Design Process Series, Installment Five – Pattern Writing

Well, there you have it folks. We’ve made it all the way to Installment Five before we actually begin writing the pattern. I guess I always thought that it was the hard and time-consuming part, but really, it’s part that I find comes the easiest and doesn’t take nearly as long as I had originally anticipated.

Once I’ve determined what yarn, stitch patterns, construction techniques and dimensions I want to use, it’s time to put it all together into words. And those words need to make sense to absolutely anybody and everybody who reads them, providing they know a bit about knitting. I guess that’s where my science background comes in handy. I see pattern writing as essentially the same thing as writing a lab report, and boy have I written a lot of lab reports over the years!

First you have your Purpose/Hypothesis: I give a brief introduction to the pattern, usually touching on the inspiration for the piece and the important design details. The hypothesis is that if you follow these instructions then you will end up with an item looking like the one in the picture, more or less.

Next, your Materials: The amount and type of yarn needed, needle type and size, tapestry needle, various other implements and notions.

Then on to Methods: Starting off with a glossary, followed by step-by-step instructions of how to “replicate the experiment” / “knit the garment”.

And finally, Conclusions: I like to (and you really should) include a drawn-to-scale schematic showing the finished measurements of the blocked piece.

Also, like in a lab report, I try to stick with a third-person, passive voice. I guess it’s my training, it just seems natural to me that this should be the way to write instructions. There has been some debate about this, and I must say I don’t adhere to it 100%. There are often times that it comes across sounding weird, and other times where I just want to lighten the mood a little. Like in the upcoming Helen Pencil Skirt, I have one section called “The Straight Part” and another called “Hip to Waist Shaping (AKA the Curvy Part).” The beauty of this not actually being a lab report is that it’s okay to not take yourself too seriously now and then.

Another aspect of pattern writing that draws some debate is whether to write first and knit later, or vice versa. For my first pattern I worked out all the numbers, knit the pattern taking notes along the way, and then wrote the pattern. This seemed like a good idea at the time, and it didn’t work out too badly, but in the end it’s not the ideal method for me. For one, I am not the most organized nor diligent person in the world. I had to do some real sleuthing to figure out what I had done when it came time to write it all down weeks later. Also, once the pattern was written I didn’t know for sure that it was easy to follow again. So then I knit a whole other sample. For all subsequent patterns I have written the pattern first and then sat down and knit the sample from the instructions. Yes, this means tinkering with the pattern along the way, but it’s much easier to make adjustments to the pattern once it’s written. And it also lets me find possible mistakes and ambiguities that I might not have noticed otherwise.

The hard part of pattern writing for me is formatting. In an ideal world I’d be using something like Corel Draw or InDesign to put together my patterns in a very lovely snazzy-looking way. But, the world not being ideal, I don’t have the budget to fork out thousand(s) of dollars for those programs. And I’ve tried working with free programs like Inkscape and Scribus, but the learning curve is so steep that I have a hard time dedicating my time to figuring them out. So, sadly, I hobble my patterns together in Microsoft Word and use CutePDF to convert them to PDF’s. The end product still looks good, and it gets the information to the consumer, but maybe when I grow up I’ll get them looking real fancy-like. For now, here’s a little view of what my patterns look like.


Join me next week at the same bat-time on the same bat-channel for Installment Six – Editing and Testing.

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