Archive for November, 2013

Read good knitting patterns. I can’t repeat this enough because it is most important to writing good patterns. Pay attention to how the pattern is organized. Page 1 should contain the following:


Designer Name

Picture of the piece.

A short information paragraph about the piece. This can include a brief statement about the inspiration for the piece. Point out noteworthy details such as a boatneck, unique details. Include a touch of romance about the piece. In other words sell it. Casual, elegant, modern, classic, comfortable, and flirty are the type of words used when romancing the piece.

Finished Size List the finished chest sizes. Finished means the size of the garment after sewing and blocking. List the measurements in both inches and centimeters. Tell how much ease is worked into the garment.

Yarn List the weight first. Then comes the manufacturer’s name, the name of the yarn (fiber list; yds [meters]/grams); color, amount. For example, the information would be organized and read like this:

DK weight. South West Trading Company, Bamboo (100% bamboo; 250 yds [229m]/100g); Ocean Blue, 3 (4, 5, 6) skeins.

Needles List needle sizes by mm (US Size) straight, circular or double pointed. For circular needles include the length. For example 4mm (US Size 6) 16″ circular needle. Always include the following direction: Adjust needle size as necessary to obtain gauge.

Notions List stitch markers, stitch holders, darning needle or tapestry needle, the number of buttons and their sizes, ribbon it’s width and amount needed, crochet hook and its size, waste yarn, and cable needle. List all the items used in making the piece other than the yarn and knitting needles.

Gauge Also known as Tension. This is an important measurement. It needs to be presented clearly and accurately. Specify the needle size and pattern used in making the 4″ (10 cm) swatch. For example:


25 stitches and 30 rows = 4″ (10 cm) on 4 mm needles in moss stitch after blocking.

I like to add Design Elements to the first page. This is where I list what the knitter will face when taking on my pattern. Under this heading I list such things as: short-rows, lace, seaming, raglan shaping, set-in sleeves, dropped shoulder, saddle shoulder, single crochet, provisional cast on, Kitchener stitch, cables. For a sock I list the type of heel, gusset, and type of heel flap. Any special cast ons or bind offs should be noted.

On the second page list the Abbreviations used in the pattern. Usually this list is alphabetized with the abbreviation in bold type. Put the list in a two column format to keep it all on one page.

I hope this small series on pattern writing has helped. It was not my intent for it to be all inclusive or the last word on pattern writing. The truth is, it just scratches the surface. To understand pattern writing you need to write patterns.

Have a good weekend.

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We lucked out again, missing the worst of the latest storm. While the usual things flooded, the damaging winds did not appear.

Yarn Rascal, however, did not make out as well. At best, Yarn Rascal has weather issues. A quick trip outside to get the necessary things over and done with is not his style. He needs time to find “things” in the grass, put them in his mouth, then have me root around his mouth trying to remove them. He does this until my blood pressure reaches an unhealthy level.

In between finding “things” he spends time sniffing the air, which gets me sniffing the air to see what he’s smelling, but I never smell anything. Then he turns his little furry head, gives me the Rascal look and dashes in the direction of whatever he smelled. As fast as I can I lock the leash to stop him and begin tugging urging him in the opposite direction. One thing I know for sure about Yarn Rascal, he has a keen sense for trouble.

He likes to meander the yard, especially its darkest corners at night. All the while he’s holding off doing the things he is out there to do. He knows I won’t take him inside until he has completed what he needs to do. In short, it means I am his hostage and he, I am sure, knows this.

Yarn Rascal hates water and being wet. Last night it poured rain. In my mind, the two facts added up to a quick trip outside and back into the house. I should have known better.

I haven’t been able to find a rain coat to fit Yarn Rascal, so I am trying to make do with an over sized umbrella that likes to suddenly collapse without warning. I’ve just recently come to accept it’s an umbrella that doesn’t like the rain. Last night the yard flooded in many places. I hoisted the rain hating umbrella with my right arm, picked up Yarn Rascal in my left arm, slogged through ankle-deep water whereupon I discovered my boots were no longer waterproof, and deposited the little guy on the non flooded part of the yard. Before I could straighten up, the rain hating umbrella collapsed over my head temporarily blocking all vision. At the same time, I feel and hear the leash zipping out like the reel of a fishing pole that’s just landed the big one. Before I can get the umbrella off my head, my left arm yanked across my body–signalling the leash was at its maximum extension–and with one ungainly pirouette I’m on the sopping ground with the umbrella still closed over my head.

Once I got up and untangled myself, there was poor Yarn Rascal wet, bedraggled, and muddy at the end of his leash trying to lunge for the backdoor. I expect all the water just got to him and while he tried to race back to the house, I was still holding onto his leash. What a mess we both were. Yarn Rascal ended up in the bath. Not a great start for the storm season.

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Yarn Rascal is in full mode today. His rascal genes are sparking on all cylinders and he his heading for a major time out. I tried to ease these stitch markers out of the yarn vault without his knowledge. But nothing that has anything to do with yarn slips by this little guy.


As you can see, their plastic holder looks like it has come in contact with a wild animal. It has. Yarn Rascal. The stitch markers and their holder drive him right around the bend. We’ve had his esophagus, stomach and intestines x-rayed twice in his short nine month life because I was missing stitch markers and was sure he had eaten them. Each time the x-rays were negative. Eventually I found the errant markers chewed and mangled in a lonely corner of the house. Hence, to save my sanity and money (x-rays are expensive) I lock the stitch markers in the yarn vault.

But I needed them out today because I wanted to say that good knitting patterns can and should include tips to help knitters. Tips need to be kept at a minimum and placed outside of the main pattern in a side bar or text box near the place in the pattern where the tip can be used. For instance, when it is time to divide stitches for heel work on my toe up socks, I always place a little box to the side suggesting the knitter slip the first three stitches at each side of the instep onto markers to help prevent holes from appearing when rejoining to work in the round. Holes are most often created from the stress put on the first unworked stitch at each side. Taking three stitches off the needles at each side helps distribute that stress.

Helpful tips can also be placed in a section called Pattern Notes, if a side bar is not ideal. The objective is to keep all but the necessary language out of the main portion of a pattern. What is the main portion of a pattern? For now, the main portion here means the knitting instruction themselves. A sweater’s main portion includes the BACK, RIGHT FRONT, LEFT FRONT, SLEEVES. A toe up sock’s main portion includes TOE, FOOT, GUSSET, HEEL TURN, HEEL FLAP, LEG, CUFF.
Don’t let the main portion get bogged down with language. Knitting patterns that read:
Row 1 (RS):K1, p3, k10, yo, ssk, k10, p3, k1
are much better than
Row 1:K1 (this is your selvage stitch), p3, k10, ssk (slip one stitch, slip another stitch, take your right needle ….

Keep pattern writing in pattern language. Knitting pattern language is abbreviations. Learn them and learn what they mean. Learn how to write them. Do this by constantly reading good patterns in order to pick up their rhythms, usages, organization, punctuation and language.

Pattern language is clear, concise and consistent in how it presents instructions. Being consistent means a pattern reliably uses the word “stitches” when referring to a larger instruction that is not included in a row or round instruction. For example,”place remaining stitches on a piece of thread.” A pattern consistently uses the abbreviation sts when referring to stitches in a row or round of instruction, such as the stitch count after decreasing or increasing.

Explaining involved techniques like short rows and provisional cast ons occur once and not in the main portion of the instructions. In today’s publishing, the explanations of these techniques go at the end of a pattern. Like the writing in the main portion, the language describing the technique is kept clear and concise. For example, the explanation for a short row might be written as shown below.

Short Row

Row 1 (RS): Knit to last st. Bring yarn fwrd, sl st onto right needle, wrap st by moving yarn to back. Turn.
Row 2: Sl first st, purl to last st. Move yarn to back, sl st onto right needle, wrap st by bringing yarn fwrd. Turn.
Row 3: Sl first st, knit to 1 st before previously wrapped st, w&t.
Row 4: Sl first st, purl to 1 st before previously wrapped st, w&t.

Second Half of Short Row

Row 1 (RS): Knit to first wrapped st. Sl wrapped st onto right needle, pick up wrap with left needle, sl wrapped st back to left needle, knit both st and wrap together. Next st w&t.
Row 2: Purl to first wrapped st. Sl wrapped st onto right needle, pick up wrap and place on left needle, sl wrapped st back to left needle, purl both st and wrap together. Next st w&t.
Row 3: Knit to first double wrapped st. Sl st onto right needle, pick up both wraps with left needle, sl st back to left needle, knit st and its wraps together. Next st w&t.
Row 4: Purl to first double wrapped st. Sl st onto right needle, pick up both wraps, sl st back to left needle, purl st and its wraps together. Next st w&t.

In the main portion of the pattern short row work can be described as follows:

Using short rows, work until there are 8 stitches wrapped on left side, 8 stitches wrapped on right side and 8 live unwrapped stitches in the middle.

Work second half of Short Row until all stitches are once again live.

Wednesday we’ll look at how to organize a pattern.

Yarn Rascal is now going to have the time out he’s been working so hard to achieve.

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Before I continue with the pattern writing topic I want to say thanks to Salpal for this blog post about the need for hats, scarves, and the like to help people in Maine stay a little warmer this winter. From time to time this past year, I went on a crochet binge of making nothing but hats and matching mittens. Maine is my heart’s home. It is where Dad’s family still lives. All my memories of childhood and my early 20s come from there. I am happy as the dickens to be able to send out this box full of hats and mittens.

We won’t discuss how Yarn Rascal reacted to seeing all these woolly items at once, except to say he was extremely and inappropriately thrilled.

If you are interested in donating, here is the address:
Sarah Nugent
c/o Washington Hancock Community Agency
248 Bucksport Road
Ellsworth, Maine 04605 USA

Now, back to how to write a good pattern.

I was rather shocked the other day when a very good indie designer asked “How much pattern support should I give?” I think a designer who self publishes is totally responsible for his / her design and the resulting pattern. If a large number of knitters are repeatedly having difficulty with the same portion of a pattern, it’s a pretty good signal that something is wrong. Not always, but often enough what is wrong is that the designer failed to provide adequate directions.

It’s a delicate dance. On the one hand, be concise, on the other don’t omit necessary information. The crux is defining what is necessary information, an argument that continues to burn in the knitting community. On one side are knitters who want all words out of their way, they just want to knit. The shorter the pattern the better no matter how complicated the design because they will be changing it on the fly anyway. They are not wedded to a pattern. They have many resources on hand if they need them. On the other side are knitters who want to be guided through the process of recreating the design. They are wedded to the pattern. They do not feel comfortable altering on their own. These knitters are referred to as needing “hand holding”. Often they don’t know of resources to which they can turn. Writing one pattern that would please both extremes is not possible. Sometimes indie designers offer two written versions of the same pattern in an effort to satisfy both camps. Most knitters fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

One way to write a good knitting pattern is to know your audience. Who are you writing for? What type of knitter is most likely to be drawn to your designs? Adventure seeking, off the beaten path, do my own thing individuals or someone who prefers a paved road, yet will take on a project beyond his / her skills as long as the structure to be followed is provided? What do they already know about knitting? What are they likely not to know?

A knitter, it is reasonable to assume, brings to the pattern a knowledge of how to knit, purl, perform a simple cast on and cast off, and knows a Right Side Row from a Wrong Side Row. Beyond that things need some explanation. SSK, K2tog and SKPO stitches need to be spelled out in the Abbreviations section of a pattern. Cast ons and cast offs don’t need to be explained unless the pattern requires a specific type that is not commonly used. For example, provisional cast ons, ribbed cast ons, and the double needle cast on need to be explained. Any of the tubular bind offs, three needle bind offs, and the Kitchener stitch also need explanation. None of these explanations need be lengthy. Nor do they need to be explained more than once. Special stitches, cast ons and bind offs, short rows and the like can be grouped on a special page of their own at the end of the pattern. Knitters can be told before they download a pattern that instructions for short rows and the provisional cast on used in the pattern are on page X. This gives knitters a choice of whether to access the information or not and at the same time moves it out of the way of the minimalists.

Short row work presents a real test for the pattern writer and I will start Monday’s post with this.

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Before I get to the writing part a short aside. I am at the graphing stage of the Shetland Baby Blanket. Last night I swatched two different edgings. Tonight I’d like to swatch the center. I am going with a borders out construction, though I’ve not decided whether I will knit it in the round as one continuous piece or knit the parts separately and sew / graft them together. Knitting it in the round means hundreds of stitches on the needles at one time. A knitting mistake could mean unknitting hundreds and hundreds of stitches.

I found this interesting video from The Shetland Times about Shetland Wool Week. Click here to see the video.

Now back to writing knitting patterns.

Patterns define their designers. They identify and characterize designers to publishers, magazine editors and most importantly, the knitters who buy the patterns. Poorly written patterns can quickly sink a designer’s business. Knitters who have suffered through a poorly written pattern are unlikely to become repeat customers. They will also let others in the knitting community know of their dissatisfaction. Every pattern is a designer’s one chance to make a good first impression. No matter how many patterns the designer has published in the past, some knitter, somewhere is picking up your pattern for the first time. Learning good pattern writing is crucial to a designer’s business because no matter how fantastic the design, all that is lost if the writing is poor.

The elements of good pattern writing are be clear, concise, consistent and accurate.

Clear writing is easily understood. It leaves no doubt or confusion. The instructions are precise. One way to achieve this is always number rows and rounds. Do everything you can to avoid using the word “next” before the words row and round. “Next row” on top of “next row” and “next row” instructions tend to be confusing. The knitter is given shifting sand to stand on rather than sturdy, firm bedrock. The first to get lost in stacked up “next row” instructions is the sense of right side row and wrong side row. The knitter becomes unsure as to whether the instructions should be worked on a right side or wrong side row. The confusion is compounded when “next row” instructions include such gems as purling on a right side row, or knitting on a wrong side row. Do everything you can to number rows and rounds. However, if numbering rows and rounds becomes temporarily impossible the next best alternative is to make each “next row” distinct from the following “next row”. For example, “Dec Next Row” or “Next Row RS”. Always give the knitter a firm ground to stand on. The knitter needs to know where she / he is at in the pattern.

Always indicate right side row or wrong side row at the beginning of any shaping. For extra clarity specify what is being shaped. For example, use the words “at neck edge” or “at armhole edge”. A knitter can be easily confused when both armhole and neck shaping takes place at the same time. Help the knitter make an initial distinction between the two. When armhole shaping ceases, remind the knitter to continue decreases at the neck edge.

Provide stitch counts at the end of rows or rounds that include increases or decreases. As a designer you want the knitter to be happy with the final result. Including stitch counts is another way of making your instructions clear because it provides the knitter with check points along the way rather than completing all the increases or decreases only to find 7 stitches on the needles when there should be 3.

Do not assume that the knitter understands that Row 1 is a right side row. Especially when using set up rows before starting a pattern, it is best to indicate the first right side row of the pattern.

Friday I will write about how to achieve clarity when describing knitting techniques such as short rows, provisional cast ons and the like.

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For a long time I was a writing instructor teaching others how to produce a well written project specific to their field. There are many types of writing out there and each has its own rhythms, constructions and standards. Writing a knitting pattern is no different and so I thought I would like share what I know about the elements of good pattern writing in a series of posts.

One of the most important pre-requisites to good writing of any kind is reading good writing. Immerse yourself in reading well written patterns. How do I know what a well written pattern is, you may ask. Trust yourself. You know.

Take a pattern that you had no trouble understanding. A pattern whose directions were clear, whose order was logical, that you consider to be well written. Now take a pattern that you had all kinds of trouble understanding, where you kept flipping back and forth through pages to find this or that. We all have these types of patterns in our pattern stash. Take them into a quiet room with a pen and paper. Read them. What makes one better than the other? How is the information in the patterns organized? Which seems to be better organized? Why? List the reasons. Also note what you don’t like. These will be what you avoid in your own pattern writing. Does the pattern contain long unbroken lines of instruction? Or does it have breathing space, where eyes and mind get a chance to rest before moving on to the next task? Which do you prefer? Why?

Most knitters, it has been documented, find that space between tasks is more restful on the eyes and mind. The space gives a clarity to the ending of one thing and the beginning of another. Knitters react with anxiety and anticipate confusion when faced with long unbroken lines of text.

Think about the wording in each pattern. Is it clear? Can it be easily understood? Are row counts clear? Are stitch counts clear? Are the construction tasks clearly broken up? For example, if the pattern is for a sweater, does it clearly divide the tasks into Back, Front, Shoulder Shaping, Neck Shaping, Sleeve, and so on. Does the pattern provide the information you need to complete the tasks or do you have to guess at what the next step is, or what the instruction means? Do you need to go to outside resources to complete a task or is the information for completing the task included in the pattern? Which do you prefer: guessing what the next step is or being told? Why?

Next post will be about the elements of good pattern writing. I’ll list what they are and give you ways to achieve them. For now I have to go. I hear the human bear rustling things in the kitchen most likely looking for food we don’t have because he ate everything last night at 2 am. And I hear the squeaking of wicker which can only mean Yarn Rascal is chewing on and eating his wicker bed. Wonderful.

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shetland lace swatch 1

For the nonce, I’ve ended this swatch. Though I’ve left the top live stitches on a thread holder just in case. I also have the stitches from the knitted cast on at the bottom that I could pick up if I wanted to add on. I can even pick up stitches at either side, too. The edging I experimented with is a pick up add on.

shetland lace swatch bottom

I am not enamored with the edging itself or the way it looks when picked up along a side border. The Brand Iron edging should start nearer the middle of the border and not at the corner. It would look better that way. But at that point I was almost certain I would not be working the shawl / blanket from the center out as planned. So there was little need to see what I had to do to fit the edging around the corner.

The fact is I am not in love with much in the swatch except for the cat’s paw motif near the top bordered by two different break patterns.

shetland lace top

While I like two of the diamond shapes of what was to be the border, I am not happy with the others. I want to add a tree of life pattern into the border and keep the two diamond patterns I like. Adding the tree of life changes pretty much everything. It’s a directional pattern, meaning it has a distinct top and bottom. It would be upside down if I worked the shawl from the center out. Thus, I had to change my construction process to borders in, meaning the edging is knitted first, then the border and then the center.

The swatching is on hold, for the most part while I work out what motifs to put with the tree of life and the two diamonds and figure out an edging.

As always, my assistant, Yarn Rascal, is close at hand and ready to destroy help.

yarn rascal lace

Close inspection of knitted work is a must, in his profession. The closer the better.

yarn rascal shetland lace swatch

Have a good weekend everyone.

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Wood Working Weekend

The Skipper is back wood working again and the familiar smells from that age old craft periodically waft up the stairs and scamper past my nose. Fresh cut wood is a smell I associate with Autumn. However, the burning smell of wood coming from a basement with no fireplace raises the hairs on the back of my neck, whereupon I run to the basement door, pull it open and ask “What the $#@! are you doing down there?”

More often than not, the question goes unheard, lost amid the whine and shrill scream of machinery. I have been at this point many times before and I know it is best to summon up patience and wait until the cacophony ceases and he takes the ear protectors off and I can be heard. Under no circumstance should I venture down the stairs.

Sometimes it is better for me not to see certain things. I am not saying that ignorance is bliss. I don’t believe that. Instead, I am saying for me, not actually seeing the things the man does to cause the wood burning smell, helps stave off a migraine. Displaying my curiosity over what he is doing by asking the question is often enough to get him to stop whatever it is. Saturday and Sunday were filled with such questions.

But he does turn out some beautiful work. Here are some pictures of the very first woodworking item he ever made. It is a replica of a 1700s cradle. The Skipper made it for his first grandchild. She is now 10 years old. I made the bedding.

cradel in shop

cradel front

cradel side

cradel and bedding

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Just when I thought everything was humming along fine Amazon.com threw a wrench into the gears. I had finally argued myself out of the last reasonable excuse for not buying another book on Shetland Lace. It was really the one book I needed in order to have a half-way respectable library on the subject. So I went to the Amazon site, found a paperback copy for a reasonable price clicked buy, and that was that. Or so I thought.

Yesterday, my day began with a message from Amazon that my order had been cancelled. I’ve never had that happen before. Okay, back to Amazon, type in book title and Ta-Dah up comes the ones available with prices starting at 100 US Dollars and topping out at 999.99 US Dollars. A very far cry from the 26.50 US Dollars of the one I ordered that was now cancelled.

It’s a paperback book Amazon. I worked in the publishing industry as an editor. I know a number of printers. In short, I know the costs of making a book, and unless the ones being offered at 100 dollars plus have significant amounts of flecked gold embedded in their pages its rip off prices.

I looked at Barnes & Noble. I so do love this particular company. I have their Nook. I love it. I love their stores. I love the knowledgeable book loving people who work there. But they aren’t carrying the book I want.

I found less than a handful of sites that carried the book here in the US. Prices for the paperback were starting at 50 US Dollars on up. Then I looked at the shipping costs. Can we say vulture capitalism?

I thought about going without the book. I’m not an idiot and I don’t like to be treated like one by the marketplace. Then I thought of Jamieson & Smith. They have a blog here on WordPress. The price of the book along with shipping it from Europe to the US cost me less than if I had bought it here.

GOAL!!!!!!! TOUCHDOWN!!!! SCORED!!!!! End zone dance being done. Thank you, the powers that be, for Scotland.

Have a good weekend everybody.

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Knitting is math. Designing is part cosmic inspiration and a heavy dose of math. Tech editing knitting patterns that ignore math are worthy of a good cry. Which is what I had last night. Then I put the third season of Downton Abbey in the DVD player and chilled out.

Here are some small tips for designers.

Tip #1: The total number of decreases for armholes on the back of a garment should be an even number. The back of a garment has one armhole on each side. 1 + 1 = 2 armholes. The total number of decreases on one end of the needle should equal the total number of decreases on the other end of the needle, unless the design is a futuristic garment for aliens with mismatching sized arms.

Tip #2: If the garment is to be futuristic, post-apocalypse, or some other out of the main stream design, a small note to the tech editor indicating this is always greatly appreciated.

Tip #3: Each armhole should have the same number of decreases at the same intervals. For example, initial armhole decreases are usually 3 stitches each side or enough to equal .5 to 1″ (1 to 2.5) cm in width. Decreasing 3 stitches on one side and 5 on the other isn’t going to provide symmetry. Rather, decreasing 3 stitches at the beginning of the next two rows, works better. The decreases following the initial ones must also be paired. For example: Decrease 2 sts very 4th row each end of needle 4 times. Symmetrical shaping is key here.

Tip #4: Armhole depth is measured by the number of rows one works, not the number of stitches. This is where row gauge matters.

Tip #5: Armhole depth is usually worked over an even number of rows because rows are worked in pairs: a right side row followed by a wrong side row.

Now to change topics entirely.


Yes, Yarn Rascal earned another Gold Paw Award the other day. He successfully seized the Shetland Swatch and happily scampered all over the living room with it. I learned two things from the episode:

First, for a cobweb yarn, Shetland wool is awfully strong.

Second, Yarn Rascal is not able to help himself. It’s his DNA. He just doesn’t own the gene to help him control himself around yarn.

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