Thursday, October 24, 2013

What makes a great design?

I've been drafting my own patterns since I was 11 years old. The reason for this is that a) I was naturally a loose knitter, b) my mother did not knit, c) I had no-one to tell me how to measure gauge (other than just pushing stitches around on the needle and laying the tape measure along said needle! DUH!) So I started drafting before I had the slightest clue as to what I was doing!

Best thing that every happened to me! I wouldn't have the life I have if any of a, b, or c had not been my reality. I believe (rightly or wrongly) that I would have knit but just followed patterns as written. OMG, who would I have become?  Probably a high-school Math and English teacher (who knit) and wrote (never-published-because-they-were-very-bad) novels.

But a, b, and c were my reality! And the advantages were legion!
  • I teach, but through books or in classrooms that could be anywhere in the English-speaking world.
  • I keep my brain alive and healthy by the very-good-work of pattern drafting (which Rudolf Steiner, who began the Waldorf Schools, recognized when he called knitting the perfect human activity and made mandatory for all 6-yr olds in his system--for its hand-eye coordination, promotion of math skills, heightened ability to focus, and generation of the ability to think spatially).
(Sorry for the length of that parenthetical item. My alter-ego English teacher shudders.)

But through those many years of drafting, I've designed (the conceptual work) some really nasty stuff. And I've also done some stuff of which I am really proud. Included in the latter is my new, all-time-favourite piece: L'ENVELOPPE (of course, available on Ravelry).

How can I say that this is my ATF piece? Because never before have I made six of something within one month of its birth. And never before have I made something that is admired every time I wear it.

So I wondered, What makes a great design? After just over 50 years of this design and drafting work, here's what I have only recently discovered and decided as my own personal criteria.
The piece must have some drafting challenges
The piece I have just done was probably knit three times before I got it right. And I'm grateful for that! I want that challenge: makes me know I'm alive and working! If the process is too easy, it's unsatisfying.

The piece must be easy to knit
While I'm not averse to complex knitting, my favourite things are easy to knit. This is where I probably differ from the majority, but I love stuff that I can knit while watching a move (with closed-captioning), reading a book, having a conversation. And I suppose I'm happy when I know the piece is accessible to a majority--which easier stuff might be.

 The piece must keep me engaged through the knitting
Here's the real kicker! To get something easy-to-knit but within which something is happening that keeps us engaged (and brain cells firing) is the best of all possible worlds. I love, love, LOVE when I can accomplish this.
I must love to wear it
Well, isn't this our bottom line??? What's the advantage to satisfying all of the above--or any other criteria--if we don't love wearing it.

Every time I wear it, it is admired
Clearly, I mis-spoke. This is our bottom line! We want people to notice what we are wearing, we want them to comment upon what we are wearing, we want them to want what we are wearing.

Unfortunately, this last one can have its downside. I do have this commented upon every time I wear it--by men, by women, by knitters, by non. And it's the latter who are sometimes a problem. Because they insist that I will make them one. (I believe they believe I should be flattered to be asked?) And, just sometimes, they don't understand thanks but no thanks for an answer. So then I, very politely, launch into The cost of our knits (which I wrote about here, Nov 1, 2012).

I did give one, very persistent woman the name of her nearest yarn shop and the link for the pattern, assuming the yarn shop could a) teach her to knit or b) find someone who wouldn't mind making it for her. I will see this woman again, so that'll be an interesting follow-up.

Back to the subject at hand, I have satisfied all of the above with this most recent piece. And I think I have done so with two others in my design history: the Einstein Coat and my Summer Sweater. Is three enough for one lifetime?

Whatever the "great design" criteria is for me, I'm not sure it would be the same for you. So I'm curious: how does this work for you? And how many do you own?  


  1. Bought the pattern yesterday and went directly to the (not so) LYS and bought the yarn. While there, told 2 friends (who bought the pattern and yarn). Can't wait to finish this one. Thanks for another great pattern.

  2. And thank you.
    I've never had something generate so much excitement so quickly! Saw lots of yarn choices and swatching this weekend
    Now I can't wait to see all the results.

  3. Saw this on Facebook first Sally.....popped over to Ravelry to get the's 5:30 am on Sunday morning.....I am excited!

  4. Hey Anne, nice to hear from you.
    I think you'll get this done really quickly--and then make another? I honestly don't know "how to leave home without it." I'm working on number 5 for me, plus I have 2 on the go for Christmas gifts, plus I've knit a 1X for people of that size to try on (when I teach).
    I guess I really should be on facebook?

  5. I too saw this on Facebook and purchased the pattern. Now I just can't decide on yarn but if the right one isn't in my stash it will be at a yarn shop. I just want to get started so I can enjoy it during this beautiful fall weather. It has by the way jumped to the top of my to do list and I may put aside that one other item I am working on. PattiO

  6. As I saw in my most recent yarn shop/teaching trip, many people did what you are doing--put it to the top of their queue. As quick and wearable as it is, I don't think you will be sorry.
    They also found that, often enough, they could combine yarns to get gauge. I've added a note on the pattern page (on RAVELRY) to discuss this.

  7. I'm in love with so many of your designs...and have made 4 Einstein coats - three for family gifts! I LOVE this new design and am going to purchase the pattern NOW. To everyone else out there - what are you waiting for? You know you want to make just do won't be sorry!
    Sally, thank you once again for an extraordinary design. This will take the knitting world by storm!

  8. Sally, I love this pattern soooo much that it now appears on the most recent post of my blog Fairground. Needless to say, I am knitting it, too.

  9. I tried googling that but got lost. Can you give me a link? I'd love to see this!

  10. Okay, now you know how tech savvy I am NOT! I just clicked on your name (above) and found it.
    How wonderful, and thanks SO MUCH!

  11. Love Love Love this! Just what I need, heading over to buy pattern and then try to figure out what yarn to use!