Designing 101

Just go for it!

writing and swatching

Have you ever gone looking for the perfect pattern, knowing exactly what you want to do with “this yarn,” only to discover that your perfect pattern doesn’t seem to exist?
Maybe you bought the yarn on a whim because you just had to have it (*raises hand*) and you knew that it needed to be cowl for next Fall. You have just the thing in mind: a textured stitch, at a tight gauge, with a rolled edge, and just long enough to double up snuggly, but no longer than that. However, all the cowl patterns for the correct yarn weight, and that are anywhere close to the yardage you have, just…… aren’t what you want.
Hey, welcome to my yarny life, haha! Seems like every time I find the perfect yarn, and plan for it to be the perfect thing, I can’t find a pattern anywhere that even comes close. So what do you do when this happens? Do you “make do” with a pattern you don’t love? Do you pet your yarn one last time and then drop it in the stash? WHAT ARE YOU, CRAZY?!
Why not just design yourself the perfect cowl? It’s not as hard as you think… 

Getting started

First and foremost, when you pull out that glorious yarn and start trying to figure things out, please oh please, do at least a couple (ideally, more) gauge swatches.

To some, this may seem like a waste of time, but let me tell you why you want to do this. Swatching will do two things for you:
First, it will let you figure out what size needles/hook you need for the fabric you want to have.

Do you want a dense, tight fabric, great for keeping warm? Do you want a looser fabric to show drape and sheen of shiny yarn, such as silk or bamboo? Are you unsure of the stitch pattern you want to use, and therefore need to try a few to compare? This is the biggest reason why you need to start with a swatch! As long as your yarn is froggable (can be undone) then it’s not a waste; you can always unravel your swatch if you start running out of yarn on your project.
The second reason you need to swatch is for math. Yeah, I said it. Don’t you just LOVE math?! Well…. some people do, but I’m not one of them. I will tell you this though, if you’re making anything with shaping, or that needs to fit properly (like, not a scarf but maybe a top,) then you’re going to need to do a little math. It can’t be helped. You do want to be able to wear your finished item, don’t you?

Math: Don't be scared!


The thing about math in designing, is that if you’re only designing for yourself (i.e.- not to sell a pattern,) you only need your own body. This makes things super simple! You’ll need to measure yourself wherever the finished item is going to go (if you’re making a top, you’ll need your bust measurement, length of where you want the hem to hit, and perhaps a measurement from your underarm to top of shoulder for armhole.)
Now take your favorite swatch. You know, the one that is exactly the stitch pattern and fabric you want to use. Measure your gauge: take a ruler and measure across 2″ and count your stitches. Let’s say you have 12 stitches. This makes your stitch gauge 6 stitches per inch. Now measure 2″ up and down. Let’s say you have 8 rows. That makes your row gauge 4 rows per inch.
See how easy that is?

Now we get to do our little bit of math. You need to multiply the measurements you want your finished item to be by the number of stitches/rows in your swatch.
If you’re working top-down, and you want your top to be 20″ long, you would multiply 20 by 4 (because you have 4 rows to an inch, right?) This gives you 80. You’re going to need about 80 rows in this top to reach the desired length.
Now do the same for the stitches. Let’s say you have a 36″ bust and you want this top to fit you exactly (not loosely, and not squeezy.) You’re going to multiply 36 by 6 (because you have 6 stitches to an inch.) This gives you 216. You will need 216 inches all the way around, at your bust, for this top to fit you.
Now do the same for your hips. Let’s say you’re at 32″ for your hips. 32 * 6 = 192. So after you’ve finished working the bust, you’re going to need to decrease your 216 stitches to 192. This means you’ll need to lose 24 stitches. Figure out how to evenly space your decreases at a rate that won’t cause your top to pinch in. Maybe decrease 4 stitches every 4 rows, six times. This will give you your 192!

Practice practice practice

If there is a fast and true math method that works every single time without fail, I am unaware of it. The way I’ve gotten so much better at designing for myself is simply because I’ve done it so many times by now. Your first design probably won’t be perfect, and that’s okay! Just keep going, and every time you design something new, you’ll be just a little better at it.

I want to leave you with my best advice yet: BLOCK YOUR PROJECT!!! For the love of all things holy, block it. If you don’t know what that means or how to do it, here’s what you need to know. A good blocking makes all the difference between “homemade” and “hand crafted.” If you want your finished garment to look like a million bucks, do yourself a favor and block it one good time before you wear it. If you’re local and need help with your first blocking, come into the shop and I’ll show you how it’s done. Bring your own blocking mats and pins because mine are often already in use.
Anytime you need to block something and don’t have the room, bring it by the shop. We have a blocking platform there that is especially for customers’ blocking!

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