Sunday, July 23, 2006

Designing 101

For those of you breathless with anticipation for another chunk of my boring family history, sorry - that will have to be next week. Too hot. Too tired. Also, I want to write about my latest design!

Simply Knitting came out this week, featuring my strapless ribbed top with ribbon detail. They've called it 'Summer Dreams', which I like. The pictures are super, which is very cheering after my breakdown over the poncho picture :)

I originally designed this top with straps, but as the knitting progressed, I realised it was going to hold up on its own and ditched the straps. Now, I have had a lot of compliments about the top this week (squeak!), but also several requests about larger people wanting to use straps. Listen, people - have you seen my photo? I would need not only straps but buttresses. If you want to make straps, make straps. I would always rather my clothes were worn and enjoyed :)

The yarn is Cotton Fields from Elle, whose yarns I love (and no, I'm not on commission!). I'm not a big fan of cotton because of the splittiness and lack of elasticity, but I have to say that this was quite an easy one to work with - not too hard on the hands, drapes nicely, doesn't split too much.

The ribbon is organza, from a website called Craft Online (again, no affiliation, etc). It supplies craft materials for, among other things, wedding favours. That's the section which has the organza ribbon in it. I love the way that the organza is sheer, whch makes the colour more subtle, and also that it has a sheen to it, offsetting the matte surface of the cotton.

Of course, the other exciting thing for me was the interview :) Richard (the Beamish Boy) provided the photo, and the actual interview was done over the phone. Sharon Thomas is very easy to talk to, and had some interesting questions. I think she pulled the bones out of our conversation really well - it made me sound quite coherent!

I'd also like to pop in a few words here about th
e whole design-to-print process, because some readers seem to have odd ideas about how things are done.

The first step is the idea. Either I come up with something, or an editor will request a type of garment. Sometimes they want to highlight a particular yarn, so I get sent some to play with and have to design around that.
Magazines are usually looking to the issue three or four months ahead, so I often find myself knitting heavy jumpers in August and skimpy tops in February!

The design usually evolves over a few days, so I rarely go with my first idea - I let it stew for a little while first. If I haven't been sent a sample ball of the yarn, I order one online.

Next step is swatching. This is essential, because I might find out at this point that the yarn I want doesn't do what I want it to - the fabric comes out too dense, or textured stitches don't look right.

Once I have my swatch, I can write the first draft of the pattern. I start with sketches of the pattern pieces, and then label these with measurements in cm and inches. Magazines prefer cm - I still think in inches :)

I check and recheck all the numbers here, to make sure that everything adds up as it should. It's no good my deciding that a side seam should be 30cm overall if I've already labelled the ribbing as 10cm and the rest of the seam
as 22cm! These measurements also help me work out how much yarn to order.

With these numbers, and my swatch details, I can now write the first draft of the pattern. I usually have to design for about 5 sizes, and the actual garment will be the smallest size.

Once I have a good idea of how much yarn I will need, I request it from the distributors. I have a lot of very helpful contacts with different companies, who appreciate that I need the stuff as soon as possible. I've only once had to wait more than a couple of days for yarn. Of course, this is in their best interest, too - my designs exist to advertise their yarns!

The yarn arrives, and I start work. All this time my subconscious has been muttering away to itself, refining and polishing the design, so it is at this point that I make any final major alterations to the drawings and pattern.

Finally, I start knitting - usually to a deadline. I tweak the written pattern as the garment grows, altering things like the depth of ribbing or the shape of a neckline.

Once the garment is finished, seamed and blocked, I check through my written copy of the pattern to make sure it reads clearly, and then type it up in Word. I have templates for each magazine, as everyone sets their patterns out slightly differently. Then the garment, a sample of the yarn, and a covering letter go off in the post to the Editor, and I email her the pattern and my schematic of the pattern pieces.

I have no more input once the garment has been sent off, and just have to wait until the magazine comes out. Sometimes I will be asked for a few comments on the garment, but not every time.

After the piece has been photographed, it is returned to me, and I store it with my other designs
- meanwhile, it's on to the next one!

The most common questions I seem to get about designing are 'Do you use a computer program?' (nope, just good old pencils, paper and a calculator); 'Do you get the things back once the magazine finishes with them?' (yes, but none of them fits me!); and 'Does the magazine have people who knit your patterns up?' (not the ones I work for, although I think you have that choice with Interweave Knits).

So there you go. Everything you never really wanted to know about my design process.....


Daisy said...

Hi Heather - I love your top in this month's SK! In fact everyone at my knitting grou did!
It's on my list of things to make. I've never had the nerve to wear anything strapless before though...

Mary Anne said...

that was a fascinating insight into the design process. Thank you for sharing. I can't wait to see the top.

Beamish Boy said...

I liked the pattern too, but apparently there's a really huge awful glaring mistake that means the garment should have been knitted up again... ;)

Heather said...

Very witty, Richard - now let me slap you gently round the head… :)

(No, we haven’t cracked up - this is what was suggested to me in a knitting forum. A forum reader suggested quite forcibly that my work was unprofessional and should be reknitted because the ribbing didn’t match up either side of the ribbon. Actually, it matches up perfectly off the body but as cotton is still relatively inelastic even when knitted up as ribbing, it didn’t stretch evenly around the model. Obviously I wouldn’t have submitted it had the ribbing really been that bad!)

littlelixie said...

Hi Heather. I bought simply knitting to see your pattern and interview and I think I might have to take out a subscription. It's really rather nice. I'm talking about the magazine - the top is just fabulous! Wondering where I can get hold of some of that yarn?

Libby said...

Hi Heather,

I'm literally in the middle of knitting your top (even though I think I will need to add straps when it's finished!) but I've got slightly confused starting the decreases. I think it looks like a typo but it could be me being dim.

On the 3rd row of decreasing it says slip stitch, then pass the slip stitch over but I haven't done anything to pass it over. Should it be a repeat of the instruction at the end of the 1st row where you slipped the stitch, then ssk then pass the slipped stitch over that?

I hope you see this comment as I'm keen to finish my top.

Thank you!!!

Heather said...

Libby - you're right, the published copy is wrong! I've put it all into a blog entry up thataway so that other people can benefit from your experience.

Thanks for letting me know :)