Kate Atherley generously sent me a copy of her book Pattern Writing for Knit Designers. I had thought about buying it when it came out in 2014, but I wasn’t quite ready to dive into redoing my patterns. Also, since I have a slightly different viewpoint than many designer on what should be included in a pattern, and I just didn’t want to feel defeated by the differences. Having met Kate at TNNA I was ready to give it a go as I am now wrestling with redoing my layout and pattern content.
The first thing I loved about this book was that Kate does not deal in absolutes. Where there can effectively be different approaches, she offers them up. If one approach seems better than others, she is willing to tell you why. But not in an absolute way.
The book also discusses why the format established in an era of print patterns and magazines may not be directly translatable into digital. Also, why expectations of knitters change as they move away from print and the impact this has on pattern writing.
Pattern Writing: What to Include
The book opens with a list of What to Include. This should be really straight forward, but I have to say that it has really been giving me pause lately. There is so much that goes into pattern writing, and as in many things, there is as much art as science to it.
Name of Pattern – I always use a place name, except in the rare instances when I don’t.
Photographs – This is an Achilles heel for me. I want really great photos. I’ve not spent enough time on this. It is something I lay awake thinking about.
Introduction – I have had a brief description, which has been virtually useless. I am actively working on improving this.
Level of difficulty / skills required – This is on the front of my patterns and in online descriptions and information. I try to make this descriptive of the project, not the knitter.
Materials list – got it.
Gauge – that’s always there, but I’m wondering if I need more that makes substitution easier.
Size Information – I have the actual finished measurements, with knit to measurements within the pattern and on detailed schematics. I am preparing to add metric numbers to my patterns.
Abbreviations, glossary, references, techniques – I’ve always had Abbreviations and Techniques, but I am aware that I should have links within my patterns for things not specifically set out, and to additional information I may have on my website or elsewhere.
Pattern note – I’ve always had Notes, but I find that knitters don’t read them. I am shifting to providing guidance about what is coming up, and why it is done the way I do it. The style of pattern writing I do does much of the work for the knitter and is easy to follow, but I can see how much more empowering it is to know what I may have been thinking or why I chose a particular approach before you do it.
Designer’s contact information, bio, credits – I have never put a bio in a pattern, and don’t usually acknowledge the other participants in the preparation of the pattern. I’m perfectly happy to do those things, I just never thought about it. It completely makes sense as everyone is trying to make a living! My main hesitation is that it takes up space.
Copyright statement – Always!
Date, version number – I do have a version number, but no date. I can add that.
This is absolutly the first column of the first page of the book. That’s it. Look at all the pattern writing things that have already come up for me!
Pattern Writing: What Else Goes In
I have written instructions, often line-by-line because of shaping and stitch pattern. I have charts for stitch patterns, and often have shaping charts (which differ from size to size). My patterns get really long, very quickly. I am currently redoing a pattern that was written in the more common style of saying “work pattern as established” but my knitter got into the weeds when we got to shaping because the stitch pattern isn’t balanced. That pattern is currently 40 pages long, and I haven’t done charts for many of the sizes.
I often place instructions into tables to set them out more clearly; this takes up more space, but it does increase ease of use.
When I’ve done patterns with stitch pattern charts in a separate location, I got comments from test knitters that it was difficult to scroll between the written and charts. Completely understandable, but it is another hurdle in pattern writing.
My main concern is that the length of the pattern is perceived as a sign of the difficulty of the pattern; since this is the result of what is included in the pattern, I need to overcome that perception. The instructions are provided to make it easier to follow, not because they are necessarily more difficult. Some knitters say they don’t want all that instruction. How do you decide?
Pattern Writing: A Style Sheet
Whatever choices we make as designers, our pattern writing is guided by a style sheet. If we work for someone else, we use theirs. If we publish our own patterns, we create a style sheet and all pattern writing adheres to that style sheet. It is always a comfort to just spell things out, then stick to it. Style sheets spell out things like do you say “to obtain gauge” or “to get gauge”? Do you present your sizes in this form: X (X, X, X, X) or this form X (X) (X) (X) (X)? Do you end on a WS row or with a WS row.
These choices have to be made, then carried out consistently in the pattern writing. I do redraft after redraft of my patterns, then eventually just give them to someone else to find where I am inconsistent. Having a style sheet is a necessity.
Pattern Writing: Other Inputs
Although the other services needed are discussed in the book, no one ever talks about the costs. These shift over time, but here are some examples. These are my experience, and the length of my patterns definitely raises my costs. I do not include my own time in pattern writing, creating charts, tweaking layout, editing photos, and all the other things I do, or paper, printer ink, or office supplies. I rarely buy yarn.
Tech Editing $50 to $200
Layout / Design $25
Model $15 to $50
Other Editing $50
Total external costs: $140 to $625
Pattern Writing: Your Input
So this is your chance to give me some feedback as I am swimming my way through pattern reformatting and updating my style sheet. I’ve set up this survey and I am taking responses through August 28. It should take you 5 to 6 minutes to do it, and I will so appreciate it! I’ll post the results here on August 29. I will be doing a giveaway to those who participate, so be sure to put your email into the survey.
This is a great time to sign up for my newsletter as well.
Caroline Nelson says
I’m a new knitter who has to re-write every pattern so I can get each row on a separate line. My setup is I have a written pattern on a music sheet stand with a metal pattern keeper with magnets. Every row I move my magnet to follow the next row. Most patterns are written paragraph style and that is just not good enough for me. I’m new and need to follow along this way.
I don’t understand why patterns aren’t written on a line-by-line style.
A lot has changed in terms of expectations for how patterns are presented. There is a lot of feeling that writing in the paragraph style is good enough; I too find it really hard to follow and so I try to write my patterns so they can be followed as you do yours. I just want to move through the instructions, not spend a lot of time finding my place. Continue looking for pattern writing that works for you, and happy knitting!