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A Design From Idea to Publication – a guest post by Kate Atherley

I’m often asked how it works to publish a design, what the steps are. I thought it might be interesting to outline them. For a self-published pattern, it goes roughly like this:

1. The Idea
2. Knitting It
3. Writing It Up
4. Editing
5. Photography
6. Pattern layout
7. Post to Ravelry, other online stores
8. Marketing and promotion

I say roughly, because the order of these can change somewhat. And if it’s a design for someone else – a magazine, a book, a yarn company, etc. – those last four steps are usually handled by the publisher.

The Idea
A design idea can come from many places, and different designers have different processes. This is the most personal, most individual step. Sometimes I’m inspired by a stitch pattern I’ve found in a stitch dictionary – my Dogwerry socks on Knitty came about because I loved the stitch pattern. Sometimes I’m inspired by a garment that I want to recreate – I designed my Wild One motorcycle jacket (pictured below) because I wanted to wear one. Sometimes it’s a concept – my Friday Morning brioche shawl (pictured below) originated as a challenge to myself – to see if I could develop a good pattern to teach single-colour brioche. And sometimes it’s a specific request: my Kieran sweater was designed in response to a commission for an easy to knit and easy to wear oversized sweater.

Close up photo showing the neck + shoulders of a knitted cardigan with a zip and funnel neck with popper fastenings.

The Wild One by Kate Atherley. Photo © Caro Sheridan/splityarn

An important step at this point is to do a bit of research. I like to check on Ravelry to see if something similar has been recently published. If it has, I’ll adjust my plan. There are only so many stitches in knitting, and so many garment types, and so many ways to put them together – it’s inevitable that different designers will come up with similar ideas from time to time. It isn’t a copyright violation if two independently designs patterns look the same, and there’s no reason why I couldn’t publish a design that has similarities, but I prefer to avoid it. That way, the two designs aren’t competing, and I avoid any perception of copyright violations.

To Calculate or to Knit
Some designers prefer to cast on, to get their knitting on the needles, and design as they go. I will do this for fairly simple designs, or single-size things – shawls, specifically – but if it’s a pattern that’s going to have multiple sizes, I prefer to do some calculations and designing maths up front. I will have made swatches, but I won’t actually cast the project on until this work is done. The big question for me is how the sizes will work out. If, for example, I’m making a sock, I’ll want to check that the stitch pattern I’ve chosen will support the sizes I want.

I designed a sock last year based on a 12-stitch repeat: Hexen Haxen (pictured below). It worked well at 60 stitches, but at sock tension, simple multiples didn’t provide the size options I wanted. I spent time up front planning the patterning, and by the time I cast on, most of the details were set. (I created a seam element that allowed me to add stitches without changing the overall patterning.)

Once the maths is done, I start knitting. And there’s often ripping out. And reknitting. And ripping. It’s rarely a smooth process – there’s usually adjustments to make as I go. No matter how many calculations I do, I can’t always predict how something will translate from paper to needles. Short rows are a classic example; I seem to always have to adjust the spacing as I work.

Photo of some adult feet wearing red socks with a bold narrow cable design allover. The feet are pointing away from the camera.

Hexen Haxen by Kate Atherley. Photo © Kate Atherley.

Writing It Up
When the knitting is complete (or nearly), it’s time to write the instructions. This is remarkably time-consuming, and can be surprisingly challenging! The objective here is to write instructions others can follow, to recreate the sample you made. What might work as a note to yourself doesn’t necessarily work for other knitters. I’ve just finished knitting a fingerless mitten design, and my note “upper ribbing double dec knit/purl as required to make the stitch count match the cuff” may be perfectly clear to me, but I doubt that many other knitters would be able to work out what I meant and be confident that what they did matches what I did. . .

In my experience, this is the step that is least understood, and is most often poorly executed. I don’t say that to be unkind – pattern writing is an entirely different skill set than knitting and designing. The best designers often struggle with pattern writing, and good pattern writing skills doesn’t mean you’re a great designer.

This is why the next step is so important. . .

Every writer needs an editor. And every pattern writer needs a technical editor. A technical editor reviews the pattern to make sure that the instructions are complete and accurate and clear.

Some designers user test knitters, too. Test knitting and technical editing are two different tasks, with two different objectives. A test knitter is often a skilled knitter, and is making a single size of the pattern. That tester won’t notice if there’s a mistake in the instructions for one of the other sizes, nor will they notice if, for example, the glossary isn’t complete. A technical editor checks all the numbers for all the sizes, confirms that the instructions are complete – are all cable stitches defined, for example – and that the chart key is there and correct. A tester isn’t actually a necessity. I use them if I’ve written a tutorial, to ensure that it works well for knitters who aren’t familiar with a given technique. Some designers use test knitters to see how a garment fits on different body types, or to confirm yardage requirements. But a good technical editor can answer all the key questions about a pattern, right down to whether the sizing is good.

If the pattern is for a publication, a yarn company, a book, the editing will most likely be managed by the publisher (do ask if they don’t mention it!). Any self-published pattern should be edited, it’s as simple as that. Otherwise, how do you know that knitters are going to be successful?

Photo of a woman standing in front of a pale grey painted wall. She wears a black shirt dress and is holding a narrow orange knitted shawl with arms spread wide.

Friday Morning brioche shawl by Kate Atherley. Photo © Kate Atherley.

Final steps
The final steps are photography, pattern layout, sales and marketing. If self-publishing, you’ll need to do these yourselves – pulling in outside help as required (eg. it’s pretty hard to take good pictures of mittens on your own hands!). I’ll confess: I’m not very good at any of these tasks, and that’s why I love it when my pattern is being published by someone else! Many designers really enjoy these aspects, but like pattern writing, the skills are different.

When I tell people that I’m a knitting designer, they often assume that I get to knit all day long. But as this list shows, the knitting is a relatively small part of my work.

If you have any questions for Kate, do let us know in the comments and we’ll come back with more thoughts later in the spring. Our comments have to be approved before they appear publicly (saving you from seeing lots of spam posts!) so please don’t worry if your comment doesn’t appear immediately.

1 thought on “A Design From Idea to Publication – a guest post by Kate Atherley”

  1. Thank you for making this post. I’m in the process of designing my first pattern and was suddenly hit with how daunting the process was starting to seem. This post has layed out the whole process neatly and makes it much more approachable. Thank you again.

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