Design-Along with Shirley Paden


A note from Kathleen: You might be wondering what a design-along is. Well, it's something that designer and Knitwear Design Workshop author Shirley Paden thought up, and it's one of the most enjoyable and extraordinarily creative experiences that a new designer can have. They join a warm and welcoming creative online community along with a group of kindred spirits.

Then, with a designer, the participants embark on an ambitious design project that for each is a labor of love. This year, Shirley Paden's DAL group spent six months together walking through the design process, and creating beautiful, custom-fit garments.

In this blog post, I have asked Shirley to explain exactly what a DAL is, and to tell you how her DALs work.

The DAL Experience

I have been teaching handknit garment design for quite a few years and believe that anyone with the desire to design a hand knit garment with a custom fit can do it; even the newest knitters! I set out to prove that theory by holding a series of design-alongs (DAL) over the last four years.

Most knitters are familiar with the term knit-along (KAL) and regularly participate in KAL events. However, many are not as familiar with a DAL. In a DAL each member of a group designs their own unique item, then knits it over a specified period of time. There are common parameters, such as a stitch pattern or type of garment. The excitement comes with seeing how each knitter uses those parameters to create a unique garment.

The journey to our first DAL started with the Ravelry group We Love Shirley Paden (WLSP), founded by Tracey Rivers in 2008. In conjunction with the release of my book, Knitwear Design Workshop, we decided WLSP would be an ideal setting for the industry's first design-along. I wanted the atmosphere to be a cross between that of an intense design workshop and a fun design camp. My goal was to walk each student step-by-step through the design process in an interactive, online format.

These days, when I launch a DAL I feel a little like a conductor standing on a train platform yelling "all aboard!" however, in 2010, I felt a little like Kevin Costner's character in the movie Field of Dreams. Only, instead of the voice whispering, "if you build it he will come," my questioning voice whispered, "if you invite them will they come?" My goal was to bring together knitters and aspiring designers from all parts of the world that were using my newly released book. In spite of my doubts, I asked the WLSP moderators to post the invitation.

Much to my amazement, enthusiastic participants signed up from the US, Australia, and Japan. We gave students a lace stitch pattern and the option to design either a sweater or scarf. DAL-1 lasted four months, resulting in many beautiful designs, and it was featured in the Interweave Knits Spring 2011 issue. As a result of that article, WLSP doubled in size, with many new members eagerly awaiting the next creative adventure. The success of DAL-1 buoyed our spirits and gave us the confidence to plan one the following year that proved even more successful. In DAL-2, we provided a lace pattern and four design options: garments, scarves, cowls, or ponchos.

The DALs would not have been successful without the two WLSP moderators, Tracey Rivers and Mari Tobita. Both are former students of mine as well as successful designer/teachers. They are the day-to-day face to the WLSP members. They field all questions, hold everyone's hands, and serve as a cheering section. Mari is also our Japanese translator. I am the overall technical advisor for all the participants.

Launched in March 2013, DAL-3 was our first DAL where the design option was limited to making a garment. Students were given five different cable and twist stitch patterns to choose from. Their challenge was to select one of the patterns and design their dream garment.

We began with thirty-five students: twenty-three Americans, eleven Japanese, and one person from India. We timed the DAL to launch within one month of my Craftsy Handknit Garment Design class (use this link to get 50 percent off your registration!). Most of the students joined the Craftsy class as well, so for the first time the group spread across both the Ravelry and Craftsy websites. Those student who were also part of my Craftsy class, had the added benefit of the twelve online class lessons to review if they had questions as they worked through planning their projects. The DAL followed the four steps of my design process.

Step 1: The Thought Process. In this phase everyone completed a rough sketch of their design.

Step 2: The Fabric Selection Process. Swatching is critical to the design process, so everyone selected one of the stitch patterns and knit a swatch. At the beginning of the DAL, I posted the charted and written versions of each stitch pattern as well as garments that I had designed using those stitch patterns. These examples showed how I examined the stitch pattern structure and used the patterns to enhance the garment design. Students were encouraged to deconstruct the stitch patterns if they saw various elements that they wanted to move around to make their own pattern unique design.

As the students began posting photos of their swatches, everyone became very inspired and began cheering one another on. We could feel the enthusiasm turn up a notch.

Step 3: The Planning Process. This is always the most difficult and most important step where everyone draws their schematics and overlays the stitch pattern charts. If the schematic measurements are not accurate the garment will not fit properly. A successful garment design means that it is a perfect fit for the wearer's body.

To get the ball rolling I posted sample schematics on my website. We asked two students who had been through the previous DAL to post their schematics as examples for the group.

Step 4: The Construction Process. This final step began with everyone sending me all of their items from the first 3 steps for a complete review. The construction must work on paper before any stitches are cast on.

To go over their work and share it with others, students signed up for one of six online DAL pattern review sessions. When I received the items from the first three steps, I carefully checked everything, including every number on every schematic. I highlighted any needed corrections and presented them to the students one-by-one during the online sessions. If there were corrections needed, they worked through them and resubmitted their information. Once the construction worked on paper, they were ready to cast on and knit!

Each day garments in different phases of completion were posted. The moderators and group members commented and cheered each other on. Constant questions came to me, posted both individually and to the group. This is the really exciting step—where everything planned in the previous steps begins to come alive on the needles. It's so rewarding.

Watching an entire DAL unfold is nothing short of amazing. Seeing new designers plan and complete their garments is an absolute joy! We ended with ten students crossing the finish line and twelve approaching it. Of the additional thirteen who initially signed up, seven dropped out and six moved to the sidelines and continued to cheer the others on. They have promised to try again next time.

My final words to the group expressed the thoughts and feelings that I would like everyone to take away from the DAL experience: "Continue to believe in the power of your creativity and you will be surprised at the wonderful things that will happen!"


The train will be pulling out of the station for DAL-4 early in 2014. If you are interested in getting on board, be sure to check the WLSP group for updates!

Good knitting to you,

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