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Design = Inspiration + Desire

February 20, 2014
Design Inspirations

There are two questions I am often asked by knitters and enthusiasts:

1. Where do you get your inspiration?

2. What is your design process?

This month on the blog we will reveal our pattern design and development process, speak to other knitting pattern designers about their relationship with design, and provide some tips and tricks for knitters who want to branch out into design!


The question “Where do you get your inspiration” is total bollocks.

Inspiration is all around us, omnipresent.  In the architecture of the nearby church, in the waves of the ocean, in the retro shirt I discovered at a thrift shop, in the precise green of my husband’s eyes. In the autumn colours on my morning run, or the bright contrasts of neon lights.  I could go on, well… probably forever.  I find inspiration just by looking around and observing the beauty in my world (and I’m sure you do too… although you may not recognize it as such).  It is simply always there, and everywhere!

Design Inspirations

Inspirations: colours and organic forms of nature, artistic forms of architecture and art

The difference between designers and people who say “I’m not creative” is that designers recognize the beauty in the world around them as inspiration for things they want to make.  It’s not such a great leap… let’s look at the process.


For me, inspiration translates to design through the vehicle of desire.  It could be the desire to own a beautiful handmade object, or the desire to make something exquisite and unique for a loved one, or simply the the desire to challenge yourself creatively, or answer a ‘what if’ question.

EXAMPLE ::: wave lace > estuary > low tide

Let me tell you a story about a few of my favourite designs.

I love my Mom, and I wanted to make something really special for her 60th birthday (this is the DESIRE part of the equation).

wave lace stitch pattern


Where did I begin?  My INSPIRATIONS: my mother has the most beautiful blue eyes, and looks great in blue that brings them out.  She is an avid sailor, and loves the ocean, and we have spent some of our best times together out on the water and walking along the beach.  So I wanted to use the colour blue and design a lace stitch pattern inspired by the ocean.

Many hours of swatching later, I had developed an organic and original lace stitch pattern, which (with the help of my fav lace yarn, SweetGeorgia Cashsilk Lace), became a beautiful lace scarf.


Many hours of swatching… and more swatching… and I had developed the wave lace pattern.


There was a simplicity to the wave lace scarf, but I decided I wanted to re-use the lace stitch pattern in a larger scale, more complex piece.  Starting with the structure and logic of the little lace pattern, I created a larger-scale, more detailed lace stitch pattern, and combined the two stitch patterns to make the Estuary Shawl (free pattern, perfect for challenging your lace skills).

Estuary Shawl

Estuary Shawl (from Handmade in the UK)

Low Tide Cardigan

While creating these two knits, I noticed that the wave lace pattern had a strong bias to it; and I held it up to my body, and imagined how, as a bodice, it would make a really great v-neck neckline.  And so I asked myself “what if this were the bodice of a swoopy, lacy, lightweight cardigan?”.

Low tide Cardigan

the biasing quality of the wave lace made me imagine it as a v-neck bodice…

We were working on Pacific Knits at the time, and I was feeling nostalgic for the beautiful beaches and ocean scenes of my childhood home on Vancouver Island.  These inspirations and a desire to challenge myself lead to the design of the Low Tide cardigan; which I knit in a silvery grey reminiscent of the graphic wave patterns left in the sand at low tide.

Low Tide Cardigan

Low Tide Cardigan

inspiration: wave patterned sand at low tide

What does the design process LOOK like?

Once you have your INSPIRATION plus your DESIRE, you can generate a BIG IDEA.  When the big idea strikes (often in the shower, or just as you are drifting off to sleep), you must capture it by getting it down on a bit of paper… a sticky note, an index card, a napkin… it doesn’t matter, but don’t let it get away!

design sketches

A collection of design ideas (on index cards) that developed into our book Pacific Knits

BIG IDEA in place, the development of the design is all about details!  Picking a yarn (if you haven’t already), making swatches, determining the details that will support the ‘big idea’, the technical process of writing the pattern, calculating stitch counts for an extensive set of sizes (this is called ‘grading’ the pattern), testing the pattern, and getting it professionally edited and photographed!

Stay tuned for our upcoming post about the nitty gritty specifics of the pattern development process – we’ll be giving you a behind-the-scenes peek at what our job really entails.


Pattern development requires a LOT of swatches!

What inspires YOU?  What would YOU like to create?

Everyone, even those who deny their creativity, have the capacity to find beauty and inspiration in the world.  What do you find beautiful?  If you felt like you have the skills and ability, what would you like to create?

A few of Emily’s favourite Tin Can Knits designs :::

Stovetop by Tin Can KnitsSitka Spruce by Tin Can Knits

11 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2014 1:32 am

    Thanks for a wonderful and inspiring post. I do not (yet) design my own, but looking at your process, it is inspiring to make me look at things around me from a different point.

  2. February 21, 2014 11:23 am

    What great insight into your design process! I love that Estuary shawl.

  3. musingrunner permalink
    February 20, 2014 5:54 pm

    The women in my life inspire me, so this year my goal is to design a unique pair of socks for my mom, my sister, and my best running buddies. I have never designed anything before, but if I don’t try, I never will.

    • February 27, 2014 6:44 am

      What a lovely design plan! Socks are a great ‘blank canvas’ for design, because you can add stitch patterns to the cuff and top of foot, without too much bother. An absolutely excellent design reference for socks is Sock Innovation by Cookie A. It covers every detail of sock design in a clear, user friendly way, I highly recommend it! Good luck and be sure to let me know how it goes! ~ Emily

      • musingrunner permalink
        February 28, 2014 4:50 pm

        Thanks, and thanks for the tip.


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