The Path From Idea to Design Is a Sticky One


I’ve had an idea for a new color and cabled hat in my head for a few weeks. Its been distracting me from other obligations and responsibilities. It has certainly slowed my progress on my miter square blanket and my goal to learn how to use a knit sheath. So if I ever want to get back to any of that, I have to take this color and cable hat from idea to design. Then I’ll be able to get back to my life. Maybe.

Wool Yarns from

I’m Gonna Need Some Sticky Notes

I can’t get anything from an idea to design without a stack of sticky notes and a pencil. I’ve tried it other ways and it doesn’t work. I’ve been given and purchased for myself fancy notebooks, nice pens, computer programs, and mobile note-taking apps. All that is a waste of effort and money. I’ve actually lost would-be knit designs by trying to stick them into a computer before they are ready to go in there. The ideas just falls apart on me and I can’t finish them.

Here is (apparently) the only way I can design anything:

  1. Grab some yarn and needles/hook. Then grab a pad of sticky notes and a pencil. No it can’t be a pen. No, I have no idea why.
  2. Sit down at my computer desk… but don’t actually use the computer… and write out some stitch instructions on a sticky note. Sometimes its instructions for a whole section. Sometimes its just a single row or round. Its whatever seems to hold together as a block of “do this next” in my head.
  3. With the sticky note right in front of me, knit that block of “do this next”.
  4. Get to end of that and decide if it worked the way it was supposed to.
  5. If not, tear off the sticky note and throw it on the floor. Then rip out all the knitting and go back to Step 2.
  6. If it did work, pull off the sticky note and stick it to a clipboard on the wall. Then go back to Step 2.
  7. Repeat until whatever it this is, is done.

At any point I can, and often do, decide the design is not working the way I want it to. It should be on a different size needle, or in a different size yarn, or I’m making this in a way that is far more complicated than it needs to be and I should remember what Dr. Aimone (a professor who drove me bonkers back in college) always wrote on the top of my lab papers and Keep It Simple Stupid. That’s when I rip out and go back to Step 1.

That blue and orange hat up there in the picture went back to Step 1 twice, by the way.

But eventually I allow myself to finish something. I have a finished hat (or whatever) and I bunch of sticky notes on the wall. You would think that at this point I’d be able to transcribe those sticky notes and put the design in a computer. You’d be wrong.

At this point I have to grab more yarn and make a second hat (or whatever) while staring at the sticky notes on the wall. I make a few changes and corrections, in pencil of course, as I go. I’m usually making a different size version of the hat (or whatever) while trying to figure out my own instructions. This is what I call “testing the pattern”.

from idea to design - a draft pattern for a knit hat

If at the end of the second hat (or whatever) I still like it, then, and only then, can I put the design into a computer. After that the hat (or… yeah you know) is photographed and I can assemble what starts to resemble a semi-professional knit pattern.

Sometimes the design doesn’t make it all the way to the end of the process. It gets stuck in the sticky note phase. Its an idea that is almost but not quite a design. That’s when I collect all the sticky notes off the wall and clip them together and throw them into a drawer. Like this. This bundle of sticky notes is an opera length, lace half-fingered glove in sport weight yarn.

from idea to design - a draft pattern for lace gloves

It has potential but its not where it should be. I need to put it back on the wall and knit it again. I think it needs to be re-worked in fingering weight and maybe ditch the half-fingers because that’s fiddle-y and not at all simple.

Maybe I’ll do that after I get this hat into the computer. Or maybe I’ll start that color/cable semi-circular shawl idea which struck me while I was in the middle of this current color/cable hat. Or maybe I should go back and finish up that side-to-side pullover design that I started years ago. Or re-do that ripple hat I made which is nice expect I hate the brim. Then there is always the drop stitch shrug that I made twice but still don’t quite like the sleeves.

S’ok. I have lots and lots of sticky notes.


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"There is no failure. Only feedback." - Robert Allen

10 Comments on "The Path From Idea to Design Is a Sticky One"

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Your process sounds similiar to my novel writing process, though it’s all on the computer!


I have so much admiration for anyone who can design a pattern from an idea. Those hats are beautiful. I’ve been known to tink around with a crochet pattern and sticky notes a pencil are also my tools of choice. How did we ever live without them?


The beginning of your process is kind of like mine, except mine involves tablets of quad ruled graph paper. And mechanical pencil. Yes, it has to be pencil and it has to be mechanical. And have a good eraser.


I knew I should have purchased stock in Post It! BTW I love the colors in the second hat. It is very ‘stained glass’.


I am Loving the teal, red, purple hat in progress; hope you get to finish it and release the pattern!