Designing Knitwear Patterns - 2 of 2

You have your design - now what? The nuts and bolts of getting a pattern to the market.

What’s ACTUALLY involved in designing a pattern and getting it released? Everyone has their own process, but today I’m sharing mine.


Solve a problem

This is the actual design process, and you can read more about this here, where I dig in deep. Basically, my knitter has a need and I do my best to meet it.

  1. Sketch, considering different sizes from the very beginning

  2. Identify a suitable yarn and partner

Tip: I no longer make pitches for yarns I haven’t swatched with. I've been burned before - so certain I'll know how a yarn will behave -and felt backed into a corner. Meet the yarns before you commit yourself. Many dyers have seconds skeins or swatching skeins just for designers, so if you’d like to meet a yarn just email them and ask if they have a program like that.

Jen wears a handknit sweater with lots of rich stitch texture and an incredible fit.
Problem-solving: Lightweight, layering, professional, bespoke, impeccable fit.

Start your project tracker

This document will guide your project from start to finish, and vastly simplify marketing and working with partners down the line. You can download a free copy here.


Plan the timeline

Start with your desired release date and back into it, making sure you leave enough time for every step. You’ll want to communicate this to any partners, so it’s important to make sure it’s beneficial and achievable for everyone before you get started.


Psst, you can read more about planning timelines here.


Create the schematic in all sizes

Once you know what you want to make, you need to be sure it will work for all sizes. Make your final target schematic for all sizes, complete with any design elements.


This step will also give you the measurements you’ll use to estimate yardage, so it needs to be done before you tell the dyer how much yarn you’ll need.


A screengrab of a spreadsheet, showing sizes, target ease, and target schematic for a sweater pattern.
Step 1: Create the target schematic. No need to round these!

Create a brief for the dyer

I use Microsoft Publisher for this and for my patterns, but you could also use InDesign or Affinity. Publisher is included in my Microsoft Suite, and it has plenty of features for me, so that’s what I use for layout.


The brief/proposal is my first pitch for the garment, and it flows directly from the project tracker. In it, I identify:


a. Design features

b. Mood and inspiration

c. Timeline

d. Yarn estimate

e. Co-marketing expectations

f. What you commit to, and what you’re asking for

Screen grab of a layout with photos of leaves and mushrooms, buttons, feathers, swatches and lots of details about a pattern to come.
A combination of swatch photos, sketches, and mood - I want the dyer to 'meet' the vision

Tip: I use Unsplash for stock photos to build the mood. I like to hyperlink to the artist in the photo, so that they’re receiving credit and others can find their work. Unsplash doesn't require that, but it's the right thing to do.


Tip: This brief has several additional lives. Later, I’ll tweak it to turn it into a press release for wholesale customers, and finally, I’ll tweak it to become a lookbook for knitters. Want an example? Here’s the lookbook for Gone to Seed.


Create the pattern

You’ll receive yarn, swatch, and crunch numbers. I write as much of the pattern as I can before casting on, grading all sizes at the same time. This cuts down on errors and lets me be the first tester of the pattern. I often reserve writing and grading the trim until after the rest of the sample is knit, since the pickup rates I use may change based on how the fabric comes out in my hands.

A close up of the zipper installation on a hand-knit sweater.
Final trim instructions usually come after the rest of the sample is finished.

Layout

Again, I use Microsoft Publisher for this, keeping my patterns as consistent as possible. I put in placeholder photos snapped at home as needed.


Tech edit

Once your pattern is in final draft form, send it to a tech editor. Tip - book your tech editor about six weeks ahead of time, and book both the initial tech edit and the pre-release tech edit. Editors are busy, so make sure you’re on the calendar when you need to be.


Testing

Consider putting out test calls 1-2 weeks before the test launches. This gives top-notch testers time to schedule your test and gives you some stress-free time knowing that if something gets weird in tech edit, you have some breathing room.


How long should your test be? I do one week per 200 yards in the largest size, with a minimum of one month for any project, and a minimum of 3 months for any sleeved sweater. This is foundational to my commitment to inclusion, and addresses the needs of knitters of all sizes, knitters with physical or neurological differences, and knitters who need to plan their budgets or have limited time. You can read more about my framework for inclusion here, or actions you can take on size inclusion here.


I like to create a webpage for each test. This webpage will be adjusted later to become the pattern page, so it’s work I can do now that streamlines release later. Here's what that looks like for a current test, Maker's Tunic.


Photography

Book photography close to release, so that it’s seasonally appropriate and responsive to the trends at the time, but give yourself enough time for the photos to come back edited and for you to have time to update everything. About a month before release is good if you can manage it.



Tip: See your photographer every other month. Take the yarn for your next project with you, so that you have some ‘stock’ photos that are cohesive with your finished product photos. These yarn photos were taken in June, finished sweater in August.


Prepare final pattern

In this step, drop in your photos, tweak your layout, run your final checks and send to final tech edit. Try not to make any changes to your final pattern without sending it to your tech editor.


Release your pattern!

Finalize your webpage, put together all your codes, load that baby onto your sales platform - and let it out there!


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