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back to where I started | my plan for knitwear design

Earlier this year – I can’t remember when exactly – I had something of a lightbulb moment. I’ve been studying part time whilst flitting between modelling, photography bits and bobs and social media work for a while now, and knitting the odd project for myself or as gifts every now and then. Like many twenty-somethings (and I’m sure folks of every age) I often feel like I haven’t a clue what I’m doing with my life, and swing from ‘GO ME I’M BOSSING THIS’ to ‘Ahhh I need a change of plan‘ approximately 10 times every week. Such is the self-employed way.

During said lightbulb moment it dawned on me that if my 12 year old self could make a reasonably successful business from designing knitwear, then my 21 year old self – with the same skills plus some – should be able to have a decent crack at it too.  Knitting is a hobby that I’m 99.9% certain I’ll never tire of, and since I have the skills to design, knit, pattern write, grade, photograph and share patterns (and enjoy doing all of the above), it seems a waste to not do so. Which brings me to now! My situation hasn’t changed, but I’m using the time and flexibility that my setup allows to head back to my roots and spend my time creating knitwear again. It feels good to have a proper focus, and to be throwing myself back into an industry that I love and have friends in. @lilykatemakes is the separate Instagram account I started so not to bore those who couldn’t give a monkeys about sweater shapes or fluffy yarn, and I’m really enjoying sharing my designs and projects with people who appreciate the craft.

I currently have 5 patterns in the works, one with test knitters, and about a gazillion ideas floating between my head and 3 different notebooks. Plus a few spreadsheets because I am trying to be Miss Organised.

Obviously it’s very early days and I may not sell a single pattern (hopefully not the case… please download my patterns guys!), but I thought I’d share some of the thought processes and conversations I’ve had in this early stage. It’s strange because in some ways it’s not the early days – I’ve been designing for over 10 years and have many published patterns to my name – but it’s my leap back in as an adult (even if I don’t feel like one half the time) and I want to have a business head screwed on in addition to a creative one.

My design process is usually very organic in that I think of a cardigan in my sleep and bring it to life in the day, and it goes without saying that I want to appeal to as diverse a range of people as possible. However I think it’s still worth having a few ideas in mind about the kind of patterns I want to write and who might they appeal to.

Who am I designing for?

Knitter/non knitter?

This sounds like a daft question to pose when talking about knitting patterns, but my whole idea is to encourage more folks to pick up the needles. It’d be crazy to miss out on the current trend for the handknitted item, and I want to encourage new people to learn to knit. Compliments on my knits are often followed up with ‘I wish I could make things like that!’, to which I often reply ‘you 100% could’.  Producing something impressive (or even just nice) isn’t as far from the realm of possibility as most non-knitters I’ve encountered seem to think. I want to make items that would look appealing on both a knitting pattern website and the Instagram page of your fave Parisian chic clothing brand (aiming high!).


Following from my last point, I want to write patterns with enough interest and ‘knitterly’ detail going on that established knitters won’t feel bored, but new knitters hopefully won’t feel intimidated. My patterns currently in the works are maybe for the ambitious novice, but I would really like to put out a few beginner-friendly patterns in the not too distant future. Patterns that will get you hooked, for items that won’t be banished to the back of a cupboard!

What should I design?

Garments or accessories?

I wrote a bunch of shawl patterns in the past, but whilst shawls are popular in the knitting world, they’re not really a ‘thing’ in mainsteam fashion. I don’t wear shawls myself either. Huge oversized scarves, on the other hand… those I do wear.  Headbands, mittens, hats and scarves are all on the ideas list. Accessories make sense – they’re generally quick, easy, and don’t require (much) sizing, but I also love handknitted garments and a torso provides far more shapes to play with than a head or a hand. In other words, I want to do both and my ‘to design’ list is very long.

Technique heavy or simple?

My personal favourite patterns to knit and write involve large amounts of simple mindless knitting, with a few nifty bits to make it that little bit different.  Like the pleats on these sleeves, which add a pretty feature to an otherwise simple sweater; they’re a little fiddly, but are over and done with in one row.  That’s the approach I like to take so I’m hoping others do too.

Everyday or special occasion?

Considering the amount of time that goes into producing a handknit garment, it seems a waste to make something that will rarely see the light of day. So I’m focusing on the everyday, wearable items at the moment, like my #AnydaySweater.

Loose or fitted?

Much as I love the satisfying challenge of shaping a garment to hug the body, right now I’m all about the softer shapes.  They’re more versatile and easier to grade into a range of sizes. More generally, it’s been interesting to consider whether I (and other knitters) like something because of the satisfying way in which it’s made, or because I actually like the finished object. Is it about the process or the product? I say both!

Seamless or seamed?

Who can be bothered with seams?  Not me, usually, but sometimes an item does need a good firm seam to add stability. My patterns will probably be 95% seamless, and if a seam is included, it’s there because it needs to be.

What yarn should I use?

Independent yarn or commercial?

For now I’ve used commercial yarns in standard weights that can be easily substituted for garments, allowing the overall shape to make a statement rather than using colour. I’m also keen to combine stash yarns into interesting accessories though, so watch this space!

Quick and chunky or fine and delicate?

Chunky knits look impressive, knit up quick, are eye catching and can make an impact with a relatively simple design.  But knitting with (relative) lampposts isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and one can’t be as clever with shaping when so few stitches are involved. So I’m avoiding both extremes and striking a happy medium for now. Expect aran and chunky garments and DK accessories.

That’s about all I can think of off the top of my head! Let’s see whether I can make a success of this knitting lark second time around. On another note, I’m pretty happy with how these photos turned out considering they were a tripod/self shoot situation. I spent a few days this month in the caravan near Keswick and you can’t not feel inspired by these Lake District landscapes. Something as old as Castlerigg Stone Circle is impressive in itself but the background is quite something too, especially in golden hour.

Lily Kate x

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