Not a Knitting Mozart

At a recent knit night my friends and I were swapping knit-gossip about our favorite designers, including one designer who (according to hearsay) had been both knitting and designing for five years.

Now, I assume this designer spent at least a few minutes picking up the basics before launching her wildly successful pattern business. But still…

How do you jump from learning how to knit and follow other people’s visions to the level of understanding that allows you to realize your own visions? Not everyone is a knitting-Mozart, learning to knit and purl one day; the next, channeling the voice of God into their cables.

They say it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world class in any field. I’m not convinced one has to be world class in order to be good enough to be a designer. Still, it seems as if some level of mastery must be attained before you can properly understand what you’re doing…before you can extrapolate from what what you know and have experienced, to something you’ve never even seen.

When are your visions just “twiddling” or adding mods? And when are they something more? At what point does it become clear that your own vision and creativity are the driving force behind what you are creating? When are you no longer aping other fiber artists, but truly doing your own thing?

And at what point do you decide that your fibery, artistic vision is worthy to be formally documented and shared with others? There are very few gate keepers when it comes to knitting patterns these days. It only takes a few clicks of a mouse to publish a pattern on Ravelry. You don’t need to prove your pattern is original, well-written or even tested before releasing it into the wild. If you release it for free then people won’t even hold you accountable for its quality.

I don’t believe in publishing junk. So that option’s out.

Publishing a pattern requires a lot of self-confidence. If you’re not a knitting Mozart with celestial voices to guide you, it takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there.  I’d like to do it someday, but I think I’ll be content to be a hardworking knitting Wagner. Wagner famously spent 26 years writing The Ring of the Nibelung. I hope it doesn’t take me that long.






  1. I’ve been trying to find time and also been trying to work up the courage. This year I blogged I would design. Notice I didn’t say how many but I figure at least one is a step forward.

  2. I recently read an interview of an accomplished designer, Catherine Lowe, and she said, “If you’re going to be a designer that’s all you do.” I not willing to give up knitting as of yet.

    • Yeah, me either. I think what she says is true if you want to design as a full time job. That’s not my ambition right now. I take comfort in my amateur status.

  3. I started knitting in 2008ish. It’s now 8 years later and I have a couple free patterns up on Ravelry, one that has been published elsewhere (I get my rights back in April or May and I’ll probably sell it then) and I’m being published again in a few weeks…I think. I should look at my information some more. But, that’s happening.

    I started doing minor design work not long after I started knitting, to be honest. The first few aren’t particularly difficult or anything like that. Scarves, hats, that kind of stuff. My first “for sale” pattern on Ravelry is a hat. My first published pattern is a pair of socks (as is the one I’m working on right now).

    Some people can just do it. Others have to work. And most everyone else is in between. To be honest, I’ve gone back to edit my older ones a couple times over the years because I don’t believe in using….well, patterns should be their best. It doesn’t necessarily mean they need to have been tested or formally edited but they shouldn’t look like something just slapped up on a document.

    I’m rambling. I should stop.

    • I’m glad you’ve had some success with your design work. I agree it’s important to remember that it’s ok to start out with small, simple things. Mozart did too, after all.

  4. I’m quite happy just to knit others’ designs. I like to see the colour inspiration of other projects. And I still get caught out by trying to knit brand-new patterns that have not been tested/checked/edited to the standards I’d like to see…

  5. I think there are three types of designers : those who trained in fashion schools and have an excellent technical knowledge, those who wanted a business and could do needlework and decided to make money out of it, and those like me who can’t help improvise stuff and enjoy sharing it for free.
    So far, each time I paid for a pattern, it was disappointing to a point I wondered if the designer had actually tried to knit it herself. Probably the second type of designers.
    Now I either improvise or knit free patterns with room for improvisation.
    If you designed something that you like, go for it, somebody will love it.
    If you doubt your writing skills ( which you shouldn’t) you can ask for a test knit on Ravelry.

    • I suppose it would make a lot of sense for a designer who was trained in fashion to be able to pick up knitting and immediately (or at least very quickly) understand how to use it for their own design work. You’re right. What so many of us lack is formal training. We try to cobble it together on our own.

      I’m curious what sorts of patterns you’ve bought in the past. I know I’ve heard that patterns written in English, specifically for the American audience, spend a lot more explaining and teaching, because there is a lot less assumed knowledge. As such, I think there are definitely patterns I can point to from reputable designers/design houses that I would expect to always be good.

  6. Thank you Ms. Wagner (if I dare say). That’s a great article vocalizing so many things I have thought about lately. “When are you no longer aping other fiber artists, but truly doing your own thing?” can be particularly haunting … So good to know that we (= most of us) are in this together!

  7. Thank you for this inspiring post! I too have been thinking in this same direction lately, now I can look at the whole thing from some new angles. Designing your own things and even publishing stuff is an interesting, tempting, yet challenging step! I personally lack in the ability to focus, hehehe…

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