My grading story

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Some of you will already know that I have a background in woven pattern cutting and garment construction. What I haven’t done before is share how that’s helped me as a knitwear designer, specifically about grading. It’s a long story, but hopefully an entertaining one.

The beginning

During my conversion course at the London College of Fashion and after, I learnt that grading was a job in its own right. It was a separate job within clothing and design production in industry. Proof was in the job advertisements I saw regularly.

When I started working, I had no inkling otherwise. My first experience of an independent design business was working at Sew Over It, soon after they opened their shop in Clapham (now closed). Patterns were drafted in-house, and were sent to a grading bureau or independent grader to move things along. Specialist software is used for this: Gerber Accumark, Telestia, and Vetigraph are some well-known ones.

I then got the shock of my (working) life when I turned in my first knitting pattern for publication! This was in 2013, the same year I started working at Sew Over It. I saw the contract, and read that I was personally responsible for grading the pattern. This didn’t mean I had to do it myself, but I only knew people and companies who’d grade sewing patterns.

I was up **** creek without a paddle. This was definitely NOT what I’d learnt and observed to be true in industry and indie sewing world! Knitting was different, but there was more to come.

Little waterfalls, my third graded pattern for knitting magazine
Little Waterfalls (2014)


I knew nothing and no-one in the handknitting world at that time. Did grading bureaus exist for knitting patterns? I had to produce something, and I was under contract. It was my first big break: a huge opportunity, and I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. If I had known someone who could grade the pattern, I would’ve found the money to pay them.

My only hope was to try it myself. I eventually reasoned that if I was going to publish more patterns, I may as well learn now. If this was how the land lay – even if only in the beginning – things could only improve.

I referred to this on the Tech Tip Talks podcast as a baptism of fire. No lies were told; hyperbole was minimal. It doesn’t have to be flames to feel like fire!

Fudge, fudge, fudge

I ended up doing what many knitters before and since have done: fudge things by looking at other patterns and attempting to reverse engineer others’ work. The obvious catch is that this approach relies on the quality of other people’s work, and what did I know? I was groping around in the dark.

The only solid sources I had came from sewing patterns. My background here has rescued me many, many times over the years. Placements, and gobbling up knowledge from Sew Over It’s wonderful head cutter for three years, saved my skin. This time, almost exactly ten years ago as I write, was to be the first bailout.

I really did try. I tried as hard as I could, using my gauge and squared paper, drawing out EVERY. SINGLE. SIZE. It’s awful admitting this today, but I’d probably have broken if I’d had today’s size ranges to grade to. As it was back then, the standard was for a 32″-42″ bust (now chest), so six sizes instead of the twelve I now use.

the parquet jacket, my fourth graded garment design
Parquet jacket (2014)

My North Star

Understanding of woven pattern grading and observing grading nests or stacks was a huge help. Years and years of sewing meant that I understood the principles, how grading increments looked, and why they should be uneven in certain places. Yet, knowing how the result should look is nothing like understanding the technical processes, and I knew zero.

I drew lines on squared paper, tried to add up, and hoped for the best. I kept all the workings out on paper and stuck to the submission guidelines like glue. If I couldn’t grade a pattern, I could follow instructions to the letter.

There are no words to describe the corrections I received on that first pattern! There were several emails back and forth, I was seeing the colours of track changes in Word when I blinked, and there were late nights. I did it because I had to, and I was determined to learn.

Was my conscience happy? Absolutely not. But I got a result. I’d got through the experience, and the corrections were over. I could only trust that I’d hear from the magazine again if something else was wrong.

Baby steps

I knew I needed training: that was never in any doubt. My next mission was to find out where people learnt how to grade patterns. Everybody I spoke to in Wovens World said the same thing: you learn on the job. I knew I didn’t want to be a grader, so I kept looking for courses instead.

By now it was about 2015-ish. I’d had four designs published in magazines at this stage, and my ideas were outgrowing the squared paper. I’ve upgraded and updated two since original publication. These are linked below. I have no idea if I’ll go back for the other two (photographed above), but it’s doubtful. Time has moved on.

My working arrangements had also changed. I was now teaching at a university, and with that came the prospect of funded CPD. Summer 2016 was a turning point – I enrolled on three courses that year. One was an intensive course on woven pattern cutting, because I’d lost confidence there and wanted a foundation for the next two programmes. These remaining two courses were on – no surprises! – pattern grading.

Better than nothing

Learning manual and digital pattern grading for wovens, even at a basic/intermediate level, was enough for me as a knitwear designer. I’d learnt enough about the medium of knit to identify what was most applicable from Wovens World, and how to apply the principles I’d felt my way through. Yet, I was still stuck on the squared paper and colour coded fineliners. There’s nothing bad about this at all; I strongly believe that there’s a case for mapping out grading visually if you need it or the pattern needs it. But at this point, representation was firmly on the map. I wanted to do better and had always wanted to; I just didn’t know how.

My size range for the magazine was still limited, but this wasn’t due to ability. The next thing to do was find CAD solutions. I knew that the software mentioned at the beginning wasn’t built for handknits, but the internet pointed me to Excel. This was another steep learning curve!

My designs from this time (2016-2017) began to improve in terms of sizing, but it was slow. I was only confident enough to add one or two more sizes to make eight. My final missing link was having too little experience of dressing and fitting larger bodies. I’d had some direction and immersion at Sew Over It, but it wasn’t enough. I understood the impact of shape, I could assess fabric, but I needed to get my hands on real people.

Community learning

Late 2017 saw another job change. I’d moved over to adult learning, taking over an intermediate/advanced course on clothes making. This was a big opportunity: I could write the course and take on creative direction, which I’d never done before. The demographic was similar to that at Sew Over It, whom I’d left the previous year. I knew if I got the projects right, it would be the experience I needed to be better at grading knitting patterns.

I should say at this point that garment fitting has always been a passion, if not a personal need. It began with my own plethora of alterations, and a desire to learn as much as I could, find kindred spirits, and finally share my knowledge. Patterns were the golden chain linking sewing and knitting, and at this point, I felt that I understood patterns for both very well.

Again, my work was to have a direct impact on the general public. I felt the pressure, but I had to go for it.

I bought myself some time by designing accessories for the magazine. My first design with a representative range was the Fishtail Tee, published in 2020. This went up to a 52″ chest/full bust, a vast improvement on the last batch, but I had 60″ in my sights.

Meanwhile, my clothes making class taught me how much I really knew. I’d spent several years feeling unconfident, panicking about what I didn’t know, and completely forgotten to take stock of what I’d learnt already. My students were happy, and it was a defining moment.

The fishtail tee, graded to sizes 30-52.
Fishtail tee (2020)

Reap what you sow

I’d learnt how to fit people, but with classes of women ranging from size 6 to size 30, I finally felt secure in my practical experience. I began working on my sizing charts, basing them on the body shapes of the people in my class. I experimented, experimented, and experimented even more with draping, flat pattern cutting, and pushed myself harder as a designer.

My pattern grading skills went hand in hand with my creative development and expression. It’s impossible for me to separate the two, even in retrospect, because each influenced the other, and I was working holistically. Grading is definitely a job in its own right, but here I’d say that the training you get has a big influence on how well you do the job. This is based on my observation of industry professionals as well as my life experience. It’s not only making sure people of as many sizes as possible can get into the clothes – they should also look equally beautiful. That’s why graders need a designer’s eye.

The culmination of this, seven years after my first published pattern, was the Aneeta cardigan. Some say you’re not supposed to have favourites, but Aneeta represents so many things to me. With that design, I’d finally become the designer I always wanted to be. I no longer questioned IF I could do something; now, it was “HOW shall I go about this?” I had options, confidence and control.


This mini-life story has no doubt revealed many things, which I hope are helpful, interesting and inspiring. The short of it is that where there’s a will, there’s a way. There are many reasons why I wanted to create a course especially for knitwear designers, and the grading story you’ve taken the time to read is but one of them. In future, I hope to teach more and provide more learning resources.

Speaking of which…

Grading resources are still very thin on the ground. I would normally recommend books, but I can’t, not really, not for knitting. The two that I referred to for wovens are linked below. One is by Jeanne Price and Bernard Zamkoff; the other is by Martin Shoben and Patrick Taylor. If anyone knows to an in-depth title about grading knitwear designs, please share in the comments. If I’ve missed anything, it’s down to my bias or background.

Lately I’ve also found this title by Kathy Mullet. I haven’t read it, but am leaving it here FYI.

And finally…

That’s it from me for this season! I’ll be back blogging come September, but after this epic post you might be glad of a break from me 😉

As ever, I’m happy to receive any comments, thoughts, feedback…I enjoy conversation! Fire away 🙂

My grading story

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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.

2 thoughts on “My grading story

  • July 26, 2023 at 4:12 pm

    Thank you for this background story with full disclosure of how you learned. Your “two cents” is worth a million $!
    What I love the most is your linking of woven and knitting worlds. I’m so glad I found you on my journey.
    Big HUgs!


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