How to Design Knitting Patterns on a Budget by Michelle Miller of Fickle Knitter Design
You don’t need a fancy degree or to spend thousands of dollars on charting and photography software, high end cameras, and photography equipment to become a knitting designer. Hard work, persistence, and dedication to learning is really all you need.
What makes me qualified to teach you about knitting design? Well I’ve self and traditionally published 102 knitting patterns, and written a book and had an article featured in Knitty and had many patterns published in Knitcircus magazine since 2008. The current issue of Interweave Knits (Summer 2012) and Creative Knitting (July 2012) both feature positive reviews of my first book Leaves, Fickle Knitter Design Volume 1. My designs appear in 59 shops across 24 states and 3 countries. I teach classes on knitting design and participate as a vendor in knitting festivals all over the United States. Most importantly, I’ve mentored many designers over the years and I hope this tutorial will give you some guidance on what you can create on a budget.
Before you start, make a game plan
What do you hope to accomplish by writing knitting patterns? (In other words, don’t quit your day job just yet).
Make a list of goals that you hope to accomplish. If you want to self publish, what steps do you need to take to do so? If you want to have a design credit in traditional publishing, what magazines or books do you want to be featured in?
The Designers Discussion group on Ravelry is a fantastic resource. If you have a burning question about design this is the place to go. Between the Information Pages and the Search box (at the top above the topics and below the forums->designers group link) you ought to be able to find answers to just about any question including what magazines and books are holding submission design calls, and how you are compensated for your work. Anne, Corrina and Sarah work hard to keep the Designers group up to date and relevant.
Look at your favorite knitting authors and make a note of what they do that you like. This goes for layout, photography, and style. This doesn’t mean that it’s ever okay to copy another designer’s work. Develop your own voice and standards and always put everything in your own terms.
Reading is Mostly Free
Your local library or knitting guild is a great resource if you are low on funds or do not wish to build a knitting book library of your own. You can borrow books through interlibrary loan, browse magazines and borrow books on every topic relevant to being a knitting designer from being a small business owner, marketing, to popular books by authors such as Elizabeth Zimmermann and Clara Parkes. Libraries are a ‘use it or lose it’ proposition these days, so the more we patronize libraries and teach our children to patronize libraries, the more funding they’ll receive (or so is my hope). Also don’t be afraid to talk with friends and family about your ideas, but don’t let them discourage you either.
Low Cost Designing Software
I learned far more about Microsoft Excel than I ever thought
I needed to know in an evil senior level physics course entitled “Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics” which we students promptly renamed “Sadistical” mechanics. But you don’t need a degree in physics to learn Excel! Practice and experience and ease of use are what’s most important. Many folks have access to Excel and have some experience with it so this might be a safe choice to dip your toe in the knitting design waters. Aire River Font is a wonderful companion to charting in excel, and it’s free! Aire River Font grants permission to individuals and self publishers without royalty payments.
Apache OpenOffice is a freeware version for word processing and spreadsheets and is an alternative to Excel if you don’t have access to the software. And Stitchmastery Font can be used in conjunction with OpenOffice for a minimal fee.
Another low cost charting software option is Intwined Pattern Studio. I paid only $44 for my copy and it is useful for turning charts into written instructions. As with any plug and chug software, you’ll have to tweak the final product to fit with your standards.
Low Cost Photography Software
If you are low tech then Flickr may be a solution for photo editing. Although Picnik went away, aviary has some basic editing capabilities such as cropping, adding text, and resizing your photos. If you have more than 200 photos Flickr charges a very reasonable $25 per year to host your photos on their website.
I’m a long time user of The GNU Image Manipulation Program, aka the Gimp. However, this free software has a huge learning curve! If you need to perform more complicated graphical tasks I would recommend checking out youtube and using google to find tutorials to get you where you need to go with this program. But as it is free, and if you don’t count the time spent teaching yourself how to use the software, it is much, much cheaper than the Adobe Suite, which ranges from about $1500-$1800 with the same level of difficulty in acquiring the skills needed to work with the software.
For the self publishing I do for my books I have switched over to the Adobe Suite of products including Photoshop and Illustrator, because having something printed in a book form has a higher dot per inch requirement than the Excel-Aire River Font can provide. Also, Adobe Illustrator charts are vector and not raster based, meaning they can be resized for optimal viewing size. This is important when you are having something published in a book or magazine format, and is not as relevant when self publishing single patterns printed from a non professional printer.
Low Cost Photography
Anyone who insists that you need a top of the line DSLR camera is probably trying to sell you a camera.
The Ballerina Shawl, photographed by Patrick Hough was done entirely using a point and shoot camera! However, he is very knowledgable about photography and knows how to set up a composition and portrait photography. This knowledge comes from many years of study and reading as well as practice. Please see your local library or check out what local extension photography classes are available in your area.