When speaking about my books—Crochet Boutique and Crochet Boutique: Hats – I often get asked about the process behind designing a pattern. My answer changes from time to time, but the truth is that it’s never always the same.
Sometimes it starts with a lush new yarn purchased on impulse, sometimes there’s an idea born from a new stitch or technique recently learned, or sometimes it’s just a hole in my wardrobe that I’m yearning to fill with something handmade.
Other times I just start stitching and see where it takes me. However, I hope this will provide a bit of insight for those wishing to begin the design process on their own.
LEARN THE LANGUAGE
If you’re going to write a pattern for others then you will also need to know how to read a pattern. If you’re only writing for yourself then your own shorthand or crochet lingo will be just fine. I often write the first draft in my own “language” and then translate it into common crochet terminology. If you intend for others to use your patterns then you should become familiar with common crochet terms, abbreviations, and techniques. When working from patterns, begin to pay attention to the typical layout and format of the patterns.
MAKE A SKETCH
It often seems I get ideas at the most inopportune moments – during rush hour traffic, or when brushing my teeth while I’m already 10 minutes late to work. However, when a really great idea strikes I try to take the time and make a quick doodle so I can come back to it later. It could be later that day or five years from then. Sketching your designs can also help you figure out the mechanics and technical details of how your pattern needs to work. There have been plenty of times in the design process where I’ve had to stop the frustrating circle of frogging and restitching and just draw on paper how I want the piece to work. Most of the time it helps!
CHOOSING THE RIGHT MATERIALS
Think about the type of material that will work best for your project. Sometimes it helps to think in terms of fabric shopping. You wouldn’t choose a delicate lightweight fabric for an upholstery project, nor would you choose a heavy jacquard if you were creating a loose and flowing sundress. Your yarn and hook choice can follow the same line of thought. Want something thick and sturdy? Choose a chunky or super bulky yarn and go down a size or two from the recommended hook. You can also experiment here. An extra large hook and a fine yarn can be the perfect combination to give you a beautiful open lace by using even the most basic stitches. When you think of yarn weight, content, texture, and color combined with all of the hook options available, the possibilities seem endless.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GAUGE
I admit it. When I first started writing patterns I was a “no gauge” offender. Since most of my patterns were written for my own use in those early days, thinking about gauge wasn’t at the top of my list. I was pretty familiar with my tension and the projects I made repeatedly never seemed to vary too much in that regard. However, we all stitch a little differently, and that’s why gauge is important to include when writing patterns intended for others. Though this may vary by the type of project, most measure gauge by creating a 4-inch square. Once you have your square, you can then measure the number of stitches and rows required to meet the desired gauge.
PUT IT ALL ON PAPER
Once you get started, don’t forget to write down every little detail along the way. Think you’ll remember how many chains you worked in that fourth round once you’ve finished? You may, but if it turns out you don’t then it can be a nuisance to count back and figure it out. Though it’s hard to resist the urge to keep working till the end once you find your groove, it’s best to go ahead and write down each step as you go. Made a mistake and had to frog a few rows to make a change? Don’t forget to note what you did and any improvements. This can get tedious, especially when working on something more intricate, but good detailed notes are what make a pattern.
TEST, TEST, AND TEST AGAIN
You’ve written your pattern and you love the finished project. Great! Now make it again. Take notes, correct a few typos, make a few tweaks here and there to make it even better. Now make it again. And again. You get the idea. The more you make your design and read over your pattern the better it will be. Once you’ve been over it plenty of times, give it to a crafty friend and see how their project turns out. Ask them for suggestions or to let you know if any step was unclear along the way. Don’t be scared of critique – it’s the only way to improve! There are also some wonderful groups online on sites such as Ravelry who will test out your patterns for you and offer suggestions for improvement.
Happy stitching and designing!
–from Rachael Oglesby