The design process

Sometimes I tell non-knitters that I design knitwear. I always add the words “freelance,” “part-time,” “just starting out” or some combination. I don’t know why I feel the need to downplay it or make it seem unimportant or that it’s not what I “really” do. It’s what I am passionate about. I love the process, if not always the product. These n-ks will often make a comment like, “Really?” and I often feel that they look at me like I’m a rare strange orchid from South America. She designs knitwear? But she’s an elementary school teacher! Most knitters, however, will ask how I started doing it. So, here’s the short version …

I took a design class with the most wonderful person/teacher/designer/knitter — Shirley Paden. I wrote a pattern for a coat. I knitted it up. Shirley liked it. I took the class a second time. I wrote a pattern for a bolero and tank. Shirley liked it and encouraged me to start submitting my designs to various publications — which I did. The bolero and tank eventually got published, but my first published pieces appeared in the holiday ’05 issue of Knit Simple. Shirley is now a friend and mentor, but she is the reason I continue to do this. Her work is inspirational.

Here are the best parts of the process:

I scan newspapers, the internet and magazines for silhouettes or elements that I like. Once I find something, I sketch it out — this is an area I really want to work on. This sketch is not too terrible, but it’s somewhat stark. On the right you can sort of see the Oscar de la Renta jacket.

I knit up a swatch. This one is done in Art Yarn‘s Supermerino. I try to find an interesting pattern. This is a twisted stitch pattern. It looks a little like smocking. You can see there’s a little tag on the bottom. That just lets the editors know which yarn it is and the gauge and stitch information. The color is really beautiful, but magazines rarely choose the color or particular yarn you have swatched in. Usually I submit between 5 and 10 designs at a time.

Then you wait …

If your design is accepted, then you’re notified (e-mail or phone call) and the yarn (of their choosing) is sent. In this case it was Art Yarn‘s Ultramerino in a teal blue. You swatch that to get the numbers correct.

Then the part I block out. The writing of the pattern and the deadline knitting. This can be anywhere from two (yikes) to
six (whew) weeks. It’s usually at least six months before the issue hits the stands.

And then, as if by magic, your name appears in lights. This is my interpretation of the jacket, published in Vogue Knitting, Holiday ’06.

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Juggler: mother, knitwear designer, teacher

2 thoughts on “The design process

  1. Joan, that was a fun post to read. I just started designing and have done two things for Knitter’s Magazine and 1 for a book collection, but I would love to get into Interweave or one of the Vogue publications some day. Anyway, thanks for the peek into your process! 🙂

  2. wow joan, that is really great! i remember seeing that coat and wondering if it would look good on me (i have very teeny shoulders and need to be careful . .) cogratulations on your success!i’ve thought about submitting, but don’t know if i can handle the deadlining, along with my day job. maybe this year . .

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