22 July 2020

The Job of a Knitwear Designer (or Eleventy Billion and Counting)

The job of a knitwear designer is really a lot (a LOT) of jobs rolled into one vague title: Designer. We usually clarify by adding handknitting or knitwear because otherwise people might think we are clothing designers or graphic designers or product designers or interior designers. Except we quite often are all those kinds of designers in designing handknits. 

So, here are all the jobs I (a designer) do when designing. Some designers may outsource some of these (if they can afford it), but most independent designers do most of this or pay another expert to do it. I’m not posting this list to be mean, rather so that non-designers can get an idea of what this job really entails. 

  • Dreamer - ideas have to start somewhere. Magazines, museums, tv shows, existing designs, your own clothes, the color of the sky at sunset, the texture of a rock, etc. - all fodder for designs.
  • Researcher I - has someone else come up with this idea? Spend some time browsing Ravelry to make sure or just forge ahead trusting that your take on the idea will be your own, hence unique (unique enough - there really are only so many ways to make a sweater, after all).
  • Sketch artist/writer - some sort of doodle or description put on paper may happen at some point. Not required but usually done. 
  • Researcher II (Stitch Pattern Expert) - what sort of stitch patterns might be part of this design? It helps to have acquired a large library of stitch dictionaries and/or decide to work exclusively in garter stitch or something. This varies. At some point depending upon the design, you may need to figure out how to make various stitch patterns work together with a given stitch count in coordination with the Swatcher and Mathematician. And then how to get said patterns to work together in other sizes with different stitch counts. 
  • Researcher III (Yarn Specialist) - what yarn do I want to use that will best support my idea: fiber composition, thickness, color(s), availability, put-up (I love a coned yarn or similar large put-up, but then I usually design seamlessly from the bottom up, so the fewer joins and ends, the better. A colorwork designer might decide that a dozen 25g balls of different colors will be the way to go.)
  • Yarn Acquisition Specialist - stash diver/shopper/yarn support relationship expert. In addition to maintaining interpersonal relationships with yarnies and such, must also keep on top of information about base and color availability because lots of knitters, reasonably, would like to use the yarn used for the sample because it's pretty or so that they can get something that looks like the sample or at the very least might be able to help them achieve gauge (and, no, we just can’t tackle gauge yet, friends). N.B. I am not a “use the recommended yarn” knitter because I generally have my own idea and rarely like being told what to do, hence my being a designer. YMMV. Yarn is something of a point of discussion right now, or the privilege of working with exclusive yarns or not publishing patterns in inexpensive yarns. I think there’s more to this issue, like the state of the world. I hope to talk about it more in a separate post about the fiber community. Sometimes you will buy the yarn (hopefully you’ll figure out what that yarn wants to be before it is discontinued). Sometimes you will be given carte blanche from a yarnie (when I say “yarnie” I mean dyer or yarn company or even a yarn shop that has asked you to design a pattern for them) to choose what would work from their stock, which often comes with a contract stating that the yarn in question is listed exclusively in a pattern. Sometimes you will be told what yarn to use (often this happens when designing for a publication because they want to use yarn from their advertisers). 
  • Swatcher - my autocorrect doesn’t believe this is a word, but we all know how critical this role is to the success of a finished knit, often this job needs to be repeated multiple times for a single pattern, sometimes with various yarns and/or needles until it’s just right. This swatch may be a lying liar that lies when we get around to the actual knitting. At least as the designer we can just give you the gauge information from the sample without reknitting the whole thing. Don’t forget to check all your numbers in that case. 
  • Mathematician - from figuring out how many stitches to cast on for the sample to calculating out all the sizes that the pattern might come in, knitwear design involves a lot of number crunching. 
  • Pattern writer - we need a place to start with a description of how we are going to do it and/or a record of how we did it, but that’s just the start on writing jobs...
  • Technical writer - the pattern needs to be written in a particular kind of programming language that is understandable to knitters, moves from ingredients and any shorthand/symbols to beginning/middle/end, and it helps if it’s pithy yet highly informative. Don't scare/insult/overwhelm/be too vague/be too precise.
  • Romance writer - everyone wants to be seduced into making, and these are the folks to do it, except it’s just you at your desk trying to figure out how to describe the thing that you’ve spent so much time with that you can’t even look at it anymore.
  • Advertising/Marketing copywriter - different info and enticements for different spaces where you might display your wares. I’ve collapsed these into one job, but they could be two or more. 
  • Pattern grader - this should probably be it’s own specialized job but usually isn’t. Scale your design up/down so that different sizes can be created with reference to industry standards (such as they are, and by industry I mean “industry” because there isn’t any one professional standard, which has its benefits and drawbacks) plus the art of envisioning a three-dimensional object wrapped around a variety of bodies. This is art, science, math, craft, magic, yet from the outside can seem simple. It is not. 
  • Knitter - must have expertise in knitting, preferably with knowledge of plain knitting, cables, lace, stranded colorwork, intarsia, finishing, and blocking. Additional skills/areas of expertise appreciated.
  • Sample knitter - someone’s got to make the thing, sometimes more than once. Often it’s you, sometimes it’s a sample knitter paid by the yard, sometimes in yarn. Bear in mind that sometimes you will need to make you-sized samples and other times you may need to make samples to be modeled. If the model size is determined in advance, you may only have to knit the smallest size (yay - less yarn and time, so you can move on to another design, which means you will have more patterns to sell, which might garner more sales, but try not to bet the farm on that; boo - people won’t like that the sample is being shown on only a small “perfect” body; this is complicated).
  • Technical editor - often hired out because it’s impossible to thoroughly check your own numbers. Hands down the best money you will spend in service to your design. They mostly check your math, which makes it sound like nothing but is everything, and will also review sense and sometimes grammar. If they can draw schematics, just give them all your money now. 
  • Chart maker - cables, lace, colorwork - all of these need to be conveyed clearly to the end user and usually a visual representation is the most helpful and pithiest (but not always, see below).
  • Stitch pattern writer - not everyone can read a chart due to the way some people process information (not a listed job but being informed about different learning modalities can be extremely helpful), so writing out line-by-line instructions is something to consider.
  • Schematic maker - if the thing you’re designing is more than just a square, you would help your end users out a lot by having a representation of the thing, preferably with measurements, preferably in both imperial and metric. You did remember to express any lengths in the written pattern (and the measurements on the schematics) in both inches and cm, didn’t you? I’ll wait while you go clean that up. 
  • Layout artist - all this information needs to be presented in a readable, pleasing way. This is often hired out as well, though I’m lucky to have trained as a graphic designer (after I earned a B.A. with a major in English and a minor in Ancient Greek - super useful). Usually requires knowledge or expertise in a particular software program and a license ($$$) for said program. Positions and crops photos into the layout, as well. Try to keep in mind paper and ink usage for yourself or the end user. We are all watching our pennies now. (I’m sort of joking and utterly serious. BTW did you know that you don’t really have to print out the first page of my patterns? It’s photos and romance copy so it’s not really necessary for your knitting of my pattern. Ditto for the last page, if it’s one of those ads that show you some of my other designs. I just saved you two pages and a fair bit of ink.)
  • Location scout - photos need to be taken at places.
  • Natural lighting expert - unless you have studio space, your best bet for photos is outdoors, and golden hour is ideal. Dinner then is at 4pm or after sundown. I’ve heard you can wake up before dawn for morning golden hour, but I don’t do that. 
  • Shoot director - visuals need someone with vision to capture the details of your beautiful knit. Can be photographer or dedicated director or you in the sample peering at a postage stamp photo on the back of the camera trying to tell if the stitches are in focus and you’re not making that face. 
  • Photographer (and assistant) - sometimes hired out, sometimes DIY (tripod/obliging flat spot + remote/timer), sometimes provided by a loved one (paid for, but not with money). Captures the knitted item and its mood at the best angles with shots that include in-focus stitches, makes sure knits are smooth and shown in most flattering light. If hired probably includes some photo retouching and years of experience that are invaluable. 
  • Wardrobe - manages clothes for shoots. Task sometimes performed by photographer, model, or shoot director and can include pulling options from own wardrobe, shops with flexible return policies, or borrowing from others. Hold onto any receipts. 
  • Model - often at the beginning when affording a model can be an expense too far, we do it ourselves, if we can bear it (currently helps to be white, cis, het, thin, able, and photogenic, but let’s all work to expand the attributes that make for a successful knitwear model because most of us do not fit into the aforementioned category, and even when maybe in the right light we think we do, it can feel weird, though it can also feel weird to have someone else wearing your thing that is, like, a part of your soul) but can also be a loved one or an obliging fence or a dress form or a floor - clothing is best modeled on an actual body, though.
  • Photo editor - selecting, cropping, color correcting, placing, etc. of photos into layout. These photos are often also used for advertising/marketing purposes so may need to be saved in different sizes and formats.
  • Grammarian -  coincides with various writing jobs but didn’t want to forget it. Do the best you can so that your TE can focus on your numbers. I do not mean that you follow every grammatical rule out there to express yourself, rather that your words are coherent (your customer needs to understand what you’re saying) and in your unique voice. 
  • Spreadsheet expert - mostly for grading but also useful for keeping track of things/tasks and crunching numbers, like Favorites, page views, downloads, and other sales/marketing/accounting jobs (see below).
  • Computer specialist - someone has to turn the layout into a PDF and keep the ol’ computer chip bucket (IDK, I’m getting a little overwhelmed by this list) running.
  • Editor - someone needs to make changes in the layout that were suggested by the TE make it fit on the least number of pages without it being cramped and unusable, and get it ready to be turned into a PDF.
  • Printer/print services coordinator - needed less often these days but sometimes vital if you’re collaborating on a kit or wholesaling to a yarn shop or something.
  • Publisher - it’s all on you, big stuff.
  • Sales expert - we haven’t uploaded that PDF because we need to figure out the different sales channels that are best for this pattern, so now’s the time, and you’re it. Don’t forget to forge relationships with yarnies, LYSOs, the few remaining publications, guilds, festivals, and any other place you can sell your self/stuff. 
  • Ravelry designer - we are working under the impression that you are already a member of Ravelry (and we won’t get into the concerns about NuRav today), but you need to get set up as a designer before you can have a Ravelry shop. They’ve made it a pretty smooth process since my day. You’ll also need to be a ...
  • PayPal user - it’s been so long I don’t at all remember what you need to do with a PayPal account besides have one but eventually you’ll want a business account for which you’ll need to be a ...
  • Business bank account holder - of course you kind of need a business to set that up, so if you’re just getting started, this will be down the line.
  • PDF uploader - simple job that some days makes you want to tear your hair out because technology (btw, have you reduced your PDFs to their most efficient size so customers don’t hate you for making massive downloads?).
  • Database user - fill out all the info on Ravelry to set up the pattern: category, yarn, needles, sizes, description, photos, etc. 
  • LoveCrafts member - if you want to sell your pattern there, do the account setup, database, and PDF jobs again.
  • Etsy vendor - if you want to sell your pattern there, do the account setup, database, and PDF jobs again.
  • Any other vendor - if you want to sell your pattern there, do the account setup, database, and PDF jobs again.
  • Owner of your own domain name - if you want to sell your patterns on your own site. Also research hosting, web design, shopping cart options, and figure out how to make that all work together. 
  • Webmaster/developer - hire out or learn some new skills if you want to have your own website.
  • Technical support/Customer service specialist -  requires kindness, patience, memory of what you were thinking when you wrote that pattern x years ago, the ability to parse what’s being asked, the ability to explain your answer in a way the asker understands. Mind reading abilities preferred. 
  • Accountant - hey, maybe you’ll make a buck or two. Don’t forget the taxman. Don’t forget VATs for other countries. Also, do market pricing research. Please don’t underprice yourself, even if you’re just doing this for fun. Especially if you’re doing this for fun because some people are doing it for a living and your underpricing is shitty. 
  • Supply chain manager - keep the ball rolling; if there are print copies, make sure you don’t run out; find buttons and zippers, more yarn, matching yarn, why is there never a tape measure or scissors where/when you need them?
  • Social media expert - Twitter! Instagram! Facebook! Ravelry groups! Whatever the hell they come up with next! How can your potential customers find you and get to know you? How much do you want your potential customers to know you? This can be a full time job if you’re not careful. 
  • Newsletter publisher - see if you can find a free electronic newsletter setup that works for you and your number of subscribers, otherwise figure out how to pay for it and how to manage the list to make it pay for itself (the more subscribers, the more it costs, so how long before you unsub folks who aren’t making any purchases to keep from moving up to the next tier on what you pay for the newsletter - sounds harsh and it is, but this is the business).
  • Event coordinator - get out there and shake your money maker. It can be lots of fun to do events, and I love meeting knitters out in the world. It’s also work: prepping for a talk or appearance, lugging your samples and patterns, getting there and being there, managing your expectations, the host’s expectations, and the knitting public’s expectations. Don’t forget that not all designers are able-bodied, so sometimes this stuff isn’t feasible at all. And of course these days there aren’t events and stores and guild meetings to go to.
  • Cheerleader - on the long, twisty path from idea to publication sometimes you need your own hype person because we’re all human and riddled with self-doubt and certain that no one will want to pay us anything ever for our work.
  • Podcaster - oy, that’s a whole other thing and not everyone does it. 
  • Owner of computer, camera, lenses, remotes, tripods, lighting, knitting needles, notions, project bags, storage, mannequins, props, clothes for photo shoots, etc. - figure out how to use it, keep it all current and in working order.
  • Test knitter wrangler - I’m not ready doing this any more for a long list of reasons (let’s save this for another day), but suffice it to say that it’s a lot of work.
  • Community leader - whether it’s a handful of Twitter followers, a Ravelry or Facebook group, or a literal horde of excited knitters, once you start publishing patterns, you’re taking on some sort of leadership role and some responsibility. 
  • Community member - more on this next time. 
Final price for that independently-published pattern: $8 (less PayPal and other fees). Insert swear words as needed into the preceding sentence. 56 jobs listed up there. Two of which I always (TE)/sometimes (photographer) hire out, leaving me with 54 jobs. 

That’s what I charge for a sweater pattern these days. It should cost more. That’s pretty much what the market will bear. For that price the customer expects a well-written and -designed pattern that has been tech edited in at least seven sizes with unlimited support. Don’t get me wrong, I stand behind my designs and always want to help a knitter make one of my designs. It is an honor to have you trust me to help you make a sweater that I hope you will enjoy knitting and love wearing. But I do occasionally make a mistake that slips by me and my TE, and if you find it I want to know about and fix it, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch. 

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Because not every pattern even begins to recoup its expenses. If you create a popular, well-selling pattern, congratulations! I am so happy for you (and a little jelly - we are being honest here). If your pattern doesn’t catch on, that doesn’t mean you didn’t create a great pattern (or, since we are being honest, maybe it wasn’t great - there are so many factors). Then keep going, creating more of your work, talking up your existing work, and so on. 

Some folks feel left out when a designer uses expensive yarn and they can’t. I get it. It sucks. It sucks to fall in love with something and want it to be just like in the picture because you love it, yet there is no way you can afford it at all. Or being so afraid of messing up that using the yarn in the sample would provide some reassurance, but you can’t afford it. Or being made to feel less than by people who can afford the yarn because you can’t (more about this when we discuss the fiber community). We are now/always at the point where we need to fight to make the world a better place so that people can afford the things they need (let’s fix this first, please) and (at least some of) the things they want. In the meantime, I want you to learn about yarn substitution, which is part of the knitter’s job. You want to be the boss of your knitting, right?

Let’s put a pin in what makes the expensive yarn expensive and come back to it another day. It’s an issue worth discussing, but I’d like to wrap up the designer’s job while it’s still light out. 

As noted a few times above I want to talk about the fiber community because there are definitely some things we can ALL work on. Next time. 

So, here’s the thing about yarn vis a vis the designer’s job: in all those jobs that make up the designer’s, one of the ones that gives us joy (besides getting the numbers to click across all sizes) and an actual thing-that-we’ve-made-with-our-hands is the yarn. Figuring out what we want our thing to be in terms of fiber and drape and weight and color. We are playing with yarn and somehow it is our job. It sounds amazing, and it can be. Just don’t forget all the other jobs we have to do. And I hate drawing schematics. 

Happy knitting (and designing)!
xxoo, Kathleen
P.S. Don’t forget to take care of your partner, offspring, other loved ones (family, pets, friends, your community, the world), health, job, home, self. What’s for dinner? No photo shoot today, so we will be there at 7:00. I’m an omnivore, my partner and one kid are pescatarian, another kid is a carnivore, and the other kid is a fruit bat. I love it much of the time, but this job is not for the faint of heart. 

1 comment:

what do you think?