It happened so unexpectedly. One day I was minding my business online as usual, when a friend sent me a message. The conversation went roughly like this (name changed to protect the guilty):
“Mary says we are going to make a knitting book. You design, I knit.”
“Well then, I guess we are.”
Lo and behold, I was a knitwear designer. I had, of course, done designing before. For free, online, for myself and for my own amusement. Suddenly I had a book on my hands. With pretty, colourful pictures and all. With my name on the cover.
Granted, the pay for a year’s work was about the same I used to get from the university in a month (and the salary for a post-graduate student isn’t much to party on). Granted, it was in a language understood by only a fraction of the knitting world, published by a small publisher none of those few had ever heard of. The satisfaction was still immense.
To my surprise, the book didn’t really change a thing. Even though I gained a lot of new knowledge during the process, I feel just as much an amateur as I did before. My knitting still behaves in strange and unexpected ways, and the results of my design ideas, though I am pleased with them, still often turn out quite different than I thought they would.
Take the issue of set-in sleeves, for example. I hate designing set-in sleeves. They require an insane amount of math, and my designs never seem to fit any of the ready-made patterns or programs for calculating armscyes. Why is it then, that so many of my sweaters absolutely and stubborny want to have their sleeves set in, instead of becoming, say, nice solid raglan sweaters?
Yarn still has a mind of its own, too. Try as I might to knit a bulky merino into a cabled sweater, it won’t work out, if the yarn wants to be something else. Some yarns practically shout at me, telling me what they want to become, or
hers are silent as stone. Despite alledgedly being a designer, I don’t seem to have any control over the matter.
Honestly, I don’t see why I was surprised of proficiency not appearing overnight. It is always like this, you know. Graduating from university didn’t suddenly make me a confident researcher, and when I had my children they never gave me the Secret Handbook of Mothers at hospital. I bet even seasoned designers sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with the nagging suspicion of doing an undefined something wrong. They, too, probably have horrible miscommunications with their yarn, or go on Ravelry just to notice that three other people have used the exact same stitch pattern that they used on an idea they just submitted.
Even though I still have doubts on my designer status, the book project did teach me a lot. I learned to graft both stockinette and, to my utter surprise, cables. I learned new ways to cast on and off. I learned to love the swatch, and noticed that when I do everything by the book I can sometimes actually write up a pattern, give it to another knitter and get a finished product that looks like I thought it would.
Most importantly, I realized that the point isn’t which new techniques I learn, but the willingness to step out of my comfort zone and making things differently. To dare to try out even the stranger kinds of new ideas, being prepared to rip and start over half a dozen times when the design and the yarn refuse to co-operate. Not just design the same scarf or sock or sweater over and over again.
I don’t think I’ll feel completely confident as a designer any day soon, but it doesn’t seem to be possible choosing not to be one either. Perhaps that’s the way it should be. The key, I guess, is to get over the worst doubts without becoming overconfident. To dare to send your designs somewhere out there, even though you might become the victim of the strange knitting hive mind that might drop almost exactly the same design idea on the needles and in the notebooks of five designers at the same time. To find the right balance between listening to your yarn and bending it to your will. Then, by and by, not overnight, the confidence might come.
About the Author: Kristel Nyberg
Kristel Nyberg keeps her fingers warm in chilly Finland by knitting as fast as is possible while taking care of two children and a cat. Her
other hobbies include hoarding yarn and then knitting some more.
If you read Finnish, her blog can be found at , but to read about her knitting in English you should head to Ravelry, where her username is Kristel.
Pattern and images © 2008 Kristel Nyberg.