Several people expressed interest in how I come up with my own patterns, so here we go. I'll try to provide information as I work through the Christmas knitting, and also whenever I do anything original.
For now, we're going to discuss the cable-knit sweater I'm knitting for my father-in-law for Christmas. Here's the swatch:
First thing you need to decide, and this sounds silly, is what you're going to knit, and what size. Sounds kind of silly, but yarn choice has a major impact on how your project turns out later. (Over on Ravelry, haunting the Ugh! section, I've noticed that a great deal of angst is due to bad yarn choice when substituting.) Originally the plan was to knit Morrigan, so I needed yarn suitable for cable knitting. That means something smooth, to show the cables with lots of definition, and something sturdy, to survive the cabling process in the first place. There's lots of pulling and stretching that goes on in cable knitting.
Yardage requirements are always a guess, but cable knits need more yarn than a regular stockinette. I figured my yardage needed by looking at similar cable-knit sweaters, checking the yardage needed, and then adding some extra to be on the safe side. What I got was Bengido Woolen Mills' 8-ply in "Midnight Tweed". (Aussies, if I lived where you do and could get this stuff as cheaply as you do, I would knit with nothing else.)
Next up is swatching. This can take a while (if done properly) but as I see it, the longer it takes to swatch, the less fuss there is during the knitting-up, and the happier you are with the finished product. I started off with a swatch for Morrigan, got, oh, three rounds in, and decided there was no way in hell I was going to manage knitting it with a two-year-old in the house, and started looking around for plan B. I made a nice little list for plan B:
-cable knit, because I already had the yarn.
-an all-over pattern because to do a cable-knit gauge swatch properly, you should really knit every single cable pattern and measure each one, and I did not want to swatch on to doomsday (besides, non-knitting people think they're really complicated and impressive and I'm not going to be the one to admit they're easier than the traditional vertical stripes of cables).
-preferably what I call a 'back and forth' cable; one designed to be knit flat, with a row of cabling, and then a row 'plain' where you knit the knits and purl the purls. Even though I was planning to knit in the round, a 'rest' round sounded like a nice idea. Plus, cabling, like lace, is easier if there's a 'reset' row of nice plain stitches in between the action.
-some kind of second cable that contrasted the all-over; something more traditionally vertical, that I could run up the sleeve and across the shoulder strap.
-cables that weren't too tightly braided; those are harder to knit and make the sweater extremely warm, and I was shooting for something that could be worn indoors.
-something I was willing to knit while chasing the Goober.
With all that in mind, I started swatching. I used needles larger than suggested for the yarn; cables can double and triple the thickness of the fabric, and unless you really want something water and wind proof, a looser stitch gives a more liveable fabric. I knit three or four swatches before deciding on the one above. (It is the "Ornate Lattice" from the third Barbara Walker treasury.) With all-over patterns, you need at least two repeats to get some idea of gauge. Unlike my normal methods, this time I measured the swatch before and after washing. I'm really glad I did, because there's a 1.25cm/half inch difference in before and after washing, PER PATTERN REPEAT. That means this thing is going to grow by about 20cm/9in when I wash it. So it looks way too small now as I knit it up, but thanks to my pre-wash measure, I know so far it's the right size.
Then I figured my gauge by pattern repeat (one pattern repeat is 7.5cm, so how many do I need for the size I want?) described in more detail here. There is also discussion about figuring pattern placement here.
So I cast on, uh, 276? stitches (sixteen pattern repeats - eight front and eight back - plus a few plain on the sides), and started knitting the body. Still not sure how I'm going to do the arm/shoulder seams. I SHOULD do a set-in sleeve with a shoulder strap up to the neckline, but those are a pain in the ass and I don't want to. I'll make up my mind once I get to the arm pits.
Then I'll write another post, I'm sure.