Recently a friend dropped over unexpectedly and I was in the middle of writing and grading a new pattern. I was seated at the dining table in front of my laptop, with bits of paper, swatches, yarn and garments strewn all over the table. I was deep in concentration as I was focusing on nailing the numbers for a specific aspect of the garment.
My friend, a knitter, looked at me and said, "So there's a fair bit more to it than just the knitting." Ah, yep.
Anyway this comment did get me thinking about the perception of knitwear designers and what they do with their work day. Knitters probably have a better idea of what knitting design entails than a non-knitter, but even then I do think that there may be a romanticised idea of time never-ending spent knitting.all.day.long. Being a knitwear designer sounds like a great reason to just knit all day, perhaps even sitting on the beach or somewhere else rather lovely and maybe it is for some, but for me that is just not the reality.
Don't get me wrong, I do sit on the beach and knit, but it's more a case of squeezing in some knitting into the everyday routine; taking my knitting along to Surf Groms or Nippers and knitting while my kids are engaged in their after school activities.
This may surprise you, but in my general every day I often don't get to knit until I sit down after putting the kids to bed at night.
Since that comment I've been conscious of trying to work out the time ratio between the time spent knitting the sample garment and the time spent on all the other stuff that goes on behind the scenes to writing a pattern. Unfortunately, because I lack the super committed organisational skills required to work this out, I haven't done it. I'd love to at some stage have a time sheet and actually figure it all out, but I'm realistic enough to know that that's probably not going to happen. I suspect just as much, if not more, time goes into not knitting than the actual knitting for a pattern. Maybe I'm just not as efficient as other designers, particularly those who outsource the grading, but I think for me that's the case.
So what does go into a knitting pattern?
Obviously, there's the knitting of the sample but often it doesn't just begin with mindlessly casting on and something magically appearing on the needles. I say often, because sometimes, just sometimes, an idea does come thick and fast and literally flows from your brain onto the needles, and it does happen just like that, but that is a rarity, unfortunately.
Generally, pre-knitting involves sketching a picture of the design, choosing and swatching the yarn, sketching out the pattern instructions and working out the numbers for the sample size.
Post knitting tasks involve finishing, blocking, tightening the pattern instructions and fleshing them out into a pattern, grading or working out the numbers for all the sizes, garment measurements worked out, schematics made, models sources, photo shoots arranged, photos taken, photos edited, pattern layout, a personal edit and possibly there may be a second sample knit.
From there the pattern goes to third parties; Tech Editors and Test Knitters. Some designers tech edit first and then test, others prefer testing first. This process alone can take anywhere from two weeks up to five to six weeks depending on the garment design and its complexity. This part involves a constant stream of communication; sometimes aspects of the pattern needs to be discussed with Tech Editors and even changed. Often this might even involve rewriting part of the pattern. At this stage, I've even made major changes that meant I needed to knit a new sample. Most of the time taken is simply giving Testers adequate time to knit the pattern. Good Tech Editors and Test knitters are worth their weight in gold!
Once the Tech Editor is happy with the pattern, final edits are made and the pattern is ready for release. Upon releasing a pattern, photos and pattern information needs to be loaded onto Ravelry and any other sites/platforms the pattern sells from. Coinciding with that, the pattern needs to be marketed, be it via Facebook, Ravelry forums, Twitter, Instagram, blog and other social platforms.
My working day doesn't begin until 11 or 12, which sounds ideal really, starting work at that time of the day. Before that time though, I'm getting my children ready for school, riding to school with them, riding a bit extra for my morning exercise, doing all my essential housework (because stupidly I don't have a cleaner). During the day while the kids are at school, I try and squeeze in the work jobs that require concentration and that I can't get done when the kids are in the house, all that maths stuff really and even answering emails, but come three o'clock I'm back on my bike riding back to school to met the kiddies and ride home again. Sometimes if I'm lucky I might squeeze in a bit of work before I have to make dinner or even after dinner, but our eldest Lily has a full-on after school schedule of water sports so that's becoming a rarity. Luckily, my DK is very supportive. I try not to work on weekends, and I have a policy of not checking or answering emails then. That's my time off, my time for my family. I do still knit then though.
It's hard enough to explain it to knitters but when the inevitably question arises in a conversation with a non-knitter as to what I do, I have to admit that I'm not always comfortable with my answer. To a non-knitter, it's a bit of an odd concept to explain that I write knitting patterns and sell them on the internet for around $6 a pop. Even saying it, it sounds a bit flakey and not something that really is going to bring in an income of any sort. And sometimes, yes, I do get those looks.
So what sort of answer do I give?
It varies between the broad covering, "I'm a designer" which can sometimes be enough to not evoke any further questioning, to the more specific "I'm a knitwear designer". With their lack of knowledge about Ravelry and the online knitting community, non-knitters really just don't get it though. They don't get that this is a career and not just something I'm phaffing around with while I'm avoiding real work.
I guess part of the issue there is the undervaluing in our society of craftwork as a career.
I think that's slowly changing, I hope that's changing.
Is that what you thought would be involved?
Or did you have a more romanticised vision? I wish it was more romantic!
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Who am I?
Textile artist, knitwear designer and teacher.
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