Thursday, September 2, 2010

Independently Minded

You've just come across a hot new pattern. Everybody's knitting it and everybody's loving it. The pattern is so clearly written. The charts are so concise. The design is clever and looks good on everyone AND it comes in 10 sizes! How did that happen???

Once upon a time, patterns came from books, booklets, magazines or leaflets. You bought said book, booklet, magazine or leaflet from your LYS or favorite book store. Maybe you even bought it on-line. Then as you knit it you found a mistake, you went back to your LYS or, if you were computer savvy, you went to the publisher's website and find the ERRATA. Because there is always Errata. Always. Except when there isn't and there should be! I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt here and say that the problem arises due to lack of time. That the fault is on the part of the publisher and not the designer because once a design is accepted, the designer has very little time to supply a sample in one size, let alone in a range of sizes. But thanks to Internet as a whole and, Ravelry specifically, the world of design and pattern acquisition is changing.

Besides bringing knitters together from across the world to create a true Global Knitting Community, Ravelry has done two other magnificent things. It has created forums that allow virtual KAL (Knit-A-Longs) where pattern questions can be answered by other knitters and often the designers themselves. And it has offered Independent Designers an opportunity to present and sell their own patterns.

Now I have yet to design, but I imagine that process goes something like this. Either by swatching, fiddling or by using a paper and pencil, the designer uses their creativity to come up with a design. Next they knit it up or jot down the notes on what they just did, depending on how they process. Now focusing on garments (as opposed to accessories) the finished design is knit up in one size. Probably theirs, or their daughter's (sister's, best friend's, etc.) Point is, it's one size. One set of notes. Then they (or their tech editor) crunch the numbers and create a size range often starting at 30 or 32 and going all the way up to 54 (magazines tend to give you S, M, L or XS(S, M, L) and sometimes XL if you are really lucky). And now the Independent Designer shows just how smart she/he is. The Independent Designer finds Test Knitters, in a range of sizes, to sit and knit the pattern up. Make sure it works. That the numbers crunched. That the theory matches up with the reality. And once many sizes have been knit, problems found and patterns corrected, then they go on sale. It doesn't always happen like this, but I believe it often does. And since these designers are active on Ravelry, they are avid knitters after all, they are accessible to the knitter's who are now buying the patterns. And if some mistake still slipped through, they usually address it quite quickly.

So though I have a large library of books and magazines, I find myself knitting from these Independent Designers more and more. I like their fresh styles, their innovative techniques. I like that they use Test Knitters to work out the kinks, and that if I have a question, they are there (and happy) to answer it. And because they are not quite yet famous, they really care. There is a designer, a little less known, that excites me very much. Emily Johnson of The Family Trunk Project is a real Renaissance woman. She is a self proclaimed "garment designer, writer, knitter" and I'm guessing she does even more. While her site is filled with amazing stories of her family and the designs their personalities have inspired, and some designs not inspired by family members, her blog lets you in on her process, some beautiful sewing projects and enough details about her personal life to make her feel like someone you want to know and want to spend time with, without ever supplying TMI as to make you feel uncomfortable or bored.

Now why am I telling you all this? Emily recently posted a 5 part series of entries on Influence and its place in the design process. And all the time I was reading it I was loving the sweater she was creating. Yep, the original Monami. The day she posted pictures of the final sweater I wrote her immediately telling her fabulous it was, not considering for a moment that she would be selling that design. I don't know why I thought that way, but there you have it. I was appreciating the beauty of the sweater, wishing I too could have said sweater, and overlooking the obvious. A designer with a new pattern design may be selling said pattern. Until someone on the Madtosh Lovers Forum posted in the Patterns that would look great in... thread posted a link. A link to a pattern with 5 sizes but no price tag. It wasn't for sale yet. It must be in Testing! Might Emily still need a Test Knitter? I immediately followed up on my congratulatory message with an offer of my services, and much to my delight and surprise I was in. Test Knitting. And in my next post I will tell you how this experience changed me as a knitter.

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