Stitchill Shawl – joining using yarn overs

posted on: October 8th, 2019

In the Stitchill Shawl, the strips are joined with a row of yarn-overs. The yarn-overs are worked at the start of a wrong side row in the first strip, and then picked up while working the second strip.

This gives a clean join between the strips, and gives the opportunity to play with different stripe widths across the shawl, without having to use intarsia.

How to steek an armhole

posted on: July 1st, 2019

So, there has been a fair bit of interest in a slightly longer edit of the steeking video I put up on Instagram the other day!

Steeking an armhole long from Emily williams on Vimeo.

This was filmed somewhat on a whim, but I will probably follow this up with a more detailed how to at some point, but I’ll have a knit a swatch to be able to do that.

My top tips:

– Use a crochet hook the same size, or slightly smaller, than your knitting needles for the project.
– Cut slowly and carefully!
– I like to use shetland lace weight for both the crochet and sewing down the steek. It will felt in nicely with the main fabric after it’s blocked, and reduces the bulk compared with using the project yarn.
– This is a 7 stitch steek (my preferred size) but they can be either smaller or larger
– This method is best used on a project that uses a good sticky yarn. If you are using something that won’t felt easily, such as super wash yarn, then you are best using a sewing machine to reinforce the steek.

Step 6: Photography and Editing

posted on: June 26th, 2019

Getting photos of your finished designs is one of the bits of the design process that people find the hardest, and is well known to cause epic bouts of procrastination. There are many, many different approaches, and you will need to find something that works for you and the resources that you have available. To make it clear, we are not professional photographers, but this post outlines our approach and some hints and tips we have picked up on the way. 

Photos don’t have to be perfect to make you look professional – if they’re well-lit (enough) and in focus (enough), it’s okay if they’re not technically perfect.

Previous posts: 

The preamble: So you wanna be a designer…
Step 1:
From idea to pitch
Step 2:
Charting and Ravelry
Step 3:
Planning, grading and starting the sample
Step 4: Style sheet and layout
Step 5: Tech editing and testing

Planning a shoot

Here are some of the questions to consider as you are planning the shoot. 

Who is going to model? Doing the modelling yourself has some benefits (all the knits fit you, and it creates a strong identity for you as a designer and your patterns) and limitations (oh, the torture of looking at the photos, plus it’s much harder to take them!). Otherwise you can either hire a model, or use a friend or family member. Of course, you don’t have to use a model; many designs can be well displayed on a mannequin, for instance. But it will limit some opportunities on where you can be featured (KnitPicks comes to mind). Some designers also report that shots with actual people in them get a better response.

Who is going to take the photographs? Assuming that you are going to do the modelling yourself, the cheapest approach is to use a friend or family member behind the camera. I (Emily) have an ongoing skill swap with a local yarnie friend, Julie, but have also lived through the uncomfortable experience of having my husband (who is not particularly interested in either photography or knitwear) take my photos. I found it impossible to relax with him, and we usually ended up arguing. It is also possible to take photos yourself using a remote timer and a tripod, but it’s an added level of complication. If you have some cash to invest, you could investigate sending your finished object away for a shoot or hiring a local photographer.  

Think about styling. I shamelessly plan all my sewing projects and clothing purchases around whether they will be a good background for modelling knitwear. I have two plain mid to dark grey dresses that are excellent workhorses for this purpose. It is also recommended that you take a few quick snaps of the FO in the planned outfit and convert to black and white – I’ve found that decent colour value contrast between the knitting and the background makes it stand out really nicely. A warning though, don’t use other knit items in your styling – it creates confusion as to what’s actually included in the pattern. Also consider if you are going to use any accessories or props (e.g. a mug to hold while modelling mittens), and try these out together with your design. Robynn has found that putting a bit of extra effort into outfit styling (grab a hat!) results in attention-grabbing shots and better sales. Playing with props or accessories can also give you or your model something to do while posing, helping you to relax and creating interesting photos.

Plan your location. All my (Emily’s) photos are done within a short drive of the house, but I’m super lucky that I have amazing scenery nearby and can get to hills, forests and lochs within a 10-minute drive. But you only need a little corner to take a good photo –  it just needs to not detract from the knitting. It’s good practice to snap photos of potential locations as you notice them when you are out and about. Pay attention to the background! Dirt and mess will turn people off, even if it’s unrelated to the shoot. Unless you have fabulous scenery, try to pose somewhere not distracting and use depth of focus to strongly highlight the actual model/item, blurring out everything else. Shooting indoors needs extra attention to lighting so unless you are lucky enough to have ample, diffuse natural light, great equipment or great skills, outdoors is usually the best option.

On the shoot

Timing. Try to make life as easy for yourself as possible. If you can, avoid direct hard midday sunlight: this tends to blow out highlights and cast strong shadows, making it really hard to show the details. Taking photos on a lightly overcast day (or positioning yourself in light shade) will give a naturally diffused light, or shooting nearer to dawn or dusk (the famous “golden hour”) will make it much easier to show off your work. 

A word on cameras. I (Emily) use a basic Canon SLR camera (bought second-hand 5 years ago for £100) and a 50mm fixed lens (£50). The only other specific kit that I use is a reflector and stand (about £50 for the two). Although it was not a big investment, the camera is a big advantage as it enables me to take RAW photos, meaning the editing possibilities are much better. The fixed lens has a really wide aperture so it is capable of controlling the depth of field. But you can get good results with cheaper kit; phone cameras are so much better than they used to be! I really recommend the Adobe Lightroom App as it takes RAW photos, and allows manual focussing on my phone (though some of the features are only available to subscription holders). If you need to control the depth of field to blur the background with a phone or automatic camera, try the portrait mode.  

Have a list of shots. For modelled photos, take time and lots and lots of shots. Start with the easy ones (details, back view) and work up to the front facing ones as you get more comfortable. You will want to take some close-ups, and some that show the whole garment. Think about full frontal, side view, back view, detail shots (which details?) etc. And since your photographer might not be a knitter, remind them what matters to knitters. No point in getting a really pretty portrait where you can’t see the actual garment. You’ll want to get a couple of hero shots for social media and the pattern listing’s top photo, but think about what people want to know before they make a project, and make sure to include a photo that shows it: interesting seams, approximate size and fit, the shape of a shawl, etc. Is it a pullover or a cardigan? If you do have a good background (either beautiful or neutral), it’s worth getting a few wide shots as these can be cropped in many ways. Think of an ad, for instance, where you may want to place text without overlapping the actual item.

Check how it’s going. Stop often throughout the shoot to look at the photos. If possible, take your laptop and download the pictures before you come home. Seeing them on the bigger screen makes all those annoying details pop straight out – hello pointy nipples, or flipped over button band, or label showing, rubbish in the background or funny wrinkles.  Play around with perspective. If you take one step forward, two steps back, three steps to the right, how does that impact the photo?

After the shoot

Editing programs. I (Emily) have a subscription to Lightroom/Photoshop, which is a reasonably costly option. But they are brilliant and have improved the quality of my pictures massively, especially by doing the editing in RAW format. I also use the accompanying apps (Lightroom, various photoshop apps) on my phone a lot. Lower-cost alternatives are out there: if you have a Mac, the free editor that comes in Photos is ok. Robynn recommends Snapseed for Android and Affinity for affordable desktop editing; Woolly Wormhead is devoted to Darktable for a powerful free option (open-source, all OS). If possible use a program that offers non-destructive editing so that you can go back to the original at any time, otherwise work from a copy.

First pass. Delete all the pictures that are even slightly out of focus, or where the model looks half drunk or has their eyes shut or something silly. This is usually about 30% of the photos.

Second pass. Start to narrow down the choice further – refer back to that list of shots and start to select the best couple of each angle, until there are about 15-20 pictures left. I edit these and then ask someone else to make the final choices. 

Editing. Don’t be afraid to experiment and play with your editing software. Curves is my best “if you only learn one tool” tip, and often brightening the mid tones in a picture can be pretty transformational. It can also be useful to play with the luminence/saturation of individual colours if possible. When editing, think of all the different purposes you need pics for: not just Ravelry and the actual pattern, but for ads, social media etc. Tight detail shots tend to look good on Instagram, elsewhere you might want some wide shots.

BE OBJECTIVE! It is really hard to be objective about photos of yourself, and put aside vanity and feelings about your body, so if you have trouble choosing then get someone else to do it. To choose your hero shot, you could imagine the little pattern square surrounded by a big screen of HRN patterns and think about what will stand out there… sometimes a detail shot will be more impactful than a full view (and invite clicks for a better look).

 Try again? Don’t be afraid to decide that none of them worked (if you’ve had a second opinion on that – see objectivity above) and do it again!

Resources:

A Year With My Camera is a great free course, run over weekly emails (and supported by an optional workbook to purchase). She walks you through every step of a photo, and she’s a lovely person who creates lovely online spaces.

This thread is a great resource for getting expert second opinions on not just which photo to use, but when you might need to reshoot or fix the editing. 

– Beginner’s guide to using a reflector

– Here’s a broader photo thread (tips etc as well as critique) in Budding Designers.

– This is a great, detailed tutorial on using Lightroom for exactly this context (modelled clothing shots).

Exercise:

– Plan your photoshoot. Think about who will be photographer, and who will be the model. Consider time and location. Research the shots you want. Have a look through Ravelry/instagram for ideas of what looks good for a hat/shawl/socks.

– Head off and get some pictures, and then come back and have a play with editing. Get a second or third opinion on the finished results. 

– Choose your final shots. Make sure you have at least one for each of the following purposes: (1) inclusion in the actual pattern; (2) the pattern listing on Ravelry; (3) social media promotion; and (4) possible ads.  

Next posts:
Step 7. Pattern release & marketing
Step 8. Project & business management, final question

Step 5: Tech Editing and Testing

posted on: June 10th, 2019

Now your sample’s at least mostly done, the pattern is all written up and you’re excited to get it out into the world! But don’t rush now – it needs to be carefully checked first. Ideally in two separate, both very valuable processes. 

Previous posts: 
The preamble: So you wanna be a designer…
Step 1:
From idea to pitch
Step 2:
Charting and Ravelry
Step 3:
Planning, grading and starting the sample
Step 4: Style sheet and layout

What exactly is tech editing?

Technical editing of a knitting pattern means carefully, methodically checking the pattern for errors, inconsistencies and areas of confusion. It should uncover any problems with the maths (do that many stitches at that gauge give the intended measurements? do the stitch and row counts work out after every bit of shaping?) as well as with more general logic (can you actually DO what is being described, and will it work the way it’s supposed to?). A TE should ensure that you’ve consistently applied your style sheet, that your instructions are clear and grammatical; they may also suggest alternative ways of writing or structuring the pattern, for the sake of clarity and conformity with industry standards.

Working with a TE is enormously helpful. Of course designers rely on them to catch our mistakes and protect our reputations – for that reason we very strongly encourage any designer to bite the bullet and hire one, even if you aren’t sure your pattern sales will recoup the cost. (More on that later.) You may be a very careful and accurate worker, but people don’t spot their own mistakes; that’s just the nature of the human brain. That’s why on newspapers, for instance, every text gets passed through at least three rounds of editing and proofreading – even editors themselves need their work checked. Your reputation as a newbie is extremely vulnerable; don’t give customers any reason to avoid your patterns in future.

But the other aspect is that working with an experienced TE can be a great education in pattern writing. They have the knowledge of how to express things; they also often have the right kind of mind to tease apart tricky areas and simplify them. This doesn’t just make your pattern infinitely better, it makes your life easier in terms of future pattern writing, and possible customer support time saved. (Ask Emily about how hard it’s been to teach me, Robynn, to reach out to her as my TE for advice on problem areas early in the process. And ask me about how incredibly useful her advice has been when I finally do reach out!)

It can take a while to find the right TE for you. As with any working relationship, it has to be the right fit. You may want a heavier or lighter touch (it’s a good idea to be clear on that from the start, if possible); you may just struggle to communicate. It’s fine to try out different people for your first few patterns.

But isn’t it expensive?

Bluntly, it can be. Since editors charge by the hour, the more work your pattern needs in the first place, the more you’ll have to pay. Rates vary (we’ve seen a range of around $25-45/hr), but remember that more experienced (and expensive) editors may take less time and ultimately cost less. Some new TEs offer low rates or even work for free/barter in an effort to build a client base. Nothing wrong with that, and it’s obviously appealing when as a newbie yourself, you can’t guarantee selling enough patterns to cover the cost. (Robynn has quite a few early patterns that never did earn out. They needed a lot of work and just weren’t that good!) But consider whether you’re missing out on the education aspect of working with a seasoned expert – it might be worth paying more and treating that as an investment in your own training. There’s no right way, just the way that makes sense to you.

To help keep costs down, it’s worth putting in some extra time to check your own work before you hand it over for editing. Accept that you won’t get it to a perfect state, but you can certainly weed out some errors. 

  • Compare the pattern to your style sheet, checking each point separately. Have you included stitch counts after each shaping section, and have you given them in the same format each time? Have you been consistent in presenting metric and/or imperial information? Are your abbreviations consistently used, and are there any not included in the abbreviations table (or listed but not used in the pattern)? And so on.
  • Create a spreadsheet and enter the cast-on numbers for each size. Then, row by row, enter the numbers for every single instruction as they appear, and check that the stitch counts work out. 
  • Use the numbers in this spreadsheet (not your original grading calculations) to check the final measurements and yarn quantities. 

Making this effort (essentially tech editing your own work) will probably pay off in billed TE hours, and could also be a good exercise in recognizing the kind of mistakes you personally tend to make. 

Resources:

– Budding Designers has TE listings; it’s not entirely up to date but worth looking at. Asking friends for recommendations is a better starting point, if that’s an option.
 – Indy Pattern Designers’ Resources is an entire group dedicated to collecting service providers – TE and other. Also a good place for tech editing discussion, although it’s not a super active group.
 – Allison O’Mahony publishes an extremely useful and interesting newsletter for designers, offering a tech editor’s perspective – she’s taking a maternity break right now but you can browse the archives.
 – Katherine Vaughn has a post on the typical time needed to edit different kinds of items. Allison, above, offers similar guidelines. 

And what about test knitters?

Test knitters are brilliant but, we can’t stress this enough, not a replacement for tech editors. That’s for at least two reasons. First, they’re not trained professionals. (TE qualifications vary considerably and are usually informal, it’s true, but there’s still a level of specific skill that testers don’t have.) Second, it’s completely unfair to expect testers, at the usual level of tester compensation (typically no cash fee), to identify errors, never mind to suggest fixes. 

What they can do for you is give feedback on their experience of actually knitting the pattern. Sometimes things look fine on paper but become confusing in practice. Sometimes people just have different preferences (and while you don’t have to accommodate them, it’s good to know). Sometimes yardage used varies more than expected. And of course, it’s really helpful to have real-world examples of the design worked up in different sizes and worn on real bodies. 

Which leads to the second great benefit of using testers – having linked projects on Ravelry. Customers often want to see the pattern worked up in different sizes, versions or yarns, or – and this applies especially to new designers, without established reputations – just to see that it has been knit successfully by people other than the designer. It’s a huge marketing advantage. 

Expectations

There’s some controversy around the question of fair compensation. Emily doesn’t use testers at all, because women’s work should be properly paid for, but there’s no room in her design budget for extra costs. Robynn is one of the designers who addresses this problem by running tests in a relaxed manner with low expectations, and rewarding testers with pattern vouchers. 

The “relaxed expectations” model (sometimes described as an early-access knitalong) is pretty common and relies on shared understanding of what the test is about: it should be a fun process, with benefits on both sides. Typically, testers join in because, like any other customer, they simply like the design and want to make it. They may also be a fan of the designer and enjoy feeling that they are part of the creation process. 

Unlike sample knitters (who are typically paid $0.15-0.20 per metre of yarn used, as well as of course having yarn supplied), they provide their own yarn, and of course keep the FO; they get to choose which size and version they make. There is usually a deadline (providing motivation and structure) but designers should be flexible and realistic: for testers, this isn’t a job, and life will sometimes get in the way. 

We’ve seen some designers issuing a long list of requirements: testers must use the exact recommended yarn, they must comply with tight deadlines, must take high-quality photos and share them on social media… honestly, if those are the expectations, testers definitely should be paid. Don’t go there, unless you’re ready to pay sample knitter rates. 

Where and how?

You have plenty of options – from Ravelry (in your own group, or a testing group), to Slack, email or Yarnpond (see below). You can also recruit testers via Instagram or Facebook. 

In recruiting, be clear on your expectations and what you’re offering. Aim for a specific number of testers (ideally at least one per size or option); you may not get that many, but know what you want, and be ready to close the call when the limit is reached. I don’t recommend being too picky (again, they’re doing you a favour!) but it’s okay to gently say that they’re not a great fit if, for instance, they have no Ravelry projects posted. That said, don’t worry too much about people who plan to take the pattern and run. It happens, but not that often, and they wouldn’t have bought the pattern anyway. 

Provide your testers with a list of questions to consider as they knit: for instance, is the layout clear and easy to navigate? Did the size and yarn usage work out as expected? Tell them how to stay in touch (do you expect regular updates?) and how to raise questions. I always ask them to post issues in the shared channel, whatever that is, rather than by private email, as it may well be relevant to others. 

Make sure you’re very available for the duration of the test – any problems should be dealt with asap! A bit of cheerleading is also welcome as they post their updates. 

And keep private notes on your testers. Anyone who has been particularly helpful (or shared really good photos) could be invited to join your mailing list for future tests. Anyone who has been difficult or flaked out without communication should probably be blacklisted. 

Designers often ask whether it’s better to have your pattern edited or tested first. We strongly argue for editing first. Having your testers knit an incorrect pattern is disrespectful of their time (again, they are not being paid!), and possibly a waste of yours, since you want to know how customers will experience the final pattern. Also, remember that unlike editing, testing is optional. If you run out of time you can absolutely publish before testing is complete. Don’t ever publish an unedited pattern!

Resources:

 – The Testing Pool is a very active group where you can recruit testers and run tests. There is a specific formula to follow in your post, but it’s not as rigid as the Free Pattern Testers group, which has very strict rules and no appeals process. (TTP tests are also usually unpaid.)
Yarnpond is a platform for designers or publications to recruit and run tests. It’s free for testers; designers pay a flat fee of $5 per test. Personally I find Ravelry far more user-friendly, but Yarnpond is useful for reaching beyond your normal audience, and for running totally private tests for releases that must stay under wraps. 

Exercise #5: Get your pattern revised

– Book a TE. Ask around or search the resources above. Email them to check availability, with details of your pattern (knit or crochet; type of item and level of complexity) and your timeline, if relevant. Also let them know that you’re a new designer and establish whether you’d prefer a light or heavy touch – for instance, would you appreciate feedback on your writing style, or do you just want actual errors to be flagged up? Check what document format they prefer to work in (Word is usually easier but you may prefer to send a pdf, in which case, how should they make their corrections and notes?).
 – Do a final check before sending your pattern (see above). Email it along with clear photographs and your style sheet. Agree on a due date, and on turnaround time after they send their corrections.
 – Recruit testers (if you’re using them). You can do this before editing is complete, but don’t actually start the test until editing is done (including post-editing revisions and possibly a final check) – let them know when you expect to have the pattern ready. 

Next posts:

Step 6. Photography & editing
Step 7. Pattern release & marketing
Step 8. Project & business management, final questions

Step 4: Stylesheet and Layout

posted on: May 13th, 2019

Having completed the grading and thought through the logical construction flow, it’s time to convert those raw numbers into an actual pattern. Whether you’re writing it up before, during or (oh dear) after the actual knitting, one thing is for sure: you definitely want to write it from the start according to your style sheet. 

Don’t have one? Well, this is where you start. 

Previous posts:
The preamble: So you wanna be a designer…
Step 1: From idea to pitch
Step 2: Charting and Ravelry
Step 3: Planning, grading and starting the sample

Create a style sheet

Your  style sheet is a live document, whose main purpose is to provide your pattern writing with consistency, and allow your editor to know how you mean to write a pattern. It will grow to include all sorts of information as you progress as pattern writers, and it is a brilliant place to store standard phrases and examples of things that you have already written for use again. It is also the place where you outline your style to your tech editor – do you want your patterns to be chatty and friendly and encouraging to a beginner, or do you prefer brevity, directness and concise instructions? Personally I (Emily) see repetition as a source of potential errors and inconsistency and I try to only put an instruction in once, rather than repeating it over and over again throughout the pattern. 

But some things you really must be sure to include, and some things we recommend considering as you write your first pattern.

Name of the pattern – be sure to check Ravelry to see whether your brilliant idea has been used 30 times. It’s very hard (and not really necessary) to find a completely unique name, but you do want to be sure customers won’t be lost in a sea of similar sounding patterns. (Emily picks all hers from maps of the local area, which has the bonus of creating a very consistent naming “brand”.)

Introduction or romance text – a couple of sentences about the inspiration, construction and use of the pattern are important for selling the design. What makes it extra fun to knit, or great to wear? Does it solve a problem for the knitter? How is it constructed?

Yarn requirements – it’s important to provide clear information to allow for knitters to substitute yarn if they need to. As well as giving the information on the sample yarn, also give the exact yardage required for each size as well as an indication of what yarns would work as a substitute. (Not specific brands, but what qualities to look for, e.g. drape or stitch definition.)

Tension or gauge – give the exact row and stitch count per 4 in / 10 cm.

Size information – give as much information as possible, or refer to a full schematic. We also give information on what size is modelled and how much ease is shown.

Level of difficulty/skills required – this is entirely subjective, but I have a list of skills that I assume people will be able to use for each pattern. 

Contact information for the designer – provide at least one way to get hold of you; you’ll probably also want to direct customers to your social media accounts, so you can hope to convert them into fans and future customers.

Dates, version number and copyright statement – always!

Pattern Directions

Here we get to the nitty gritty. Consistent punctuation and grammar throughout the pattern is really, really important as an
indicator of a well-edited, well-written pattern. Messy text will lead customers to assume, should they run into trouble at any point, that the problem lies with your pattern not their interpretation (leading directly to more customer support work for you). Consider your formatting carefully: are any parts going to be in bold or all in capitals? Are you going to write the instructions in sentence case with a full stop at the end? How and where are you going to include stitch counts? How are you going to delineate repeats within a row of instructions? 

For example, here are a few ways that you could write the first row of a pattern in 2×2 ribbing:

Row 1: [K2, P2] to end. 24sts

Row 1: *K2, p2; rep from * to end of row. (24 stitches)

R1 – Work in k2, p2 ribbing across. (24 sts)

Row 1(RS): *K2, p2; repeat from * to end. 24 sts.

None of these are wrong; but your chosen format must be applied consistently throughout. At this point there is no need to cover every single eventuality – just enough for this pattern. You can add to and modify this document to include other techniques as you need them.

Some other points to consider:

Are you going to write the pattern in British (tension, stocking stitch etc) or US English (gauge, stockinette)?

How are you going to convert between cm and in? You can either calculate both sets of measurements directly from the stitch count and gauge, or calculate one set (metric or imperial) from gauge and then convert. This may sound like a finicky distinction but you’d be surprised at how different the results can be, owing to rounding. Arguably, calculating directly from gauge will give more accurate end results no matter which set of measurements are being followed.

Resources:

Kate Atherley’s Beginner’s Guide to Writing Knitting Patterns is exactly that and lays out everything that a style sheet needs to address – among very many other things. 

Knitty’s style sheet 

Marnie Maclean’s style sheet 

Pattern layout

A polished, well-considered layout does a lot to make your patterns look professional (which again adds, consciously or not, to the trust a customer feels in your pattern). It also improves actual usability. Don’t stress too much over this – most designers aren’t layout professionals, and paying someone to do your layout adds a fair bit of unnecessary expense to your upfront costs. You don’t need to invest any cash at all, but spending a little time on creating a good template is well worth it.

Software 

Word, OpenOffice or Pages for Mac will get the job done – they won’t allow for super-complicated page design, and Word in particular can be a real pain when it comes to multi-column layouts with tables and pictures, but it’s workable. If you want to try a more powerful layout tool, you don’t have to fork out for a monthly Adobe InDesign subscription (although if you do have access, it’s great!). Scribus is free open-source software that can do most of what Adobe does, it just has a slightly steeper learning curve. It’s even possible to create pattern layouts in Canva (free online tool), though I am not sure how user-friendly that would be. A new affordable option is Affinity Publisher – now in beta, it’s designed to be a fully featured, professional-level alternative to InDesign but at a much lower price point (expect to pay around $50 on release, or download the beta now for free). You’ll find masses of online tutorials to help you find your way around any of these packages. 

More important than what tool to use is the raft of creative decisions you have to make – considering the practical implications of each aspect, not just the aesthetics. Don’t over-engineer it; minimalism is your friend. A super-fancy layout won’t make the pattern any easier to use, or really, any better looking.

Questions, questions!

– What font(s)? Font choice (and size) has a major impact on readability and of course the space used. You’d be surprised how quickly changing the font, even at the same point size, can change the final page count. 

DON’T go overboard with fonts – either too many, or too fancy. You can indulge yourself with a fancy headline font but make sure the body text is easy to read (and then choose a headline font to complement it). Pay particular attention to crucial (for patterns) details such as a clear difference between 1 and l. I recommend trying out fonts with a short section of pattern text using various typographic elements, eg. “Sl1, *k3 [4, 5, 6], p2, repeat from * three times”. Don’t forget to check bold and italics, if you’ll be using those formats.

– Is your pattern going to be printed (either by users or for sale)? Assuming that you want customers to be able to print it easily (not everyone works from iPad), go easy on the photos and colours. A lot of people prefer to print in black and white, so try to avoid using colour coding for any crucial information. Avoid using patterned or coloured backgrounds. If you’re planning to wholesale printed patterns, keeping to a multiple of 4 pages is necessary for professional leaflets.

– One, two or three columns? Using newspaper-style columns saves a surprising amount of space, and arguably makes it easier to read (but preferences do vary, and columns are not suitable for users with low vision). Three columns can allow some great page designs if you’re using good software, but will be a pain in a word processor, and more than three is definitely too many.

– What will you put on the front page? Two popular approaches are to include all the key pattern information (photo, yarn requirements, sizing, needles, gauge etc), OR only the hero photo, pattern and designer name – this allows the customer the option of not printing it, to save ink on that big splashy photo, and looks great for retailed patterns.

– How will you place charts and written instructions? Will all charts go together (benefits: you can arrange them in the correct knitting order, as they will appear; customers who don’t use charts don’t have to print this page) or will each chart appear above the written instructions for that stitch pattern (benefit: easy cross-referencing in case of confusion)?

– Is there any supplementary information (such as tutorials or references) you can skim off into an appendix – maybe even a second pdf? Again, customers will appreciate not having to print (or accidentally printing) anything they don’t need. 

– What about accessibility? Layout for screen readers or low vision has pretty much the opposite requirements of otherwise “good”, or at least efficient, layout: large fonts and no columns, for a start. You might create two different pdfs to suit different needs (I’m planning on working on this myself).

– Do you need a schematic? I don’t consider this always necessary (eg for a rectangular scarf, or standard socks, as long as all relevant measurements are included in the sizing section), but it’s often appreciated, and certainly needed for anything other than the most basic shapes. It is not compulsory to use software to draw your schematic – if you have the sketching skills then a neatly drawn picture is a beautiful thing.

Resources

Again, Kate’s book covers a lot of ground on layout and formatting, including input from customers on what they do or don’t like. 

 – Typography in 10 minutes is a nifty little thing but I do strongly recommend reading more of the book. 

 – These guidelines on combining fonts include pointers on creating hierarchy through styles. 

 – Wordmark.it is absolutely brilliant for testing your text (be it pattern copy or headings) in one step on all your installed fonts. Ultrazone does the same thing for all Google fonts (all of which are free for commercial use).

– Joeli’s Inkscape tutorial will guide you through making basic schematics, and Marnie has tuts for doing so in both Illustrator and (!) Word. 

– Ravelry’s Accessible patterns group has tons of help on creating layouts that are friendly to screen readers and low-vision users. 

EXERCISE #4: Create your pattern template and style sheet

– Read through the style sheets linked above. Save one as a document to use as the starting point for your own. (Also see our layout templates; Emily’s includes her full style sheet.)

– Consider how you want to handle each style point, and edit accordingly.

– Answer the questions above to define your layout template specifications.

– Choose your layout software (Word is fine) and format your style sheet as a full template, reflecting every element of your pattern. 

– Create a full schematic, if needed, and place in the template. You can draw it by hand or use any software you like (Inkscape is free and powerful). 

That’s a lot to be getting on with. The next step is to write your actual pattern and pop it into this layout; no small task, but between the previous exercise (grading) and this one, you should have all you need. So we’re not making it a topic in itself. But we will give you an extra two weeks to complete that, and the sample knitting – meaning the next topic will appear on Monday 10 June. Have fun!

Next posts:

Step 5. Photography & editing
Step 6. Tech editing & testing
Step 7. Pattern release & marketing
Step 8. Project & business management, final questions

Step 3: Planning and starting the sample

posted on: April 29th, 2019

You’ve refined your concept and charted the stitches: finally it’s time to start your actual sample. Of course once you have your yarn it is really tempting to just grab it and start knitting right away, but there are a few crucial steps to be done first.

Previous posts: 

The preamble: So you wanna be a designer…

Step 1: From idea to pitch

Step 2: Charting and Ravelry

Gauge swatch in the sample yarn

We talked about swatching at the proposal stage, but there is one more to work. And that is a large (at least 15 cm / 6 in square) swatch using the yarn you have for the design. This should use the stitch pattern that you intend for the final project, should be knit flat/in the round as you intend to work the sample, and should be blocked appropriately. For lace, that would be a hard block, or for a garment a gentle pat into shape and then pinning before leaving to dry. Obviously this step is less important where the finished fit isn’t critical (eg a lace shawl), but it is still worth doing to check you are satisfied with the fabric created using your chosen needles.

It is really important to measure the gauge on your swatch both before and after blocking. If it changes substantially, then this is worth noting in the pattern, especially if instructions will include lines like “work till piece measures…”

Note down the pattern details

– Yarn: take a note of the yarn details, including colourways used. I often take a photo of all the ball bands for a complete record. Remember to weigh your yarn accurately (and note this down somewhere safe) before you start knitting the sample. This will mean you can weigh your leftovers and calculate exactly how much of each colour you have used. 

– Needles: note down the size(s) you used for the gauge swatch and any others you will need for the pattern.

– Notions: keep track of the number of stitch markers you use, and also any other notions such as a cable needle, buttons, stitch holders etc.

You should take a lot of notes while knitting the sample – really, a lot of notes. You’ll think you don’t need it, but you do. So keep all of these details in a notebook right in your project bag and use it often.

Size charts and grading

There are many intricacies in the world of pattern grading, and everyone has come up with their own approach. We can only provide guidanced based on how we go about things. First off, decide on how many sizes to offer. Try to include at least a few sizes, even for things like hats, gloves and socks, because truly one size never does fit all. There are some patterns where this doesn’t work out, but it is always worth attempting. 

Resources:

ASTM misses/plus size standards – these are the most comprehensive size charts available, but are pricey. If you are serious about designing garments they contain a wealth of information. However, the following free online resources are also very helpful. 

Ysolda size chart – and drawn together by designer Ysolda Teague from a variety of sources. Usefully for knitwear design, these are sized in 5 cm / 2 in increments at the bust.

Woollywormhead for hats – fantastic range of hat depths and circumferences from newborn to large adult. 

Knititnow for mittens – includes thumb dimensions, as well as length and circumferences for the hands and wrists.

Knitty for socks – results of a survey of nearly 400 knitters.

Emily: My sizing is based predominantly on the ASTM standards, with reference to Ysolda’s table where I need to. The one size chart that I absolutely don’t use if I can avoid it (some publications want designers to use them for all their designs) is the CYCA standards. I find that, especially for the armscye, the sizing is not accurate in the larger sizes and that there are several body dimensions that are important for design but which are not included. 

Robynn: I have created very detailed sizing spreadsheets over time that synthesize measurements from a range of sources – including all of the above – into a table that makes sense to me. So I don’t have to look numbers up afresh each time, I just start with my huge spreadsheet and delete whichever numbers (sizes, body dimensions etc) are not relevant to that particular design.

The important thing to note with all these is that they give body sizes, and not finished garment sizes. It is up to you to determine the desired ease, i.e. how much larger the item should be compared with the wearer’s body. Sometimes negative ease – an item actually smaller than the body – is needed; for instance, hat brims always need to be a bit “too tight” for a good fit, and a close-fitting sweater will often have negative ease at the bust. Outerwear of course needs to be much roomier. 

Using Excel to calculate finished sizes and stitch counts

There are a number of excellent resources for pattern grading available, but these are mostly aimed at grading garments. This is going to be over-complicated for accessories, but it will give you a good starting point.

The basis for calculations is as follows:

– Based on the size charts you are using, determined the body dimension (eg, head circumference).

– Add or subtract ease (e.g. for a hat, subtract 2.5 cm / 1 in from the head circumference) to calculate an approximate finished dimension.

– Multiply the finished dimension by gauge to get an approximate number of stitches. 

– Round the number of stitches to fit in with your stitch pattern. Say your approximate stitch count for a hat is 124, but your lace pattern is a multiple of 6 sts, you would round up to 126.

Although you only need one stitch count for your sample, you will of course have to work out a range of sizes. So you may as well set up a spreadsheet (see resources below) to calculate every size right from the start. Doing this will also highlight any potential problems with the grading (maybe the stitch pattern just doesn’t work with one or two key sizes, for instance) and give you a chance to adapt your pattern at this early stage, if need be. So take care to think through the entire project, determine the key points at which shaping needs to be done, and plan for your whole pattern from the start. 

As you get more experienced in pattern writing, it is likely that you can work towards being able to write the pattern in advance of casting on the sample. We still don’t always do this, especially if working on something totally new, but it is an excellent aim. As mentioned above, attempting full grading from the start gives you a chance to adjust the pattern to avoid pitfalls. Working from a fully written pattern also saves you time as you knit (no need to stop and calculate along the way), and to an extent you become your own test knitter, spotting possible problems in the instructions as you go.

It is worth noting that the grading spreadsheet is going to be different for every project, so need next to no calculations, some need lots. But the important bit is to use a consistent structure and to make sure that there are clear labels and notes throughout so that you can remember what you have done when you come to it later. 

Resources:

Marnie Maclean Tutorials – Some excellent guidance, including example spreadsheets that include measurements and shaping formulae. 

More are linked from the resources page in the Budding Designers group, but are mostly are aimed at grading garments.

There are also courses on Craftsy that cover the topic, though I found them hard to watch.

Then all that remains is to cast on your sample. Again, remember to TAKE ALL THE NOTES. It is the unwritten rule that you can never remember that thing that seemed so logical and obvious when you are knitting. Whether designing on the needles, or working from your drafted pattern, you need that notebook and pencil close at hand. 

Exercise #3: Plan and grade your pattern

Create a full grading spreadsheet. 

– Set it up in whatever way works for you, but ensure that you have somewhere to record: your gauge (both stitches and rows per inch), actual measurements and stitch counts for each size. (Note that Marnie’s tutorial includes a very handy tip on naming cells, which makes it easier to refer to gauge, but that doesn’t work in all spreadsheet applications.) .   

– Create rows for each key measurement. Eg for a hat, this would be head circumference and hat depth (brim to crown). 

– Enter the relevant formulae to calculate your starting stitch count.

– Think through the construction. What are the key turning points – when do you need to start, stop or change shaping? What’s the logical flow of the pattern?

– Create a new row for every relevant turning point in the pattern and calculate the stitch counts at each point. (For something like a top-down shawl, with regular increasing, the process is a bit different; rather than working backwards from the desired stitch count, work forwards to determine the stitch count that will result after completing X repeats or reaching a given length.) 

– Develop your spreadsheet (including more rows as necessary to determine the spacing of increases or decreases, for example) until you are confident you have all the numbers needed to create your sample. Highlight or bold the column for your sample size. Print it out and keep it in your project bag, with a pencil, ready to take ALL THE NOTES. 

– Start knitting! Wheee!

Next posts:

Step 4. Style sheet, pattern writing & layout
Step 5. Photography & editing
Step 6. Tech editing & testing
Step 7. Pattern release & marketing
Step 8. Project & business management, final questions

Step 2: Charting and Ravelry

posted on: April 15th, 2019

Charting

This is the second of the posts in our (Emily and Robynn) series for the Pay it Forward design school.

Previous posts:
The preamble – So you wanna be a designer…

1: Getting Started

Methods of drawing charts

There are several different resources for creating knitting charts, but the two main options for charting specific software are Envisioknit and Stitchmastery. I use Stitchmastery rather than Envisioknit because it is available for a Mac operating system, but in discussions on the Designers forum on Ravelry there are lots of people recommending either. Both programmes allow for drawing charts, customisation and, crucially for me, automatically generating instructions to accompany the charts. That said, the main source of my loyalty to StitchMastery is the excellent support available to users – there is a wonderfully informative blog and an active Ravelry group for any questions, and any time I’ve needed to email I have received a really quick an informative response (including things like, Help! I seem to have lost my activation key in a computer update).  

If your main concern is to have full control over the appearance of a chart, or crucially if you want to draw a crochet chart, then using a graphics programme such as Illustrator or InDesign is your best option. There is obviously a steep learning curve involved, and you will need to either use a knitting specific font or create your own symbols for the different stitches, but this allows you full customisation over the appearance of your graphics.

To create charts using software that you already own, Excel (or Numbers) are also reasonable options, especially if you combine it with a knitting specific font for the various symbols (the one that I know of is available from Stitchmastery). To my mind the main drawback of both these options is that no written instructions are generated, and if you are making a large or complicated chart then creating those from scratch will take a significant amount of time.

There are also several free options for generating charts available on the internet, the most interesting of which is Stitchmaps. This allows you to see the shaping effect of the stitches you are using, as they are not constrained to a square grid – I often use it to check how things are going to line up after I have charted something in another programme, though I find the charts hard to knit from. Bear in mind that while you can draw a chart for free, a subscription is needed to export.

The final option is to pay a tech editor to generate the chart for you, which is probably not as expensive as you might imagine. However, to then have that chart checked it might be necessary to go to a second editor, as it is difficult to check your own work.

Resources:

Stitchmastery tutorial videos

Stitchmastery blog posts by Kate Atherley

Stitchmastery Ravelry Group

Marnie Macleans tutorials (covering generating charts in Excel and Illustrator), including a tutorial for drawing crochet charts

More resources for other programmes.

Exercise #2: Charting your design using Stitchmastery

Create a full electronic chart for each stitch or colourwork pattern in your design (or if you don’t need a chart for your design, chose a pattern to chart and have a play!).

Make sure that the chart clearly shows the repeat (by stitches and rows) and that every increase and decrease is accounted for. Play with the appearance of the chart – you can change the font and the size of the text, maybe re-arrange the key.

Check the written directions – are there any changes you want to make? One of the really powerful features of stitchmastery is the ability to create your own stylesheet to customise how these instructions work. 

Export both the chart and written instructions.

Join the Stitchmastery Ravelry Group and read through some of the conversations there.

If don’t have access to Stitchmastery use another one of the programmes listed above to generate a chart. Make sure that the chart clearly shows the repeat (by stitches and rows) and that every increase and decrease is accounted for. That is, do the stitch counts work out? Does each row consume the correct number of stitches resulting from the previous row? If the stitch count changes from row to row, is that clearly shown?   

Write the pattern out in words and check the same thing – is every stitch accounted for? Write out any changes in stitch count at the end of each row. If you’ve done the wording manually, then if possible, enlist a friend to help you check the chart against the written instructions – read out each row of the chart to them while they follow the wording, to be sure they match up.

Ravelry for designers

Ravelry is an astonishingly rich resource and if you don’t use it, you are cutting yourself off from a wealth of knowledge, data and support. Now why would you do that?! Let’s take a whirlwind tour of the main features – with a designer’s perspective. Probably you know a lot of this already but since everyone uses Rav differently, I’m assuming nothing.

The social side

forums edit.jpg

This is my (Robynn’s) Ravelry home page. It’s not the home page (what you’d see if you click on the icon, top left) – that would show you the Rav blog, and some helpful links for newbies; but I point my bookmark to the forums, and specifically to these groups, because these are the discussions I like to keep tabs on every time I check in. You might notice that none of them are the “Big 7” forums that every Raveller belongs to as default. Those are great, but I don’t need to watch them regularly (and honestly… because they’re so active, they can be pretty distracting). I belong to a large number of groups and I’ve arranged them in five different tabs, but these are the most important ones. Top left is the group I co-host with Emily, to discuss our designs. It’s not the most active, but it is friendly and most important, it’s a really useful space to announce new releases, run tests and so on. Then Designers and Budding Designers are the super-valuable groups we keep harping on about, and below I’ll show you some of the reasons why. The other groups you see there are useful for keeping an eye on new Rav developments and such, and below that (out of screenshot) I have some of my favourite social groups.

I could easily rabbit on for ages about the forums, but will try to focus on the key points. First: use the groups. There are groups for so many special interests – everything from Harry Potter to local knitting groups (or shops) to dyers and designers to parenting or feminism to particular styles of knitting… Finding a group you feel at home in can be a deeply wonderful experience, but as a designer, the main thing is to get to know groups that are relevant to your designs. For instance, groups for shawl lovers, or colourwork. Those groups can be a rich source of market research, not to mention sales. But here’s the second point: don’t be gross. As indie designers, we are incredibly lucky to have a community of customers who are genuinely eager to learn about our work, but nobody appreciates a hard sell – especially coming from someone who doesn’t participate in chat but just jumps in among a bunch of strangers to push their patterns. We’ll talk more about appropriate behaviour much later on, in the marketing topic, but basically, just remember to be considerate. Join groups to get to know what your customers want, and maybe to chat with them; promote your designs there using targeted ads, and (depending on the group’s rules) to announce new patterns in the appropriate thread. Don’t be pushy. But do take the time to find your audience.

And definitely take the time to get to know the two designers groups. Both are welcoming and supportive, full of detailed information and advice, but for a newbie, BD is definitely the better one to ask questions in. Spend some time browsing the archives (and resource pages) in both, though. You’ll learn a lot. One thing to bear in mind: both groups are home to plenty of non-designer lurkers – people who enjoy hearing about what designers do behind the scenes, without wanting to design themselves. This is great, because they occasionally pipe up to give a customer’s perspective (so helpful!), and because they follow the monthly New Designs threads. But remember they’re reading, and consider how you want to present yourself.

Note the two ringed links in the above screenshot – patterns, and “my designs”. Besides the groups, those are core features to understand.

The database

Ravelry’s complex, user-generated database of yarns, patterns and projects is enormously powerful and enormously valuable to anyone in the industry, because of the interconnections between those elements. As a casual user, you can search for project ideas by checking what others have made with the yarn in your stash; or what yarns have been used to make that pattern you’re eyeing up; or you can look at FOs for a particular design to see how it looks on a body closer to your own shape than the model’s. For designers, all of those uses are great, but you need to particularly understand the pattern database.

The advanced pattern search lets users filter by (many!) factors including yarn weight, yarn quantity, item category, fabric characteristics and a host of design elements, from construction (flat? seamless? top-down?) to neckline shape – so be sure to add all that detail when uploading your pattern. You can also use this search in the design planning stage: for instance, to get a rough idea of how much shawl a skein of a particular yarn might make. (Of course you need to swatch and weigh to know for sure, but this is a handy starting point.) Or to see if your brilliant idea has already been done ten times over. (But remember, originality is overrated.) And definitely to check if your perfect name turns up five pages of results…

The pattern database can also be viewed in order of recent popularity, or the (in)famous “Hot Right Now” pages. Visit this page with care: it can be demoralising, if you feel it’s being dominated by a particular aesthetic and a handful of top designers; and it’s easy to get sucked into checking where your newest release is on that list. (The flurry of activity that goes with a launch often pushes new patterns up the rankings for a day or two.) HRN isn’t necessarily a good indication of a pattern’s success in the long run. But it is interesting to view as a trend snapshot – and I find it helpful as inspiration for pattern styling.