even complicated projects usually start simply

Unfortunately complicated projects don’t generally fall out of your brain fully formed.

It usually starts with an outline, or a sketch, a rough approximation. There’s a reason painters sketch, novelists outline, and knitters swatch.

Sketches, outlines and swatches are all places to play and experiment, to solve problems and work out contingencies, with low expectations, and little investment.

I’ve talked about my love affair with swatching before, but I also “sketch” for many of my knitting design projects.

I open up my charting software and draw out what I want the design to look like, using yarn-overs and decreases, kind of like a proto-chart . Then I refine and tweak, refine and tweak, until I’m happy with the chart, and I start knitting. (This tweaking is what turns the initial sketch into the final chart.)

This process of sketching, then tweaking and refining, isn’t just for knitwear or pattern designing. The execution is different, but the process is the same.

For example, the map for Shawl Geometry III, started as hand drawn sketches on a piece of paper. Actually, the entire book started as handwritten scribbles on graph paper.


Which then turned into hand drawn scribbled schematics on top of typed text.


The complete map started as kind of a total mess. But drawing these hand messy maps served the purpose of getting the idea out of my head and onto paper.


Getting something out of my head is the first step towards being able to put an idea down and walking away. Walking away from an idea allows your brain to quietly munch and mull on all of the information you have, and come up with creative solutions to whatever problem you’re running into.

It turned out that the key to creating this map, was to have a central hub around the square and the right triangle, then have all of the longer paths looping around the outside of this central hub.

So if you look at the map closely, you’ll see that the center out square, and the right triangle (the two most interconnected shapes) are right at the center of the map, with half a dozen lines leading away from either of them.


Then if you look at the outsides of the map, you’ll see that’s where the shapes that are connected to two or three other shapes are, such as the crescents, and the half circles.

This rather simple idea of a hub, with longer paths looping around the outside, meant that I could go into illustrator and sketch out the final version of the map. Other than lots of small annoying tweaks* here and there, that was it.

*the tweaks that are a total pain in the butt to do, but that make the final product look so much better. Details matter.


It’s a crazy complicated map. That started as some pen scribbles.

Big complicated projects usually involve:
an idea
a sketch/outline/draft/plan/swatch
messing about with said sketch/outline/draft/plan/swatch
a period of thinking about anything else a.k.a. brain munching time
a final draft/sketch
stupid annoying tweaking
stop tweaking (it will never be perfect, but at some point it will be damn good)
ta-da! a finished a big complicated project. yay you!

What crazy project are you working on? Or are thinking about embarking on?


Announce! Announce! You can get Shawl Geometry III (the book that explains the map) here.

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