapes. So I did. I copied the shapes as best I could – which to be honest were pretty square. I had to bug my mother to show me how to increase and decrease, but I got there in the end.

After that it was a similar process. Work out the shapes. Knit the shapes.

When I was 13, I was bought yarn and a cabled jumper pattern. I loved how the yarn did cool things… and was basically set on the task of following the instructions. I loved making that jersey and wore it to death. This was well after the long evening where I stayed up just to knit a jumper to wear the next day to school. During this point I had discovered that if I coloured in the squares of my mathematics paper at school, I could design coloured charts.

So that has been my method. Work out the shape…. and then figure it out. I used to keep a notebook in my pocket to jot down ideas…. then I started sectioning part of my diary for a new design every day (most of these never eventuated to an actual object, but it was fun to think about the shapes).

Now I physically do 2 things. I keep notes and my ideas in a book. I also have these scribbled on my ipad if I am thinking of colour combinations – as its easy to change the colours that way. Then I make tiny mock-ups. For the Porg pattern, I started by making the shape on tiny needles and tiny cotton yarn until I was happy with the basic shape, then I enlarged it all to the final size. My reason for working in miniature is that you have to think about the most important bits first… how long verses how tall, rather than the smaller details. Once the general shape is right, I like to work a larger scale model in cheap yarn so that I can finesse the finer points. So I do end up with all sorts of strange shaped mini-pieces that I tend to keep, because one day the shape may spark an idea or lead to something new.

Then I type up the instructions. I do this in Google Docs, because all too often in the past I have lost hard drives or corrupted data on my computer and found my patterns lost to time and unforeseen circumstances. I never start out knowing exactly whether I will release the pattern or not, or whether it’ll be a blog release or an Etsy release. A lot depends on the time going into the project, and whether it is something I feel strongly about getting spread widely, or whether I want to have it made by test knitters first.

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