I hang out a lot at ravelry and a question that often comes up is ‘How do I get into pattern designing/writing?’. I can only answer for myself, but this is a little about how the designing process works for me.
I got into pattern designing because there were things that I wanted to make, but there was no published pattern for me to work from. At this stage I had been knitting for a few years and was comfortable with a variety of different techniques, construction types and had worked from a range of different pattern styles.
As I worked out what I needed to do in order to make the item, I took notes (particularly helpful if you are making a pair of something such as socks or gloves and want them to look the same). This including sketching, and swatching, and ripping out and starting again over and over. After all of the work of checking gauges and trawling through stitch dictionaries it seemed a shame for that work to be lost with the completion of my project, so I typed it all up into a pattern style that I was comfortable with and so my first pattern was available for publication.
My first few patterns were all self-published for free, and no testing was undertaken prior to release. These days I utilise the various groups on ravelry in order to test patterns for accuracy and also for yardage and fit information. It’s a great way to get feedback and work out the kinks, without having to spend a lot of money on testers or tech editors. It also helps to see how other people interpret instructions which seem clear to you.
There are a range of different pattern styles, from the extreme hand-holding where every stitch and every step is described in detail (often with photos and videos as well), which can be great for beginners, right through to charts which show all of the necessary shaping with coloured borders or ‘no stitch’ squares, leaving interpretation up to the knitter.
My patterns fall somewhere in-between. They won’t tell you exactly which cast on or bind off to use (except that it might need to be stretchy), and if I don’t think it’s going to be particularly visible I might leave it up to the knitter to decide whether to mirror increases and decreases or not. But they do include a key of stitches used in the pattern (though not full instructions as to how to make each one, there are plenty of tutorials for that out there already).
I like to include two versions of the pattern instructions, so once a pattern has completed testing (which usually takes at least a month depending on the amount of knitting time required for the item) and the instructions are locked down, I make a printer-friendly version without the high-resolution images and coloured text. In this version I try to fit the instructions most economically onto the pages so that people can print the absolute minimum, saving both ink and paper. The high-res version is great for those working from computers and tablets, allowing them to really zoom into the images for any clarification.
I am still designing primarily based on things that I want to make, taking inspiration from commercial items, other knitting patterns, fabric, yarn, fibre, etc. I may look to move from self-publishing (on ravelry) to selling to magazines, but that will require working to a brief, a more rigid format both time-wise and style-wise, so we’ll see.