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Be Your Own Designer

Aug 10, 2012

"Design" can be a scary word. In knitting, it conjures up visions of measuring, swatching, and ripping. 

Those visions are valid—you will have to spend time doing tasks that might not sound really fun. But you'll also spend a lot of time dreaming and planning. Want a cardigan with a cable down one side? No problem. A pullover with a Fair Isle yoke? Done. A jacket with a collar instead of a hood? Check.

A design sketch from Mathew Gnagy's One Knit Design, Many Versions: A Guide to Knitwear Pattern and Garment Making      
When you are your own designer, sky's the limit.

To begin, you need to gather some tools. Here's a list to get you started:

—Plain paper
—Pencil and eraser
—Measuring tape
—Ready-made garment from your closet, one that you like the fit of
—Knitter's graph paper if you're working on a Fair Isle design (Google it—there are lots of free downloads for this) 

When you're working on your first design, it's nice to start with an existing pattern and make changes to it to suit your figure and taste. For example, begin with a simple top-down tee and add waist-shaping and bust short-rows. Or start with a hoodie and make a collar instead.

Or make a pattern larger or smaller—that's a challenge I give myself a lot.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The keys to designing or modifying a pattern are accurate measurements and a gauge swatch. You won't get the results you desire if you don't have both. 

Here's an example:

I want to knit a sweater and the largest size is 42 inches and I need 48 inches. To change the pattern the first thing I'll do is knit a gauge swatch out of the yarn I want to use. Say it's a worsted-weight yarn and I'm getting 4.5 stitches to the inch. To get 48 inches with a 4.5 stitch-to-the-inch gauge, I'll need 216 stitches at the bustline. (The math for this is 48 X 4.5 = 216.)

Do figure out the rest of the pattern, I use the measurements on the pattern schematic and do the same math to figure out how many stitches I'll need for the sleeves, hem, etc. And then I start knitting, measuring the work and checking my gauge a lot!

There are more intense ways of adjusting patterns, and at Knitting Daily, we want you have all of the tools you need, and Mathew Gnagy's video workshop One Knit Design, Many Versions: A Guide to Knitwear Pattern and Garment Making is an essential part of your design toolbox. Here's a preview to whet your appetite.

Get One Knit Design, Many Versions today and become your own designer!


P.S. Have you successfully modified (or designed!) your own knitwear? Leave a comment and share some tips?

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Knitting Daily Workshop: One Knit Design, Many Versions: A Guide to Knitwear Pattern and Garment Making with Mathew Gnagy (Video Download)

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marywoods wrote
on Aug 31, 2012 12:24 PM

After reading through all the comments, I would like to add one more source to your list of necessities, 2 books by Ann Budd.  The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns and The Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns.  She has already done the math for you in sizes from newborn to adult x-large.  I have used my copies for most of the design work that I do.  

I don't know if these books are available in electronic format or not, but I make copies of the pages I need for a particular pattern and that way I can write on them and make notes.

Just the other day, my youngest came over and asked for a basic beret and hat pattern.  I ended up sending my copies from Ann Budd's book with all my notes on it home with her, along with my noted copies on mittens and gloves.  

If you don't have these books, I strongly suggest them to you.  They are well worth the price.  Mine have more than paid for themselves.  

BethJ wrote
on Aug 12, 2012 10:48 AM

To commenter "Tatoland", which specific iPad app does this? I'm interested! I hope I can take this video course later. (I have to save up my pennies). Thanks to Interweave for such great content and to Knitting Daily for the reviews and info.

Tess wrote
on Aug 11, 2012 8:57 AM

If you are designing something with Fair Isle, be aware that usually it squares up your gauge - if you normally get, say, 7 stitches and 5 rows to the inch in this particular yarn, you might get something closer to 5.5 sts and 5.5 rows per inch in Fair Isle.  So before you download that knitters graph paper, do a swatch or you may end up with an unwearable garment!

Mollipop383 wrote
on Aug 10, 2012 8:01 PM

I don't think I've ever made an article of clothing for myself exactly to pattern. I'm always tweaking it here and there until it fits me just right. I don't know if it's because I'm a younger knitter (being 23) or what, but I'd rather frog something a few times until it fits me as I want than end up with a sweater I'll never wear because it's too big and boxy.

on Aug 10, 2012 2:42 PM

I love the idea of being my own designer...and all of us whether we call ourselves that. Modify a pattern? Designer! Codify that, print it out with pretty pictures of the pattern and a model wearing the results...and you are for real, perhaps making $ off what you've dreamed up.

mtrabby wrote
on Aug 10, 2012 9:54 AM

My "tip" may not be as practical as those already posted, however, I do want to encourage others to just try something, even if you think you can't do it.  Chances are you really can if you are patient and focus a lot.  I am just now finishing a vest that I altered from a sweater pattern filled with cables and lace panels.  The pattern is undoubtedly more advanced than my skills warrant, but I love it and *had* to do it.  Furthermore, the only yarn I found that had the color and sheen I wanted was 100% silk (pricey and it splits a lot).  But it is also pure joy to handle that silk, so much so that I don't even mind when I find an error and have to tink a couple of rows or rip out several.  I am liking the way this is turning out, and I'm proud of the beautiful garment I've made.  So just take a deep breath and go for it.

yarntech wrote
on Aug 10, 2012 8:13 AM

If you have an iPad there's tools that help you be creative...gauge tools like KnitHandy, Knitting Help, Gaugefy, Knit-n-Count HD, and, my new favorite, DesignKNIT. They all add to a terrific knit designing experience.

tatoland wrote
on Aug 10, 2012 6:51 AM

In regards to making your own patterns - if you have an iPad. Type in your gauge, then create the shape you need (from raglan sleeves, to V-necks, to triangles) and dimensions and in a few seconds, you have the instructions for how many increases/decreases you need as well as where to put them (i.e. dec 1 st every 2nd row 6X, dec 1 st every 4th row 12X - meaning dec at each side of the piece, not just once per row). It's fantastic.