I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve done some minor design work for
Classic Elite. I know that some people are curious about how the
pro design thing works. Bearing in mind that my experience isn’t
typical, this is how it’s been for me.

I’m not a first-stringer. In general, I don’t pursue the company
by submitting design proposals. I’d say I’m more of a
third-stringer. They call me with specific assignments based on
ideas or inspirations generated by others – usually at last
minute. My guess is that I get called when more famous and
prolific names are overbooked; when embroidery is involved; or when
deadline crises are afoot. That’s o.k. by me, as I don’t have the
time/energy to devote to knit design as a full career path. I’ve
also done some contract knitting, crocheting and embroidering for them,
producing finished items based on other people’s designs, and in the
process proofing (or fleshing out) the pattern’s early drafts.

What have I done lately? Nothing big, that’s for certain. The current collections include two of mine.

This is a hat and mittens set (I’m not responsible for the sweater
jacket). This assignment was mildly challenging – take one skein
of the bulky (almost superbulky) luxury yarn Tigress
and work up an adult hat and
mittens set that’s easy to knit. Since 200g of Tigress is only
181 yards this was a squeeze. I managed it though, with a very
simple rolled brim hat with some garter ridge details, plus a matching
rolled cuff basic mitten. I have to say I am not a fan of
big-needle knitting and won’t be making another set, but my 14 year old
loved the hat and mitts and was loathe to send them off when I was done.

This one was both easier and more difficult:

This assignment was to create a striped hat/wristlets/scarf set using
yarns of two different weights, but of the same fiber composition and
dyed in the same colors. The yarns didn’t have names attached
when I was using them, but I think they’ve been dubbed "Princess" and
since. My homework was to take as inspiration a series
of photos showing striped knitting adorned by looped embroidery
stitches. In truth, I don’t remember which pieces use which
weight yarns (the submission deadline was back in the Spring), but I do
remember trying to plan the pieces to make the most efficient use of
the yarn. Again, simplicity and beginner-friendliness were the
marching orders. These use plain old seed stitch. The hat
and wristlets were knit in the round. The looped embroidery
stitches aren’t difficult to do, and are (of course) optional. You have
to **love** seed stitch though as there are miles of it in the
scarf. Of the two yarns, I did like working with Princess (the
worsted weight version). I didn’t retain any (see below) and I
don’t have the finished item, so I can’t comment on durability or
washablity. Duchess was also nice, but I’m not fond of heavier
weight yarns in general.

Past projects I’ve done include a long striped scarf in Bazic,
ornamented with pattern darning and fringed down one long side. The photo of that one in the
pattern leaflet didn’t show the embroidery, so I have no idea if anyone
was ever inspired enough to try it. I also did a series of
nesting baskets crocheted in a very heavy cotton yarn a couple of
summers back. I’ve worked on other projects as well.

I’m sure people have lots of questions about the design process. I’ll try to head some off here:

For real?? They say what to make, and you just make it?

For me that’s how it’s been. Real designers with lengthy
portfolios and industry-wide reputations must have more latitude.

How do I get involved? How can I get my stuff published?

Yarn makers and magazines have design guidelines (by issue for the
magazines). Look them up and submit written proposals outlining
your idea. Make sure your idea includes a sample swatch, and
enough info to make it intelligible to someone else. This may
mean lots of sketches and schematics. It does NOT include sending
a whole finished garment. Be prepared for hundreds of rejections
before an acceptance. Also be prepared to feel like you’ve tossed
your ideas into A Great Black Hole. Also, your proposals will not
be returned unless you include return envelopes and postage (another
reason not to send full garments at this stage). You WILL be
taken more seriously if you’ve got a "knitting resume" behind
you. That might mean a track record of publication elsewhere (a
chicken or egg problem). I do note that some of the on-line
venues are a bit more welcoming of submissions than are the yarn houses
or paper mags. They might be a good place to start. (Oh,
and if like me you’ve ever been a burr under the saddle of any
publisher or maker at any time in the past, you can pretty much forget
about placing anything in their venue.)

In general after you submit your proposal it’s mulled over for a while.
If it’s selected, you get your marching orders to proceed, plus a
contract outlining what you owe (written design or written design and
finished sample), the number and range of sizes the item needs to be
written for, specifications for the exact yarn and possibly even the
color desired by the publisher, and the deadline for submission.
Be warned:? that deadline may be as little as two weeks away, and
may involve a yarn that requires you to recalculate your entire design,
so advance knitting is not always entirely productive. The
deadline cycle is the main reason why I don’t try to do this on a
professional basis. I just can’t commit to doing anything major
to hard, short deadline.

How much does it pay?

Not much. Even though it is taxable income (reported under
"Miscellaneous" or as a home business), if you work out the hours
invested in proposing, designing, drafting, swatching, test-knitting,
pattern writing, and proofing you’ll quickly figure out that you’ll be
working at less than minimum wage. Way less.

Do you get free yarn or get to keep the finished item?

Yes and no. If you work for a yarn company directly like I did,
they do send more than enough yarn to make the project. But under
contract, I’m obligated to return any leftovers and swatches, so I
don’t get to keep any. i also don’t get to keep the
finished item – that’s the photo shoot/trunk show/demonstration model
and gets returned to the pattern publisher as part of the agreed-upon
deliverables. The sample belongs to the publisher, not the
knitter, even though the knitter worked on it.

It’s worth noting that not every designer knits up his or her own
samples, some subcontract out. Others just do the design and the
publisher arranges for the sample to be knit as a separate
contract. Also, if you’re knitting for some other entity than a
yarn maker, you might have to buy the yarn yourself and factor that
into your total contract price.

You sell-out. Isn’t this a big commercial for CE stuff?

I don’t think so. They’re not paying me to push these patterns,
and I don’t get extra for increased sales. Plus I rather doubt
that anyone is going to buy anything based on this rather non-gushy
blog entry. I have also recused myself from posting any reviews
of Classic Elite products on wiseNeedle since my very first
professional interaction with them. I’m mulling this policy over
though, as not all of my experiences with their products have been
uniformly joyous. Still, I thought the general experience might be of interest to some.

Why are you talking about this now?

Because I’ve just gotten another assignment from Classic Elite. All I can
say about it is that fulling and embroidery are both involved.
It’s going to kill me not to be able to blog about this particular
design process real-time because there will be all sorts of lessons
learned on the way. So please be patient with me. There
won’t be much counterpane progress until this has passed, and I’ll be
scampering around looking for other things to write about.
Suggestions there are welcome.

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