Yarn speaks to me. When I see a beautiful fiber that I want, my little gears start clicking and I begin to think about what that yarn is most suited to become. I just have a general concept at this point, usually along the lines of a silhouette. When I first touched Classic Elite Premiere, which is a 50/50 tencel/pima cotton blend, it was so silky and smooth that I immediately felt it needed to be made into something with long, elegant lines and drape, and I decided on a shell that I could wear to work or out to dinner, but that could also be dressed down with some dark denim jeans. I bought 5 skeins in a light buttery color. (The camera I used does not properly capture the color - my kingdom for my Exilim, which is still in the repair shop!) I felt that the shell should be fitted and just barely clinging, but not tight, and I wanted a lace pattern that I could insert in an elegant vertical line, off-center.
With these general thoughts in mind, I went on to my common second step - browsing through my stitch dictionaries. Stitch dictionaries are wonderful, because each time I open one with a specific project in mind, I see something new. Stitch patterns that may not speak to me in one fiber work brilliantly in another. Just changing the yarn that I start with can give me wildly different results, which is fascinating to me - inspirational and fun. I started with Barbara Walker and almost immediately found what I felt would be the "right" lace. Then I went on to my usual third step - swatching.
If you don't own a stitch dictionary and want one, the 365 Knitting Stitches Calendar is an excellent and really economical way to go. Public libraries also often have several that you can browse through, and the libraries are licensed to allow you to make limited copies of pages for personal use. Alternately, you can browse through books or magazines of patterns that you like and take stitch patterns from those. My first scarf incorporated a cable that I saw on a sweater in Vogue.
Sometimes when I begin to swatch I hit the right stitch pattern or combination of patterns right away, and this was one of those times. As soon as I had a repeat finished, I knew that this was the lace I wanted to use, so I continued it for another repeat to make a very large swatch. I think the final dimensions are about five by seven inches. Other times I need to go through several different patterns to find the one(s) that will work. I will often do this on one large continual swatch with the patterns separated by a few rows of stockinette with a garter-ridge line as a boundary between designs, as pictured in the swatch in my last create-along post. It really just depends on how long it takes me to hit upon a pattern that I'm sure of. Regardless, I always make a larger swatch with a representative percentage of the patterns I plan to use, so that I can see how they work together.
If, as here, stockinette is an element of the design, I make a point of putting in a fair amount of it as well, so that I have a good idea of what the gauge will be in both the pattern and in stockinette. I take gauge before blocking, and gauge after blocking, and I make sure to wash and block the swatch as I plan to block the garment. After taking gauge, I weigh the swatch on my kitchen scale to determine how many grams of yarn are needed per square inch, and then I convert that number to yards per square inch. I then put all the information about yarn, needle size, gauge, and swatch weight in a moleskein notebook that I keep for design ideas, so that I can use the numbers later to ensure that I have the amount of yarn I will need to finish my project.
Now that I have my swatch and measurements done, I'm off and running. My next step will be to start sketching....