From Ideas to Submissions

When I started designing the idea of self-publishing seemed very intimidating. Not only did I have to come up the design idea and knit it, I also then had to write the pattern, figure out how to get the pattern checked, put it into an acceptable format for people to download and then promote it. It seems very daunting, as all I knew how to do starting out was how to knit and think up ideas! Each of the other skills was slowly learned. Pattern writing, photography, working with an editor and testers are all learned skills. They don’t come instantly and there are many learning curves to climb all at the same time!

The very first pattern I had accepted was Doddy, for Knitty Winter 2007 (I’ve just realised that will be 10 years December next year!!). I was so proud of my first acceptance, just bursting with pride. That didn’t last too long however once I started working with the tech editor. She was very kind and patient but she effectively completely rewrote my pattern. I did not have a clue how to write a pattern! That was a very swift, sharp reality shock for me. This was a job I had to learn.

After that I thought I’d try my hand at self-publishing. The first pattern that I got tested was also a hard lesson. I had testers for every size and I discovered how careful you had to be with pattern directions. When you’ve got a dozen people all busy spotting your mistakes (especially when they’re basic and fairly silly mistakes) it’s hard to not take it personally. But it taught me to take my time and check the pattern several times in different ways so that the end product was as clean as possible and to swallow my pride and accept mistakes. This is always hard but really, really important if you want to keep improving.

At this point I really wanted the experience of publishing in magazines. This involves a different workflow but I think the lessons that you learn from working with a professional magazine are invaluable and really help to perfect pattern writing skills and spot mistakes.

Submission Calls

When working with magazines you start by signing up to their mailing lists or watching out for submission calls on ravelry’s designer board. These submission calls take a lot of different formats; some are just inspiration photos and sketches with minimal words, others do the reverse with descriptive paragraphs, and sometimes there are both. I love reading through submission calls even if I don’t have the time to submit, they can be very inspirational and spark off ideas.

Swatching

The next stage is to put the submission together. This is the stage that I have a hard time getting to at the moment as it takes several days. I start by thinking over the call; what kind of ideas would work? What yarns do I have that would suit? What stitch patterns could fit into it? Next I will start swatching – occasionally an idea works from the start but this is rare!! Usually there are several days of knitting and ripping until something works. It equal parts frustrating and exhilarating; and sometimes it just doesn’t come together and has to be abandoned.

Last year I pulled the idea for Nouri together for Pom-Pom magazine. I was so excited as it was one of those times that the swatch just worked from the start! You can see that when you swatch for a design you try to put all the details in the swatch, how the side pattern works and how the neckline shaping will be done. It can make for funny shaped swatches but nothing beats knitting the details.

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Sketching

For the submission, once I’ve got a swatch that works the next stage is sketching. I use a croquis outline that I draw my garment onto. I’m not a fantastic artist so this means that it looks enough like a human body to convey the idea. I’ll then put notes and details of the garment on the sketch to show how it’s going to be knit.

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I’ve recently got an Ipad Pro with an apple pencil and I find that this is very helpful for this stage. It means that I can sketch directly in an electronic format and add colour easily if I want to.

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Putting it all Together

The final step is text description. I’ll put a pdf together, which has the sketch, photo of the swatch and a description of the yarn, gauge, swatch and construction details. At this stage you should pay close attention to the details for the submission you’re making. Do they also want a schematic? Do they want suggested sizing? Do they want a single page submission? Attention to detail is important at every stage of the design process but if it’s your first impression when you’re doing a submission. It doesn’t have to be complicated just answer any questions that need answering.

Now for a full submission you go back and do this a couple of more times. Most submissions I make are 2-4 suggested items. As my time is getting tighter these days it’s more often 2 now! The beauty of putting this much work into submissions is that now you’ve got a full design idea ready to go. If the magazine rejects the idea you have the option of either submitting it to another magazine or creating a self-published pattern. Other times I find that I’m not completely in love with an idea but there’s a detail that I want to keep and I end up building a new design around that. As I design more and more I find that I like to take the same starting point for a design but then just bounce off in a new direction.

If you’re new to designing have you tried submitting to magazines? Don’t let the idea of rejection daunt you – just think of it as another great idea that you can go and use yourself – their loss!!

Are you thinking about designing? Let me know your own experiences!

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8 thoughts on “From Ideas to Submissions

  1. I’ve thought about designing before but man I can’t imagine figuring out all the math for the different sizes. So now I just make things customized to myself.

  2. Lovely writeup! Thanks for sharing your process. I used to avoid sending in a sketch because I can’t draw at all, but I’m starting to repeatedly read how important it is, and I also see how useful it is in conveying the ‘big picture’.

  3. It really is! It’s as helpful for you as for a future editor, sometimes you can spot potential problems just by drawing it out.

  4. This is so interesting! I’m a new-ish designer of almost two years, but it’s funny and a little embarrassing to look back on my early gaffes. Such as, I wasn’t going to include written instructions in my first pattern, because I think charts are the best, and so everyone else must think that too, right? And I resisted buying charting software for the first several patterns, because I didn’t know if the expense was worth it. Which meant that when I finally bought the software, I needed to go back and redo all my earlier clunky charts…

  5. I’ve considered submitting many many times and even got as far as swatching and pulling it all together…only to chicken out at the last minute. I don’t think my designs are good enough against all the wonderful designers out there. But some day I’ll pluck up the courage lol. Thank you for sharing your process! I’m learning a lot :)

  6. Well I’ve got to tell you you’re dead wrong! You produce wonderful designs and shouldn’t sell yourself short. Plus your only job is to put the best submission you can together then let them decide if its a fit for the magazine. Rejection doesn’t mean the design wasn’t ‘good’ necessarily but that it may not have fit the theme they were going with for that issue. Don’t prejudge your own work :-)

  7. Thanks for the great description of how you work. Since the 1970s, I have been designing my own sweaters. I picked up knitting again over ten years ago. I do a lot of charity knitting and designed a cowl for California fire survivors. I wrote up the pattern and two friends who are experienced knitters test knitted it. Cowls are pretty simple. I posted it on Ravelry for free and got over 100 favorites and 400 downloads. But after a year, the only people who have knitted it was me (many to the fire survivors), and the two friends who test knitted it. And one of those is my sister. Humbling lesson. I am looking forward to designing more sweaters for me, but I doubt as a potential casual pattern maker that I will bother creating a pattern for others. I will leave that to the professionals like you.

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