Knitting design and me: how I think about upcoming designs

The questions people ask me say a lot about their (pretty reasonable) assumptions about knitting design and stitch pattern design. I’m sure there are designers out there who have a picture in their head of what they want their end result to be. But that’s not how things are for me.

I’m going to digress a moment. About a year and a half ago, one of my online communities got into a discussion of aphantasia and whether we saw movies in our heads when reading. The group covered a real spectrum, with one person saying she could paint the scenes she saw in her head in full color, and that they were vividly, visually present, like a movie, to another person who saw nothing at all when reading and can’t picture memories in her head.

I don’t quite lack mental imagery when thinking about things or reading books, but it’s barely there: I get glimpses, vague outlines or hints of movement, like ghosts and shadows. I hate things like battle scenes in books where it matters how people move in relation to each other because I can’t actually comprehend how it all fits together unless I make a diagram on paper, and so I find it boring. (I skim over those bits.)

So how can I design things, if I can’t imagine what things will look like ahead of time?

Well, it depends on what I’m designing.

Shawl layouts looking for a good home.

When I design things like these shawl shapes, I think to myself in words something like, “I wonder what shapes I can make with rectangles and triangles that aren’t in common use already?” And then I sketch some possibilities and use the mathematics of knitting to figure out the increases or decreases to make that happen. I always liked geometry.

When I design lace, nothing really helps me know what it’s going to look like until I’ve swatched it, preferably three horizontal repeats by three vertical repeats.

rough draft chart for a stitch pattern; not recommended for use

Say I’ve got this chart, which I just made up for this post. It’s not based on secret code this time; I just put down some YO motifs I often like and guessed where the decreases might go, because I know how the YOs will push stitches aside and the decreases will pull others together. (I’m not going to go into a lot of detail how I made those guesses: I have to save some of my experience to write about in books for income, or for my Patreon supporters.) I know that the decrease lines will make some kind of repeating diamond shape, based on the chart, but I will not know for certain what it will look like until I swatch it, and I might need to change things depending on the swatching.

Swatching is the best, and while gauge swatches might be deceptive, stitch pattern test swatches have taught me half of what I know about how to make stitch patterns. My earliest stitch patterns were swatched over and over, with lots of chart drafts. Now I can take all the knowledge I subconsciously absorbed from that, and eliminate some of the first iterations of the rough draft swatches.

You might be wondering about Stitch Maps and whether I could use those to help me see how a stitch pattern will look, but I’m going to save the details of that for another time. In brief: no. And that’s not a criticism of Stitch Maps, either.

To sum up, I don’t picture a design I want and then figure out how to make the knitting stitches do that. I make a chart, and then see how I can make it into a design that I like.

an upcoming stitch pattern

The chart above became this swatch. Here is the final chart; it’s rather different in the end.

6 thoughts on “Knitting design and me: how I think about upcoming designs

  1. Funny, and i though it was just me skimming over such parts in books! I remember starting The Name of the Rose, but couldn’t get past the veery long initial descriptive section (like I can’t remember how many pages of words that just slipped away from my memory… like rain drops on glass windows). I never finished that book 😉
    I didn’t know it was a condition….
    Thanks for the interesting post!

  2. That’s a very pretty swatch! It’s got a kind of waterlily thing going on…

    Funnily enough I’ve been swatching today – in a way that’s fairly typical for me, and neither of the options you describe. I start with a vague idea of what I want to do and then just mess around until I get something that pleases me. Which of course is often pretty far removed from what I thought I was doing, but hey, it works! Today my exploratory swatch got exTREMEly messy. I still need to figure out which bits of it are salvageable, but I have the shawl structure at least pretty much cleared up.

    I have another design in development for which I’ve done enough swatching to know I need to do some charting next. But it’s amazing how hard I find that when I don’t already know exactly what it’s going to be.

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