Making your own design isn’t as difficult as it seems. Sure you can get all kinds of fancy with charts and what not, but if you are doing it just for you, then you can just whip out some graph paper and get going. One thing I should mention about graph paper, though, is that your graph paper design will not look the same as what you knit from it. The reason is that stitches and rows are not the same height/length, but your graph paper is perfect squares. For the best result find yourself some Knitting Graph Paper. You can do a quick google search and there are a few places that will offer it for free, and you can just print it out yourself and get to work. The knitting graph paper has rectangles instead of squares, and will translate much better for knitting patterns.
Google is very much your friend for finding knitting stitch patterns. There are hundreds and hundreds of stitch variations that have already been designed that you can incorporate into your pattern. Knitting stitches like the “waffle stitch” are not copyrighted. While a full knitting pattern is copyrighted in terms of reproduction of the printed product, the stitch designs are not. You just can’t copyright a knit or purl stitch. So you can either search for ones that already exist and incorporate them, or use that graph paper to try different things to get a look you want. Also, Pinterest is also a great place to find stitch patterns. If you are really really into doing your own design making, I would also recommend buying books like “750 Knitting Stitches” (this is an Amazon link, but I am not set up as an affiliate and don’t get anything for you clicking on this link) that have a plethora of stitches in all different types, like cables, or lace, or color work. There are numerous other stitch books as well, but this is one of my personal favorites. I do still resort to searching online a lot though. I also find a lot of stitch designs on Pinterest. It can be great to have free sources when this is something you might only look at once in a while and isn’t something you need for your daily knitting life.
Design making, does not have to equate to design selling. If you are not interested in selling your designs, then simply keep a book/binder/etc with your design notes in them in case you want to recreate them. You don’t have to go crazy with writing up a full proper pattern if you don’t want to. I would recommend also keeping notes on what needles you used, what the gauge was that you got at that time, the yarn you used, etc. These will be very helpful later.
When it comes to gauge, you will want to calculate that. I will have a post later that goes more in depth with the gauge and things, but you will want to know what that is before you start your new design. The biggest reason is so that you know how many stiches you will need to cast on. This means you will need to swatch. A swatch is simply a 4″ x 4″ piece that you work up before hand. You can do this in two ways. Many people will do a plain stockinette, which is knit one row, purl the next. To cast on for a swatch, you can be very generic about it, and cast on until it looks like you have approximately 4″, with the stitches spread out. Don’t bunch them all up before you measure, but don’t pull them out tight. Make it look like just a smooth symmetrical stretch. Then work for about 4″ and do a full cast off. Next, which is very important, and you won’t want to skip this…wash and dry your swatch. You want to know how the yarn acts. Some yarns will stretch when washed, and will change the who size of your project. Swatching is actually good for any project, and I highly recommend it. It’s really more about the yarn than about the project when it comes to swatching. Also, if you have chosen a design for your pattern, you might want to consider doing your swatch in the pattern you have chosen. The big reason is that the kind of stitch makes a huge impact on your swatch size. If you have chosen a lace pattern, it will be much larger than a stockinette because of all the open parts. If you have chosen a cable, it will be smaller than stockinette because it pulls the fabric in more. When you dry your swatch, you will also want to block it. I will go into more detail on blocking in a future post, but it is just a way of stretching the piece out on to foam times, or your bed, or whatever you have that you can stick pins into, pinning it down into shape and then leaving it to dry. This is very useful in opening up the lacework and smoothing out your piece.
Here is a before and after picture of a lace project I did. This is my Hexagonal Shawl:
Before in its bunched up glory:
After it is dry when all the lace is opened up and can shine:
I know swatching seems like a lot of work, but it’s worth it. I mean, what if you knit a lovely scarf for yourself, washed it, and now it hangs down to the floor and is twice the size it was when you started. You’ve wasted a ton of yarn and your time on something you might not wear. So, it’s definitely worth it, especially when your yarn is a natural fiber. Those will bloom (stretch) and grow like crazy.
Once your piece is dry you can measure it. I have a handy tool that is a Knitting Gauge Calculator (this is an Amazon link, but I am not set up as an affiliate and don’t get anything for you clicking on this link). You lay this tool down on your swatch, and you can easily count your rows and stitches. You will count every row/stitch in the open spaces on the ruler to calculate the stitches per inch. This tool only goes to 3″, and I normally will do 4″, but it will give you a good idea of where your work is. I prefer to do more than 1″ of stitch and row counting, because your stitches could easily have partial stitches that are not accounted for. Now you take the stitches/rows for 3″ and divide it by 3 to get the number per inch and you can work from that. If you are making a scarf, you’ll be able cast on the number of stitches in that inch times the number of inches wide you want it to be. The same if you are making a blanket. The width you want your blanket to by times that number of stitches per inch. It’s as easy as that!
Another great thing to do is to keep your notes written somewhere. This can be whatever works for you, but keeping notes on everything you have done is very important. You’ll want to write down the yarn you used, and it’s details of weight, fiber contents, etc, along with the size needles you used, gauge you had on your swatch, and all the important parts of cast on and pattern you decided to put into your design. Even if this is just for your purposes, and you don’t intend on designing professionally, you’ll still want all of this. If you really like what you have come up with and want to make it again, or if you set it down for a bit and need to remember what you were doing, these notes will be very helpful. I will even take a little clipping of the yarn to staple to my page, and even staple the ball band to my page. Honestly, I am terrible at organizing everything like this. I just purchased some notebooks today to be able to start organizing my notes better. I have a terrible habit of losing ball bands and then forgetting what I used. So, now every design will be getting a page or two in my notebook with all the basics of the pattern for the yarn and such. I have a separate notebook where I write all the hen scratch notes of the pattern math and such.
Working up your own design doesn’t have to be super complicated. When you hear that there is math involved it can make it seem daunting. A lot of the math you will come across for scarves and blankets and such are simply division or multiplication. For example, if you want to add a stitch design into your project, how many stitches do you have to work with, how many are in the stitch pattern you want to work with. Do these divide evenly, or will you have stitches left over? Do you want to have stitches left over for an edge? Once you know those things, you can make the numbers work as you want them to.
Example: I have a stitch pattern that is 8 stitches, and I have a scarf I am working on that has a gauge of 20 stitches per 4″ (5 stitches per inch), and I want my scarf to be 10″ wide. To make a scarf that is 10″ wide, I need to have it be 10 x 5 = 50 stitches. Now, 50 divided by the 8 stitch pattern is 6.25. If 6 x 8 is 48, I have 2 stitches remaining. Now I have a decision to make. Do I just go close to 10″ and cast on the 48 stitches and not have any edge stitches, or do I do 5 repeats of the stitch pattern, which will be 8 x 5 = 40 stitches, and will give me 10 stitches left over (or 5 stitches per side) for an edge. I would most likely cast on 50 stitches, and have 5 edge stitches on each side with 5 repeats of the pattern in the center. That gives me everything I want in a scarf. The importance of edge stitches is that they help to prevent your project from rolling at the edges. If you have ever made a project that didn’t have a large enough edge or an edge that was stockinette, you’ll notice that it rolls in on itself. My edges are usually done in garter (knit on the right and wrong side), and it holds up against rolling much better. And of course, if you are looking for something that will roll on the edges, then stockinette edges or taking the pattern right to the edge would be exactly what you are looking for.
I hope these tips will help you to make something that is your own. A lot of these tips will transfer to almost any project you want to try making. They will hopefully allow you to have a better understanding of why a designer made a particular decision in the project you are working on. Sometimes it’s just a matter of having to force the math to work as closely to what they wanted to achieve as possible.
Thanks for reading!