Knitting needles in the process of picking up stitches along a shaped edge

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This is the first post in the From Needle to Needle series, which covers grading and the pattern production process as a whole from the designer’s standpoint. It’s the journey that an idea takes from a designer’s imagination to the home of a knitting customer – needle to needle.

The first thing to do is introduce the three people – or three roles – that need to be filled when producing a knitting pattern.  Any quality pattern will have seen the eyes of a designer, technical editor, and – if sizes are required – a grader.

All knitters are clear about the presence of the designer; the designer is normally the most visible person, and the one you first think of or search for when looking for patterns.  They’re the ones who come up with the ideas for garments and accessories, and each designer has a unique something or somethings that they’re known for.  It’s normally what first attracts you to their work!  You might like their use of colour, their garment shapes or silhouettes, or how they use stitch patterning and texture.  If you found me because of my designs (as opposed to my classes or blog), something about my design aesthetic will have pulled you in.  However, the tech editors and graders are the wind beneath a designer’s wings.  They are heroes, no question about it!

The technical editor role is another specialism that a few people have heard of, partly due to the publishing efforts of stars like Kate Atherley, Jen Arnall-Culliford and Tian Connaughton.  Between them they have written hundreds of thousands of words on techniques and tutorials, so please have a look at their extensive back catalogues if you haven’t already.  Overall, technical editing is a quality control function that involves LOTS of attention to detail and a high standard of numeracy.  The buck stops with them when it comes to standards.  Technical editors are usually very fond of Excel, good at processing volumes of numerical data, and born to notice the tiniest crack in the vase; sensitive souls who are keen to be helpful and keep you from falling flat on your face.

Finally, the grader or grading role is responsible for generating a size range based on the master or sample pattern and associated sizing charts.  All patterns, whether knitting or sewing, follow this process; the pattern is not written from scratch for each size.  Instead, it is ergonomically and proportionally scaled up and down using algorithmic calculations, known as grade rules or increments, that determine what the garment should measure at landmark points such as the hip, shoulder, or bust.  It’s a specialist role that incorporates numeracy, design and problem-solving skills; they’re also fond of Excel, but have a special interest in fit, ergonomics and quality standards.  Graders work hard to produce patterns that look equally good on a range of body types.

The very first sizing charts I attempted to create. I have gone through several iterations of these, but have made the most progress after conferring with tech editors and graders.

Sadly, this attention to detail can sometimes be taken too personally by some designers, and I’ve yet to meet a TE or grader who hasn’t felt a few sharp teeth in the course of their career.  If you find a good one you enjoy working with, treat them kindly.  They will appreciate it more than you know.

Here’s a Venn diagram to sum things up (you can click to expand and download this for reference):

In addition to this, there are other important tasks that can be done by either of the three lions:

  • Pattern layouts
  • Schematics or line drawings showing key measurements of the finished item
  • Stitch charts for charted instructions

Always be clear about who is doing what before you get down to work!  I’ve found that many TEs/graders are happy to take on any or all of these tasks, but you should let them speak for themselves.  And don’t count yourself out; do an honest appraisal of your existing skills and see if it’s worth adding some bits and pieces.  You might be surprised at how much you already know, but haven’t thought of applying in a new context.  

If you’re a lifelong learner, it can definitely be to your advantage to learn how to produce stitch charts and learn a bit about graphic design.  This will improve communication with your tech editor and grader, and speed up processes instead of going back and forth trying to understand each other.  You can also find a graphic designer who can create a pattern layout or template document as part of a branding package, and send your final pattern to them as a Word document.

Other important things for customer support (tutorials, FAQ, size guide, finishing information, tension/gauge) are the responsibility of the designer, if you’re selling independently in your own online shop.  That said, you can confer with your TE and grader – and they will often volunteer helpful information, kind souls that they are.

The bare bones of one of my knitting patterns. This will be released later this year, but you can see the kind of key information that you need to include – it’ll be at the top of every knitting pattern you use.

Layouts, schematics and stitch charts all require specialist CAD software.  Some examples are:

  • Layouts: Adobe InDesign, Canva
  • Schematics/line drawings: Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, Inkscape
  • Pattern charts: Stitchmastery, Adobe Illustrator,

Recognise that each of these three areas – designing, tech editing, and grading – is a specialism in itself, and you may have to make decisions about:

  • how much you can manage to do on your own;
  • extra training you might need;
  • which software you can afford to get;
  • paying someone to help you.

At the very least, you’ll need to get a technical editor.  There are little copy-editing tricks you can do to keep your eyes fresh, such as changing the font between revision sessions, but if you’re new to designing you’ll benefit from someone else’s support and experience to create a high-quality product.  Don’t do it alone!  It can be tempting to do it all yourself and save money, but what you save in money you’ll pay for in time; time taken to do at least two jobs at once before the pattern is released, and time taken up with pattern queries after the pattern is released.

Training is available from:

The Tech Editor Hub – a collective of expertise featuring tech editing AND grading courses, including A Masterclass in Grading, which is run by Julie Robinson (IG @julieatwork), Melissa Metzbower and Sarah Walworth;
Sizing Knitwear Patterns by Faina Goberstein – this is a Craftsy course
Pattern Grading Made Easy by Tian Connaughton

Other suggestions and recommendations are MORE THAN WELCOME – please feel free to comment here and on Instagram if there’s someone you want to shout about, and that includes friendly self-promotion 🙂

I’ll finish by saying that, in my humble opinion, the grading role is EXTREMELY important, woefully underrepresented, and badly supported overall in the handknitting industry.  I will make that argument in next week’s post!

FN2N, Part 1 | The Three Lions of Knitting Patterns: The designer, the technical editor, and the grader

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Natalie in Stitches

I design for confident knitters who are keen on getting their garments to fit well. My catalogue includes knitting patterns for lace sweaters, cable sweaters, shawls, cowls, and the occasional scarf. These designs are ideal for building or curating an inspiring wardrobe. I am also a qualified teacher and share my favourite tips, tricks and techniques on my blog, where you can also find advice on garment fitting, alterations, knitwear design and sewing pattern reviews. Courses are also coming soon - sign up to my newsletter for updates.

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