The other day I got an email from a friend with Knitting Trouble. Judy is a fairly new knitter, but she’s got moxy. She makes her own needlepoint charts. She has knit a few scarves. She can cast on, knit and purl, and cast off. Judy recently acquired a fluffy rescue dog, Clyde, and (naturally) wanted to knit him a coat. On Ravelry, Judy found a cute dog coat and downloaded the free pattern. In her email to me, Judy said she was having trouble understanding the pattern instructions.
No problem, I said–I know my way around a dog coat. Help is on the way.
“I don’t even know what part of the sweater I’m knitting right now,” Judy said when I got to her place. She had made the openings for the front legs (impressive!) but she couldn’t tell if she was working toward the neck or the tail of the dog. Easy, I thought, let me look at the schematic.
There was no schematic. So I started at the beginning of the pattern, expecting to see a sentence or two describing the construction of the sweater. You know, something like, “Worked from the neckband down, this adorbalicious sweater will keep Fifi comfy-cozy.” Nope. There was just the instruction to cast on and start knitting. Halfway through the instructions, it said to “work even until the piece measures 11 inches from the neck. ” Ah ha! So the cast on must have been the neck! We were making progress. Contextual reasoning saves the day.
I then read the rest of the pattern so that I could tell Judy what lay ahead. I came to an instruction to “place a stitch marker at each end of the next row.” OK, I thought, but where in the row? How many stitches in from the edges? And what were these markers marking? I looked for further references to the markers. Finally, in the description of the finishing and edging of the coat, it said to pick up stitches all around the edge of the coat, starting at one marker, picking up to the end of the coat and knitting across a number of stitches that were on a holder there, and then continuing to pick up until the second marker was reached. The rows that had been knit before the markers would be seamed together to cover the dog’s chest. It was only by working backwards from the edging instructions that I was able to understand that the knitter was supposed to use locking markers or safety pins–in other words, that these markers were not going to move.
None of this was the end of the world. But it was aggravating to have straightforward directions rendered obscure by poor pattern writing. This pattern was published by a big yarn company. For the experienced knitter, it was merely irritating. For an inexperienced knitter, it was indecipherable. I felt a little embarrassed in front of my friend, on behalf of knitting. Patterns aren’t usually this lame, I told her. Next time you need a pattern, let me help you find one.
We’ve all puzzled our way through crap instructions at one time or another. It’s like navigating using a map that has major landmarks and crossroads omitted or misplaced. With persistence, you might get where you’re going, but there will be cursing and backtracking. After struggling with such a mess, how many new knitters might decide this hobby is not for them?
Send Up the Bat Signal
You know what that dog coat needed? It needed Kate Atherley. A designer, teacher and author, longtime Managing Technical Editor for Knitty.com, and overall whip-smart person, Kate knows about knitting patterns from the perspective of designers–both first-timers and experienced professionals–and knitters of every level. She knows what knitters find confusing, and how to replace that confusion with sweet clarity.
Kate’s new book, The Beginner’s Guide to Writing Knitting Patterns, is a godsend. I wish I could go back in time to 2004, when you and I were writing our first book, and hand myself a copy. So many questions answered. So many best practices revealed. Everything makes sense. Everything has a reason. There is an abundance of tips and resources, everything from size standards to what software to use to create a schematic. This book is now living on my bookshelf right next to my Barbara Walkers, in case I ever again need to “write patterns others can knit.”
Get Ready, Nashville
Can’t wait to see you tomorrow morning in Nashville, and head on over to my very first Stitches South. I’ve never to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center! There will be yarn shopping! Great teachers! Celebriknitties!
My travel knitting is a kit that I couldn’t pass up at Vogue Knitting Live in January. Much as I am itching to start my vintage Kaffe adventure, I realized that 30 or so different shades would be too much to handle on my Southwest flights. The Tokyo Shawl by Marianne Isager, in Isager Alpaca 1 and Isager Spinni, is a simple, stripy ride of a knit.
But guess what? The pattern, translated from the Danish, is kind of weird. Paging Kate Atherley!