Purdah –a word from Urdu, means veil or curtain.. and in practice, purdah means being hidden behind a veil or curtain-In many eastern countries, it's literal—woman are hidden from strangers (especially strange men, but all strangers, even other woman, count as strangers.)
Pattern purdah—for me--(it might be something different to Lisa) is hiding behind the computer, working out the details of documenting a pattern—so that it can be shared with others. It's done in secret, it's done in private, and it's a veiled process.
New knitters often want to know how to design—and the answer is simple and complex.
Just do it. There are short cuts-- But they are few and far between--computers are the best shortcut for documenting a pattern--cut and paste editing is so much faster than retyping each line, when all you need to do is change 1 or 2 numbers.
I think (my opinion, but I am not alone) it is important to think out the overall design first.
I am annoyed by people who post on forums “I designed a hat—only I don't know how to do the decreases for the crown”
I swatch—but for me, even more important is thinking through each element.
What cast on (and why this cast on and not another? And does it matter?)
What direction am I going to knit? Top down? Bottom up? Side to side? Front to back? Flat and seamed? In the round, seamlessly? Left as a tube? Or steaked?
What details are needed? What increases or decreases? Do I want to accent the shaping? Or hide it?
How many to cast on? Partly a function of gauge/size, but also one of pattern repeats, and are there an even number of repeats, or an odd number, with a pattern repeat centered in front?
I admit, I have my favorite cast ons, and favorite styles, and even favorite number's/gauge's—I love worsted hats with a cast on 96—what a magical number!--So many factors, 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, 18, 24, 32,48—(I've forgotten some, but so what?!) It's so easy to plan things with all these choices, that will readily work!
I have a huge choice of stitch pattens, a huge choice of decrease style, a huge choice of ribbing patterns. The common denominators of 96 make changes easy.. (well they do for me!)
I also know, that for me, a driver to a new design is someone else's limits. Let some one say “there are 2 choices, for X, this way or that way” and Bam! I want to design something that is neither way!
Tell me “all hats are knit either brim to crown or crown to brim” and I start knitting hats on the diagonal, or front (forehead) to back (nap of the neck) or some other direction (and there are more choices than the ones I listed!) –I am ornery that way!
Tell me mittens can be seamlessly in the round, or flat and seamed, and I am off to the races.. knitting mittens (or gloves) in a simple double knit style—working, at once, flat, and at the same time, creating seamlessly tubes.
For me, knitting is something physical—but its also a mental activity. I don't always sketch a design, and I sometimes don't swatch stitches, but I do, always mentally knit it out (or try to knit it out)a design in my head.
Frequently, by the time I pick up needles and yarn, I've mental knit a design a half dozen times I've hit problems, and worked out solution (that fails) and work out new solutions (again and again) till I get a solution that works.
People only see the fingers working—and don't get, I can work from mind to fingers with out any paper trail only because I have put a lot of effort into planning (and mentally knitting) a project.
By the time I get around to knitting it, it so easy to do the actually knitting, some think the whole process is effortless. It's not, it's just that I have failed to show my work!
The hardest part of design for me, is documenting. I knit way more original designs than I document.
Documenting means explaining to others all the details that have become self evident to me.
And, not often talked about, but a definitely a real part of design-- are the duds.
There isn't a designer I know who hasn't created an idea, worked out the design elements, and found, as they knit-DUD.
Behind the veil of good design, in pattern purdah, a lot is going on. And what emerges is not always what is first thought of, or what was expected, but instead, something magical.
The wizard had it right—pay no attention to what is happening behind the curtain—but the truth is, that is where all the magic, that isn't really magic at all, but just hard work and thought-- is happening.