Archive for the ‘How to Write Good Knitting Patterns’ Category

I’ve been reading a lot of patterns by indie designers. Many indie designers can benefit from developing a style sheet to make their patterns more readable, consistent, and stand out from the pack.

First, brand your patterns. That means thinking about the layout and the look of your pattern. Where you place things, font type and size, headers and footers, logos, helpful hints, color scheme all need to be decided prior to writing a word. What look and style you choose for your pages should remain consistent within the pattern and in other patterns that follow. The look and style becomes your brand, your calling card; it represents you and your design business.

Font type and size is a good place to start. Did you know that most people in the US cannot read cursive writing? Cursive writing is script. An example is given below.


Out of the 50 states that make up the US, 41 do not teach cursive writing in their school systems. So not only can people not read cursive writing but they are also unable to sign their names because they cannot do cursive writing. Therefore, when writing patterns do not use any font that resembles cursive writing anywhere in your pattern, including the pattern title and your company name.

For the directions in the pattern you want an easy to read font, preferably serif. Studies have shown serif type makes reading long passages easier on the eyes.


Fonts you want to avoid are anything with unusual or decorative lettering, overly wide letters, overly narrow letters, too thick letters, too thin letters. In short, avoid anything fancy. Times New Roman is a good font. Boring? Yes, but easily readable.

Next is selecting font size. For the body text of the pattern, 11 or 12 pt is suggested. Anything smaller is harder to read. You want the knitter to be able to easily read the pattern.

In summation: A good pattern font is Times New Roman, size 11.

Next up: Size and font for title and headings.

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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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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 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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