An Ode to Squared Paper - why squared paper is so useful for knitwear design

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I posted about my love of squared paper on Instagram a couple of years ago, but I’ve decided it’s worth sharing to the blog. It fits in nicely with my current pilot course on Design Development, and I made sure that everyone who signed up got a pad of squared paper! It’s one of the most important tools for knitwear design development.

(The original caption text is below in case the embedded post doesn’t work for you.)

An Ode to Squared Paper - Why knitters need squared paper for design development

I have lots of squared paper on reserve and I use it whenever I have a design idea. Whether it’s cables, colourwork, or lace, it helps me to see a visual representation of the stitch pattern. Knitting stitches are more like pixels than vector lines, and that’s one reason why I don’t rely too heavily on sketches or line drawings.

Sketches are far better for silhouettes and capturing the character of a design. If you’re working from something detailed, you have to choose what you lose when interpreting your ideas for knit. Squared paper forces you to pixelate the original image, simplify the visual, and be more imaginative about what you can capture in stitchwork.

By drawing on squared paper, I can also feel how a stitch pattern or motif is going to work (or not). I can see:

  • the repeat units in rows and stitches
  • the rhythm of the knitting
  • where and how to tweak
  • future directions for more design development as the lines and motifs take shape.

This clip is of me filling in a cable chart with my trusty 2B pencil. It’s a peaceful, mindful moment when my brain has simmered down, and a pause before knitting the swatch.

How big should the squares be? What kind of squared paper should I use?

I usually go for 0.5cm squares. If you work in inches, the closest is 0.25 inch paper. For large-scale tessellations or colour charts, you can also use graph paper, which has 0.2cm squares (0.125 inch). This is handy because you can see how the design lines work from afar. This change in perspective is scale in a different format; you might not use it as often as the larger squares here, but it’s good to have on standby.

You might also find knitter’s graph paper useful. This is sometimes called proportional knitted graph paper, and is another good resource because the squares aren’t…well, square. We all know that knitted stitches aren’t square, and you can type in your tension/gauge to generate the size you need. This is better for refining details, though. I always do the working on regular squared paper first, and usually it ends there. The information you get from development on a pad is enough for me to see whether something will work. With time, you can train your eyes to get used to the dimensions.

What else is squared paper good for?

There are many more uses for squared paper besides surface pattern design. Long-term or eagle-eyed readers will have seen it pop up in posts about grading. You, really, really, REALLY don’t have to be beholden to Excel. There are plenty of times when I don’t use Excel for designing patterns. It’s most important to make sure that you understand your own design and can communicate the concept or progression to someone else. If you need a visual, give yourself a visual. Don’t make yourself suffer unnecessarily. Your brain works as it works; don’t change yourself, find a tool or method that works for you.

Below is a drawing of how I drafted and graded the short row shaping of the Gaspra cardigan sleevehead. There is NO WAY in this or any other universe that I could’ve done this in Excel. I couldn’t do it at the time, and I don’t know if I could manage it now. Nor am I going to try!

An Ode to Squared Paper - Why knitters need squared paper for design development

The beauty of visuals is that our eyes are so adept at processing information. If you’re keen on design, you’re most likely brilliant at visual communication, so make that strength work for you. You clearly have the muscle, so why not?

How do you use squared paper? Do you use squared paper? Let me know 🙂

An Ode to Squared Paper

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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.

5 thoughts on “An Ode to Squared Paper

  • February 8, 2023 at 1:27 pm

    Hi Natalie, this was SO interesting and took me back to when I studied Fashion Technology at my local community college, though I have to say it took me a minute to figure out what squared paper is! Oh, graph paper, that’s what us guys over here in America say! Anyway, I’m with you, I prefer graph, or squared paper to knitters graph paper and I’ve used both. For some reason I found the knitters paper confusing, perhaps because I wasn’t used to it, and so went back to regular squared paper. But I love seeing a graphed design. When I first started knitting, almost 45 years ago, at least here in the USA, patterns were written out, line by line. I trudged along, following the pattern, but when I first saw a charted design it was such a revelation! The whole design, in one glance! Wonderful! I used to chart my own knitting designs, but got too lazy, and only knit for kids and grandkids anyway so now I keep it in my head and once I’ve done the set up row, the design flows from there.
    Thank you, Natalie, for this fascinating blog post.

    • February 8, 2023 at 2:00 pm

      💕 thank you, Heather! That’s a fascinating story about your personal journey with squared paper; I love how you’ve described the change from written patterns to charted patterns. Many U.K. ones (Sirdar, for example) are still written out line by line, and my mum and late grandma used them for my baby clothes too ☺️
      Also, apologies for confusing the name of the paper. I have two pads of squared paper, but one is called graph paper because it has heavier lines on 10×10 squares. I personally don’t care, but I no doubt got a bit muddled up whilst writing! I will check it and add some clarification to the post soon. Thank you 🙏🏾

  • February 8, 2023 at 3:16 pm

    Thank YOU, Natalie, wonderful post!

  • February 13, 2023 at 7:28 pm

    I like graph paper for playing with ideas for knitting and other crafts, and also just for writing on. It’s one of my favorite office supplies. I even found graph paper post it notes, and those make me so happy. Thanks for showing your process.

    • February 13, 2023 at 8:47 pm

      My pleasure, Meredith – and thank you for mentioning graph paper post-its! I’m off to look for them now ☺️


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