This week sees the first anniversary of the start of my journey in crochet design and I wanted to take a little time to reflect on what the past 12 months has taught me. I can’t quite believe it’s been a year since I published my first blog post and crochet pattern. How can that feel like a life time ago but yesterday at the same time? (I’ll leave that one as a rhetorical question, as much as I like to explore the unknown on Doralosophy, I’m not sure I’m up to answering questions surrounding human time perception… It’s too damned hot for serious thinking!)
Instead, I’ve been having a think about all the things I have learned in terms of crochet design over the past year and wanted to share those with you in the form of my 7 rules for crochet garment design. I’ve specifically honed in on the garment aspect because it scares people, but isn’t as insurmountable as you think! I know I have a lot still to learn but this first yer has been a steep learning curve and given me a really solid foundation.
I aim to give you a bit of insight as to what goes into the garment design process. If you’re a new designer, or thinking about giving it a go then I hope this is useful!
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7 Rules for Crochet Garment Design
1. Swatch swatch swatch!
This is a simple rule. It is not glamorous or exciting but necessary. Even if you have worked a certain stitch before, if you’re working it in a new yarn then make a swatch because different fibres behave so differently.
You may think this is a wasted half an hour but I promise you it will save you time down the road.
Swatching is also a great way to test out ideas. You might think something will work out one way on paper but when the yarn gets on the hook it might look quite different. This is what happened when I designed the Connected Cowl – I went in with an idea of creating a Y-shaped stitch pattern I had sketched out, but it wasn’t quite producing the results I was expecting, so I made a couple of tweaks and ended up with the 3d textured design you see in the cowl. You can read more about my accidental discovery here.
And when you’re experimenting with stitch patterns, write it down! You think you’ll remember what you did but trust me you won’t. That includes taking a note of the hook size you’re using. Even if it’s short hand on the back of an envelope or on a note on your phone. WRITE IT DOWN!!!
2. Measure your tension – trust your gauge!
This is an extension of the importance of creating a swatch. Not only do you need to measure your swatch to get your gauge before you start working out the size of your pattern pieces, but you have to TRUST your gauge.
I’ve had a couple of occasion where I have made my gauge swatch, planned out my stitch numbers then after two rows my work seems way too big, so I pull out a few stitches, then 10 rows in it has shrunk again. If I had trusted my gauge in the first place I would have been on the right track… frog it and start over!
This also reiterates why you need to make a decent sized gauge swatch (I favour around a 5 to 6 inch square). The edges should not be included in your gauge swatch measurements, as they often behave differently to the rest of the fabric. I find rows are more reliable but the stitch counts often pull in as you work, so make sure your gauge is at least 5 inches wide if you want to get an accurate reading.
I also measure my swatch in multiple places to ensure consistency.
3. Plan it out (but not always!)
Sketching your design out, swatching and planning saves so much time down the road.
When designing an adult garment, I always make my sample to fit myself then grade it for all other sizes afterwards. The more experience I gather, the more I think about grading before I even pick up a hook. For example, if I’m using a stitch pattern which has a 15 stitch repeat, how is that going to size up or down? If my repeat is 4 inches, how am I going to increase by only 1 or 2 inches? Can I split it? How will that impact the shaping?
Don’t be daunted by this, you can always work it out, but if you have this in your mind before you start then you can play with options in your swatch or whilst creating your sample (I always create a sample!)
Here’s the caveat, sometimes I don’t really over plan. Some designs just fall straight off my hook, whereas some need forceps.
The Upside-down Pullover just came to me and worked up so quickly (apart from an argument I had with getting the sleeve decreases right). It’s a simple stitch pattern so the grading was pretty straighforward. Whereas the Falling Pines Poncho design came to me in a dream but took me 3 remakes to get the shaping and increases right and that comes in one size (though I might yet update it to include other sizes) so didn’t even involve grading (totally worth it – I love that poncho!).
4. Don’t reinvent the wheel (but do experiment)
As I just mentioned, I remade the falling pines poncho 3 times – I hope I wouldn’t make the same mistakes again because I would plan out my numbers a bit better if I were to redesign it. But I also had to remake the Everyday Hugs Cardigan because it was my first cardigan design and when I joined it, the fabric behaved in a way I didn’t expect. These things get easier but every time I design something I haven’t done before it’s like learning to walk again.
Except now I am getting better at learning from other designers and my own wardrobe – in particular in relation to shaping.
I have never studied fashion design and have very limited experience of sewing garments, so I study the shape of the panels in my own wardrobe – this is how I approached the design of the Keep it Simple sweater which was essentially a tribute to my favourite long sleeved tee! Sometimes I find myself staring at people in the street, wondering how their jumper was constructed and if it’s something that would work in crochet!
I also look at the shapes other designers use in their garments – I’m not talking about copying, but there are certain standardised construction options which give me a base to work with. I have recently bought this book: Blueprint Crochet Sweaters, which has been so useful in helping me understand things like raglan sleeves and how to shape panels as well as different construction options. I’m always on the look out for resources like this which can help me work out how shapes behave. There is information out there (though a lot of it relates to knitting so sometimes you need to use your imagination!)
If you want to know more about construction, you might find my post on 6 ways to make a crochet sweater helpful
All that said, I love to experiment. There is no absolute right and wrong – if it fits and does it’s job then it’s right! It’s part of why I enjoy the process so much, but it also comes with the knowledge that I may have to frog hours and hours of work because things aren’t turning out the way I planned.
You will make mistakes – stop giving yourself a hard time about that and accept it’s part of the process.
You win some, you loose some!
5. Develop a consistent pattern writing style
The style and layout of my PDF patterns has significantly improved with experience over the last year and I have found a style that works for me, and (hopefully!) those who buy my patterns.
There is no formal standardised way to write patterns. Traditional print patterns tend to be limited by space so are abbreviated to within an inch of their life! With PDF downloads, that isn’t really necessary so I tend to take a little more time and space.
Every time I read or tech edit another designer’s pattern, I look at how it’s written and see if there if is a way I could improve my own style. I believe there is always room to grow!
From a very top level basis, here are some essentials to think about when you’re writing patterns:
Crochet Terms: I am based in the UK but I tend to favour US crochet terms. I learned to crochet from you tube where the majority of tutorials use US terms (or the ones I found did) so the US terms just make more sense to my brain. That said, I can read and write patterns in both US and UK. All my patterns are written in US terms (you can find a conversion chart here) but I am thinking about creating copies in UK terms – it’s on my to-do list somewhere!
Pattern notes: These are like instructions for how to read the pattern. They tell you things like “the numbers in brackets at the end of the row represent the stitch count for that row” and “instructions between *asterisks* should be repeated the number of times indicated”, as well as any construction tips, e.g. “this is worked top down in one piece”.
Materials: I always include details of hook size, the specific yarn used (including the amounts for all sizes) as well as the weight and fibre so you can substitute
Gauge (Tension): This is also included in relation to the stitch pattern used, along with a plea that you make a swatch (see rules 1 and 2!)
Measurements: I crete a table showing various measurements (bust, length etc.)of the finished item in different sizes. I use the Yarn Craft Council sizing charts to grade my patterns, but people are rarely standardised sizes so the measurement charts help you decide what size is best for you (or whoever the garment is intended for!)
Tutorials: If I have a tricky technique or if joining is a bit confusing I link to a video tutorial in the pattern notes or stitch descriptions or I might add a picture tutorial at the end of the pattern (I find they get in the way if they’re in the middle). If someone is making a garment then I assume that they have a solid basic crochet knowledge but where I can, I give modifications for the less experienced crocheter. I want my patterns to be accessible to all so getting the level of guidance right is a bit of a balancing act!
6. Don’t be scared of the numbers (or employ someone to check them for you)
Garment design requires grading – which means writing the pattern for a range of sizes (I tend to cover XS to 3X).
This is the one thing which probably puts most people off garment design and pattern writing and I understand why. The maths can be hard. I’m not going to lie about that!
I have quite a natural affinity for maths – I mean I’m not Rainman, but numbers don’t scare me.
For a lot of people I think that the fear of maths is worse than just tackling the numbers and giving it a go. I won’t go into how to grade here but if you want an introductory guide as to how to work out a stitch count, have a look at this post explaining how to use your gauge to calculate stitch and row counts. where I explain the process.
The good news is that if you love designing, but hate maths, you can hire someone (like me!) to do the numbers for you. Technical editors will check your stitch counts add up and some offer grading services too. They will also help with layout of your pattern, checking for consistency and presentation. You can also engage a pattern writer who will help to turn your scribbled notes into a workable pattern.
If you want some help, I offer all these services – you can find out more on my professional services page.
7. Create something you love (and if you don’t like it, know when to leave it!)
My last rule is to create something you love. Something which gives you energy and excites you.
Making a crochet garment alone is a time investment, creating one is 3 or 4 times that time investment, so if you’re creating something you hate then it will kill your joy.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s rare that something is all skipping and dancing unicorns, hard graft is a given, but if you’re grafting on something you don’t like then it can be kinda demoralising.
I have a rule that all my garments should be something that I would be proud to wear. That is my approach. You might design for children or the home in a style you admire but isn’t necessarily yours and that is fine. The key is to believe in what you’re doing.
Yes, you can create what is on trend or what everyone else is making, but if you’re not really passionate about what you’re doing then your audience will see that.
Sometimes something starts of great but takes a turn down a road you didn’t expect. There are times when it’s pragmatic to walk away. To either leave the project and come back to it later or just admit defeat with it. Don’t see walking away from a design as a failure, there is no failure, there is only the opportunity to learn.
Just another example of crochet imitating life!
So there we have it – My golden rules of crochet garment design!
I hope you find something here to encourage or reassure! If you want to learn more, you may also want to read my post taking you through how to design a simple crochet sweater in 7 steps!
Good luck in your designing journey. It’s been such a rewarding year for me, I look forward to many more!