Part I: Troubled Waters
Working in a knitting store, I assist knitters
in understanding patterns on a regular basis. Industry
research and my own antecdotal experience shows
that the majority of yarn store customers are beginning
knitters or knitters returning to knitting after
a multi-year break. But patterns are not necessarily
written for these knitters, or any knitter,
for that matter!
Part of the problem is pattern format. Printed
knitting magazines are trying to cram as many patterns
into each issue as possible. Glossaries of techniques
and abbreviations are often in separate sections
at the back [or front] of the magazine. We instruct
knitters to photocopy the pattern they are going
to knit after they purchase the issue, cut up and
lay out the pattern in a more usable format in order
to make the garment. [This is legal, as it is photocopying
for personal use only.] Most print knitting magazines
have websites where they post errors; some publish
corrections in later issues.
Yarn companies publish patterns to help sell their
yarn. Some of these patterns are provided to yarn
shops at extraordinarily low cost. To keep publication
costs down, the patterns are crammed onto single
sheets. Since yarn companies see patterns as a vehicle
for selling yarn, they may not be as invested in
creating well-written patterns as they are in the
photography of the item.
Leaflets -- those multi-sheet patterns in sheet
protectors usually shown in shops in binders --
vary in quality by brand and author. Although leaflet
single patterns often have more space in which to
lay out the pattern, sometimes authors lay out their
patterns by squeezing as much as they can into the
smallest space possible to minimize publication
The minimal cost of posting one's own patterns
to one's website or weblog has enabled countless
potential pattern publishers. But not everyone can
write a pattern that makes sense. I thank these
sometimes-anonymous pattern creators, as I do earn
a fee correcting and clarifying poorly written patterns
Space constraints create the need for an abbreviated
language for handknitting patterns. The problem
is that many pattern writers assume that knitters
know the exact same techniques as themselves. Inexperienced
pattern writers often omit essential instructions
in areas they feel competent in...without even realizing
it. Assumptions like these make for the miscommunication
that leads to knitters abandoning projects, and
sometimes knitting, altogether.
Pattern layout can make the actual knitting unnecessarily
difficult. Each handknitted item is cumulative,
with sections of knitting building on other sections
of knitting as the fabric grows and is shaped row
by row. Line-by-line instruction makes the most
sense. When a designer or publisher compresses all
the text for a garment section with few line breaks
or section headers, it is very easy for the knitter
to lose their place.
To clarify the pattern, the writer may 'chunk'
each section of instructions for each section of
knitting. The knitter sees the logical breakdown
of the pattern in sections as the knitting project
proceeds through the edging, body, armhole, neckline,
shoulder shaping. Strategic use of white space makes
it easier for the knitter to understand the sections
of the knitting. A side benefit is the sense of
accomplishment the knitter gains as s/he works through
each successive part of a large or complicated pattern.
Section breaks enable the pattern writer to inform
the knitter of new techniques or challenges in the
next section of the garment. That old foil 'AT THE
SAME TIME' can be dealt with in a more constructive
way. We've all run into it -- blissfully decreasing
at the armhole edge and not reading ahead to see
the pattern directs us to 'AT THE SAME TIME when
armhole equals X[Y,Z] inches do this other thing
for the neckline shaping'. In the armhole/neckline
section of the garment, the pattern can forwarn
the knitter to be mindful that "in the middle
of this section, knitter will be both decreasing
at the armhole AND the neckline edge".
Layout aside, I run into content issues each day
working in the LYS. Here are three specific examples
of poorly written patterns, and my solutions.
Example: the pattern does not
specify how to increase.
Assumption: the knitter will use
the lifted increase [pick up the running thread
Problem: the knitter ONLY knows
how to increase by knitting into the front and back
of the stitch.
Disconnection between knitter and pattern:
the stitch count will be affected by employing an
increase that uses a stitch from the row, instead
of an increase that happens between stitches. When
pattern says, "*k8, inc, rep from * to end
of row ending k4" across 68 sts resulting in
76 sts, the knitter will instead have 75 sts and
end the row with k5, no matter how s/he works it,
sending her into the yarn shop tearing her hair
out in frustration after a night of ripping and
Solution: pattern writer should
include a section of 'techniques & abbreviations'
in the pattern, a glossary of sorts, before the
pattern begins, specifying exactly which increase
and decrease to use.
Example: Pattern reads: "Cast
on 82 sts. Work k2,p2 rib for 2 in." There
is no row-by-row description of k2,p2 rib in the
techniques and abbreviation section of the pattern.
Assumption: Knitter knows that
k2,p2 rib over a stitch count that is NOT a multiple
of 4 sts will end k2 on the first row, and begin
p2 on the second row.
Problem: Knitter casts on 82 sts.
Knitter repeats the following row: *k2, p2, rep
from * to end, row after row. Knitter gets something
other than ribbing, since 82 is not a multiple of
Disconnect: Not every knitter
knows how to work a stitch pattern over a non-multiple.
A] Pattern reads: "Cast on 82 sts. Row 1: *k2,
p2, rep from * to end of row, ending k2. Row 2:
*p2, k2, rep from * to end of row. Rep these 2 rows
until fabric measures 2 inches." Rowan brand
patterns sets up its stitch patterns in this fashion,
in the pattern itself as opposed to in a glossary.
B] Pattern includes stitch patts in the 'techniques
and abbreviations' section so that knitter has the
row-by-row direction available.
Example: A knit-flat hat with
background of seed stitch and cables. Pattern starts
with row-by-row directions, then says, "Work
in patt as est for [#] sts, work 6 sts from chart
A, work in patt as est for [#] sts, work 6 sts from
chart B, work in patt to end of row."
A] Knitter knows what 'pattern as established' means
for seed stitch [see #2 above].
B] Knitter will be comfortable looking for st patts
in three places, as the cable charts are on a separate
Disconnect: How do I go across
a row? And I read the charts in what direction when
I'm on the back? Why did they put them on separate
pages? What is the pattern as established? t doesn't
define seed stitch anywhere...
A] Write out the stitch pattern for seed stitch
somewhere on the pattern. Put it in the same place
as the cable charts, laid out as if one was reading
back and forth. Better yet, make a chart that includes
the repeat of background fabric AND cables, so knitter
is not jumping from chart to written directions
and can see what one row of knitting will look like.
B] This was a four-row cable. A four-row pattern
could easily be written out for the knitter to follow,
so that the knitter can more easily figure out what
one row of knitting will be like.
C] Direct the knitter to use markers on either
side of the cable panel sections. Then, pattern
can read, "*Work seed st to marker, work chart
A, work seed st to marker, work chart B, rep from
* to end of row", including the 2-row stitch-by-stitch
definition of seed stitch.
Pattern writers, please remember your
Pattern users, please remember Elizabeth
Zimmermann's admonition that "patterns are