What Makes a Designer a Professional?

In the realm of the needle arts industry, handknitting in particular, the quality of patterns can be a hot topic. With the advent of self publishing, desktop publishing, and the internet, “designers” are prolific.

I look at it in terms that I can relate to in my everyday life. I suppose cooking would be an example. We all have seen people who can throw together a very good meal, even perhaps a gourmet meal, but we all understand that there is a difference between ourselves and a professional chef.

For the Industry as well as the end user, a problem is that there are no real standards of practice for “professional designers” within the knitting industry. The Association of Knitwear Designers is working now to establish standards of practice. Comments levied by the Industry have been along the lines of asking us what makes our professional members professional.

We have long had a jurying process for our professional members, and many things are looked at, but putting down on paper what criteria is looked at can be a challenge.

One of the things I would like to see myself is that our professional members need to know how to write a pattern. That might sound like a “duh” kind of comment, but there are designers out there who don’t. Poorly written patterns abound because designers don’t know how to write one well.

Another reason there are poorly written patterns on the other end of the equation are hobby designers who don’t know how to write one well (see, it happens across the spectrum for professional designers and hobby designers as well).

This is not to say that if they cannot that they are not artistically brilliant. But at some point, they need to communicate clearly to the end user how to recreate what they have designed. There are some well known designers who don’t know how to write a pattern. They knit up their creation and hand it off to others to decipher and write up the pattern. While I don’t think they have to change the way that they work (as long as they compensate the worker for their work fairly I have no quibble with it), they should be able to look at it and know if it was done well.

To be honest, I have trouble wrapping my head around that issue. To me it is like being a gifted graphic designer but not knowing how to use the basic software involved. So, you do the artwork by hand and then have someone else do the computer work. In the real world, the artist/graphic designer would be expected to have a minimum proficiency in the tools of their trade.

What does it mean for the Industry if a professional designer cannot write a pattern? If you are submitting a poorly written pattern to a magazine, it means higher costs in tech editing, since many more hours are needed to pull it into shape. There should be a difference between tech editing and writing the pattern. With the effects of the economy, and expectations in the market from consumers which impact on rights the designer has to their work, perhaps designers would be better paid if the Industry did not have to pay so much to have patterns brought to a minimum level of usability. Their wallets are not bottomless, just as ours are not.

While I would never tell someone that they are not a “good” designer because they cannot write a pattern, I would say that part of being a professional is having standards of practice that delineate quality and competency.

In the end, it helps everyone. For the consumer there will be less poorly written patterns. For the publishers, there is less work to be done before the patterns are published. For the local yarn store, they have more certainty with a line of patterns they have not used before that the pattern won’t be poorly written and riddled with errors. There will always be the occasional error, but that should be the exception rather than the rule.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene Treace


One Response to “What Makes a Designer a Professional?”

  1. Gillian Says:

    Well-said and you make sense too.

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