I recently completed Kim Guzman's online Crochetville course in pattern grading (sizing). It may turn out to be the best $30 training fee I have ever spent. For those of you who don't know Kim, she is a prolific designer and author. She has created a lot of Tunisian crochet patterns, and she maintains an active presence on Ravelry and Facebook. Kim's technique videos are available on YouTube--if you have a crochet question, check out her channel. She also moderates the Tunisian Crochet group on Yahoo. What I especially admire about Kim is the way she responds to questions. She is always gracious, even when the question is something that the person asking should be able to find out on her own. But she's not a pushover! If the question is beyond the bounds of the pattern, Kim will say so, and will suggest that the crocheter try XYZ to solve the problem.
My slight reluctance to design items like sweaters (for publication) has solely been due to the challenges in writing a pattern that has multiple sizes. I've done it, but it has been extremely time-consuming, and I've never been sure that I've gotten everything exactly right for every size. People don't scale up the same amount in each direction. Sometimes the change from S to M is not the same as from M to L. Not every design looks good on all sizes. Compromises have to be made when there is a stitch pattern that has to remain intact, even if that makes a row slightly more or less than the optimal width. Same with row counts: maybe it makes sense that a larger size has just one row more than the smaller size, but that throws off the pattern-writing because it's better to do rows in even numbers (especially with regular crochet, where you turn the work; Tunisian isn't as much of a problem). I've been tempted at times to write a separate pattern for every size, but that is tremendously inefficient especially from a printing standpoint. No publisher would go for that.
It's daunting. But I know I can get better at it, which is why I jumped at the chance to learn more.
The course included 16 videos--4-5 hours, I estimate. It started with a very basic tank top and then progressed to items with more complex shaping. First bit of learning: always draw a schematic! So helpful to have all of the dimensions laid out for every size. Second, the standards published by the Craft Yarn Council of America are just a starting point. Some things you have to figure out yourself. Ease, length, sleeve style are up to the designer. Also important, no matter how adept you are at grading, every pattern needs to be stitched up and tested (preferably in multiple sizes). Things sometimes look different on the hook than they do on paper. I discovered that when I tried to scale up sleeves. They were a comfortable circumference on the arm in the smallest size, but got way too loose in the larger sizes.
Anyway, back to the course itself. Kim went through how to use Excel or another type of spreadsheet to do calculations for you. Once you define the formulas for stitches and rows per inch, you can use those to calculate the numbers you need. The preliminary numbers, anyway. The designer still has to make decisions about whether those numbers make sense for the pattern.
The next step was to scale up the pattern for additional sizes. Kim showed how to lay out everything, row by row, for all sizes. She mentioned how useful this is when she gets a question about a pattern. Years later, she can return to the spreadsheet to see exactly what was specified. In the more complex patterns presented in the course (ones with additional shaping), it was very helpful to be part of Kim's thought process. For example, if she needed to decrease 12 stitches over 10 rows, how would she do it? What options did she consider?
Kim is exactly the kind of teacher I thought she would be, based on our previous correspondence: helpful, clear, thorough, and relaxed. She is very patient--a model of customer service. And she didn't erase the spots where she got stuck; she shared the mistake and showed where her thinking had been off, then she showed how to correct the error. The videos were good quality, and Kim fluidly moved different windows around so the students could see what she was referring to. Sometimes the audio was a little soft or blurred, especially when Kim was thinking out loud--even when my speaker volume was at 100%, there were a few spots where I had to strain to hear clearly.
The course did not teach pattern-writing, per se; a spreadsheet only provides a starting place for that. For example, where the shoulder straps on the sample tank top are, Kim did not write out the instructions for the second shoulder strap. That's something the designer would have to do.
I'm trying out the spreadsheet technique on a Tunisian sweater. So far, so good. My schematic contains every possible dimension you could ever want! On my spreadsheet, I did add many more notes in the text than Kim used. For each calculation, I noted whether it was rows or stitches. (Seems obvious, but having those notes is much easier than checking every time.) I also included reminders like "start neck shaping after this row", "decrease on the return pass," "number of stitches on front must match the back," as well as things like "Check total stitches to make sure it is an even number here." Anything that will help me when I turn the spreadsheet into an actual pattern.
The course was exactly what I was looking for, and exceeded my expectations for content and presentation. I was able to download the videos so I can return to them when I need a refresher. I am still getting used to Excel's quirks, and sometimes my lack of proficiency in grading was more from my inexperience with Excel than my inexperience grading.
I would love for Kim to teach a pattern-writing course that covers how to get from the spreadsheet to a published pattern. Just seeing how she manages the multi-page spreadsheet (does she print it out? if so, what size? does she tape the pages together?) would be helpful. If she isn't ready to run a formal class, I think it would be money well spent for me to hop on a plane to Arkansas and study at her side!