How to Design Knitting Patterns with a Process that Works for You
You have your knitting pattern design idea, but you're feeling stuck. Where do you start? What process should you follow? Does it matter? What if you forget an important step? How do I design a knitting pattern?
First of all, if these are the questions racing through your mind, you're over-thinking it, and there's nothing set in stone that you have to do. More than likely, you logically already know the steps you need to take; your brain is just flooded with overwhelm and perfectionist tendencies.
And that's ok! That's why you're here. And this blog post is for you!
How to Design a Knitting Pattern
There are six key components to the pattern design process. Once we start talking about them, it may feel like, "Well, duh, I knew that!" but thinking about the pattern design process step-by-step will help you reduce overwhelm, increase confidence, and allow you to create designs more quickly and easily.
What is the inspiration behind your pattern design?
Personally, this is where I start in my knitting pattern design process. I'm inspired by experiences, emotions, and places, and then I create design from that inspiration. Perhaps you're inspired by photography, travel, colors, textures, or stitch dictionaries; but regardless of what inspires your designs, your process likely starts with your inspiration.
Choose how to transform your inspiration into a design
If you start with an inspiration, you now need to choose how to bring your inspiration to life in the form of a knitting pattern design. You'll need to think about what kind of item you want to design (a kids' toy, a pullover, a wall hanging, etc), what shape you want to create, and what textures (stitches) you want to include. This is the stage when we start to solidify our design idea, and we often create sketches to work through (and document) our ideas.
I highly recommend you have a design journal to document your design ideas. Take note of the inspiration, and your ideas for implementation. You'll likely have more design ideas than you have time, so making notes is important! I promise you'll still want to create some of those designs later.
Note: Sometimes your "what" will come before your inspiration. Maybe you know you want to create a steeked cardigan, or you are submitting to a magazine looking for hat and mitten sets. In that case, you will start with the "what" of the design, but then you need to discover the inspiration in order to give your design character.
Choose a yarn (and request yarn support) for your design
Now that you know what you're designing and you have a vision for the final design, you can select a yarn that will work well for the design. It is especially important to think about yarn weight, fiber content, and color as they relate to the vision you have for the design. Keep in mind how much drape you'd like, how well your textures need to show up, and if a "busy" yarn will hide the details of your design. Since you're likely selling your pattern online, also think about what the final photos will look like, and if they will do a good job of selling your pattern.
If you don't already have the yarn on hand, consider reaching out to a yarn company for yarn support.
Note: Sometimes yarn dyers will give you a yarn and ask you to create something from it. In this case, you start with the yarn (and perhaps a "what" request - I get a lot of requests for shawls, and even an inspiration, if the designer has a specific theme). If you have a design notebook filled with ideas, you may already have an idea that fits the yarn perfectly. Otherwise, you'll need to create design ideas after you have the yarn.
Swatch Your Knitting Pattern Design
If you'd like to prevent having to rip back and re-knit your sample, I highly recommend swatching for your design using the exact yarn and needles you've planned for the sample. It's important to work out any stitch motifs in the design and use the swatch to experiment with any new-to-you shaping. Your swatch is also very important for working up the math of the pattern, which determines both the stitch and row counts.
Note: I personally recommend knitting your swatch before you do any math or pattern writing. This can especially save you time if you decide you don't like the look of the fabric and want to change stitch motifs, needle sizes, or yarn.
Calculate the Math for Your Pattern Design
This is especially important for any designs that need to be a certain size. You'll calculate stitch counts, row numbers, where to place increases and decreases, at what point you may choose to change textures, and so on. Once you've calculated the math for the design, you can write the pattern!
Note: You must have your gauge information (from your swatch) in order for your math to be correct.
Write Your Knitting Pattern
Once you have all of your math for your pattern design, you can write out the complete pattern. If you're using a pattern template, it's actually a pretty simple process; you're essentially filling in the blanks with the details for your pattern!
Note: If you complete the math and write the pattern before you knit your sample, you can essentially test the pattern as you knit the sample! This is a great way to catch mistakes and ensure the pattern creates exactly what you want. Once you get comfortable with designing and pattern writing, you may even choose to hire out the sample knitting! If you're creating a more difficult design, you may find that you just want to work one section of the design before doing the math and writing of the next section, in case you'll need to make some changes.
Knit Your Pattern Design Sample
Knitting the pattern design sample is the part that most folks think about when they think of knitting pattern design. But in reality, that's just one step in the process!
Note: If you've completed the math and pattern writing, this step can feel a lot like test knitting someone else's pattern. The hard part is done and you just get to sit back and enjoy the knit!
Send Your Pattern to Your Technical Editor
Once you've completed writing your knitting pattern, you can send the pattern to your technical editor. This is an exciting moment, because this is the point where most of the work is in the hands of other people, and you get to take a breather! Your tech editor will review your pattern for accuracy and readability.
Note: I strongly recommend waiting until you've completed your pattern writing and are confident in your pattern before sending it to your tech editor. In some special cases (like a pattern for a mystery knit along), it can work to send the pattern to your tech editor in pieces. However, you tend to save more time for yourself and your tech editor if you wait until the pattern is complete. It is also recommended to have your design sample complete prior to sending the pattern to your tech editor so you can include photos in the pattern - your tech editor uses the photos to make sure everything aligns!
Start Your Pattern Design Test Knit (& Make Edits)
Last, but not least, you will share your knitting pattern with a group of test knitters. They will create their own sample by working through your pattern instructions and confirm whether or not your instructions are clear and easy to follow.
Of course, you will be editing your pattern throughout the pattern: as you do the math, write the pattern, make your sample, and tech edit. But don't forget to also edit your pattern based on the feedback you receive from your test knitters!
Note: I recommend test knitting after tech editing for two reasons: (1) your test knitters will be so happy that you've fixed mistakes from the tech editor before they work with the pattern, and (2) you want your test knitters to work from the last version of the pattern.
And that's how to design a knitting pattern!
It might sound like a lot at first, but if you keep this checklist in front of you, and you start to refine the process in a way that works best for you, it will become smooth and intuitive. As you refine the pattern design process for yourself, take note of the "Notes" I've included throughout this post to consider which order of steps works best for the way you approach your creativity. The order that I've listed here is my design process order, and what works most efficiently for me, but that doesn't mean it will be the best order for you. Also, remember you can always change your process later if you need to. The most important step is just to get started!
If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed and want an easy way to keep track of the steps in the knitting pattern design process, download this free Pattern Design Process Checklist I created so you know you aren't forget anything! I've also left a blank checklist for you in the PDF, so you can write out the design process order that works best for you!