am i a designer?

In my last post, I mentioned having complicated thoughts about publishing patterns for the things I’ve designed recently, and since I’m in a very brief window of time in the semester where I don’t actually have any student work that needs feedback (that changes tomorrow!), I’m going to try to think through those thoughts in writing, as is my way. I’m prompted to think about publishing patterns because there’s been interest expressed in a pattern for the sweater I just finished, and I don’t have a good answer for people as to when I’ll be releasing a pattern for it. Maybe this summer? Maybe never?


I mean, I’ve knit a lot of things of my own design in the years since my daughter was born, always thinking that I’d maybe publish them…I mean, I literally probably have a full book worth of designs for parents + kids…and I have published precisely zero patterns since then. This isn’t a coincidence; it turns out that having a baby, finishing a Ph.D, and starting a full-time faculty position haven’t left me with much time to devote to pattern-writing! My brain still comes up with design ideas, and I still have the skills to turn those ideas into reality for myself and my daughter, but knitting a bespoke sweater/hat/mitten and writing a pattern so that ANYONE can knit one are very different things.

Should've made the sleeves a bit longer, too!
One of the many options for a “parent-child” knits collection

One big positive change that has been taking place in the knit design world (and also in the sewing pattern design world, I think?) is the push towards more inclusive sizing. This is WONDERFUL! I’m really excited about it. But it’s also something I don’t really know how to do. I mostly design for myself (or my child), and that’s the body I know how to fit. Mine is not exactly a “standard” body; I do have a 34” bust measurement, which is often “sample” size for sweater patterns, but since I’m quite flat-chested, the circumference mostly comes from a big ribcage, so my fit considerations are a bit different than those of someone whose 34” bust comes via a C-cup. My point, though, is that even with my not-quite-model-standard body, I’m still solidly in the “standard” size range, and as problematic as that range is, it is what I am intimately familiar with, and it’s the body I can easily use to model my own designs (which, as I mentioned earlier, are usually designed *for me* in the first place…but since I’m a petite white lady, using myself as the model if I want to create inclusive patterns feels a little problematic). And when it comes to inclusive sizing, maybe this is the perfectionist in me talking, but I really, really don’t want to do it wrong or badly. I’d rather not publish designs at all than publish designs that aren’t size-inclusive, but I also only want to publish size-inclusive patterns if I can do a GOOD job of it. If anyone knows of good resources for learning more about sizing for all bodies, please point me to them!

We never took “real” finished photos of M’s Stripes! Cardigan at the time when I finished it. It’s crazy cold today but she was a good sport about modeling!
Yet another option for a parent-child knits collection

I think another issue I have when I think about whether or not to dip my toes back into the “designer” waters is that I’m not even remotely a natural “entrepreneur”: I’m really, truly, deeply clueless about all of the logistics involved in pattern publishing and promotion. Like, if I wanted to publish a book of parent-child knits (I certainly have enough design ideas to fill one)…how?? How does that actually work? Do I just decide I’m going to do it, or do I reach out to some publishers, or what? And if I just decide I’m going to do it, via self-publishing…how? Or is it better to do individual patterns, rather than a collection? I think I’d be more comfortable collaborating with someone else on a pattern collection than doing one all by my lonesome (this tends to be true of me in many domains; I’m a great research collaborator, for example, but am pretty lousy about getting stuff done as a solo researcher).

Cutie patootie
And another for the parent-child collection

I’ve also never actually sought out yarn support before; the only times I’ve worked with yarns that weren’t from my stash were when I designed for Twist Collective and for Wool People, and that was all handled by People Who Weren’t Me. So I don’t know how that part of things works, either. I’d be happy to design patterns for yarns that are in my stash, as a way of knitting the stash down, but many of those are discontinued. I don’t know much about the pattern sales world, but I do know that patterns that use “popular”, currently-available yarns sell better. I tend to prefer knitting and designing with fairly “basic” woolen-spun yarns, which don’t tend to be as “popular” as the hand-dyed superwash merino sock yarns and such (though it seems there’s a growing “niche” interest in the more basic wool yarns, which makes me happy!)

a girl and her leaf.
I actually wrote a pattern for this hat (and matching mittens) but haven’t done anything with it

Which actually brings me to another piece of things that I have a lot of complicated feelings about, which is the necessity of self-promotion and the tangled relationships between pattern creators and yarn creators and how all of that plays out on social media. I mean, I can be quite the evangelist for things I’m excited about, but I’m not always comfortable with self-promotion and publicity, and I don’t think I have it in me to promote a pattern (or collection) the way that I see others doing. I’m intimidated by that kind of use of social media, and it also feels like a minefield to me. The minefield aspect isn’t inherently bad – I mean, I do want people to be thinking about the ethics of their choice of yarn, and the diversity of their models, and their language, and to be held accountable for all of those things – but I think doing that well (and showing accountability when you fall short) requires an amount of energy and attention devoted to online life that I frankly don’t have, as someone who would always be doing this work alongside being a professor and a parent and a musician…that is, very much part-time.

Doing a pocket quality-control check.
I’ve never actually knit a grown-up sized one of these, but I want to!

But I don’t actually aspire to be a “big name designer” or sell enough patterns to make a living at it, so maybe I’m overthinking things. Maybe I can just write the patterns for the designs I’ve created, in the biggest size range I can do well, publish them via Ravelry, and not worry about whether anyone buys them. But is that worth the time and energy and money I would have to put into creating the patterns?

Yet another set for the parent-child knits collection

There’s actually something kind of delightful about the fact that in the last few years, my design efforts have been solely focused on myself and my daughter – that is, we have knit garments that are absolutely bespoke, and writing those designs up as patterns would mean inviting others to make the things that I’ve designed for my daughter and for myself.

Octopus Yoke with M as model
I know a few adults who’d like this to be a pattern in their size, too

One part of me thinks that it would be exciting to see other people knitting and wearing a sweater with octopuses around the yoke, or the garter-yoked vests that I’ve made for M, or the bohus-style yoked sweaters, or, or…but another part of me likes that those are OUR sweaters, unique to us. I’ve also considered just expanding my usual practice of posting detailed notes about my design process as I knit things, which adventurous knitters could absolutely use as guidance for their own projects, but I’m not sure how I feel about that; I’m especially concerned about “devaluing” the work that goes into actual pattern writing if I offer things up for free.

I love this sweater!
I am clueless!

So my answer to the “when will a pattern be released?” question is still a solid “I don’t know.”

3 thoughts on “am i a designer?”

  1. Thankyou for explaining why your unsure if you want to publish your patterns, it certainly is very complex , I asked in my previous comment when will you be publishing your stripey sweater ,not realising the work involved in the process, so for now I’ll just have to keep looking and admiring your super stripey sweater xxx

  2. I agree with all the points you made in this post. At one point I tried to do more design work with just accessories (I couldn’t wrap my brain around sweater sizing) and I got overwhelmed I put it aside. I just didn’t have the time or entrepreneurial skills to get it all to where I thought it should be. I say do it if you really feel a calling for it, but no pressure. It is still awesome to see all of the beautiful work you create and share with us via your blog. 😁

  3. I think you can hire people to do the pattern grading for you (separate but related to the discipline of tech editing — although potentially available from the same person in some cases). Having not attempted it myself, I have no idea how much that would cost or how many more copies you’d have to sell to make it worthwhile, but sometimes offloading certain tasks can help make something more feasible, so it could be worth investigating.

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