The Other Caroline: On Becoming a Designer

I was going to write this technical post about how to become a designer, and then I realized that there was very little that was actually technical for me! To tell the truth, I just kind of fell into it, and I’m still a complete newbie. When I learned to knit, I had an old newsprint stitchionary with a two-page tutorial at the back of the leaflet. I had no knitting patterns or classes to guide me! My first projects were scarves and afghans in various widths. I knew what my stitch count had to be to match the stitch patterns I chose, and then I would guess how many repeats I needed to do (sometimes with a lot of frogging and re-knitting).

Knitting had a funny start for me, because even though I seemed to have no trouble with the technical aspects of knitting, I had no love of it. I really did not enjoy the process at all. After learning and completing about 5 projects, I had a 2-year hiatus. During that time, I began spinning, which I absolutely adored doing. After about a year of spinning, I realized I would have to get back into knitting so that I would have something to do with the huge pile of yarn I had accrued. I did some research and realized that the reason why I didn’t like knitting very much was the method of knitting I had learned: I’m a lefty and found knitting right-handed (throwing, American, whatever you prefer to call it), to be onerous and tedious. I know left-handed people that can knit right handed with no problem, but unfortunately I was not one of them. With some internet research, and some really fancy pants yarn (as incentive), I started a garter stitch scarf and took it upon myself to learn to knit the continental style. I have been in a constant state of knitting ever since!

Designing was happenstance for me as well. I have very rarely followed a pattern without modifying it. Knitting, for me, is the perfect opportunity to make completely customized items. Over time, I started making notes and writing stuff down, but I almost never knit the same thing twice in a row (except for socks – I could knit socks every day of the year and never tire of them). Eventually, at the urging of others, I started typing up my patterns and throwing them up on Ravelry.

The Edulis Shawl
The Edulis Shawl

Given the type of personality I have it’s no surprise to me that my most successful pattern to date is The Shawl of Doom. It is an homage to frustrated knitters everywhere! It also generated a huge amount of controversy that I was not expecting. Because it is largely facetious, there were some people that believed it wasn’t a true pattern, and it was taken off Ravelry for a time. People argued about it in forums, and many messages flew around between me and various Ravelry people. After much discussion with Ravelry editors, I made some modifications to allow it to be put back on Ravelry permanently. It was a completely surreal experience. I received messages from total strangers in support of my pattern, some of them from famous designers. I think it’s fitting that the process of getting that pattern out there was as difficult as knitting and designing can be.

2016-03-09_14-17-23

There can be so much frustration in designing, but in the end, you end up with a finished product you can be proud of… if you’re lucky, that is! If you aren’t lucky, you end up with an interminable WIP/UFO that shames you every time you look at it until you frog it and toss it away like a bad relationship. However, it’s all part of the process; we really do learn from our mistakes.

For me, it was hanging out with other yarnies that really got me going in designing for others. Yarnies are tremendously supportive people in so many ways. Caroline Sommerfeld and Barb Brown both encouraged and cajoled me into designing more. I’ve learned that, for the most part, designers are always willing to chat about designs and the process. If you want to design, just do it! Start writing down what you are doing, hang out in designer forums on Ravelry, look up how to design on the internet. Go to knitting events and fiber fests in your area, take classes, go to lectures. Learn as many techniques as you possibly can and  as much as you can about yarn. Read magazines, read books, immerse yourself in your craft.

Social media is great for seeing what designers are up to – without it, the really famous designers can seem so darn magical. They just look at yarn and it knits itself up into incredible garments, and  then little elves come along at night and write the patterns into perfection – right?! At least that’s what I thought the process was until I started following a bunch of designers on Instagram. I love seeing that both the big name designers and the rookies seem to have very similar processes! A lot can be seen in a photo: for example I love seeing that their work space can be as chaotic as mine.

The Grotine Shawl
The Grotine Shawl

Grotine, which is one of my favourite patterns that I have designed, was recently released by Ancient Arts. I was so excited (actually, I’m still super excited!) to see it come out. I posted it on Facebook and shared the Ancient Arts Yarn post on Instagram. To my surprise, a couple of designers whom I hugely admire took the time to congratulate me on my pattern release. As I’ve said before, we are a really lovely community of knitters, so don’t be afraid to get out there and publish your designs! It’s OK if your first designs are the pattern equivalent to baby steps. It’s OK if your first designs don’t make you instantly famous. All it takes is one stranger on Ravelry to knit your pattern. There’s a thrill in knowing that a complete stranger (not just your Mom or friend trying to support you) wants to knit your pattern! If you aspire to design, you need to know what that feels like!


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