Creating cloth requires both engineering and imagination, but most of all it requires that you play with your materials a lot. Getting to know yarn and how it behaves is learned by conducting lots of experiments.
Designing is like a Mad Lib. The basic formula goes something like this:
I want to make ____________ (project) in ____________(yarn) using ________ (weave structure) and I’ll give it the perfect ending by ___________ (finishing technique).
My goals often have to do with publication, so in my case this sentence is filled in and erased multiple times before I have something that I think is publication ready. Add to the basic requirements for publication that the projects needs to appeal to a wide variety of tastes, use readily available yarns, and add something to the weaving repertoire. If you are publishing multiple projects together they need to support one another. This makes for a heady brew of possibilities that can be overwhelming. Your goals may be different, such as weaving for yourself, for gifts, for sale, etc, but may still follow a similar thought process.
For me, the most efficient way to get from A to B is to create swatches or samples of what you think will work. This process is something we don’t always see because we just see a finished project and not the work that went into designing it. It is also totally legit to go straight to “make” and skip the swatch, but I’m not that patient. “Patient” you say, “but doesn’t it require more work to make a sample?” In my case it really doesn’t. I get too many ideas while I’m weaving about what to weave next. So I think X is going to happen, but I’m really interested in seeing this other thing that is happening as I weave. I think to myself what is it going to look like off the loom and washed? Maybe I should change this, that, or the other thing. I’d rather do this on a very small scale, my little experiments, and then when I get to something I really love, scale it up. This step may not be required for your weaving life.
Here is one example of how I swatch (shown from left to right): Honeycomb is typically worked with a thick supplemental pattern weft, here I used the same weft throughout. My first sample I did in hemp. I took what I learned from this swatch and selected yarns for further experimentation. In this case, a linen/viscose blend from Classic Elite. I liked what I saw on the loom, but how to finish it took some thought. I tried various knotting technique until I happened across a macrame knot that mimics the pattern. Now back to square one to create a full project. What will this swatch become? I’m not sure yet, but I like where this is heading.
My next Knitty column talks more about the approaching the design process like a scientist.