Dodging the Draft

I remember someone once telling me that Stephen West knits his new idea once, knits it a second time to figure out what he did, and knits it a third time to write it all down. I don’t know if that’s true, and I haven’t taken the time to find out, but if it is…whew! That’s a lot of knitting! But it’s also Stephen West, so who are we to question?
But that brings up an interest point for me that I haven’t seen from a lot of designers: the first draft.
It seems that in writing we are taught from an early age that the first draft is the most important draft. It’s the first time you get your ideas from your head onto paper. Its where all the mistakes are made and the best ideas that remain are cultivated. The first draft is also the hardest to write out, but in pattern designing, what is considered the first draft?
The writer in me says “Well, of course it’s the first time the pattern is scribbled onto paper and begins to resemble a finished document,” but that answer does seem right.
When I begin to tackle a new design, the advice I hear the most is “Write down what you did so you will remember later,” and I have to say it’s good advice, but something just seems tedious about that. One of the joys of designing something is letting the yarn take me wherever it leads, and sometimes I’m so excited about it I just don’t write anything down at all. There are some benefits to this:
1. I get to see the design before I decide if it should be kept, modified, or scrapped.
2. I spend more time focusing on the creativity and less time on the technical side.
3. I end up knitting the design a second time which gives me a greater sense of the design’s inner workings.
Figuring out what I did is almost as exciting as knitting it. The largest benefit of that challenge is learning more about how to read rows of knitting to determine how something else was created, or figuring out that little mistake I didn’t notice a few rows back.
The only exception to any of this is my Guiding Light Shawl. I wrote the pattern before I ever picked up my yarn. I found stitch combinations I wanted to use, knit a swatch to make sure I understood how to create my vision, and then I committed the entire pattern to a Word document. Only once I felt it was written down completely did I pick up my needles and start the sample. I think I got lucky on that one.
I say all of this largely to get to my point: the first draft is the first knitted design, and I think Stephen West is onto something if what I was told is true.
There is no right or wrong way to design in the fiber community, and that in itself is a beautiful thing. If you want to design, my best advice is: create your first draft, then you’ll know whether you have something worth the time to transfer to paper.