How I Design My Lace Shawls

Before you read the rest of this page, please keep in mind this disclaimer: this page is a continual work in progress. I will keep adding to it as I go along, adding notes here and there, redaction, errata, as well as possibly hints, tips, and quotes from other designers. I will be using this page as a point of reference. I am also hoping that those of you who wish to someday design your own shawls/stoles/scarves/what-have-you, use this page as a jumping-off point, an encouragement, if you will. This page is, by no means, going to be perfect, as no one method will work for everybody; I am simply sharing these notes of things I do as I move along the design process. As of yet, I have only one professionally published pattern, and self-published several here on my blog. I have made lots, and lots, and lots of mistakes. I will continue to make mistakes, since I am, after all, only human; ‘twould be foolish if I did not learn from them. Anyway, I may add more to this paragraph as I see fit, as this work will be incomplete for a very long time. πŸ˜‰

Step 1: Browse patterns–lots and lots and lots of patterns. Look for stitch patterns that appeal to you. Go through stitch dictionaries, web sites, existing modern or vintage patterns. I love visiting for ideas that were published upwards of 150 years ago to about WWII. There are a lot of stitch patterns that aren’t used as often as they used to be, or sometimes the methods aren’t used because they aren’t “easy,” or might be construed as confusing due to the amount of turning involved in the work (Cluny lace, anyone? πŸ™‚ ). Anyway, I download the .pdfs of books that strike my fancy. I choose a main stitch that I would like to use, then I search for 2, 3, or even 4 complementary or contrasting stitch patterns to accompany it. These extra stitch patterns may or may not be used as multiple borders, such as in a Shetland shawl, which could have upwards of 5 or more borders framing the center panel.

Tip: Many early 20th century pattern books have the photos on a different page than the pattern which accompanies them. I print the pages I want/need, cut out the image and its pattern, then I adhere them to another piece of paper or inside my notebook. I then write down my notes on this same page, as well as draw any sketches or diagrams while playing.

Also, stitch patterns may be found within other patterns. Many of my stitch patterns come from edging and insertion patterns, and I have developed variations of them at times. You may even find a stitch pattern you like within a doily, bedspread, tablecloth, or garment.

Stitch patterns are repeats of a single pattern, no? They cover multiples of stitches, as the stitch guides suggest, like “multiple of 6 + 3”. I will often grab stitch patterns that are of similar multiplications, for example, multiples of 6. The “+3” is how many stitches extra you need to start with, especially when designing a crochet shawl. In knitting, the extra stitches are often part of an edging for a panel, or even the edges of a stockinette panel to keep things neat and orderly. While designing knit shawls, those extra numbers are a lot easier to play with, as any knit designer will tell you, whereas in crochet, those extra numbers typically help determine the height of the first stitch–except in the case where the first part of the stitch pattern is a chain space, where even then the size of the openwork is determined on the chain spaces.

Step 2: Play. Swatch the pattern stitch as-is, so you have a feel for the pattern itself. If it is a vintage pattern with old-fashioned terminology, you may need to transcribe it to modern terminology, if you are able. When I first started doing the transcribing, I practiced on a few patterns here and there. These older patterns are not too much different from UK terminology, though some of the vernacular has changed a little. Oh, and take lots and lots of notes.

Explore shapes and stitch pattern combos. Keep swatching. Keep taking lots of notes, draw, doodle, etc.

If the pattern stitch is a lace or motif pattern, you may find it much more helpful to chart it out. Chart often. Over and over. Oh, and a pencil and eraser are your best friends. If you choose to chart, do not forget to write out your instructions; yes, this is time-consuming, but there are a lot of folks out there who still have a hard time reading the charts. I’m still learning how to chart things out, so please bear with me. πŸ˜€ Again, WRITE DOWN YOUR NOTES. The charting and the written instructions are your mathematical equation, and they are supposed to prove each other (remember this from geometry class? “If A + A = C, and B+B=C, then A must = B.” ).

Also, if you have a particular shape in mind, draw a large one on a piece of paper. One thing I’ve heard is a good thing to do is take a really large piece of paper–you could use brown wrapping paper (I purchased mine in the shipping/office section at my local Dollar Tree), the back of regular wrapping paper, a large piece of chart paper, or even bulletin board paper. If you are making a triangle, start at the hypotenuse (the long side of a triangle). Using a straight edge, draw a line to about the length you want, or draw it to scale (even 1/2 or 1/4 would work). Find the center of the line, then use your straight edge and draw a line perpendicular to the hypotenuse. Figure out how deep you would like your shawl design to be, then mark it on this line. Line up your straight edge to one end of the hypotenuse and down to the mark on the center line, and draw another line; do the same on the other side. Play with your swatches. Figure out a pattern you would like down the center of your shawl, whether it be a simple ch-3, or a wider center strip made of a thin edging pattern. Then, swatch your chosen pattern stitch to make a right angle down the sides of the center; make adjustments as necessary. Think about where you want to place your increases of the sides. Generally, this will take place at the center line and along the edges of the shawl. Sometimes, it will be only through the center of the sides (the 45-degree angle between the top edge and the center line), though this is not common.

I like to allow some of my shawl designs to grow organically, such as the Ostrich Feather Fandango. It was a complete surprise to me to discover what shape it wanted to become. In this instance, it is vital that you write down exactly what you do so that your pattern can be duplicated, if desired, because sometimes it may be difficult to retrace your steps and remember exactly what you did. In the case of the OFF (heehee, “off”, get it?), I simply started at the center line of the shawl. The shape of the stitch pattern seemed to go outward, and it had been my original intention for the bottom of the pattern to be at the point of the shawl. Well, the joke’s on me! It ended up being the top, and the shawl just fanned outward. I only knowingly increased at the sides, because the stitch pattern itself increases on its own. If you want a shawl that is not quite a triangle, and where the top of the shawl is angled, place your increases at the center and the middle of the sides. If you want the top of the shawl to be curving and with a definite center point so that it rests at the nape of the neck when worn, increase in the center, the middle of the sides, and at the outer edges. Increases at the center and outer edges also gives a similar shape, depending upon the stitch pattern chosen.

Step 3: Construct. Write out or chart updated instructions, notes (if needed, especially when explaining an unfamiliar-to-the-masses technique). Work out any kinks. Take step-by-step photos as needed, as well as photos of the finished product from different angles, including the “art shot” that you may use for the descriptor of the final pattern.

Step 4: Send out for tech editing/testing. I first started by asking around Ravelry in the group called The Testing Pool. These are volunteers who test your patterns for free, and you have the freedom to accept or decline anyone’s offer to test for you. I now belong to many groups, and I send out a call in certain of those to whom the pattern may pertain and ask for volunteers to test a new pattern for me. This is my most frustrating part of the whole process, because this is where I feel like I will be tearing out my hair–not because the testers are bad or inexperienced (that’s so totally not the case! I love you guys! I’m glad to have you helping me out, and I wouldn’t be doing any of this without your assistance!), but because despite my propensity for vocal skills (um, to make a long story short, I talk. A lot. To the point where it annoys folks. Including, and especially, my wonderful-yet-introverted hubby. sigh), I sometimes find myself lacking when it comes to expressing myself. Often, it is because I must add “sk ____,” when for me, I assume that stitch is skipped because the pattern says to work _____ in blank, a few stitches later. I forget, at times, that not everyone has the same experiences I do, nor do they think like I do. Other times, it’s a matter of a typo, which is quickly fixed, or, in the case of the current Aleatha Shawl CAL, a matter of formatting, which I forgot to add a few notes here or there with certain clues and, well, let’s just say it could have been much worse. sheepish grin

Step 5: Publish. Now, this is where lots of choices can be made. You can send out your pattern for submission, or you could self-publish. I have published a few patterns myself on my blog(s) (yes, there have been a few, but this current one seems to be sticking quite nicely πŸ™‚ ), and have only sent out 2 for submission, so I don’t have as much experience with these as much as I would like. One has been published in a book, and the other–well, let’s just say I’m still patiently waiting to hear back. Trust me, it’s not easy. It’s rather nerve-wracking. I have been stalking the mailbox daily, including Sundays–that is, until I remember it’s a Sunday and I walk away from the mailbox a tad sheepishly, yet disappointed that maybe, just maybe, the mailman had returned with an envelope or package that he might have forgotten to put in my box. It also does not help that I often see the mail truck come through 3-5 times daily, despite the fact that the mail is only delivered once (I think they’re training a new guy on the route, and sometimes a separate truck comes through just with packages, kind of like UPS). Anyway, if you don’t send out for publication, and are interested in self-publishing but do not know how to go about it, you could:

  • start a blog. I did, and it’s not too difficult to do, either.
  • start a website, or have a friend/hire someone to do it for you. I think there are some free places out there, but the one I used to use is no longer available through Google.
  • Co-op.
  • Kim Guzman (crochetkim on Ravelry) and Drew Emborsky (the Crochet Dude) both publish here, as well as others.
  • Lots of folks sell their patterns through etsy. You don’t need to be a member to view or purchase from a seller, and they have reasonable rates for the sellers to use their services.
  • If you are not a member, I highly recommend you join! It’s a wonderful site, and I love it. πŸ˜€ Become listed as a designer, and open up a shop. You may list free patterns for download, or you may also sell on their site.

3 thoughts on “How I Design My Lace Shawls”

  1. Thank you for this. I found it very useful and it’s interesting to see how other people work. It’s very kind of you to share your experience.

  2. Thank you. I love lace crochet and have made several items designed, of course, by others. I am always intrigued by how a pattern unfolds, and impressed by others ability to be creative and concrete!
    I have thought often of how I’d like to try designing myself, but have been overwhelmed at the prospect.. This gives me the bones of a process and a starting place. Sooo much better than a blank slate. Maybe I’ll give it a try.

  3. jen scharbach said:

    Thanks for the tour of your inventive process! The artistic part of coming up with the combinations is much more fun than the testing part. Even old fashioned inventors found that. It’s worth it in the end.
    I’ve been trying to understand the lace better, in both knit and crochet. They’re so pretty, they rate right up there with cables imho. I have noticed that everything hinges on the clarity of the directions. Being raised on the older styles of written directions, sometimes I find the “new” ones confusing.
    I’m dying to try to come up with my own shawls, based on stitches in my books. Your explanations should help.

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