I’ve recently published a knitting pattern for the first time! I’ve been creating my own patterns for personal use and as teaching tools for my in-person classes for while now, but this is the first time I’ve ever released a pattern for sale to the public. As I was writing my official release post for my new pattern, I realized that that some of you all might be interested in designing knitting patterns for yourselves.

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Why Design Your Own Knitting Patterns?

Personally, I started designing my own patterns because it was faster than searching for patterns that fit the specs I wanted. If I knew I had a yarn in my stash that I wanted to use, searching through all the options was time consuming and overwhelming. And even if I found an option that fit my yarn, it didn’t always fit into my wardrobe.

I also found it useful to design my own knitting patterns for use in my in-person classes. I created a simple lace hat pattern for my beginning knitting students that is broken up into sections in a way that makes it easy to teach. I can teach one section, send them home to finish it, and then teach the next section in class the next week. The pattern uses a yarn that can be reliably sourced, isn’t prohibitively expensive, and comes in a lot of colors.

I’m sure there are plenty of other patterns that would have worked for my class, but because this one is mine, I can edit and update it whenever I want to. I also can easily answer technical questions my students have about how the pattern works, because I wrote it myself!

The last reason why you might want to design your own knitting pattern is to create a new source of income. While writing patterns is unlikely to make any individual designer a millionaire, it can be a way to earn some money. I decided to start trying to sell my own patterns recently because it seemed like a good way to leverage work I was already doing. It’s not a wholly passive endeavor. It does take extra time to size, write, and photograph something I’m knitting to get a sellable pattern. But if I’m already going to buy yarn and make the project, it feels worth it to me to see if I can’t make a little side income.

Two hands knit the sample of a blue hat using a blue two ply cotton yarn to demonstrate one of the steps involved in designing knitting patterns.

Learning to Design Knitting Patterns

For you first project, I recommend making a variation on something you’ve made before. You want to understand the basic construction and then put your own spin on things from there.

My process on the patterns I’ve designed so far has consisted of the following steps:

  • Decide the purpose of my pattern: Am I trying to use a specific yarn? Is there something I’m trying to learn or experiment with? Do I need something specific to add to my wardrobe? And is there a vibe or source of inspiration for this design?
  • Find a base pattern: Do I have an existing pattern or pattern book that I can start from?
  • Find technique and/or stitch pattern instructions: I’ll look through my books or the internet to find examples of stitch pattens or techniques I want to use to alter my base pattern. If I’m making a cable sweater, I would want to look up different cable stitch patterns. I might also be looking at different neckline or cuff construction options.
  • Knit my test swatch(es): The number of swatches I create correlates directly to the number of questions I have. Those are usually things like “do I like this stitch pattern in this yarn?” and “what is the best gauge for this project?” I also pay attention to the drape and feel of my finished fabric. I usually start making swatches as I’m doing my research in the previous step, then create a final gauge swatch then I’m writing out my plan in the next step.
  • Write out a plan: This is a rough draft of the pattern, in the size I’m making my sample in only. This incudes making a list of supplies and calculating how much yarn I’ll need. I try to think through the project from beginning to end here, and may end up chaining things several times before I’m happy with my plan.
  • Gather supplies: Before I start, I like to have everything I’ll need gathered together in a project bag. It is convenient to have everything in one place while working, but that’s not the main reason I do it. I gather all my supplies in advance so that it’s easier to notice if I need something I left off my supply list.
  • Knit my first sample: I like to knit through the entire pattern with my laptop nearby so that I can take notes of any errors or tricky spots right in the Word doc for the original plan I wrote.
  • Evaluate my results: Do I like how the finished garment came out? Do I think changing the pattern and/or yarn in any way would significantly improve it? Was my original plan solid, or did I make a lot of changes as I went?
  • Decide if this is a personal or commercial pattern: There are some things that I knit that are just not sellable. I made a pair of socks a while back that use a stitch pattern that only looks good in one size. Trying to grade it would be a nightmare. Or sometimes, especially when machine knitting, I may do a lot of improvising. Translating that into a pattern would be more effort than it’s worth, so I keep that as a personal pattern.
  • Make a second (or third, or…) sample: If I decide I want to sell a pattern, then I start by making a second sample. At this point, I’m still new enough to pattern design that I feel the need to check my work by knitting through my pattern again. Usually two samples is enough, but if I’m not 100% confident, I’ll make additional samples until I’m happy.
  • Format and publish the pattern: At this point, I’ll take the Word doc with my pattern and make everything look pretty. I go into more on the formatting and publishing process below.

Knitting Pattern Design Resources

If you want to see someone work through the design process with an experienced guide, the class Leah Learns Design from The School of SweetGeorgia is great. The school also has courses on the design process and on grading your pattern to create multiple size options.

There are also many, many classes on Craftsy that can help you develop your design skills. I’ve got Handknit Garment Design at the top of my to-watch list. But I also think Yarn Substitution Made Easy, Choose Your Own Sweater Adventure, and Design Your Own Cowl would also be useful for building design skills.

There are also lots of books! And as much as I love video for learning, I find myself repeatedly reaching for my library of reference books when I’m designing knitwear.

I tend to group these into two categories: garment design and stitch pattern libraries. Garment design books talk about how to structure the whole pattern, while stitch pattern libraries contain charts for lace, cable, and other decorative patterns. I also think it’s useful to separate machine knitting books from hand knitting books, though there is some overlap, especially when it comes to learning about garment construction techniques. The below books are either ones I’ve used personally, or I have seriously considered buying.

Hand Knit Garment Construction Books

  • Sock Architecture by Lara Neel (Amazon/Bookshop)
  • Knitting Pattern Essentials: Adapting and Drafting Knitting Patterns for Great Knitwear by Sally Melville (Amazon/Bookshop)
  • Knitting Patterns: How to Use, Adapt, and Design by Sam Elliott and Sidney Bryan (Amazon)
  • The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns: Basic Designs in Multiple Sizes and Gauges by Ann Budd (Amazon/Bookshop)
  • Knitter’s Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters: Basic Designs in Multiple Sizes and Gauges by Ann Budd (Amazon)

Hand Knit Stitch Pattern Library Books

  • Vogue® Knitting The Ultimate Stitch Dictionary: More Than 800 Stitch Patterns by Vogue Knitting Magazine (Amazon/Bookshop)
  • Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible: 260 Exquisite Patterns by Hitomi Shida by Hitomi Shida and Gayle Roehm (Translator) (Amazon/Bookshop)
  • 280 Japanese Lace Stitches: A Dictionary of Beautiful Openwork Patterns by Nihon Vogue (Amazon/Bookshop)
  • AlterKnit Stitch Dictionary: 200 Modern Knitting Motifs by Andrea Rangel (Amazon/Bookshop)
  • Alice Starmore’s Charts for Color Knitting: New and Expanded Edition by Alice Starmore (Amazon/Bookshop)

Machine Knit Garment Construction Books

  • A Complete Guide to Machine Knitting: From the Thread to the Finished Garment by Lucia Tarantino (Amazon/Bookshop)
  • Designing Knitted Textiles: Machine Knitting for Fashion Florence Spurling (Amazon/Bookshop)
  • Hand Knits by Machine: The Ultimate Guide for Hand and Machine Knitters by Susan Guagliumi (Amazon/Bookshop)
  • Creative Machine Knitting: A Voyage of Discovery into Colour, Shape and Stitches by Alison Dupernex (Amazon/Bookshop)

Machine Knit Stitch Pattern Library Books

  • Hand-Manipulated Stitches for Machine Knitters by Susan Guagliumi (Amazon/Bookshop)
  • Machine Knitting Techniques: Cables by Bill King (Amazon/Bookshop)
  • Lace and Open Fabrics (Machine Knitting Techniques) by Elena Berenghean (Amazon/Bookshop)
  • Texture and 3D Effects (Machine Knitting Techniques) by Amber Hards (Amazon/Bookshop)

Copyright and Designing Knitting Patterns

It’s important to understand what can and cannot be protected under copyright when designing knitting patterns. In most cases, the text and images used in knitting patterns are copyrighted. The actual stitch patterns and design are not.

This means that if you’re just designing patterns for personal use, there really aren’t many rules. You can take any pattern you’ve legally acquired a copy of and change it however you want. You can cut and paste sections of instructions that you find particularly well written right into your pattern. As long as you never sell the pattern copyright doesn’t matter. And as long as you are the one doing the knitting, you should also be free to sell the finished object.

If you’re planning on selling the pattern, however, you do need to be a bit more careful. If you’re using a stitch pattern diagram, you need to make your own and not just copy and paste from whatever source you found it in. I like using Stitch Fiddle for this. The directions also need to be written out in your own words.

If I use a source to help me write my patterns, I like to give credit. I do this with a few short lines in the pattern intro. Something to the effect of “I used ____ book to help me design this item and ____ stitch pattern found on ____ website.” I have an academic background, so I always feel better citing my sources.

Intellectual Property, Logos, and Trademarks

You also may run into issues with trademarks or copyright if you are making patterns inspired by TV shows, movies, or other intellectual property (IP) to sell. If your pattern is just inspired by a specific IP and doesn’t use any symbols or names you are likely on the right side of the law. But if you do take existing artwork or logos to use in your patterns, that is usually not legal.

If you do somehow do run afoul of the copyright system, the amount of trouble you get in will vary depending on the scale of your business, the country you operate it, and how litigious the entity that holds the rights is. How flagrantly you’ve been violating the law will also have an impact. You could get anything from a strongly worded letter to a lawsuit. As long as you’ve been operating in good faith, taking down the offending item will likely resolve the issue.

How to Make a Knitting Pattern Ready for Publication

I don’t know about you, but the patterns I write for just myself tend to consist of a handful of scribbled notes. This works when it’s just me, but I very much need to clean things up a bit to make the pattern publication ready. The good news is, you don’t need any fancy software to make a pattern. I use MS Word to write my patterns and then convert them to PDFs when I’m finished.

There are no hard rules when it comes to formatting your knitting pattern. The best first step is to look at any patterns you’ve found well organized and use them as a template. Think about what information they have and where it is located in the pattern.

You’ll also want to think about the full experience of using the pattern. Generally, you want to avoid having to flip back and forth between pages, having instructions for a tricky section fall onto two pages, or making the pattern longer than it needs to be. At the same time, don’t let your font get too small, as many people have difficulty switching back and forth between looking at text and their knitting as they age.

If you want extra guidance on making your first pattern, you may want to check out the Edie Eckman’s class How to Say It: Pattern Writing for Knitters on Craftsy or a book like The Beginner’s Guide to Writing Knitting Patterns: Learn to Write Patterns Others Can Knit by Kate Atherley (Amazon/Bookshop).

Do You Need a Technical Editor For Your Knitting Pattern?

A technical editor is someone who looks at your pattern in order to find any errors and make sure everything is presented as clearly as possible. They don’t usually comment on design or other aesthetic choices, but rather focus on making sure your pattern is as readable as possible.

The more complex your pattern and the faster you are trying to release it, the more you need a technical editor. If you’re writing a simple pattern you may be able to get away without one. You also may be able to avoid using a technical editor if you have time to let your pattern sit for a week or two so you can come back to it with fresh eyes. A complex pattern on a tight deadline, however, needs a technical editor.

Whether or not you choose to hire a technical editor, I’d recommend getting a copy of The Knitting Pattern Writing Handbook by Kristina McGrath and Sarah Walworth  (Amazon/Bookshop). This book does a great job of outlining the how’s and why’s of structuring your pattern for publication. It also teaches you how to work with a technical editor if you choose to use one. It really is a valuable resource.

If you’re looking for a technical editor, asking around for recommendations is never a bad idea. However, if you’re a bit stuck, I see editors advertising their services regularly on the Craft Industry Alliance job board.

Do You Need to Do Test Knitting?

I’ve seen a lot of chatter about pattern testing in the knitting world lately. When I first started looking into designing my own patterns, I thought this was going to be a must have. However, it turns out that pattern testing is somewhat controversial.

A pattern designer can greatly benefit from having a public test knitting before releasing a pattern. Test knitters can find flaws or unclear areas in a designers pattern before they’re released to the general public. It’s also helpful to potential buyers to see the garment on different sized bodies and made with a range of yarns. The test knitting phase can also be used to create excitement about a new pattern and

There are, however, some downsides. The test knitting process can often seem a little predatory. Test knitters are usually expected to provide their own yarn, which can be a significant financial ask. Additionally, they’re often asked to knit under tight deadlines. They need to provide detailed feedback and good quality photos of the finished object. In return, they often only get a free advanced copy of the pattern. This isn’t exactly a fair exchange. Additionally, a poorly run test knit, where the designer doesn’t respond quickly or well to test knitters concerns can damage a designers reputation.

Personally, as of now I’m choosing not to have test knits for my patterns. The risks outweigh the rewards for me. I might reconsider if I’m ever in the financial position to provide decent compensation to my testers and organized enough to have a generous testing period. But, for now, I’m releasing my patterns untested.

How to Take Photographs for Your Knitting Pattern

You’ll need at minimum one good photo of your finished object for your pattern. When you’re taking that photo, I’d recommend taking a few additional detail shots and a few other variations for promotional use.

I’m a big fan of taking a flat lay with my finished object surrounded by the supplies I used in the project. It adds interest to an otherwise dull product photo without the need for any additional props. Also, I am 100% open to my cats photobombing my product shots. If you look for it, you’ll see Clara’s back leg in the corner of the Fern Lace Socks main photo!

I like to take my photos by a window on an overcast day. That gets me lovely light without having to bother with lighting equipment. Compare the photo I used for the Fern socks to the one I took of my pink unreleased socks. The harsh light and shadows makes it hard to see what’s going on with the pink socks, while the details of the Fern socks are clear

Photography Equipment

I will frequently just use my phone camera to take pictures. I currently have an iPhone 15 Pro, but most modern smart phones have nice enough cameras to take your product photos. I like using my phone to take my photos because it’s always next to me and charged.

If I want to get fancy, I’ll break out my mirrorless camera. The photos I get from a real camera are higher quality in many ways. I can shoot in RAW format, which gives me more leeway when I edit. And I find there is less distortion from the lens.I use the Fujifilm X-T100. This camera is now discontinued, but can still be found at some retails. The X-T50 would make a good substitute. While there are a lot of mirrorless and DSLR cameras on the market, I really love the color quality on Fuji cameras!

I also find it useful to have a stand for whatever camera I use when doing overhead shots that show my hands. I do this mostly for social media, but it’s nice to have progress shots for the pattern itself and for the sales page. In the age of AI generated images, taking progress shots helps prove you’re a real person.

For my phone, I most often use the Canvas lamp that lives on my green desk. Because the lamp has a built in phone holder and ring light, it’s always set up to use. That makes me much more likely to take photos with it. If I’m using my mirrorless camera I use this mount that clamps onto a table. It’s adjustable enough for my needs and can handle the weight of my small camera.

two hands kntting a pair of socks using double pointed needles. They on a a green background and a cup of tea is sitting in the upper corner.
This image is a still shot from a video I took using my Canvas lamp. This setup allows me to quickly take progress shots that show both my hands with only a second or two of setup time.

Editing Your Photos

When you edit the photos to include in your pattern, there are a few things to keep in mind. As much as possible, you want truthfully represent the color of the yarn you used. Avoid using filter or editing techniques that significantly shift your colors, even if it looks good.

I would focus on editing your photos in a way that makes them clearer and easier to read. People who have bought your pattern are looking at the photos so that they can better understand how to knit it. Potential customers want to get a clear idea of what they’re buying.

That said, you can try to develop or lean Into an aesthetic when editing your photos. I find it’s best to have an idea of the look you want before you start the photography process. You want to enhance what is already there with editing, not change the vibe completely.

For editing, I use Adobe Light Room. Right now, I do most of my editing on my phone, as my 5-year-old laptop gets a little overwhelmed by the editing process. I have a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud, which can be pricy, but in my opinion it’s worth it. If possible, take advantage of the great deal for students and teachers.

How to Sell Your Knitting Patterns

As a designer, you have the option of self-publishing or partnering with a publisher to sell your pattern. Self publishing is great because you are free to do whatever you want in terms of design, yarn choices, and timing. The downside is that you are responsible for editing (or paying an editor), marketing, customer service, and everything else. Working with a publisher gets you someone to help with various aspects like technical editing and promotion. They may also provide you with free yarn or other upfront compensation. However, there’s no guarantee that anyone will want to pay you to make the designs you want to make and not all of the profits will go to you.

If you want self publish, there are a lot of platforms that you can use. Etsy and Ravelry are two of the most popular. Both are easy to set up and have a good amount of documentation to help out new sellers. You just upload the images, description, and a PDF of your pattern and you’re open for business!

If you wan tot work with a publisher, the process is a little different. You’ll need to pitch your ideas to pattern or yarn companies. These companies usually are looking for patterns that have a certain vibe or meet certain criteria. You can usually find out what they’re looking for my looking for a call for proposals on their website.

I’m taking this class on the professional design process right now, which goes into the process in detail. It’s another School of SweetGeorgia class, and I would say a must watch if you have any interest in pitching patterns to them specifically, or any other similar company. Generally, however, it’s good to know that you can pitch ideas you have before you’ve completed your first sample. You just need to have a good swatch, design schematic, and plan for your finished knitted piece.

I’d love to hear about your experience designing knitting patterns! Do you have any additional tips? Or has this article inspired you to give designing your own pattern a try? Let me know in the comments or over on Instagram!

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