This past summer I asked you all what questions you have for knitwear designers . . . You all came up with some great ideas–so many, in fact, that I had enough left over for a PART 2 in this Ask a Designer series! Once again, two of my favorite designers, Kephren Pritchett and Albina McLaughlin, agreed to answer your questions. This time, the topics are about Timing, Sizing, and Pattern Choices!
Kephren is the mind behind Kephren Knitting Studio. You have likely ooh’d and ahhh’d over her patterns in Interweave Knits, Knit Picks, and Knit Scene; you have also heard me wax poetic about her beautiful indie designs, such as the Sand Shawl, the Peony Shawl (immediately below), and the Storm Clouds Shawl (also below). She has just published new patterns in Knit Scene (Lake Geneva Sweater) and Knitting Traditions (Tree Line Henley)–I LOVE THIS ONE!
Albina is the one-woman show behind LB Handknits. You have heard me talk all about her many, beautiful designs, including Scéal Gra (first image below), Sunny Every Day, and Laítis. She has helped to bring Irish indie yarns to the fore and has an incredibly intuitive mind for knitting all the things. Her new book, Facing North, is due out in early November; you can check out the individual patterns on this Ravelry page. I’ve completed some test knitting for this book and the sweaters are very wearable and very gorgeous!
How do you calculate the time you will need to go from start to finish? —Dee Raines
Kephren: When I work with a publisher they usually give me 4 to 6 weeks to finish the pattern and sample, so I make a spread in my bullet journal and break the project down into smaller tasks according to how much time I have until the deadline. This works great when I know that a publisher is depending on me to finish the project on time, but I’m not as good with my own deadlines!
It takes me about a week to write a pattern, but before I can do that I have to have a sketch of the design and a swatch of the fabric to measure the gauge, and that can take anywhere from a week to a year. I’m a pretty fast knitter, but I still need to sit down and do it, so I’ll binge watch podcasts or tv series and get a lot of knitting done at once. I might be able to finish a shawl sample in a weekend, but a sweater could take 2 to 4 weeks. When the sample is finished it’s time for photography, and I like to take my pattern photos outside, so I have to wait until the weather and light is right. I try to give my test knitters 4 to 6 weeks to finish their projects, and then the tech editing process can take a week or two.
Albina: Haha. Conservatively! Or at least I try, having learned the hard way over the past year that things tend to take up to twice as long as they ‘should.’ Ultimately, pattern design is a creative process and even ideas that seem solid and straightforward do not always work out on first try. There can also be unforeseen glitches or complications at the tech editing stage. And finally, between getting the weather right and finding people to model, photography can take some time. So basically I estimate the time it takes me to draft a pattern, knit a sample, go through the tech editing process, take photos, and arrange for pre-knitters, then double that estimate. And then maybe add another week just in case!
SIZING: Adjusting a Pattern
I would like to know: does a garment designer knit a small, industry standard size first, then adjust for larger sizes, or do they knit to fit themselves and then adjust for smaller/larger sizes after? How do you write for different sizes? —missyrutherford
Kephren: I start thinking about grading for different sizes right from the beginning of the design process. After I’ve made my swatch and checked my gauge, I plug that gauge into a spreadsheet containing a range of industry standard sizes, then I narrow down which sizes work best with the stitch patterns and amount of ease. I try to grade patterns in 3 to 4 inch increments, beginning with about a size 32 inch bust up to about a 56 inch bust. I also think about how I am going to write the pattern to work for all the sizes. Sometimes the smallest and largest sizes require different sets of directions, but I try to avoid that.
I like to write the pattern in all the sizes before I even start to knit the sample, but I do make changes along the way. The size sample I knit depends on who it needs to fit. Magazines usually ask for a sample to fit a 36 inch bust, but if I’m self publishing I’ll make the sample to fit me.
Albina: These days, either the client (i.e. yarn company) will request a specific sample size, or the sample size I knit will depend on the model I have in mind for the photoshoot. But in a general sense, I try to envision all the sizes simultaneously at the earliest stages of design. This is particularly important when working with elements such as colourwork yokes, lace or cable panels, and distinctly stylized necklines. Will the proportions of the design element to the rest of the garment look off in some of the sizes? For example, will the single cable panel get lost in the largest size or look over-domineering in the smallest? Then it may not be a workable design unless I can adjust things to look similarly across sizes.
SIZING: Body Types
When you design a sweater, when do you take into account how your design will look on various body types? Often I see designs that are spectacular on tall, thin, young models, but not so much on average bodies. The ones that seem to become popular are the ones that flatter regular bodies. So, how do you do that? —Susan Lopez
Kephren: I don’t think there really is an average or regular type of body. There are sizing standards, which provide a consistent starting point for pattern sizes, but once you know how your body size relates to the standard sizes you can modify patterns to make them uniquely yours. Successful sweater knitters know what they’re comfortable wearing, and what looks good on them, and choose patterns that fit their style or can be altered. I think seamless construction methods also give the knitter more control because they can try the sweater on as they go and adjust accordingly.
I try to include as many sizes as possible in my patterns and give the knitter enough information to make adjustments. I include a schematic on the Ravelry pattern page and offer fitting advice in the pattern. I’ll also point out where adjustments can be made in the pattern. One of the best things about knitting is that you are making a one of a kind garment to your exact specifications. Don’t be afraid to change a pattern to fit your body and your style!
Albina: The problem is, there is no such thing as an average or regular body. Sizing would be extremely easy if everyone had the same basic proportions, and it was only a matter of shrinking them for the smaller sizes, and increasing them for the larger sizes. But the reality is, thin figures are thin in different ways; heavy figures are heavy in different ways; curvy figures are curvy in different ways. We tend to think of size in terms of width and height, but when you make clothes for individual people (which I did before I designed patterns) you realize there is so much more to it. There are endless factors such as hip to waist ratio, spine curvature, neck length, shoulder slope, torso depth, even bone density and muscle tone, which have nothing to do with size as most of us conceptualize it, yet play a huge role in how a garment will look on a person.
Consider that my size 34” model has wider shoulders than my size 44” model. The same garment design, no matter what size it is, cannot possibly accommodate both of their figures, and it’s because of the difference in their proportions. When designing a garment, I am expected to size it according to a set of industry standard measurements, which are based on ‘average’ proportions. Unfortunately, average proportions are the exact opposite of real proportions, since most of us will deviate from the average in one way or another. The reality is, that the only way to truly flatter a specific individual’s figure is to design a one-off pattern for that individual’s body, with all its wonderful nuances. In leu of that, it is essential that the knitter takes matters into their own hands, and learns to modify patterns to suit their own figure.
PATTERN CHOICES: Top Down or Bottom Up?
What determines if a sweater will be knitted top down or bottom up? —flourchylde
Kephren: Set-in sleeves shaped with short rows, and drop sleeves picked up from the arm holes are worked from the top down, so I will usually pair them with top-down sweater bodies. Raglans and round yokes can go either way, depending on whether I want to shape the yoke with increases or decreases. Most of my sweater patterns are worked from the top-down, but when I started designing all my sweaters were worked from the bottom up. By the time I started writing patterns I had already tried a lot of bottom-up sweater techniques, and I wanted to try out different top-down techniques, so that’s what you see in my designs.
Albina: Unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, for me the default is top-down. There is no fancy technical reason why, I just prefer it that way and enjoy the knitting process more in the top-down direction. There is something about starting small, then watching the knitting grow and spread in all directions, that I find absurdly satisfying!
PATTERN CHOICES: Sleeves!
How do you decide what kind of sleeves to use? Are the specific occasions where raglan is appropriate more than set in, for example? Or can you plug in whatever sleeve construction you prefer? —mrcraftalot
Kephren: Whether I want to knit the sweater from the top down or the bottom up is one factor, but the neckline, the stitch patterns, the amount of ease, and the size range can all contribute to that decision. Round yokes and drop sleeves are probably the easiest to grade in a wide range of sizes. Raglans will probably require different rates of shaping for the largest and smallest sizes, which can make the patterns difficult to write in a wide range of sizes. I think set-in sleeves can look very sophisticated when done right, but one of my pet peeves is set-in arm holes that are too wide and hang off the shoulders. Lately I’ve been playing with drop shoulders shaped with short rows and saddle shoulders, and that’s been a lot of fun. They work best with casual sweater styles with some ease, and that’s what I like to wear. Round yokes have become very popular lately, and I haven’t designed a pattern for one of them yet, so that is definitely on my list for the future. I don’t really have a favorite sleeve/shoulder construction, but I like to experiment with them all.
Albina: To my eye certain neckline styles and sleeve styles go together. For instance, a V-neckline looks best with raglan sleeves, because of the vertical lines. And a scoop neckline goes with set-in or contiguous sleeves, because of the similarity in their curvature. Aside from that, I select sleeve style based on how I want the garment to sit on the body. And as far as the process of knitting them, I like pretty much all the sleeve styles – as long as they are worked seamlessly.
Thanks so much, Kephren and Albina for sharing your ideas and expertise! And thanks to everyone who submitted a question for the giveaway that inspired this Q & A interview! Happy knitting! 🙂