‘Tangled Yarns’- Issues Pattern Designers Face

As a pattern designer, there are several questions I have to ask myself, such as:

What features do I want in this garment?

How can I ensure my patterns are easy to read and follow?

What is the best way to promote my designs?

Or, Where do I go for help, community?

And as a relatively new pattern designer, it can be challenging finding solutions.

I wanted to talk about a few of the issues I encounter in my personal designing journey, to spark a conversation and hopefully find solutions that I and any of my readers can employ.

Designing patterns

In my opinion, the mark of a promising designer includes traits such as being inspired by the color, texture and fiber make-up of your element of choice (yarn, thread, fabric, etc.), or being able to look at a garment and visualize how you would recreate (and even improve) it in your chosen element.

However, dedicating your time and materials to a piece can be a little daunting, especially if it’s large or contains many parts. This may put some people off from designing their own pieces. I’ve personally found making miniature/doll-sized versions of my designs to be a welcome compromise. It lets me spot major design flaws early on without dedicating too much yarn and time. I get to play around with calculations for sizing as well as adaptable tweaks for easier wear.

It also gives me a chance to work with the yarn in a lower stress environment. I get to learn all of the attributes of the fiber, from it’s texture and traits to how it holds the shape of the stitches. I get to see how the potential garment looks without dedicating too much of the yarn to testing. And then I can reuse that yarn in the garment if I am confident in my choice, either in the main fabric or in any of the seams if the thread is too overworked from frogging.

Of course, a doll’s body will not accurately resemble your body, and you’ll have to make adjustments for that when you design your garment for yourself. However, you can do so with more confidence, knowing you got at least the basic shape of your piece down from making your miniature mockup.

Eyes on your designs

It is tricky for new designers to get eyes on their patterns. Fiber Crafts tend to be a very visual and texture rich medium and crafters are picky when it comes to choosing which patterns they are willing to buy, especially with the wealth of free patterns available. As such, good photography is often key to drawing in potential customers.

Getting a decent camera is the easiest part nowadays-most mid-range phones in 2021 have this, and it is no longer necessary to break the bank when you are first starting out. But how should you display your work of art? Does it look impressive on it’s own? Are you comfortable modeling it-or do you have people near you who are willing to model it? What backdrop works best for your piece? How should you consider the lighting and color schemes?

I know my patterns are solid. But if I’m honest with myself, my earlier photography leaves a lot to be desired. Studying the photography of my favorite designers helped me to understand what my designs needed to stand out in a picture-this is a free and invaluable way to improve your own promotional pieces.

Testing your Patterns

So you’ve drafted up your pattern. Reading it through, it seems pretty clear and easy to follow. But then again, it is your own design. How will it hold up to the public eye in terms of legibility?

Finding a few pattern testers to work with is usually how designers solve this dilemma. But this also comes with it’s own problems.

Where do you find testers?

Finding testers interested in working on your pattern can be viewed as a test run of your promotional material and design for the real world. What is the best platform for finding testers? I’ve been told Instagram, but if you do not have a lot of followers or a good handle on relatable hashtags, it may not work out for you. Pinterest is also known to have great outreach, regardless of your follower count. It’s a good idea to spread your promotional pictures across several platforms to learn which ones work best for you. Next, are there a lot of people requesting to become your tester? From this group of people, what is their demographic makeup -basically, is this pattern attracting your target audience? If not, you may need to reevaluate your promotional copy and perhaps who your target audience is.

Once you have your testers, how will you set up this project? Clear communication rules can be hard to set up and enforce. You want to make sure there’s a medium that everyone is comfortable using, like a shared group chat online or through text. You also want to make it clear how often you expect to be updated on your tester’s progress, and how soon inquiries about issues in the pattern should be sent to you and responded to.

There’s also the possibility of theft of your designs. Some people may only sign up to get your pattern for free, and disappear afterwards. To prevent this, some designers only release parts of their pattern at a time, and hold off on releasing the next part to each tester until they show proof that they finished that section of the pattern.

And then there’s the unfortunate event of ghosting, which I’ve been a personal victim of. You may get a couple of people to agree to test your pattern. They may be active in the shared document and group chat in the beginning. But as the days go by, this peters off, and less and less replies come in to each of your follow-up messages. You may think you are doing everything right, and still end up with a few (or even no) pattern testers in the end.

Finding Community

While there are great strides being made in the fiber arts community, it unfortunately still is very homogenous and white-washed. Any quick image search for a knit, crochet, sewn (etc.) pattern pulls up countless pictures of mostly young, white, slim women modeling the garment. Occasionally you’ll see a brown or black face, but you have to work to find it. And you rarely see plus sized or disabled models. The same is true when looking for video tutorials-I have to consciously make the effort to add ‘POC’ or ‘Black’ in my search terms, and even then, the algorithm draws up very few results. That doesn’t seem very diverse to me.

Additionally, this is just my observation, but there seems to be a segregation between the knitting and crochet community. Frankly speaking, it is a lot easier to find black crocheters than it is to find black knitters online. I am sure there is a cultural and historical reason for this -and fun fact; historically, crochet was seen as a poor person’s craft at various points in time, and knitting the more refined art. These realities have made it necessary for groups to be made that uplift crafters of color, and create safe spaces for us to find community. Facebook (despite it’s many issues, racially and otherwise) has been my platform of choice for finding community; the long form text layout allows people to ask for in-depth crafting advice and share their recommendations and experiences. TikTok (also despite it’s observed racial prejudices against POC and Black creators) has also been growing as a place of community for young crafters. Reddit is also a potential platform for community, though it can be more difficult there to vet against members who intend to troll or harass the group.

And yet, there is heavy criticism for us even making such spaces for ourselves. As I write this on Indigenous Day of Remembrance weekend, just yesterday a white member of the knitting community (by the title Kristy Glass) had an IG live where she questioned Michelle Obama being featured on Vogue knitting. It should be crystal clear that if Michelle Obama was white, her being featured would not be questioned. A prominent Black woman, she has been the target of vitriol throughout her husband’s presidency for everything from her appearance to her personal life and hobbies. It is not surprising to the black community then, that the simple act of her taking up knitting would be scrutinized so heavily.

When I first started looking for crafting communities, I observed this very trend.

I have hope that the Fiber Arts community will continue to grow in it’s resources, support and inclusivity of new and diverse designers. And I hope this blog can, in some small way, serve as one such resource

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