Guest Designer Olive Knits - Pattern Design 101 Learn the secrets behind making your own patterns to sell

The Nuts & Bolts of Being a New Designer by Marie Greene of Olive Knits

This is a personal blog by Jessica Carey. All editorial content and projects are intellectual property of The Hook Nook. This post has affiliate links to help support this blog at no cost to you. All opinions are my own. 

The digital age has made pattern design more accessible than it's ever been; anyone with a great idea, a decent computer and the willingness to do the work can create a pattern and send it out into the world. But pattern design is so much more than putting an idea to paper. Let's talk about what it takes to get started.

1. Know your stuff. If you've just knit your first shawl, I don't recommend that you become a shawl designer just yet. Knit a few shawls. Try patterns that incorporate a variety of different construction techniques so that you understand what works when, and how to get different results. The number one advice for new writers is "write what you know," and the same applies to designers. Design what you know. If you don't know a garment inside and out, dig in deep and learn more before you design one.

2. Don't copy. Imitation is one thing: design ideas are floating around the universe all the time and it's easy for multiple designers to be inspired to create a similar idea without ever being aware of each other (I've learned this from experience). It's okay if you see someone wearing a scarf and think, "OMG, I want to make something kind of like that, but longer and with fringe!" You can run home and sketch out an interpretation of the idea – something inspired by, but not copied from, the piece you saw. A design that was inspired by an existing concept, but that grows into its own unique idea - that's inspiration, and that's okay. However, it's quite another thing to steal another person's work. If you use another designer's pattern, make modifications to the pattern and call it yours, that's stealing. Don't do it – it's gross. You'll sabotage your business by losing the respect of your peers and customers before you ever get started. A designer must know enough about construction to create a piece from scratch.

3. Read all the design books you can get your hands on! Learn about different construction techniques, shaping, pattern grading and fit. No matter how tedious it seems, the time spent gaining knowledge is never wasted. Knowing how to knit or crochet is not the same as knowing how to design – even if you're really really good at it. Take the time you need to learn about pattern construction, fit, design techniques, and most of all, design standards. Head over to the Yarn Council of America website to familiarize yourself with standard abbreviations and sizing.

Guest Designer Olive Knits - Pattern Design 101 Learn the secrets behind making your own patterns to sell

4. Create your sample and take amazing notes. As you work to create your design, be sure to write down everything you're doing along the way.  We take a lot for granted when we knit or crochet – there are things we do instinctively without even realizing it. Be sure to jot these things down so that you have a rough outline of your process. By the time you finish your piece you will have forgotten many of the small adjustments you made along the way, and those notes will be a lifesaver.

5. Swatch, swatch and swatch some more. There's nothing worse than trying to rush a design, especially when you're new and still getting the hang of it. Take the time to sketch, swatch and test your ideas before you launch into full production mode. Try out a few different ideas on a small scale before you launch into the full size project.

Guest Designer Olive Knits - Pattern Design 101 Learn the secrets behind making your own patterns to sell

6. Use a standard format to create your pattern and layout. Clarity is important, so choose a style that displays the information in a clear, organized way. Frilly fonts can be a lot of fun, but they're not always easy to read. Keep this in mind when you decide how you want your pattern to be presented. Be consistent with your formatting and include clear photos that show the design from a variety of angles, and if the design is meant to be worn on the body, it's best to have at least a few photos of the design on an actual person, rather than on a mannequin. Create your pattern in a standard word processing program (like Microsoft Word), include schematics (drawings of the garment with measurements), supply information, abbreviations used and step-by-step instructions. Take a look other patterns to familiarize yourself with how they're put together.

7. Enlist several friends or acquaintances to read through the pattern, provide feedback and test it for you. No matter how clear you think your instructions may be, until you have real people test the pattern, you won't know for sure if your pattern is as clear as it needs to be for publishing. It's important to be open to feedback, even if it feels like criticism. Your work will be better if you accept feedback and look for ways to improve, so let the pattern loose on a few friends and have them try it from start to finish before you launch it to the public.


Guest Designer Olive Knits - Pattern Design 101 Learn the secrets behind making your own patterns to sell

8. Hire a tech editor. This one is a bitter pill to swallow when you're a new designer, but there's nothing worse than the horror of waking up to emails from customers who have found mistakes in your pattern. It's frustrating for you, but more importantly, it's frustrating for your customers. Pattern mistakes can leave customers unsure about your work and less willing to try another one of your patterns down the road. My first few designs were published after significant test knitting, but NOT tech editing (I didn't know about tech editing at that stage), and I was stunned when I realized there were still issues in the pattern that neither I nor the 10+ test knitters noticed. I know it's hard to justify the expense of a tech editor, but trust me on this one – if you want to be a serious designer, this is one of the expenses you'll have to plan for. You can expect to pay somewhere in the range of $25-$30 an hour for professional tech editing. The length of time will vary based on complexity of the pattern, how polished it is, and how many sizes are involved.

9. Don't make your pattern free. New designers cringe when I say this, but it's solid advice that industry professionals agree upon. I know, I know. You're new. You're unsure if your work is good enough. You want a lot of people to see your new design and discover your budding talent. I get it. I really do. But a free pattern devalues the design process as a whole, and it is an unspoken way to release yourself from responsibility for providing a quality product. I have seen free patterns that say, "Hey, don't email me if you find a mistake. That's why it's free." Friend, if this is the approach you want to take, please don't become a designer. Expect to charge a going rate for your work, and plan on providing customer support. That's part of the deal. You're going to get emails – some will be asking for clarity, some will ask if there's a mistake because their stitch count didn't come out right, and some will just email you because they didn't read far enough in the pattern to see that the answer is already there.  Regardless, you're going to get emails, and you should prepare yourself to answer them in a timely fashion. Pattern support is an implied part of the process when you are a designer, and over time you'll figure out the most efficient ways to help your customer without being taken advantage of (some customers will ask you to hold their hand throughout the process and that's not necessary, nor should you even try). Be sure your pattern indicates how a customer can contact you if they have questions or need help. Make note of the questions you receive; they are a good way to see where you can improve. You may find that better explanations or clearer schematics can cut down on the confusion, and therefore eliminate a lot of questions down the road.

10. Last, but not least, get out and see what's happening in the fiber world. Visit local yarn shops or craft stores to see what they're carrying and what kinds of samples they have on display. Meet other knitters and crocheters to share ideas. Find out about the latest styles, and familiarize yourself with current brands and trends in the industry. You'll be amazed at how much inspiration and knowledge you'll gain from immersing yourself in the larger industry. It will help you to be a more well-rounded designer and understand the role of design within the fiber community.

There's so much more to the design process than can be covered in a single article, but this overview will point you in the right direction. Above all, let your creativity run wild and have a little fun with it. Ready? Go!

Guest Designer Olive Knits - Pattern Design 101 Learn the secrets behind making your own patterns to sell

My name is Marie Greene, and I’m the knitter behind the scenes (and needles) of Olive Knits. I learned to knit at my grandmother's side (around the age of ten) and I loved it so much, I never stopped.

I love spreadsheets and waking up ridiculously early. When I'm not knitting or designing, I am crushing on Nordic Noir, coffee, rainy days, stinky cheese and Oregon wine. I'm a firm believer that one can never have too many project bags... or yarn, for that matter.

My design philosophy is a little like an olive – it’s simple, it’s succinct and it packs a punch: Modern. Wearable. Style.

You can find my designs in print at yarn shops throughout the United States, online at oliveknits.com, on Ravelry, in Makers Unwound magazine for creatives in the Pacific Northwest, and more. I teach sweater fit and renegade knitting techniques at yarn shops throughout the country and can be found teaching and lecturing this fall at the Nottingham Yarn Expo in Nottingham, England.