I’ve been asked several times when teaching classes questions like “how do you come up with your designs?”, so I figured it might be a fun topic to share here.
For my design process, I always start by sketching ideas. They’re not super detailed or very elaborate, but mostly something I do to get the basics down and get the idea on paper. After I’ve found myself sketching something multiple times I come back to the idea again and see if I have any further insight on how I might construct the item itself. I usually find myself wanting a specific item that serves a certain purpose. I typically consider what I would l like when making things. That’s why, as a busy mom, I usually go for classic simple uncomplicated items that will serve their purpose well. I really enjoy taking my sketches and solving my own design problems and trying to incorporate those ideas into something do-able in the home-sewing world.
After I have things sketched out I sink heavy into the prototype process. Now, sometimes I can get really close within the first few tries, but usually it takes multiple attempts and trials before I get anywhere close to what the final product will be. I usually spend a few weeks tweaking different elements or trying different variations. I’ll use the item and try and evaluate anything that needs tweaking.
When I think I have the pattern pieces and measurements all set, I’ll get started writing the instructions. I’ve taken a liking to writing them in google docs and going through multiple rounds of self-editing there before transferring them to InDesign. It feels less formal so I feel more relaxed about the process. I’ll get the basic steps down and some notes, and then build on that as I go. As I start to get closer to completing the instructions I’ll make notes of where I think I’ll need to add illustrations. It’s always a tough balance to try to include just the right amount of illustrations, rather than not having enough or too many. For the illustration part, I sketch out on paper each step where I think I’ll need one. It’s a small thumbnail containing the pertinent information. These are rough and quick pencil sketches since I then follow-up by illustrating them in Illustrator. I’ll use the pattern pieces themselves (in super small-scale) to help guide the illustration process as well as my thumbnail sketches. I sometimes take pictures with my phone of more complicated steps that I think might be harder to translate later on. This part can be quite tedious, but I *think* I’ve gotten faster over the years.
Once I have the written instructions as close to finalized as I can I’ll then incorporate everything into InDesign. Each time I think wow, it’s just a few more steps, but in reality there’s so much more! It is a relief to get to this stage though! So after getting everything done in the InDesign file I’ll print everything out and go about sewing a bunch of samples. I’ll take notes and make changes to the text and illustrations as I need to (which is surprisingly a lot at this stage still). So after I incorporate the notes and changes I’ll read through everything another time or two to make sure I catch as many edits as I can before sending it on its next step in the journey.
When I think I have things just perfect I’ll send the file over to my technical editor. I laugh about this part because each time I think to myself “Wow, this is the best I’ve ever done, there’s no way anyone can find anything wrong with this!” and every time without fail we find things. At this point I’m feeling really thankful for another set of eyes! My tech editor goes over the pattern and catches any and all weird mistakes I missed. After that, I incorporate her notes into my files and ask a few questions about this or that.
Once everything is edited I send the file to my pattern testers or sit down and do a in-person group test at my local quilt shop. Similar to my tech editor, they’ll give me notes and edits and I’ll incorporate those into the pattern as well as do any sort of back and forth questions. It’s surprises me every time what my testers find and the notes they send or what I think should be okay, but then find out a little more explanation or another illustration will do the trick. The end product wouldn’t be as good without these last steps! And sometimes this step takes the longest – the little tweaks really make the difference.
After the pattern tester notes are incorporated it’s finally time for a few last checks and some serious panic mode. I’ll go back through all my notes and changes and make sure those were cleared up and that I didn’t miss incorporating any feedback.
Some patterns have gone through this process in a matter of three months, while others have taken up to a year or more in some cases.
I hope this has been a fun little insight into my process. It’s been evolving ever since I started designing and I’ve come a long way since my first pattern in 2010 – which by the way, sounds like such a long time ago! I’m continually trying to improve myself and my designing and really looking forward to what the future holds. I love this quote: “always be a work in progress” – such an important reminder for me. I know there’s always something new to learn!
Have a great weekend!