Designing Something Beautiful: You can do it!

"Design something beautiful that someone will cherish" —Shirley Paden

A note from Kathleen: Teacher and designer Shirley Paden believes that even beginning knitters can plan a successful design. In the story below she gives a wonderful example of how her neighbor, Mary, who had been knitting for just under a year, successfully planned and finished a custom cardigan—with just Shirley's book, Knitwear Design Workshop, and a burning desire to create something special for her mother.

You'll see that Mary succeeded in accomplishing Shirley's motto—creating something beautiful—and Mary's mother certainly cherishes her new cardigan.

Here's Shirley to tell you Mary's story.

Belted Wrap Jacket, from Knitwear
Design Workshop
by Shirley Paden

Designing Something Beautiful

After fifteen years of living next door to Mary, she asked me if I would teach her to knit. She and another neighbor had attended my first book signing when my book, Knitwear Design Workshop (KDW), was released, and she had been inspired.

Mary was a fast learner. During our first lesson, I was able to teach her how to knit, purl, make a ribbing pattern, and work a cable—in just under three hours! For her next step, a knitting project, she decided on a scarf. After showing her several possibilities for patterns she selected the feather and fan stitch pattern.

As Mary practiced, I showed her how to fix common mistakes, such as missing a yarnover on a previous row. She was off and running. Her scarf was finished in record time, and she went on to make a few others in different lace patterns, which she used for gifts.

After she had been knitting for about six months, she asked me if I thought she was truly ready to knit a sweater. My response was an immediate Yes! She told me that her mom's 70th birthday was coming up, and she wanted to make her something really special. Mary liked my Belted Wrap Jacket, highlighted in my book and pictured at right.

I felt confident that she could successfully do it. And with the comfort level that she had developed with lace stitch patterns, I knew that she would have no problems with the stitch pattern used in that garment.

I explained that she did not have to make the garment exactly as it was pictured, and that one of the purposes of KDW was to guide knitters through making modifications to patterns for a truly custom piece. She was very excited about this, and eager to know how to begin. I suggested that she begin by getting her mom's input.

Together, they decided to make the following changes:

  • Change the yarn from a sport weight merino to a 6-ply cashmere.
  • Make a straight sleeve instead of a bell sleeve, which would work better for her mom's style than the bell sleeve.
  • Work the collar in the lace pattern. Since the ribbed cuff of the bell sleeves had been designed to match the ribbed collar, and because the cuff was being eliminated, Mary and her mom felt that the collar should match the rest of the sweater.
  • A belted front was not flattering for her mom's body type, so they decided on a single button at the base of the collar.

Mary's mom in her new cardigan. What a beautiful couple, and a beautiful knitted cardigan!

In addition to KDW, Mary felt that she should also take my Design Master Class for a deeper understanding of taking measurements and working through the math. So she joined a class that I was teaching at a local yarn shop.

She planned each section of the garment based on her gauge and her mom's measurements. She worked out the math for each section of the cardigan working from the instructions in KDW, and then asked me to check her numbers before she began knitting.

The techniques that she learned included:

1. Calculating gauge.
2. Overlaying a pattern stitch on body measurements with ease.
3. How to calculate front overlaps.
4. How to plan a V-neck.
5. How to plan tapered sleeves and sleeve caps.

Since I wasn't always available to answer her questions, Mary was able to reference KDW to find the answers she needed. Mary took the initiative to alter the shawl collar by using the schematic of the duster on the cover of KDW. She worked out the calculations, and using her gauge, she followed the duster schematic example for the length and width.

Once the pieces had been knit and before finishing the garment, she took my finishing class that was also held at a local yarn shop. Working with the book, she used the following techniques:

1. 3-needle bind off technique for the shoulders.
2. Whip-stitch technique for attaching the collar.
3. Mattress stitch for seaming the sides.
4. Backstitch for the set-in sleeves.

Mary didn't finish by her mom's 70th birthday party, but she did finish the cardigan by Mother's day. Since her mom is an expert knitter and had always wanted Mary to knit, she was overjoyed. She reported that the idea of a custom garment made by her daughter's hands was the best gift she could have ever imagined, and she immediately put it on and wore it to church.

I am incredibly proud of Mary. As a novice knitter of six months, she was able to take an existing pattern, re-imagine it, customize the fit, and design this wonderful cardigan for her mother.

Mary's story reinforces my belief that anyone with the right tools can design something beautiful that someone will cherish!


Good luck, and good knitting!

P.S. For a personal, interactive experience with Shirley and the design process, check out her Craftsy class, Handknit Garment Design (you'll get 50% off!).

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