Pattern Design

Mormor (grandmother) rarely used a knitting or crocheting pattern, and my mother – on the few occasions I saw her knit (never crochet) – never used a pattern.  I never saw either of them write a pattern.

I remember Mormor taking measurements and jotting them down, and then picking up a hook or set of needles and start swatching and designing.  I knew she had a shape and pattern in mind, because I watched it evolve toward something coherent and beautiful.

But, I also saw her crochet or knit for a while, then fit the garment on me, and then rip out a section and redo for a better fit.  No big surprise that has long been my approach to making my own designs too.  Yes, I know how to write out knitting patterns/designs, but as I rarely make the same thing twice and don’t sell my designs … well, maybe it’s just laziness.  🙂

KnitBookNotes2To the right is a perfect example of my knitting notes!  On the left are my notes on a pull-over cabled vest I knit for Thor last year.  The left-hand page of my notes consist of a yarn sample and a picture and the chart of a cable I wanted to use in the vest.  To the right are the instructions. Note the right hand page is blank – proof that I knit up my designs a la my Mormor.  🙂

KnitBookNotes3To the left is another page of my knitting notebook.  What knitting descendant of mine in their right mind would want to knit from those notes?

Now, I couldn’t help but think of Mormor’s (and my) pattern designs last night when reading Chapter 1 (Planning Your Design) of Shirley Paden’s Knitwear Design Workshop.  I bought the book at the suggestion of Linda Marveng – a Norwegian designer whose work I Paden2admire and a designer who constructs well-written patterns – about a year ago and read through it then.  Now I’m carefully reading through Paden’s book.

I will endeavor to apply Paden’s suggestions but decided I would start with something quick and easy: children’s fingerless mittens.  Over the last few days I have been knitting fingerless mitts as holiday gifts for my grandchildren and some of their closest friends (all of whom now also call me Mormor – with accents ranging from broad American to my native Sørlandisk).

I took measurements key to mittens from my grandchildren (age 5 and nearly 8), and decided to use odd balls of leftover bulky weight wool and alpaca yarns (from a friend – I MitttenPilenever use bulky yarns) and size 10 needles (I tend to knit lose).

I first followed the pattern design techniques of my foremothers:  a quick gauge swatch and, keeping an eye on the children’s measurements, I was off!  I made one prototype of each size and then reknit with adjustments requested by the grandchildren.  I have a growing pile.

Now comes the hard part: actually writing up my penciled notes into a coherent, reuseable pattern! 


About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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20 Responses to Pattern Design

  1. What a delightful story. It made my day! My son has always been my kindest and most encouraging assessor.


  2. Part of it is probably the fact that I spent so much of my formative years on the computer to begin with, but I’ve definitely found that I lose things way less when they all live in the same magic box. That makes it really appealing to someone as scattered as me!


  3. Yes, your Norwegian gene is showing! What an achievement – 11 pairs! It does sounds like you are testing your patterns thoroughly! I think switching to a lighter weight would be easy and suggest you have a go before take a break. It is ever so hard to come to a pattern with numbers from a different pattern in your head – at least that is my experience! Oh, I am delighted that you think so and do look forward to seeing it finished, but I promise to be patient because I know you are so busy!


  4. itwasjudith says:

    it looks very interesting, indeed! thanks for the hint 🙂


  5. itwasjudith says:

    Thank you for the suggestion 🙂 I’ll check it out


  6. Paden’s book is quite good in helping you understand pattern design. Another one that might be a little simpler is Knitting in the Old Way.


  7. So I must knit the old-fashioned ekte Norwegian way. ? 🙂 I am trying to write down my pattern for simple fingerless mittens. I knit 11 pairs in bulky weight (I’ve used different yarns – wool, alpaca and cotton – in different patterns) and now I’m going to switch to a lighter weight and adapt the patterns to the lighter yarn. I may have to take a break from the mittens and knit a sweater or something. Or finish the Milanese Shawl – which is getting very long. It is SOOO beautiful.


  8. monsteryarns says:

    What a sweet-heart!


  9. Wonderful ONLY if they can be replicated. And if the outcomes fit. 🙂


  10. If you browsed through my knitting notes, I think you would just shake your head and wonder whether I drink while I jot down my notes. 🙂


  11. I am experimenting with fingerless mittens … so far I’ve made 11 pairs … The grandkids are very patient as they try on the mittens and give me feedback. Granddaughter now says with all seriousness: “These fit great, but these- you should take one, maybe two rows out.” 🙂


  12. I am jealous … I can’t seem to put my knitting notes into any one of a number of my devices as I knit … which is why my knitted notes tend to be rather scattered. 🙂


  13. How did you know I write down knitting notes on the back of receipts?! 🙂


  14. Ah, a familiar conundrum, especially when the excitement is all in the working it out, often on the needles! It is not so exciting to rifle through the notes on receipts, scraps and phone jottings to document it properly. But a beautifully written pattern is a joy forever! Your reflections on pattern writing are so considered, I would love to read a pattern you had written. Enjoy your delightful process.


  15. Your knitting notes look a lot like my design notes, except mine live in the computer rather than a notebook. That’s pretty much how all my designs start though, and then once I’ve actually knit a section and know that the way it looks in my head will match the actual result, I go ahead and write that section up. Sometimes with something fairly simple in a not-unusual fabric, I’ll just go ahead and write the whole thing up ahead of time and tweak as needed while I’m knitting. Keeps me from that overwhelming moment of “so much to write!” at the end of knitting.


  16. monsteryarns says:

    My grandmother and mother were exactly the same. I don’t have that bravery but I never follow a pattern entirely but make modifications which I then forget to write down! Best of luck with your pattern writing. The few times I tried, I found it much easier in the thinking than the doing….


  17. Oh, to have a brain like that! 🙂


  18. Oh I do encourage you! Your patterns will be wonderful! This is exciting. 🙂


  19. This sounds quite familiar. My mum would use a pattern but only as a guideline for how to make neat armholes and necklines, and make up the stitch pattern or colourwork motif. To write accurate notes while knitting a design is hard, simply because the knitting part is more fun and hard to put down. I believe, Paden is right to say plan and do all calculations first if you want to write and sell your pattern. Then, all you do is minor adjustments. Thank you for a great post and so much for the complements, Karen!


  20. itwasjudith says:

    Thank you for your post, it’s very interesting!
    I’m new to knitting but was thinking just these days of how items are designed (in my case I wanted to make a simple striped sweater); now I will look out for sources about designing (simple) knit patterns 🙂


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