It took me about 6 to 7 months from swatching to finished pattern, but the idea for the Dragon Lace Pullover first germinated 6 or 7 years ago. When I first started designing knitting patterns, I purchased all four of Barbara Walker's stitch dictionaries, and in the fourth one, I spotted a lace stitch pattern ("Leaning Ladders" that to me evoked the body of a dragon--that is, minus the head, limbs and tail. So I made a mental note to return to that stitch pattern one day, and try to develop the rest of the dragon, outlined in eyelets and decreases.
Well, 2012 was the Chinese Year of the Dragon, so it seemed like an opportune time to work on my lace dragon. I had already created a pattern, the Bunny Yoke Pullover, for the Year of the Rabbit in 2011, and I thought I would just keep going.* So I perused Google images for sketches of Chinese dragons, made my own sketches, and swatched away; the tail turned out to be fairly easy, but the limbs were a bit trickier (one claw? several claws? where to attach them to the body?)...and the head, not surprisingly, was trickiest of all. I sketched big, bug-eyed heads like the ones on dragon costumes for Chinese New Year parades; fire-breathing heads; heads in profile; finally I decided that the head that seemed to translate best into lace was a narrow one, turned to look straight at the viewer, with a long snout and a couple of horns. It took me several more swatches after that, but I finally arrived at a head that sat properly on the neck, and utilized carefully placed decreases to add a bit of fierceness to its gaze.
I had already decided that the best placement for the dragon would be on the upper back; since it was going to be a good 8-10 inches high, I didn't want it to obscured if the wearer sat down, and I didn't want to have to worry about placing it so that a claw wasn't grabbing at a nipple (yes, knitwear designers have to think about that sort of thing!). And I knew I was going to use a cotton-based yarn, for comfortable three-season wear. The last decisions before beginning on the sample were about the rest of the sweater: more lace? shaping? raglan or set in sleeves? I ended up going with a classic hip-length slihouette with waist shaping, set-in 3/4 length sleeve, V-neck, turned hem, and lots of stockinette.
I wasn't quite finished with tinkering with the dragon, though; after I completed the sample, I decided that the tail had to be lengthened to better balance the neck and head, and I also decided that the bother of wrong-side lace stitches to curve the talons wasn't worth it, and went back to an earlier, simpler version. (So the final lace dragon only has wrong-side eyelets on a couple of rows, in the head/neck area; the final version of the tail is shown in the detail photo, while the earlier version appears in the top photo; both photos show several versions of the limbs, with the final version of the claws shown on the lower limbs).
*I'm presently at work on a design for 2013, the Year of the Snake-- stay tuned!