Unraveling the Mystery behind Design: How We Make It Happen

 My colored pencil selection

My colored pencil selection

Ever wonder how designers do what we do? I can’t speak for all, but I’m often asked how I became a designer, so I thought I’d share a bit about the process, and how it works for me.

I didn’t always see images of beautifully knitted garments in the movie at the back of my mind. Instead, I saw pictures in magazines, and not only did I want to knit what they were wearing in exactly the same color and exactly the same yarn, I wanted to be every girl on every page, standing on the same beach and sparkling in the same sunglasses. I liked what I saw and that’s what I wanted. (I don’t think I’m alone in this).

For years I knit this way, making mistakes, ripping work that wasn’t good enough for my meticulous taste, and honing my skills. I read a lot of ‘How To’ books…when books were our only means, and I scoured them for anything I could learn on how to be a better knitter. Still, I had no interest in doing anything other than following directions. I was baffled at how people could come up with ideas and write patterns for all of the beautiful knits that I wanted to make. And then things changed.

I took a dream-come-true part-time job at a knit shop, where not only did I get to spend the day surrounded by walls of color, I got to inhale, sniff, and touch to my heart’s content.

When customers came in, they asked for help. They brought me knitting and patterns and questions. I loved answering questions. They weren’t sure what the directions were telling them to do. ‘It’s guessing what the directions mean that makes it impossible for me to finish a sweater,’ one said. ‘The shoulders have these giant stair-steps and no matter how many times I try, I can’t make it look good.’  She said she was giving up and I said no.

She got me thinking that maybe I could rewrite a pattern; so it would be easier to follow the instructions, especially how to short row shape and three-needle bind off the shoulders. I learned that from books. Books taught me a lot.

It was right around that time that another customer encouraged me to submit something of mine to a magazine. ‘Your work is so beautiful,’ she said. But I’m not a designer, I told her.

‘You could be.’ That was all I needed to hear.    

The Process

 The original "Goodwill" dress

The original "Goodwill" dress

I like to say I’m a recycler, which is why I shop at thrift stores, but my real reason is that I don’t like to spend potential yarn money on clothes. When I’m finished with a particular wardrobe, I donate it back, so I figure that counts.

With the thought of designing my own knitting pattern (I knew I wanted to design a dress, something different from the norm) to submit to an online magazine, (because someone said I should) I headed off to look for inspiration in the little kids section at my local Goodwill store. I could afford a few different sizes, so I could measure them and be accurate in my pattern writing. (Later, I would find sizing charts online here.)  I found this itty-bitty adorable dress in size 0-3 months.  I had to bring it home.

Now what do I do? Find some yarn in the colors of the dress. (Remember, I’m still in the phase of wanting to make exactly what I see, so I went online to find some Shine Sport at www.knitpicks.com.  

yarn ends.jpg

I love the cottony softness, and all the colors, and the way it drapes —perfect for this project. At this point, I still am unsure how I will, or if I’ll be able to accomplish this feat of turning a fabric dress into a knitted dress, but I don’t give up easily, and I like a challenge.

I didn’t want to take it apart. Although I’ve sewn clothes from patterns, and thought ripping it apart would give me a better idea of the construction, it was difficult to measure the true width of the ruffled parts. I drew a rudimentary picture and dreamt about how I would construct a dress while I waited for my yarn.

When the yarn arrived, I swatched (You can’t begin anything until you know your stitch and row gauge…took me many years of not swatching and a closet full of ill-fitting sweaters to figure out that a swatch is a necessary tool if you want something to be wearable) with my favorite size three needles, and armed with a gauge, I started plugging numbers into my drawing. I measured the width at the chest, the length of the armholes, the width of the neck and every little measurement I thought I would need. It helped to have the little dress in my hand to refer to. As soon as I was confident that I could do the math and make this thing, I drew (in the beginning, I traced dresses from kids in catalogs until I could draw one myself) and submitted this:

Pretty good, huh? I love my colored pencils.

The rest is history. I knit and enjoyed myself, and made mistakes and ripped. I learned about armhole shaping, and lace and duplicate stitch and I-cord bind-off. When it was finished, I was amazed at what I had accomplished. Still am.

Knit Picks let me do my own photography, and one of the knitters at my Tuesday knitting group kindly offered her granddaughter, Brianna to model. We had a great afternoon at the park.
So there you have it, a little inside look at the events leading to a design. This may not be for everyone, but everyone can give it a try!