A few weeks ago I was talking with Woolly about doing a blog swap and we played around with a few ideas that would make good topics for discussion. We settled on refinement and simplicity, which can often be elusive goals!
When I started designing I was so happy initially to convert a vision in my head into a knitted object with written directions that I didn't see beyond that. In fact for quite a while, as I was learning the art of pattern writing I didn't move beyond that as my goal. As I became more comfortable pattern writing I started thinking in more depth about how people read and follow knitted patterns. When you start out you write patterns that you can follow yourself.
To start with if you’re a visual learner then you'll probably have lots of charts and perhaps links to videos. The more patterns you write the more you begin to realise what a wide variety of learning styles there are. This is the fun and challenge of pattern writing. How do I put enough information in so that as many knitters as possible can follow without reaching overload? But if you start with just charts you quickly realised that some knitters really dislike charts so written directions became standard to add.
When I'm designing seamless knits there are usually several different sets of increase types for the shoulders. I started in my patterns by just listing the stitch count after every section was complete. However I realised for a newer knitter who wanted to figure out where they made a mistake putting the stitch counts into a chart for each section (front/back, sleeve) means that they can easily see where their stitch count is off before they've gone too far. Every one of the pattern refinements has come from knitters; in person with classes, chatting during KALs or just feedback left online. As a pattern writer you're continually growing and changing which means that you can refine patterns even more as you progress. My goal had changed from just writing an accurate pattern to writing a pattern that gives as many different types of knitters as possible a chance to complete a finished knit.
Just like with pattern writing, my actual patterns have also become more streamlined as I learn more. The first time I really consciously pared back a design was with Ravi. I started with visions of lace hem and cuffs as well as the yoke. The cardigan began with the upper yoke worked from side to side. This used short rows in garter stitch at the top with lace at the bottom. When it was finished I put it on the dress form for a day and just looked at it. If felt perfect just the way it was, just enough detail but not too fussy. So I thought about it for a little while and decided to keep the design simple with everything else in garter stitch finishing with a short row hem curve. I was happier with this cardigan than any of the more complex work that had come before and it really got me thinking. When designing after the initial stages I've started getting myself to pull back to the 'essence' of a design. It's not about everything that 'can' go into it but has instead become about how much can be taken out so that I’m left with the most important features.
I experienced this again on a bigger scale with the book Knitting With Rainbows. I wanted the beauty of gradient yarn to shine out from the book and take centre stage. This meant that the patterns in the book worked towards this one simple guideline so the yarn was the focus. The only way to do this was to keep the patterns simple enough that each one conveyed a specific idea or way of working with gradient yarn. Then when they're all viewed together it makes a cohesive whole.
I hope to still be designing many years from now but I think that for that to happen I need to continue to evolve in how I write my patterns and plan my designs. It's not really possible to stand still you have to keep learning and evolving.
Thank you Carol for sharing this idea - I've enjoyed swapping blog posts for the day!