When I first started embroidery, I was eager to get into pattern making myself. There were a few issues with this: (1) I couldn't draw and (2) I didn't have an iPad (which seemed to be the thing you needed). Once I felt I was comfortable making my own patterns, I set out to find a cheaper alternative. Here's what I learned: you CAN draw amazing embroidery patterns WITHOUT and iPad!
Here's what I have personally experimented with:
When I wanted to create personal patterns for my own enjoyment, I turned to Canva initially. When it comes to embroidery, you don't need a full picture to embroider. What you need are simple lines, shapes and leaves. This is what I started with. I made wagon wheel stitches by combining circles and lines. I used an outline of a leaf in their graphics section to be my guide. There is an abundance of fonts to choose from - which I often turn to when not using my own handwriting. There is so much you can do from both your phone and your desktop.
Canva is free to use and does have a "Pro" option, but you won't really need it.
Do you have an iPhone? If so, this solution may be right for you.
When I was ready to try drawing more freely, but couldn't afford an iPad, I used my iPhone. I went to my local Staples (office supply store) and purchased a $30 stylus. I chose one that allowed for more precision than the rounded tip ones. Check out this link for an example. This stylus is not as precise as an Apple Pencil, but it worked for me.
I worked this way for months, and months! Nearly my entire first year embroidering, I used Procreate Pocket. Was it more difficult? Absolutely. I had to zoom in much more, and my work was a lot less detailed, but the patterns you see in my gallery were all created this way. Embroidery pattern making is just a series of lines, curves and shapes. These are all things you can achieve with a cheap stylus, a phone you already own, and Procreate Pocket.
The features of Procreate Pocket are not as vast as that of the iPad version, but know that it will be enough.
Drawing Tablet & Krita
Do you have a computer? Chances are you do, and if so, there's a way to draw digitally.
Although a touch more expensive, for about $80 - $100 you can choose to invest in a drawing tablet similar to what graphic designers use. Check out this link for an example. This is a great drawing tablet and will work well for your embroidery pattern making needs. Pair it with free drawing software Krita and you're off to the races! Once you master the tablet, you will be able to draw precisely and more detailed. It takes some getting used to the tablet, but if it works for professional graphic designers, it will work for you. You can do everything on Krita that you can do in Procreate, and more!
Krita is an amazing drawing software that is free and downloads directly to your desktop. There are no subscriptions and no limits to what you can do. Krita believes that artists should have access to software and tools which help them create. It is similar to Adobe and Procreate illustrating softwares. If you have the talent and the patience to get a feel for the new tools, the options are limitless.
There are so many great solutions out there, and I hope one of these helps you. What I did learn that is at the end of the day, if you have your mind set, sometimes it's best not to go spending the little bit of cash here and there and just save up for what you want. I very much had my mind set on an iPad and much prefer it to all these alternatives. However, these methods kept me going strong for a full year and helped me design numerous original patterns.