Design Process: Sketching

This is the second post of a three post series on my design process. If you would like to read the previous post, please, click here. The next step in the process is sketching how I envision the final product and making additional notes. There is a lot of practice required for this stage, but best of all, anyone can do it.


Many people tell me that they cannot draw, and that is okay. Don’t let your self-declared drawing ineptitude keep you down! There are these lovely little design tools called croquis. They are basic outlines of the human body for you to draw your designs over. Croquis linked on my blog are downloadable through the University of Fashion.

I started using croquis when I wanted to be a fashion designer (at age 13), only I didn’t know they were croquis. I traced the body outline of Barbie and friends from a coloring book and then added basic clothing shapes from a J. Crew or Dehlia’s catalog. Keep in mind this was a time well before the information age. (Frak, I’m old.) So, work with what you got.

Don’t be afraid to print a photo and trace the edges until you become more familiar with how pieces fit a human figure. It takes practice to get away from this. Regularly draw the kind of fabric you enjoy constructing from other designers or garments you’ve made. Now that I’m older, I use photographs to get a better idea of how designs drape and fit on the body.

For example, drop shoulder sweaters are really bulky around the armpits, the shoulder seams often travel down the upper arm about a quarter of the way down before seeing a sleeve seam. Whereas, the modified drop shoulder is a little less bulky in that area, but it isn’t like a sweater with set-in sleeves. The size of your stitches will count for something, too. The larger the stitches, the stiffer, the fabric. Yarn choice also plays into that, but that is a topic for the next post in this series, swatching.

I’ve slowly gotten away from using croquis by focusing on my drawing, which is the reason for merging the two topics into one blog.

The notes in my sketchbook typically come from one of three places in my head. The first is the overall construction of the garment or accessory. There are several considerations for this depending on the design.

Second, I write what stitch patterns I want to use, which is interchangeable with a possible yarn choice. Sometimes I decide what yarn I want to work with and choose stitches based on stitch definition and gauge.

Lastly, I include how the construction fits with the way I want it to look. In many instances, it requires a sketch of the pieces and the way they may join together. I say “may” here because sometimes when you sample the design, it may not do so as wonderfully as you imagined it.

My original directions for the Hexagami Pillow Cover is a perfect example. I wanted it to be more like a traditional pillow cover and without buttons. However, trying to execute that was horrendous. There were live stitches everywhere! Folding it over like a trifold with a three-needle bind off was not going to work.

When I design my own stitch patterns, it’s mostly linework. The Mannish Sweater was the only design I really took the time to draw out the actual stitches. It was important because I wanted to have an adult feel to it. The basket stitch was not new, but the central panel for the sweater was the culmination of playing with different stitch patterns and choosing what I liked and didn’t like from them.

Color choices are never sketched. I typically look at what looks good on my models, photographs well, and feels right. For the 2018 Fall/Winter season, I’m going a bit rustic and woodsy. So, there will be a lot of greens, browns, and other neutral colors, unless they’re sock patterns.

Sketching patterns for fair isle or intarsia I find tricky.  It’s difficult to translate this crisp lined art to a pixel based grid that you’ll be knitting. While I use charting software (StitchFiddle), it’s still limiting. I’m not familiar enough with Stitch Maps at this time, but that’s changing in the new year.

The second part of sketching (for me) is creating a schematic and developing sizes. The reason behind this is, making the math for swatching and yardage calculations that much quicker. With a schematic, I determine how many square inches of fabric is required to for each size of my pattern.  From the swatch, I can calculate exactly how many yards and skeins to request for yarn support. (Yes, I will get there, too.)

Until recently, I didn’t create a schematic at this stage. I typically waited until the pattern writing and sample were complete. My sketchbook notes were then transferred to a single page for each size indicating the sizing, ease, number of stitches, and math. If I lost a page, OMG! It was the end!

And then, I took Edie Eckman’s class on Craftsy. She makes her schematic first. It tells where things are to occur and gives all the measurements needed, so she can write the pattern from the schematic. It’s all in one place and reproducible if lost. What a  solution?!

Once this is complete, then I get some yarn ideas and start swatching.

Design Process: Inspiration, Sketching, & Swatching

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Hi, my name is Emily!

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