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Spreadsheets for Designers

One of you kindly asked me to talk about setting up spreadsheets for size inclusion, and since those are my two favorite topics, like, ever – here we go!

First, I want to say I don’t think there’s much about the way I set up my spreadsheets that drives size inclusion. The only thing directly related, I think, is that my spreadsheets are ready for an immense amount of complexity in a way that’s highly organized. Anyway, I’ll let you be the judge!

Start by grading the schematic

In my first adult design, I wrote my sample size, and then graded. Big mistake.

Some elements don’t grade well. You don't want to be halfway through your deadline period with a fully knit sample only to learn that the central motif won't even fit on your smallest size.

Make your target schematic first

Include all measurements and the location and placement of design features. You’ll be able to anticipate where the challenges will be and fix them for every size using a consistent treatment.

You’ll also be much more efficient because you won’t need to spend 3 nights trying to figure out what to do with a grading problem, and you’ll be able to write more concise instructions – saving you time proofing and money in tech edit.

Set up your workbook

I work with several tabs, each with a manageable amount of information. Here's how I get set up:

  • Notes

  • Size chart

  • Gauge & target schematic

  • Critical stitch counts

  • Shaping (I make as many of these as I need, usually at least one for body and one for sleeves, one for raglans, one for bust shaping)

  • Final schematic and yardage

  • The big double-check

Your workbook should follow your workflow

Your workflow - the steps you take and the order in which you take them - should drive your spreadsheets. That will make your process more efficient, and also make it easier for you to come back to your work later. Here's my workflow for garments when I work with a yarn dyer:

  1. Sketch the design

  2. Swatch the fabric, capturing details on Notes tab

  3. Needle size

  4. Yarn

  5. Stitch pattern instructions

  6. Create target schematic & estimate yardage

  7. Create project brief for dyer

  8. Wait until it's time to get started

  9. Create critical stitch counts

  10. Calculate shaping

  11. Write pattern

  12. Knit sample (capture size made on notes tab)

Unlike when you're working from a sample as a professional grader, grading is built into every step of the process. From the target schematic step, I'm working on the grades.

Size chart + desired ease = target schematic

If you’re grading from a sample, you’ll apply a grade rule. If you’re designing, I find it much faster just to establish an ease chart.

Note - this shows equal ease in the front and the back, but in my size chart, I allocate the full bust measurement to the front and back separately. So this design will have a front that's larger than the back for sizes 2-12.

The target schematic is your chance to see if anything looks weird. Use grid paper to sketch out a few sizes to-scale (smallest, middle, largest) just to make sure nothing looks wonky.

Critical Stitch Counts

Use your gauge to turn your schematic into stitches and rows. I tend to group mine in the order I’ll use them or by lengths and widths, top to bottom.

Test, test, test your math. You’ll need to round to whole stitches and rows, and you want to make sure that the totals of those don’t end up distorting your overall schematic.

Example: On a raglan, your target total yoke depth will be ease under the arm + armscye depth + shoulder rise. To turn that into critical stitch counts, you’ll need raglan depth (rows) and one-half of shoulder width (stitches).

If you’ve rounded both of those up, are you still happy with your overall yoke depth? Or should you round one down? If you’re going to round down, you’ll want to ensure that your grade stays smooth – shoulders getting gradually wider and raglans getting gradually deeper.

Doing all these checks before you write your pattern will keep you from getting backed into a corner!

Be relentless

Once you have a well-graded schematic, you have a guiding star.

Local Meadow was my first drop shoulder design, and I spent probably 40 hours finessing the schematic before sending it to my TE for review, all before I calculated a single stitch count.

(They don't all take 40 hours. I had a lot of learning to do!)

This is Lili's Local Meadow - you can download a copy of the schematic on the pattern page if you'd like to dig into it. Benchmarking and reverse-grading are important parts of learning!

A drop shoulder, like Local Meadow, is deceptively simple - until you try to keep ease at both the underarm and bicep consistent while also ensuring that the actual shoulder seam location doesn't creep down to the elbow.

Similarly, if you’re grading a raglan and you’ve run out of shaping rows for your preferred shaping treatment, you’ll know you need to go back and brainstorm how to get rid of stitches more quickly. Create a schematic you feel amazing about and stick to it to ensure your grading stays tight.

It's not just about the formulas. I mean, it is, but it isn’t.

Yes, grading is mostly writing the *right* formula and knowing when to use it. It’s also applying judgment to tweak things here and there. When I’m writing shaping, I will very often draw it out.

Tip: Adjust the height and width of your columns and rows on your spreadsheet to match the ratio of your gauge. Instant to-scale grid paper.

Armholes and necklines most frequently get the paper and pencil treatment. Try drawing every other size to make sure that the formulas you’ve chosen are creating the result you like.

Overriding your formulas by one stitch might not seem like much, but the relentless pursuit of the most perfect armhole curve is a detail your knitters will notice and appreciate.

The Big Double-check

Tech edit your own pattern! Re-crunch every number, recalculate the whole schematic and make sure you haven’t done something silly in metric (I do a lot of silly things in metric). It takes time, but it saves A LOT of money on editing.

Perspective: Tech edit should catch 95% of errors. Have 4 errors instead of 50, and maybe you'll get an error-free pattern!

Other spreadsheet tips

  1. Name your cells. To multiply your bust width by your gauge, it’s much easier to write *stst than it is to constantly be clicking back to your gauge cell, or hand keying in the gauge.

  2. If you key over a formula, color it red.

  3. Break each tab into sections, and head each section with your sizes. You should be able to see what size you’re working on no matter where you are in the document.

  4. For charts, I love the free font pack from Stitchmastery! I design them in excel, remove the gridlines, and copy and paste them directly into my publishing software, where they become a table.


Having a tight spreadsheet practice is key to using your time efficiently. It's nearly impossible as a designer to recover the costs of your time, and being able design with as few spreadsheet errors as possible is key to making that happen.

How can I help? I work with designers on an hourly basis to help you grow your skills, confidence and infrastructure. Together, we can:

  1. Refine your spreadsheets & tackle formulas - setting you up with easier and faster ways to work.

  2. Talk about the fit of your garment while you're working on the schematic. It's important to you to put a well-fitting garment in your tester's hands, and we can make sure you're confident that all your sizes will fit spectacularly.

  3. Grading with training wheels - you grade some, then I review your work and we meet. We can do this until you feel confident you've got it!

To find out if working together might be a good fit, send me an email! Let's schedule you for a fifteen-minute coffee chat, no obligation, totally free. If working with me isn't the right thing for you at this time that's just fine - it's a pleasure just to talk with peers and others in the industry.

Go Further

Recently, I put together a pattern with charts for every size, using Excel. Woof. As soon as I finally got all the charts written out, I went right over to Stitchmastery and bought the full software package. You can find both the free font packs and the full software here.

Tech Editor Jenna Sargent shares some of her favorite Excel formulas on her blog.

Want to know more about working together? You can learn more here! or download a pdf with more information.

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