1 - Change the color(s)
This is an obvious change that anyone can make and it has a big impact. If you see a pattern you like that's shown in a summery pink, that doesn't mean you can't make it in a gorgeous green for spring. In addition, why not imagine a single color garment or accessory made in more than one color? What if you added a contrasting border or made it in stripes? All of these suggestions would completely change the look. I try to build this into all KnittingGuru patterns by giving as many examples as I'm able to knit/crochet and adding suggestions for altering patterns to make them your own. Look how different the Tender Tendril Scarf looks in different colors.
Chocolate Licorice Scarf
Romantic Red Scarf
Purple Passion Scarf
And look what happens when you add a second color!
Turquoise Tempest Scarf
2 - Change the fiber content of the yarn
All of the scarves shown above are made with wool knitting worsted. If you switch to cotton worsted weight yarns, look at the difference. Because cotton is much heavier than wool, you may need to shorten the pattern or change it in other ways to compensate for this weight difference so that the finished garment isn't too heavy to be comfortable to wear.
Desert Flower Scarf
Blue Hydrangea Scarf
Changing to a fluffy yarn such as mohair or angora will totally alter the feel and look. Using fuzzy and brushed yarns often requires a change in the stitches. For example, in knitting, the stitches will be blurred with this kind of yarn so you may want to use a simpler stitch. Always make a sample first!
Pink Bunny Scarf
November Nirvana Scarf
Using a boucle yarn with pronounced bumps will yield another design element that changes the appearance of what you are knitting or crocheting.
Zany Zinnia Scarf
Pink Coral Scarf
3 - Change stitch details and dimensions
Changing to a different stitch can make a huge difference in the look of a garment or accessory. If you see a sweater pattern in stockinette and you want to add some textural interest, you could use an eyelet, lace, cable or knit/purl combination stitch. Of course you need to make a sample and block it to be sure the gauge is correct. Make adjustments for number of stitches or needle/hook sizes as needed. In the examples below, I've changed the length of the crocheted tendrils to get a different look. The Seaweed Scarf and the Rosy Sunset Scarf have sorter tendrils and the Springtime Hydrangea Scarf has longer tendrils, closer together.
Springtime Hydrangea Scarf
Rosy Sunset Scarf
Making any of these three changes absolutely requires some sampling to check the feel, appearance and drape, as well as to be sure to get the correct gauge. The sampling is well worth doing so that you can personalize the pattern and make it many times. All the scarves pictured here are made from one pattern that you can get at my Etsy shop or my Craftsy shop. If you decide you want to do some design experimenting with this you can always email me for suggestions and help. My email is on every pattern and I love to discuss knitting and crochet, and to answer questions.
If you have general questions about these three important ways to add variety and spice to your knitting and crocheting, please comment here and I'll be happy to respond.