Design vs. Pattern

Hi Everyone!  Jackie here.  

Before I start talking sweater, Amy had the pleasure of speaking with Kathy & Steve at WEBS on their Ready, Set, Knit! podcast this past Saturday, as well as Benjamin Levisay’s Fiber Hooligan podcast on Monday.  If you want to learn more about Amy and what she’s all about, I recommend them both.  (Surprisingly, there’s not a ton of overlap between the two.)

I’m back again on the AHD blog, and I’d like to talk a bit about my KAL sweater… specifically, what I learned about design vs. pattern in the process of knitting the world’s longest swatch.

While I’ve been finishing up this CustomFit shawl collar pullover, I’ve been doing all the prep work for my Making Clothes knit-along sweater.  I knew I wanted something casual and comfy (while still clean and stylish) like this sweater that I pinned as my inspiration.

I swatched.  And swatched, and swatched some more:


(No, this is not a sleeve.)

This part took a lot longer than I expected.  I knew what I wanted to wear, and I thought I knew how to translate that into fabric.  And, technically, I did know.  It was easy for me to replicate textured horizontal lines with eyelets.  But it was really hard for me to find a combination of stitch patterns that translated the vision of my sweater into something I actually wanted to wear.

Which was a new part of the process for me.  As someone who came to the craft through the Stitch N’ Bitch books, and then the enthusiasm of the internet, I’ve always felt super capable of translating an idea into a knitted object.  The SNB / internet knitting culture is really empowering that way, don’t you think?  I feel like our battle cry is: give me two sticks and a string, and I can make ANYTHING.  (That was not intended to rhyme.  It just does.)

So I was really surprised when I started evaluating it beyond “can I create this?” and instead asked “do I really want to wear this?”  Because the answer for the 1st 15 inches of that swatch was, over and over again, “no”.

I was determined to figure out what would work, and learned some things from my swatch:

  • Intricate stitch patterns looked clumsy when knit with the silky smooth aran-weight yarn
  • Very subtle stitch patterns got lost in the color variegation
  • It was difficult for me to work eyelets cleanly and consistently at this gauge

From there I found a simple, but not obvious, stitch pattern from Barbara Walker that would give me the visual appearance I desired, without looking clumsy.  With that, I was able to finalize my design, and am (finally) ready to generate my pattern:


I think what I experienced — the struggle to implement an idea into actual wearable fabric — is an integral part of the design process for most people.  It was frustrating, and it took a lot longer than I expected.  (Not least of which because I’ve watched Amy do this about 30 times this past year, and she makes it look easy.  I think Lauren said it best recently when she commented that Amy’s got a sweater factory in her head.  I can vouch for that — it’s kind of insane.)

I think the coolest part about where I am now is that, after having passed the design hurdle, I don’t need to write a pattern now.  This has always been the biggest barrier for getting the sweaters out of my own head.  I have ideas for sweaters.  Technically, I can do the math.  I’m not super confident or experienced with it, but I understand the theory (particularly after the baptism by fire that was the launch of CustomFit, talk about a learning curve!) and have the mental capacity to do it.  What I lack is the desire and time.  (So, yay for CustomFit!)

I also find it super interesting to be able to focus on design issues, rather than pattern issues. This process I just went through is an object lesson in how CustomFit separates “design” from “pattern” in a way we’ve not seen before in modern knitting history.

From what I can tell as a CustomFit user, and by watching everyone on Ravelry using CustomFit, we’re all trolling the internet for sweater ideas (a.k.a. design) instead of patterns to knit.

We’re thinking about the yarn we have, and what it wants to be. We’re thinking about cable placement, and hem length, and stitch patterns, and what we want to wear.  We’re thinking about fabric.  And once we’ve gotten all that worked out, we click make my pattern in CustomFit, and we get a pattern for our design that’s written just for us.

I’ll tell you what.  Now that the pattern process is separated from the design process, I have waaaay more respect for the value of good design.  Something simple, classic, interesting, wearable, unique:  it’s not just about a good idea, but also the good implementation of the good idea…

…and it’s harder than it looks.


3 thoughts on “Design vs. Pattern

  1. Fascinating & very insightful. Yes, agreed, the Internet knitting culture really is empowering, Also Jackie, I wanted to thank you for your last knitting technique (stitches about the jump off the left needle) post. It single-handedly changed my knitting (in the middle of a sock no less!)

  2. This is exactly why I’m so excited about CustomFit. I have so many ideas for designs I’d like to wear, but lack the wherewithal (and, frankly, desire) to turn those things into patterns.

    I also like how integral swatching is to CustomFit since, as you point out, swatching up your idea may force you to realize that it won’t actually create something you want to wear, even if it’s something you want to look at. How nice to realize that before you’re halfway through the body of a sweater. And, even better, how nice to feel in control of that process.

  3. I wonder how many of us are currently doing exactly the same thing. Trolling the internet for pattern ideas, swatching madly, etc, etc. For my current project I produced 3 swatches. This may not sound a lot, but the total number of swatches ever produced to date comes to a grand total 4! I now adore the swatching process. What I wanted to create initially would have ended in the back of my closet helping feed the moths.

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