knit design process

If It’s Good Enough for Mozart

I’m not comparing myself to Mozart, but I do have something in common with this prodigious prodigy: I recycle. Yes, we both usually pull things out of the air*, he with his symphonies and sonatas, and I with my sweaters and scarves, but we’re both helped along at times by recycling good pieces.

The radio hosts on the classical music station I listed to all day love to point out any time Mozart re-uses some prelude from such-and-such opera in the concerto in D minor we’re about to listen to, or if he rewrote a piece he did for oboe in B plus to this upcoming one for harpsichord in A minus, or whatever.

They report it like Mozart tried to pull a fast one, but come on, it’s not like he recycled Chopsticks. It’s just good stuff that he wanted to use again. And it’s not like he could hide what he did. Mozart composed for money, so everything he wrote was for public performance. Anyone with auricles could hear his recycled stuff. And they probably thought it was genius.

He also usually recycled when he was under a tremendous deadline, like writing an entire opera in 48 hours, or whatever.

I, too, compose for money, but I recycle because I’m lazy.

Speaking of auricles, let’s take look at my beanie of the same name as an example, and because it’s the reason I’m writing this blog post in the first place. This is the third time I’ve used this swirly garter rib pattern in a design.

The first was in my very first published pattern in 2009.

The second was my fourth design published in 2012.

Raspberry Swirl Pullover

And now my Auricle Beanie published a few days ago.

Here they are side-by-side-by-side.

I wasn’t in a hurry to design this hat, but recycling did hurry things along. Only about 24 hours from concept to publication. Half the time it takes Mozart to compose an opera.

*If only.

To Ponder: Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.
|-Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart-|


The Naming of Shire

I do love concepts and itemizations and documenting things, so I keep a list of words I think would make a good pattern names—Delta, Outpost, Espionage, Covert, Adirondack, Tabernacle, Camp Director, Fleetwood, Magoo. It’s a useless thing to do because I never refer to that list when I’m ready to name a pattern, but it comforts me to keep them safe somewhere.

With my Shire scarf, that was the working name and the name I stayed with through publication, but not before trying out some other names, which is the dessert part of designing knitwear.

A while back, I designed some fingerless mitts that I sold to Knit Picks. The design looked a bit like chain link, and the German word for chain link, Kettenglied, was cool, so I turned to German again when it came time for dessert.

First* I listed some words that described the design: grillwork, lattice, crosstalk, fraternal, harmony, duet, crosshatch, hatch, intersection, balance, reflection, similar, mirror, reversible. Then I looked up their German translation.

Some weren’t different enough and would look like a simple misspelling:

  • Harmony = Harmonie
  • Duet = Duett
  • Balance = Balance
  • Reversible = Reversibel

Others either made the scarf seem hard to knit or they sounded offensive when pronounced, even if just quietly to yourself at home:

  • Crosstalk = Übersprechen
  • Fraternal = Brüderlich
  • Crosshatch = Kreuzschraffur
  • Intersection = Überschneidung
  • Reflection = Betrachtung
  • Similar = ähnlich

Others were just meh:

  • Grillwork = Gitterwerk
  • Lattice = Gitter
  • Mirror = Spiegel
  • Hatch = Luke

The scarf has a sort of Irish flavor, so I looked up those same words in Gaelic.

  • Harmony = chéile
  • Balance = Iarmhéid
  • Reversible = inchúlaithe
  • Fraternal = bráithriúil
  • Crosshatching = tras-haitseáil
  • Intersection = crosbhealach
  • Reflection = frithchaitheamh


I eventually decided that Shire was a right good name for it, especially after I found an old email I had written to a friend in May 2015 about why I named it Shire.

The working name of the design is Shire in honor of a draft horse I met earlier on my morning walk down to the lake. There was a gal with seven horses down there. She gives trail rides and was waiting for her clients. She let me pet her horses and we talked for about 30 minutes. Then I took her old dog Shadow down to the lake so he could cool off in the water. There were a bunch of wild blackberries on the trail that the deer hadn’t eaten, so I foraged as many as I could hold in my hand and fed some to the Shire (which is the breed of draft horse rather than his name), then split the rest with the gal.

Not the actual horse or the actual lakeside.

*Actually, I first looked up Shire, which is translated as Grafschaft. I’ll let you decide what’s wrong with that.

To Ponder: In early times some sufferer had to sit up with a toothache, and he put in the time inventing the German language. |-Mark Twain-|


Submission: Garter Scarf to Knit Picks

For various and sundry reasons, I haven’t been knitting or designing much lately, but thanks to gentle prompts by my accountability partner I’ve only mostly been neglecting knitting rather than completely neglecting it.

Part of that neglect has been ignoring all the recent calls for submissions, but on Valentine’s Day, I looked at two calls that Knit Picks put out a few weeks ago. One was for items that take less than 200 grams of yarn, the other for garter stitch items.

Since the deadline was the next day and I wasn’t sure I could come up with one idea, never mind two, and since I’m always all about doing the easiest thing and with garter stitch you knit every row, I started knitting every row.

Garter stitch isn’t the most exciting stitch on the books, and it always manages to scream “new knitter,” but it seems like the knitting world is in love with it all of a sudden.

From the call:

“Celebrate it with garments and accessories in weights from fingering to super bulky and a neutral palette with pops of color. Garter stitch is the main point of interest, and clever, engaging construction is a must! Bonus points for unusual shapes or if the project is knit entirely in garter.”

I found a lot of that to be oxymoronic as it applies to garter stitch, but I gave it a shot.

I tried this and that, which is hard to do when you can’t even purl, and nothing was happening for a couple of hours. But then I added a second color and a little bit of magic, and blimey, I had something that looked like checks on one side and stripes on the other. And it had clever, engaging construction and pops of color, and was knit entirely in garter. And it hardly even looked like garter stitch (read: not ugly).

The next day, Monday, deadline day, I knit up a swatch using colors from the call, wrote up the proposal, and sent ‘er in.

Knit Picks doesn’t drag their feet when it comes to decisions so I’ll get a yay or nay on Friday. Send up some prayers for me, yeah?

To Ponder: When the solution is simple, God is answering. |-Albert Einstein-|


Voilà: Happy Hat

September is a Happy Month around here. First, a cool front blew some Happy Rain into Texas last week and the weather has allowed the wearing of long sleeves. It’s still spiking into the 90s in the afternoon, but the nights, oh the Happy Nights have been dropping into the 60s. I’ve slept with my Happy Window open, which is just about my idea of heaven.

I made some Happy Decisions for my health and future, resulting in the loss of four Happy Pounds. It took eight Bleepin’ Weeks to shed even an ounce, but it’s finally starting to Happ(y)en.

And my Happy Hat has been released!

©Geneve Hoffman Photography

Is that a stinkin’ cute Happy Baby or what?

I have self-published many designs and have been published in several Knit Picks collections, but this is my first design in a proper book.

The gestation period for this Happy Publication was about the same amount of time a baby takes to come into the world.

An elephant baby, that is.

I began working on it almost two years ago. As with most of my designs, I started with a swatch of a stitch pattern that spoke to me the day my eyes fell on it while browsing through one of my German stitch dictionaries. I didn’t know what it was going to be, but a basic pattern like this one would look great on many types of items.

And then I saw the call for submissions from Storey Publishing and knew that it should be on a hat. Around the same time, I was reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and so this design that looks like little smiles all over the place will forever be linked with the Cheshire Cat.

I submitted my design to Storey in February 2014 and they accepted it in July 2014, and now, 14 months on—after signing contracts, reviewing proofs and finding an error in the chart (theirs), conferring with the editor about their conflation of two sizes into one for the final version of the pattern, getting an initial pub date of August 25th then seeing a different pub date of September 8th, and accommodating their requests to get back to them ASAP about everything—the Happy Book is out.

One-Skein Wonders for Babies: 101 Knitting Projects for Infants & Toddlers edited by Judith Durant is 288 pages packed with ensembles, tops and bottoms, dresses, hats, socks and booties, blankets, toys, and other baby things to knit.

I hope my Happy Hat will be one of yours. It’s on page 151.

To Ponder: An amazing thing happens when you get honest with yourself and start doing what you love, what makes you happy. Your life literally slows down. You stop wishing for the weekend. You stop merely looking forward to special events. You begin to live in each moment and you start feeling like a human being. You just ride the wave that is life, with this feeling of contentment and joy. You move fluidly, steadily, calm and grateful. A veil is lifted, and a whole new perspective is born. |-Unknown-|



Design WIP: The Stupid Sleeves Again

Okay, so the sleeves aren’t stupid. I’m the one who’s stupid. Okay, not stupid in general, but I’m math stupid.

But if you want to design a cabled sweater that fits, you have to do the maths. And redo them again and again because even though you triple-checked everything the first time, you came up with numbers that created sleeves that were easy to design instead of numbers that would create sleeves that actually fit the armhole until your spreadsheet looks like this:

And you can’t takes your eyes off these numbers for even a second to take a wee color break on Pinterest or to make a cuppa with extra honey because your glucose levels are low from all the brain energy you’ve used plugging the right digits into the right columns and saying a poem’s worth of words that rhyme with knit because if you do look away, all those numbers and formulas and trains of thought flip over to another channel and the only thing left is that big bottle of Crown Royal that you bought on credit in anticipation of Creative Knitting paying you a handsome sum for your Christmas ornament pattern.

So after three* hours, it’s done.

I have new numbers and a new chart and a new attitude. Sort of.

It’s 66 bleepin’ degrees.

In January.


This is ridonculous.

Not sweater weather.

*Well, four hours, because I always spend an hour trying to jimmy a fix even though I know—know—that nothing to do with sweater math is easy.

To Ponder: Sometimes the easiest way to solve a problem is to stop participating in the problem. |-Jonathan Mead-|


Submission: Christmas Ornaments to Creative Knitting, and a Kerfuffle

A couple o’ weeks ago, I submitted a proposal to Creative Knitting magazine for their 60+ Christmas Knit Ornaments issue that’s scheduled for publication in August 2015.

That’s not a magazine I normally buy, mostly because I’m never excited enough about a design to give an issue shelf space in my collection.

Although if that were a strict rule, I would cancel my subscription to Vogue Knitting.

These sweaters are so sedate, VK had to shoot them on city streets just to give them life.

But as I’ve said before, I don’t have to love a magazine to design for it. And this special issue sounded interesting (in spite of all the exclamation points in their call for submissions).

There was, however, a kerfuffle in the Ravelry Designers forum about this call because Creative Knitting buys all rights, meaning they own the pattern forever and you won’t get the rights back after a year or two so you can sell it yourself, which is fairly standard in the industry. Some designers also thought that the pay range of $35–$75 per ornament (depending on complexity) was rather low, especially in light of the unfair rights situation.

Oh brother.

First*, even if you did get the rights back, there are so many free and adorable ornament patterns out there, you would have to be the Yarn Harlot or Jared Flood to get any money for yours.

See? Cute and free.

And unless you’re the Yarn Harlot or Jared Flood, you probably wouldn’t be able to charge more than $1.00 for the pattern. And unless you’re the Yarn Harlot or Jared Flood^, you would be lucky to find 35 people to buy it.

So after you deduct all the fees to Ravelry and PayPal, you won’t even have enough money to buy yourself a small bottle of Crown Royal.

Only on the rocks.

One designer commented on the low compensation, and the editor who had posted the call said it’s because ‘on small items, there is less time spent on creating/designing/pattern writing compared to designing a garment, and only one size is required which means grading the pattern (i.e., doing brain-frying maths for all the sizes) isn’t necessary.’

Well, yes and no. It’s true that grading a pattern requires a lot more time and effort, which takes a lot of time and is therefore worth a lot more money, but writing a pattern for a small item is the same amount of trouble whether it’s a hat, a shawl, or a Christmas ornament—especially if the item has shaping or uses multiple colors or needs to be charted, which are all pretty much givens for an ornament—and Creative Knitting probably pays a lot more money for a hat.

Another complaint was about their contract procedures, but this post is getting too long (and possibly boring for my non-knitting readers), so I won’t go into it except to say that it does kind of suck, but Creative Knitting has been publishing 4–5 magazines a year since 2007, so everyone should stop acting like you have to promise your first-born to them.

So, after two weeks of ignoring daily reminders fired at me by my online calendar, I ignored the good opinions of other knitters, and through the magic of editing, turned some rejected lavender sachets into colorful Christmas ornaments and submitted them in the nick of time.

The way I see it, Creative Knitting needs 60+ patterns for this issue, so I have a decent chance of being accepted, made even better by the fact that at least three designers have no intention of submitting their ideas to these lowballing, rights-hoarding, secretive dirtbags who are going to send them free yarn and a check for the full amount; professionally photograph their ornament; and then publish it in an international magazine.

Pretty much the only thing no one complained about is that they don’t let you know if you’ve been rejected. The way it works is that if you don’t hear from them after 45 days, you just assume they don’t want your pattern.

That sucks.

Plus, I like that they’re calling it a Christmas issue rather than a Holiday issue.

*There is no second.

^And if you’re the Yarn Harlot or Jared Flood, you probably didn’t even read this call for submissions (or this blog post).

Knitty’s pay range is $75–$100 per item and your pattern is available to everyone in the world—including those Russian websites that have no respect for intellectual property—for free until the end of time. And I bet most of those complainers have responded to every single one of their calls for submission with nary a whimper about rights or compensation.

To Ponder: If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise. |-Anais Nin-|


Inspired to Knit: Simple Shawls

The other day at the farmer’s market, a woman who came up to my stand was wearing one of my knitted scarves. She had bought it last year and was looking for something similar. “I just love it,” she said. “I wear it all the time.”

When someone gives me a compliment like that, I think I should be knitting more of whatever it is that earned it. I didn’t recognize it, though, because she had it tucked into her jacket. She took it off to show me, and I was surprised for the second time by that little thing.

It was a prototype shawlette I had knit up to propose to Knit Picks for one of their calls for submission. It had an architectural stair-step design in both the pattern stitch:

and the construction:

And I had knit it in KP’s Comfy Fingering, a cotton/acrylic blend, in Blackberry.

Sounds cool, right?

But Knit Picks didn’t think so, and the design eventually became my Fallingwater Scarf.

I do love fringe.

So, getting back to the surprises. Last year was the first time I had a stand at the farmer’s market, and the prototype thing got scooped up with all the fully formed hats, fingerless mitts, and scarves I could affix a pricetag to.

This beloved scarf wasn’t even a finished object as far as I was concerned. The yarn was too drapey for the sharp angles of the construction, and it wasn’t a full-sized anything. I had stopped knitting when I understood the pattern enough to propose it to KP, so it was really just a big swatch.

The first surprise was that someone bought it, and the second was to hear that the buyer loved it so much she wanted another one.

Now, do you think I came home and started knitting one?


I got a hankering to knit a shawl for myself, even though I never wear them. I also don’t enjoy knitting them because they’re usually made with laceweight or cobweb weight yarn on needles the girth of bicycle spokes, and have intricate lace designs that are easy to mess up. They have their own subset of knitting techniques, like nupps and garter tab cast-on, advise you to “block aggressively,” and have instructions like this:

540 stitches! 11 times!

Granted, not all shawls are lace, and some are knit on reasonably sized needles. Por ejemplo:

Not a yarn-over in sight.

1. Eyre of Romance Jane Shawl by Kay Meadors

2. #13 Ruffled Edge Wrap by Lisa Daehlin

3. Twisted Edge Shawlette by Cayenne DaBell

4. Citron by Hilary Smith Callis, which is what I cast on.

201 stitches on the needles.

To Ponder: Who begins too much accomplishes little. |-German Proverb-|


Pretend Interview with Pam MacKenzie | Part 2

In May, I posted the first part of my pretend interview with Pam MacKenzie who writes the In Stitches knitting column for She had interviewed one of my favorite designers, Angela Hahn, and I looked and looked for the second part, but could never find it.

I figured it never happened, but no…Angela’s name was misspelled as Anglea. Oy.

Here’s the original second part of Pam’s interview with Angela Hahn.

And here are my answers to Pam’s (edited to suit me) questions.

Q: Some designers have said that published designs in magazines are often a collaboration between the designer and the magazine editor. Do you find this to be true in your career? If so, can you describe how one of your designs evolved to meet the needs of a magazine editor?

A: I’ve published only two designs in magazines. My Voussoir Hat in Interweave Knits Gifts 2014 and my Paros Hat in Knitscene Winter 2014.

For my Voussoir Hat, IK gave me a choice of three yarns to use, and I picked Valley Yarns Northfield because WEBS promotes the heck out of every pattern that calls for their house yarn by tweeting, blogging, and podcasting. I figured they’d do the same with my pattern, but they haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Voussior Hat by Robin Allen - A Texas Girl Knits

Waiting for WEBS to discover this gem.

For my Paros Hat, Knitscene told me to use Skacel’s HiKoo yarn in 49 Shades of Gray and Kiwi, and I said okay.

Paros Hat by Robin Allen - A Texas Girl Knits

I wanted a hot pink stripe.

Q: You’ve {will} published a few {one} designs in two a books from Tanis Gray. “101 Little One-Skein WondersCozy Knits” {will have} has mittens and a cowl {a hat} from you, and “Knitting Architecture” has a wonderful tote bag from you. What’s it like to design for a book that will include many designers? For example, do the designers communicate with each other or just with the central editor? Are the deadlines longer than the magazines’ deadlines, or are they about the same?

A: My Happy Hat will be published in 101 Little One-Skein Wonders that will come out in early 2015. This will be my first pattern in a book, and so far, it’s exactly like self-publishing. I worked alone in my studio to create the design, write the pattern, and knit the prototype. And now I’m waiting for the money to roll in. I don’t even know the names of the other designers.

Q: Do you have a favorite design of yours? If a publisher told you they would publish any book you wrote/designed, what would you like to design?

A: I love my Ironheart design that I put on a hat and a pullover.

Ironheart by Robin Allen - A Texas Girl Knits

So many color possibilities.

If that publisher was the same one that published my Poppy Markham: Culinary Cop mystery series, I would tell them to jump head first into a frozen Minnesota lake. If it was another, professional publisher with capable editors, honest accountants, and non-diva publicists, I’d like to publish a book of cable designs. However, they would need to give me a deadline for the year 2020 because my first major cabled sweater design is taking forever.

Q: What’s the most fun thing about being a knitwear designer, and what’s the least favorite thing?

A: My ginormous yarn stash, and my ginormous yarn stash.

Q: Do you have children, and is it difficult to balance your knitting and designing with taking care of them? Or do you find that your knitwear career fits in well with the demands of family life?

A: I don’t have kids, but my knitwear career fits in well with having no demands on my time for most hours of the day.

Q: Do you have any advice for knitters who want to break into the professional knitwear design business?

A: I haven’t really broken into it myself, but I just keep designing and submitting and hoping I hit the right note with an editor.

To Ponder: Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. |-Stephen King-|


Submission: Sweater to Knitscene

Last month, I also submitted a sweater proposal to Knitscene for their Fall 2015 issue.

One of the stories is for Style Icons for which they gave this description:

“Look to your favorite style icons for inspiration for wearable, fashionable pieces. Any icon, any era, we’re looking for designs that would feel at home in the closets of these iconic ladies (or men) while being easy and interesting to knit.”

Their Pinterest inspiration board looked like this:

Ah…Grace, Audrey, Jackie, Bridget—women I’ve pinned on my own style inspiration board.

Which one do you think I based my proposal on?

Following an internet rabbit trail, I took the Which Classic Hollywood Actress Are You? quiz. It will come as no surprise to those of you who know me that I’m not perky Audrey or fierce Bridget.

“Remind me to tell you about the time I looked into the heart of an artichoke.”

Bette was also a knitter.

To Ponder: As you move toward a dream, the dream moves toward you. |Julia Cameron|


If I Had a Hammer

If I had a hammer, I’d arrange all of my illusions about designing the perfect cabled sweater in a circle and smash them one by one.

Let’s take them in order of size.

1. Flow an interesting ribbing into the main design. I actually accomplished that, but there’s a new problem: the cables at the neck don’t flow into the ribbing. Or rather, they could if I worked hard enough, but this design has been on my needles since March—and on my nerves since July—and I simply don’t have it in me. So all the fiddling and charting I’ve already done to make sure this works for all sizes matters not.

It’s breaking my heart to let this go.

Therefore, K2, p2 ribbing is as interesting as it’s going to get.

2. Use a combination of raglan sleeves and saddle shoulder strips to create a feminine silhouette. I did that too, but when I tried to explain it in writing, my brain started to sizzle. And when I thought about doing it for all sizes, there was a cerebral meltdown that I’m still not fully recovered from. So all the ripping and knitting I did to change the sleeve to a raglan matters not.

Therefore, I’m following the lead of Irish knitters everywhere and going with a drop sleeve.

3. Keep the center cable fully intact at the neckline. In other words, knit a full repeat of the cable rather than cutting it off any ol’ where when it’s time to start binding off for the neck. I made it work for the prototype, but the cable has 36 rows, which is incompatible with a full repeat for all the normal sizes of a sweater. What’s even worse is that I knew this would be a problem going in, but I Scarlett O’Haraed the issue, and now Tara is burning.

But lookie here:

These cables look just fine.

The doyenne of crazy complex cable design, Alice Starmore, isn’t bothered by it, so neither will I be.

4. Publish this pattern by the start of the fall/winter knitting planning season, which is around August or September. (Apparently, knitters who don’t live in south Texas experience the type of weather during those months that turns their thoughts to warmth.) This required that a) my design was perfect from the start, and b) I enjoy having what amounts to a wool blanket in my lap while the daily high temperature could dehydrate a watermelon into a fruit rollup in about 11 hours.

Two negatives do not make a positive, and since there’s no such thing as a C-section when birthing a sweater, it will come out when it’s ready.

On the bright side:

  • After writing this post, I’m getting ideas about how I might could rescue two of my illusions from the hammer. (Not #4; it’s October. Plus, if I could go back in time, I can think of other more urgent and profitable things to do.)
  • I made up all these rules for my sweater, so I can change them.
  • Now I know why Irish knitters and influential designers don’t do anything edgy with these types of cabled sweater.

To Ponder: All things are difficult before they are easy.* |Italian Proverb|

*Especially when the difficulties are self-inflicted.