Shades of Grey

On Saturday morning I completely snapped, bailed on the autumn coloured project and went in search of a project that would scratch my spring colour itch. There’s a baby coming in my circle, and I was tickled to get the go ahead to start knitting, and frankly, it was the perfect excuse.  I took a cup of coffee up to the stash and pulled down my bin of baby yarn. Now, the bin of baby yarn is far from perfect. Truth be told, it’s mostly leftovers, and I quickly discovered that there wasn’t enough of one colour to do a whole sweater.

My go-to baby sweater in a pinch is a garter stitch top down sweater that I’ve been making for years.  I think that originally the pattern came from a Phildar baby magazine from the 80’s, but I’ve remade and revamped it so many times that I don’t even have instructions any more.  I cast on, I increase, I make sleeves… off I go.  Little Lou had a sweater like this when he was born, and I thought I’d just do the same thing. I had a ball of white, and several colours, and although one ball isn’t enough for a sweater, I sort of thought that adding the other colours would stretch it. Like adding more potatoes to a stew when company arrives.

After a few hours of knitting, I realized that there was a few things going on.
1. It was cute, but too busy.
2. The gauge I’d settled on meant that I was going to run out of white anyway.
3. It wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. 

The sweater start above was unceremoniously ripped of the needles and pitched back into the baby yarn bin, and I went to the yarn store.  I was back home a little later with balls of baby yarn in….

Grey.  I know, I know.  The whole other thing was dumped because I craved spring colour – I can’t explain myself, but I do know I was super excited to start, and start I did.  I decided to make Fanasaeter. It’s a pretty fussy baby jacket, knit at 32 stitches to the inch with lots of knit/purl decoration, and embroidery at the end.  I’m in love, and as it always goes with love…

It’s fast.  Time flies when you’re having fun, and by last night I had the body done to the armpits, and had flown up the front, and was ready to start the neck shaping.  There isn’t much, and it’s not that fussy through that bit, but like all Dale of Norway patterns, there’s not much in the way of directions.  Like most older patterns, or most non-North American patterns, the instructions for the first side you work has the shaping, and for the second side, it simply says "Reverse Shaping."  I had ignored the instructions for which side to work first, so I was starting with the side that was worked in reverse, and it was late and I couldn’t face even the simplest of things, and went to bed.  On my way up, I tweeted:

"Reverse shapings to match other side". Bad instructions for late on a Sunday night.

Now, let me be clear.  I don’t think that "reverse shapings" is a bad instruction. It was just bad for a tired lady who couldn’t have cared less at that moment. I’d say that almost every pattern I have upstairs (in print) includes that direction. Some of the older ones have directions that are even more vague. Hell, I’ve got a booklet of sock patterns from the 40’s that have instructions for the patterned leg, then the direction "MAKE HEEL".   It seems that back then, the onus was on the knitter to know how to do these things… and that’s what I’ve done all these years.  An instruction says "Work in seed stitch" but there’s no instruction for seed stitch? I go look it up in a reference book.  "Cast on, using German twisted cast-on"? Okay, back to the books. "Reverse shaping"? There was totally a time with that would have sent me to a reference to see what it meant.  My expectation has always been that knitting is a skill, and it’s totally okay for the designer to expect me to have some – or get some.  Now, twitter is only 140 characters, and it’s not a format that lends itself to a super-huge amount of clarity, so I’m often not surprised when people there say things I wasn’t expecting.  I figure my original wording wasn’t… well, wordy enough for clarity, but I still was surprised when a super large number of very reasonable people said that saying "reverse shapings" was lazy pattern writing.  They wanted it written out, they (very reasonably) thought a designer should do that for you.  A conversation ensued, and it was enlightening, and interesting. 

In the end, there were many people who felt into one of two camps. Either that it’s lazy pattern writing,  that knitting is meant to be fun and relaxing and there shouldn’t be figuring like that in it – and the opposition, who think that it’s reasonable to ask a knitter to do that, that it’s part of knitting, and increases skill and ability to do it.  I have no proof, but I suspect that this strong difference is personality.  There are knitters who find the challenge of that sort of thing super fun, and then there’s the opposite,  knitters who just don’t find it fun at all, and that means there’s not a right answer there, and I judge neither camp. It’s like whether or not you like cilantro, there’s no morals attached to it, but both sides aren’t going to come round to the same decision.

The interesting thing for me, is this. I think it is very normal to ask a knitter to seek further information, or gain information on a skill they might need to complete a pattern – to some degree.   It’s not like patterns tell us how to cast on.  It just says "cast on 161 stitches". It’s not like patterns tell you how to do a bind-off.  It will just say "bind off 6 stitches at the beginning of the next two rows." There’s an assumption there that you already know, or that you’ll go find out.  Over the last few years though, the degree to which this is up to the knitter seems to be changing.  Like I said, virtually ALL  the patterns I own (and let’s be clear, this would be thousands) that are in print, or books or leaflets, give the knitter a lot of responsibility for this stuff.  They assume that if they say "reverse shapings" that you’re going to know (or go find out) that the reverse of a k2tog is an SSK.  European and Japanese patterns go even farther. They often simply provide you with a schematic or chart and figure you’ll really, really do the figuring.   This seems to be changing.  With the advent of electronic patterns, where space, paper and ink are less of an issue, patterns can be wordier, more complete… a knitter can be catered to for a very great number of things.  Directions can easily be given for both sides of a sweater shaping. You can go on for four pages about how to do a German twisted bind-off… and I wonder if this is changing the expectations of knitters?

One person said (and she was unequivocally right) that assuming a skill (or the ability to go get one) is fine in patterns that are for experienced knitters, but that beginners can, and should expect more hand-holding.  She makes an excellent point, but how about this?

My Aunt Helen had been knitting for eighty years when she died.  She was a knitting machine.  Countless sweaters, hats, socks, scarves, mittens – what she knit in a lifetime would boggle your mind.  I think we can all agree that she was experienced.
How about this: Helen knew one cast-on.  She knew one bind-off. She knew one increase and two decreases. That’s it.   Now, I can right now direct you to many knitters I know who have way less "experience" than Helen. They’ve been knitting for way less time (like, seventy five years le
ss) and they’ve made way fewer things – but their knitting would knock you over with the beauty of it all. Lace shawls, complex colourwork, many different techniques and skills, all demonstrated absolutely skillfully – just like Helen’s.   Experience is subjective. Just because someone’s done a lot of something doesn’t mean that they’re experienced. It might mean they’re super experienced at just a few things, like Helen’s knitted-on cast-on.  The woman knit for seventy-five years and she only ever used that one, and never thought it reasonable to learn another. Experienced? Yup. At that – so I think that saying that "experienced knitters" would be fine with instructions that assume you have a skill is tricky.  If you’d have told Helen she wasn’t "experienced" she would have slapped you out of your chair and buried you in her handknit stuff for emphasis.  On the other hand, while she only knew one cast-on, she wouldn’t have balked for one second at the expectation that she reverse shapings.  Heck, she could have invented them, and conversely, some of the best knitters I know, willing to make heirloom shawls and ridiculously complex things want that totally spelled out for them.

This has gotten ridiculously long, and clearly we are talking shades of grey here, but I wonder a whole bunch of stuff, stuff like, where’s the line? How much should be spelled out in a pattern? How much should it be assumed that we know? Is the idea that you’d look something up in another book, and figure it out going away as (almost) unlimited room to explain things in patterns arrives?  What is it a designers responsibility to explain to you? If they don’t explain everything, should they, or is it just turning us into knitters who can’t/won’t/don’t skill build on our own? 

The whole thing reminds me of something else that Helen could do. She was a human calculator. Like everyone her age, she could do all her sums in her head, or at least on paper. Me, I have a calculator, and if you ask me to sum up three things, I’m going to go get it.  I don’t need to know how, and frankly, I don’t.  I couldn’t do long division on paper if there was a gun to my head.  I wonder if "reverse shapings" is like that.  If we don’t have to learn… will we? Does that even matter? It’s not like using a calculator has ruined my life, it’s just what I’ve replaced Helen’s skill at sums with.  I’m totally fine. So was she. 

I think it’s interesting to think about how this stuff shapes us as knitters, and to talk about our expectations of designers and their expectations of us.  Is the responsibility for knowing skills shifting to them?

Like with cilantro, I’m sure there’ll be lots of opinions. Like cilantro opinions, they’ll all most likely be right.

339 thoughts on “Shades of Grey

  1. I’m of “the more instructions the better” mind. I don’t want the person writing the pattern to assume anything.

  2. Is that “32 stitches to the inch,” or maybe 32 stitches to four inches? Either way, I am impressed! It will be lovely – I remember reading that Elizabeth Zimmerman said to not discount the natural wool colors for baby things, and how pretty a gray sweater would be on a red-headed baby!

  3. I think that to some extent, I am OK with doing things on my own. However, technology has made it easier on us and more likely for me to finish projects (and repeat them) if I have the complete instructions in the first place!

  4. I too questioned 32 sts per inch. Perhaps a typo? Anyway, lovely pattern, lovely work as usual. I think that knitters should be able to look up things they don’t know and that patterns shouldn’t have to spell out every single little detail. Now with youtube and internet, it’s possible to quickly find out how to do anything so patterns shouldn’t have to be very verbose imho.

  5. I like cilantro – on some days. On other days, I’d rather enjoy something else. Same goes for depth of knitting instructions (or even complexity of knitting projects in general)

  6. I’m ok with fewer instructions–but give me a good, complete schematic—which I find necessary because I am completely incapable of knitting a pattern with the yarn in which it was conceived; and I generally end up combining sizes to fit me anyways o:

  7. My first thought was that I always read the instructions to make sure I can perform all the skills necessary. Maybe that’s part of the knitter’s responsibility. If the pattern seems too complex, I might not attempt it unless I consciously plan to learn some new skills.

  8. As an “experienced” knitter whose skills are still elementary, I would like suggestions about a alternatives to my go-to long-tail cast-on. I’m perfectly capable of learning them, I just don’t know when they’re appropriate.
    In the case of “reverse shaping”, “continue in pattern” or other similar instructions, I will take the time to write out unclear directions line by line, just to up my chances of doing things right.
    When all else fails, I hit the wine.

  9. I don’t see why we need to have a(n argument) I mean debate about this at all. Those who want patterns with more instructions, with all steps charted out, etc., can go find them. Those who are fine with less explanation, are free to find those patterns instead.
    I fall into the fewer instructions are fine camp. I’m completely okay with going out on my own to learn a new skill. However, if I see a pattern with a tutorial for something I wanted to learn anyway, I am more likely to buy it.
    Just my $0.02.

  10. I’m going to get a cup of coffee and sit back and enjoy the show.
    And that sweater is BEAUTIFUL!

  11. I’m pretty okay with patterns that don’t give tons of information – I’d prefer a detailed schematic over line-by-line instructions any day.
    But, I like a detailed schematic because then I can easily see what’s going on with the pattern and change it to be the way I want it. Part of why I love EZ’s patterns is that she seems to assume that I’ll be doing this, and so writes for that “big picture” schematic.
    Plus, google. YouTube has every knitting technique tutorial I could want- and since I prefer video, looking up a technique makes the most sense to me, personally.

  12. I am OK with “reverse shaping” but definitely have to be in the mood as it does taken more concentration. I am with the gal who believes hand holding for beginners is the way to go. Many patterns would expect a knitter to be able to research different techniques if they have never done them before. It is what keeps knitting fresh, the never ending process of learning. Hopefully we all reach a point where we don’t need to be spoon-fed.

  13. Good question! I want to learn new knitting techniques and don’t hesitate to do math (with a calculator) to get the pattern/yarn/gauge to align.
    But I’m a product knitter and my knitting time is very limited and I like to use it to knit. So the less I have to get up to “look it up” the better for me.
    My Ravelry list is crammed with projects I may start when my knitting time and attention span increases!

  14. It’s the question of how much you want your knitting to make you think, I suppose. I don’t have any strong opinions, but I know that the times where I have to think, or figure, or write something out, mean occasional natural pauses in a project, until I have the brain to handle them. Which has often, for me, meant that I make a lot of plain socks, and have partial sweaters sit in bags for weeks until I find some knitting-related concentration time to make the knitting go again.
    I’ve been trying to push myself in that way, though – I realized that a bunch of my “someday” projects are Zimmerman-style percentage things that just need some time to swatch and figure and plan, and then they’ll be as automatic as something already all written out for me.

  15. I think it would be handy, for newer knitters, to have some indication that something could easily be looked up. Like, I’d get to “reverse shaping” and have NO IDEA what that meant, or that it’s something I could look up. Maybe a glossary on the pattern for the trickier terms?

  16. Super interesting post! I just blogged this weekend about a pattern that I didn’t think was well written, partly because it assumed I knew seed stitch. Now I’m rethinking part of my criticism. Not all, but part of it….

  17. I made a beautiful Debbie Bliss sweater for my grandson 5 years ago. It had lots of aran cable work as well as moss stitch that later had teddy bears embroidered on it. I happily knit the back and one of the fronts. And then came those words “reverse shaping”. Now we’re talking cables and twisted stitches done in small blocks along with blocks of moss stitch mixed in with armhole shaping. The top of my head blew off. Debbie Bliss apparently doesn’t believe in charts, so no help there. I eventually charted the first side and then I could figure out how to knit the second. I’ve been knitting for many, many years and I had trouble. I can only imagine some poor beginner trying to make a sweater for her new baby. Please, designers, write out the instructions for the whole garment.

  18. Youtube has expanded my ability to learn new techniques. definitions of abreviations with each pattern helps me decide if I want to try it. can’t get enough of new stitches, use them too. I need visual aids, more explanations the better. knitting for years

  19. If I’m paying for the pattern (book, magazine, or pdf) then I want as many details as possible so that my knitted project will look just like the one in the picture. I feel that I’m paying for those details. If the pattern is free then I don’t mind doing some of the research or math for myself.

  20. I have a blog post drafted about exactly this! I just finished a pattern that didn’t include some of the directions I’ve gotten used to seeing (but don’t really need) on how to do short rows. Given some of the other basic techniques that were spelled out, I was a bit surprised that that was left up to the knitting, but I didn’t really need the directions. On the other hand, the same pattern didn’t include joining directions and I totally spaced and made my jacket a pullover and I was incredibly frustrated. Joining is way easier than short rows, but I was still more ticked that those instructions were missing. Maybe because it wasn’t something that I could just go look up elsewhere?

  21. I have been knitting seriously for only about a year. In that time I have learned countless cast-ons, two or three bind-offs, colorwork, cables, socks from the two up and top down, how to use DPNs, circular needles, and magic loop, mirrored increases and decreases, what yarn weights mean, how to pick colors, how to knit lace, and have even started to design my own pieces. I think I have knit two or three patterns as written. Everything else, if I worked from a pattern, I heavily modified it. All of this is to say that I learn and build my skill through reference books and the internet. I love when patterns give little directions! It forces me to grow and learn more. To be fair, having learned that way originally, I am very comfortable with digging through reference books or google search results. I feel empowered. And to be honest, unless the pattern is written for beginners, I get a little bored reading through technique how-tos. I don’t want my patterns to be reference books. All I want is the basic directions. (However, I am completely aware that this is just my opinion.)

  22. I think that instructions should be explicit if the technique used matters for the outcome of the knitting. And whether the technique “matters” is up to the designer – they are allowed to specify as much as they want for the knitting to match their vision of the product. This is sort of tangential to the debate, though, about instructions teaching vs. assuming certain skills. I like patterns in which I learn new techniques, but whether these are explained in the pattern itself or in another resource doesn’t matter to me – that’s what Google and Youtube are for!

  23. I shall enter myself in the camp of those who like fewer instructions. I get frustrated when a pattern has too much clutter, and in the past I have rewritten patterns to include only the parts I find relevant. I certainly don’t object to having technique instructions, but I am personally of the opinion that they should be included outside the actual meat of the pattern whenever possible.

  24. I fall into the “spell it out, please” camp. If I’m knitting from a pattern, it’s because I didn’t want to do the brainwork to design it or change it. And I have been known to forget to reverse shaping, which results in lots of cursing.

  25. I think that it’s technology that has made humankind lazy at figuring things out for ourselves. Kind of like your calculator statement — we don’t need to really understand how to do these things ourselves because all the math that most average people need in their daily lives is do-able with a calculator. Lazy? Perhaps. But I’m floundering my way through College Algebra right now at the age of 35, and I’d be lost without my expensive graphing calculator! In knitting patterns, I prefer to at least understand what the instructions are telling me to do. There’s always Google to the rescue!
    I love both baby sweaters, by the way. I’m sad that you frogged the first. It’s adorable and springy!

  26. If I pay a lot for a pattern. I expect more from it then from a free or inexpensive pattern. If I shell out $6 or more I want it clearly written and well-tested. With pretty pictures and charts. I might change how I knit it but I do want it written out fully. There is enough to trip me up having all the information that I think its a fair expectation. In an age when I don’t usually physically see the pattern before purchase because I’m buying it online there are already too many unknowns about how the pattern info will be presented and what will and will not be included.

  27. I’ve always felt that patterns should come with two versions (which i know is way too much work for most pattern designers). One is like a cliffnotes pattern… some charts, basic schematics, just enough so that if you know what your doing you can make the item. Ideally this is on one sheet, letting me carry it around on the go. Then you also have the spelled out version… unique techniques explained, lace patterns written out, sizing options clarified, etc. That way you can cater to someone just starting or someone knitting for years. Im the kind of person who modifies patterns on a whim and trying to read through pages of explanations just confuses me when i could just google it and find out about a technique. But i can see the appeal of both…

  28. The reality is that the world has changed, so it’s no longer assumed everyone — make that every woman — took home economics to learn the same basic craft/sewing skills. Patterns sold in today’s marketplace should accept that fact to appeal to the widest clientele. Free patterns, of course, have a lower standard.
    Have we lost anything in letting go of the ability to calculate in our head? Possibly, but my head has to remember so many other things — PINs, passwords, multiple computer programs, etc. etc. — that Aunt Helen or my mother never had to contend with.

  29. Since I’m a beginner, I want more detailed instructions, but there’s another point to be made here. The vocabulary of knitting is not consistent across countries; “bind off” equals “cast off,” for example, and “moss stitch” is not the same thing in the U.S. and the U.K. Thus, when a pattern refers to a specific stitch or a specific skill, the designer cannot be sure that even an experienced knitter will know what it means; perhaps the knitter can do it but learned a different term for it.
    How about a compromise? A pattern should have a separate section for explanations that might not be needed. Thus, the pattern could say “do 12 rows of twiddlebug stitch” and then, in the separate section, describe a twiddlebug stitch.
    When knitters run the world this will not be necessary.

  30. Love the interesting debate you have started and that is being carried out by the comments.
    One thing that is clear to me as the mother of a nine year old in the public school system is that the nature of teaching and learning is changing.
    These days, with the rich cornucopia of information at our fingertips (sometimes quite literally, such as on your phone), schools don’t feel the need to teach students “facts” that they can easily look up. Instead, for example, my son’s school in Maryland is teaching math very differently than how I learned it. He is learning mathematical “patterns” that explain how computations are made, and not just simple facts, like multiplication tables to memorize. The end result has been that he can do math in his head way more easily than I can. The same is true for other subjects he is learning. (Though I wish they were more thorough about spelling! Spell check is not the answer!)
    As for knitting, I feel that every pattern experience that can teach me the “why” of a certain technique (like my son’s math class) is something I can use and adapt to other situations. If a pattern specifies a particular cast on because it produces a particular result, I’ll file that experience away in my mental knitting toolbox and remember it as a possible substitution or to use when it just says “cast on.” I’m fine with looking things up, because, again, the facts about knitting are everywhere, and there are so many ways to find what you’re looking to learn.
    And learning is fun.

  31. I tend to like things spelled out, but my knitting is my relaxing at the end of the day time, when I’m relaxing precisely because my brain is thinking of ‘bed’. This is a grey area, but it would be very helpful if designers would indicate what skills are needed for their patterns. I believe ‘reverse shaping’ would fall under that, as would P5tog TBL. I think this is of even great importance to the knitter when they are purchasing through the internet, where they can’t even take a look at the pattern to say, “Oh heck, I want something easier/more challenging for this project.” and move along. Cookbooks now often spell out what I might consider the simplest of instructions, but I’ve been cooking about 35 years. It is perspective, once again.

  32. I believe that designers shouldn’t have to write detailed instructions. If I don’t know how to do something, it’s on me to either figure out how, work around it, or decide on doing something else. I use the example of my boys (6 & 8) when they play video games. If they come to me or my husband for “help” with something, they’re told to either ‘keep trying or do something else’.
    Figuring out something in a pattern is part of how engaging it is… part of the challenge… part of the reward.

  33. With the internet available to most and the ability to look just about anything up reverse shaping to me is just fine. Except after 10pm. For some reason my mind will not compute after 10.
    Now as far as the vintage patterns and vague instructions. There was a much larger community of kniters back in those days (which is why Ravelry is so great at bring us together). My Grandmother knit as did her sisters and cousins and they lived close together and could get help from each other quickly and easily. Now with many working outside the home getting help from a person after 6pm when working on an item is difficult and the desire to sit and knit with complete instructions is great. I think that is the main reason most knitters want clear and complete instuctions.
    I work on a computer during the day and one of the last things I want to do is get up from my knitting chair and go look up something on my computer (I’m not wireless yet). I am tired from working all day. What I do in the evening should be fun and easy, I have that challenging pattern sitting in my wip pile for when I feel like knitting with more brain power.

  34. Started reading this just after I picked the cilantro out of the restaurant-bought guacamole. Cilantro tastes soapy to me and to my father, but not to my mother and two sisters.
    I have trouble thinking in three dimensions, so the more details the better.

  35. I would want the pattern spelled out slightly better, with so much going on on the sweater, I wouldn’t want to have to mess around, rip out and figure out where I was. It’s a beautiful sweater, what a lucky baby.
    The other sweater was cute too, maybe not quite heirloom worthy like the other, but cheerful cozy and warm.

  36. Yes – exactly! Sometimes for patterns, if it’s relatively simply-made but the pattern is more than two pages long, I won’t buy the pattern even if I adore the sweater – because I just need a tiny bit of information and don’t want to spend time reading a novella of how the designer made that specific sweater. Give me a rough drawing with numbers on it and I’m set.

  37. First of all, I LOVE the grey baby sweater. Never underestimate the power of neutrals in your wardrobe (even if you’re a newborn)! Besides, the stitch patterns in that sweater are gorgeous, love the texture!
    As to the subject of “reverse shaping to match other side” – my feelings are mixed. I have enough brains and reference material to know what needs doing, but don’t enjoy it, and some knitters might have difficulty no matter what their experience level.
    I’ve noticed lately there are definitely two styles of designers, those who spell every little thing out and those who leave it up to the knitter to know what needs doing, and I’m not sure either is right or wrong but do know I will occasionally pass on a pattern by a designer I know leaves lots to my imagination just because I’d rather knit than write out the second half of the pattern.
    Hope that all made sense!

  38. I just looked up “fickle” in the dictionary. There’s a picture of you there.

  39. Know what I like? When a pattern says upfront what skills are needed to complete the pattern. You can get an idea of how complicated it will be if it says, “You will need to know how to Cast On, Knit, Purl, Bind off” or “You will need to know how to Long Channel Cast On, German Twist, Latvian Braid, etc, etc, etc”.
    I don’t see those lists often, but I appreciate them when I see them. That way if there’s one or two things I don’t recognize, I know what I’ll be learning to make the pattern.

  40. I think there’s even more justification these days to make things less clear in patterns, because it’s so much easier and faster to look something up quickly using google than it is to have to (possibly) search though several books.
    I”m a big fan of working on several projects of different difficulties at once, so I have something easy to do when I want to knit thoughtlessly, or really focus on it. Having to work at figuring out a knitting pattern just makes you better at knitting (and figuring patterns).

  41. I think that the ratio of instructions should not be based on how experienced the knitter is, but on how complex the pattern is. I am a very experienced, skilled and accomplished knitter, and if I am working a very simple design, I have no trouble “reversing shaping,” or filling in any other instruction gap. However, if I have used my few brain cells on a complicated lace pattern that has me following line by line over a 75 stitch by 52 row pictoral motif with a half drop and an all over repeat, please give me a break and do a little of the thinking for me because, quite frankly, I’m tapped and that’s when I need the hand holding.

  42. That is a fabulous baby sweater! After looking at the pictures, I don’t think the 32st/inch is a typo at all. There’s an incredible amount of detailing in that very small baby sweater. I also like the idea of grey on a baby. Why not?
    I’m of the “fewer directions” school of thought, though I have no objections to knitters who need everything spelled out. To me, fewer directions means fewer things to confuse me! I’d much rather see “decrease 8 stitches evenly spaced across row” than “k6,*k2tog,k13* 7 times, k2tog, k6”.
    I’ve been knitting for 60 odd years, and to this day, I’m still learning new techniques.

  43. I always figure that the designer has something particular in mind — which decrease to use, for example — so I’d really like to know what it is! Also, I have a friend who has been knitting for at least 50 years and churns out cabled sweaters right and left. But a few years ago, she came to me with a concern — she had NEVER done a yarn-over before, and was worried that she now had a hole in her knitting. So, yeah — “experienced” doesn’t always mean the same thing! (Also, I’m one of the people for whom cilantro tastes like soap. I LOVE Tex-Mex food and lived in San Antonio for 20 years, so this is sometimes problematic…)

  44. I’ve never had a problem figuring out a pattern until recently. I’m in the process of knitting a jumper from a European knitting website and ran into the most confusing instructions ever. Thankfully, the German designer was kind enough to explain the following: “increase 6×1 after each 3 RS row, then 3×1 after each 2 RS row, and 18×1 in each RS row at the beginning and the end.” Once deciphered it means increasing 1 stitch at the beginning and end of each 3rd RS row (6 times), then 1 stitch at the beginning and end of each 2nd RS row (3 times) and then 1 stitch at the beginning and end of each RS row (18 times). She said this was commonly seen in European knitting patterns, but it was completely new to me and none of my resources shed light on this type of instruction. Given this recent experience, I’d say I might be in “the more explanation the better” category. Of course, I think there was also a translation issue (from German to English). Fortunately, the pattern is free.

  45. I had a similar conversation with a designer on Ravelry last month. I was test knitting a sock pattern for her and I asked for clarification on a particular part of the pattern. She cleared up my question but then when I posted my picture of the completed sock she noticed that my stitches were backwards. I explained the I’m a self-taught backwards continental left-handed knitter and sometimes my finished product comes out backwards looking depending on the pattern. She asked if I thought she should include instructions in her final pattern for people who knit backwards and I emphatically told her NO!! I’m used to reversing pattern instructions or just doing them my way so that I get a similar, but possibly backwards, version of the project.
    We all learn to modify and adjust patterns to our capabilities with time. Why should designers have to cater to all of us individually? And if they did they’d be creating patterns that are pages and pages and pages long, and THAT would turn me off of a pattern faster than “vague” instructions.

  46. I think it’s worth making a distinction here between explanations of things the knitter could look up elsewhere (e.g. cast-on techniques, increase techniques, things that lie outside the specifics of a given pattern) and explanations of things that are pattern-specific. “Reverse shaping” seems to me to fall into the latter category: you can’t look up how to reverse the shaping for this particular sweater. I can imagine a wonderful Knitty or TechKnitter article on how to generate reverse shaping for any pattern, but the specifics for any one pattern will always be pretty much of local relevance. So it makes sense to me that one would include instructions for reverse shaping in a pattern, even if one assumed that the knitter would go look up things like how to work decreases, increases, German long-tail cast-on, etc. Same thing with an instruction to “use short rows to raise the back of the neck”: I know how (or can look up how) to do short rows, but I’d appreciate guidance from the designer on how wide they should be, how many, etc. *for this particular garment*.

  47. As a knitter how detailed the instructions are doesn’t bother me much, though I do quite like to know the gauge and finished size.
    But from a designers perspective what bugs me is the expectation for everything to be spelled out in detail but an unwillingness to pay more than $3 for the pattern.
    In a pattern I recently published I decided that a single page with the short instructions would be very beneficial to confident knitters, so they can print just 1 sheet.
    But separating out simplified instructions like this can be considerably more work.
    I think brief patterns with links or references to where to find detailed instructions for each technique is a great compromise for producing patterns that suit everyone.

  48. I’m sure you have some of those old patterns that not only said “reverse shaping” but also didn’t provide a schematic. I’m fine with the first and other such directions that assume the knitter knows how to do things, but not having a schematic was awful and would keep me from using some old patterns. However if I loved the pattern, even that could be figured out. I agree with Lynne, above in the comments, who would go with simpler directions that take a little thought from the knitter. For mindless knitting there are always scarves!

  49. It’s obvious there are those in both camps. I’m in the “more instructions the better” camp. Knitting for me is a relaxation, something I can do while watching TV, I don’t want to have to think. I would probably fall in the experienced knitter category but I would probably see “reverse shaping” think I knew what it meant, do it and of course it would be all wrong! I tend to skim over a pattern first to see if there is anything that will give me problems.

  50. More instructions for me. I’ve been knitting about 7 years but there are so many times that an instruction just stumps me. I’ll google it and watch u-tube but I can I be sure that this is what the pattern really called for. I use a pattern because my brain doesn’t work the way of a designer. Why pay $6 for a scarf pattern if I have to look up half of the directions. If it is free and you can adapt it to your needs fine but don’t ask me to pay and then have to go out and look it up. I often drop projects when I come to questioning instructions and that is such a waste of time and money. So yes I do blame the designers.

  51. Most of the patterns I have written were done for an audience that was wanting to stretch their knitting skills from, say, beginner to intermediate. I have presumed that the knitter was familiar with basic things like CO, BO, K2tog, SSK, YO, and K, P. After that, I spelled out some things, especially when it came to a pattern stitch. I’ve put in charts plus written directions. I’ve taken so many pains to be as clear as possible. Still, there are some people who just don’t get it. That said, I’ve had my instructions truncated by editors, but I figure that’s up to them and their stylistic concerns. Definitely it’s easier to write out more — and to add charts and other things — because electronic publishing makes it more feasible. But I’m always concerned about how much to write — too much? not enough? I never know where that line is.

  52. But what if I am on a ‘plane or in a ravine or otherwise separated from the intertubes at the point where I need further instruction? RAGEFLAIL.

  53. For me, it depends on the cost. If you’re charging $10+ for a pattern, you need to have more spelled out than, say, a free pattern from your blog or Knitty or a $3 pattern. If I’m paying $20 for an heirloom shawl pattern, yes, I want you to tell me what exactly will make the best cast-on, the perfect increases and decreases, and how to bind off so that it is just amazing, everything spelled out. For me, the line is cost – if I’m paying a designer for their effort, I’m paying for them to figure things out so I don’t have to. There’s a million sweater recipes and free patterns out there, and while I want to support designers, I expect patterns to be priced by the effort that’s gone into the pattern write-up.

  54. I don’t mind looking things up at all. I am glad, however, that the internet makes it possible to have instructions & even video demos at one’s fingertips!

  55. Another very eloquent post. Something I’ve pondered often in just NORMAL life.
    But as far as my skills as a knitter go..can I just say this…..I have had patterns where the designer wrote out how to do the stitch and I STILL had to go do more research because I couldn’t understand the written directions! Just because it’s written out, doesn’t mean that people will understand.
    But, I’m old school in my beliefs. I believe that problem solving is a useful skill and that having things handed to you ruins your spirit of adventure and curiosity.

  56. I knit for years..all sorts of things. I used the cast on my Mom taught me at age 6 and THE increase and decrease I knew. Now, I realize it is an entirely different world and I hardly know anything…and love instructions. (oh, the fiber thingy never stopped)

  57. I think the designer has an obligation to provide a pattern with which I could, in theory, achieve the desired knitted item. Beyond that, it’s really up to me to find designers who write patterns in the ways that work best for my mindset. Does that mean that patterns will occasionally be too specific or too vague for my taste? Absolutely. But that’s the way of things, and if I can’t take a little frustration now and then, the pattern is probably not the issue.
    That said, I do find it aggravating when patterns are written in language that obscures the directions (an instruction could be interpreted in either of two equally valid but wildly different ways, for example). That seems like lazy pattern writing to me, though trial and error will usually solve the issue. So perhaps I come down on the side of expecting clarity, but not necessarily detail.
    The nice thing for all of us is that, along with all the lovely new pattern pdfs, we also have Ravelry and the piles of other knitters’ project notes to help us figure things out. It’s handy, really.

  58. Hm. While I don’t need everything written out in a pattern, I prefer wordy to terse in general.
    That said, I feel “reverse shaping” is. um. either lazy, or space saving. I don’t mind having abbreviated second side directions, but that’s just making me write out the whole directions for the second side, and ick. Life’s too short. I do run into it more in pattern books and magazines – so I tend to cut the designer some slack and figure it was a cost decision to keep the booklet under 10 pages…

  59. Your point about losing something, maybe just the ability to research, is a good one. How many of the “have everything spelled out” crowd can just sit down and make a pair of socks to fit a certain person, or even a baby sweater, with no pattern at all? Some can, certainly, but not as many as those who have done research over the years and learned WHY you do things. In the same vein, take a look at recipes – they tell you how to cut up an onion, how to cook white rice, you need to learn that stuff and then be able to run with it.

  60. I’m in the ‘less instructions please’ camp. I think it makes you go away and learn techniques, which helps with actually understanding your knitting, rather than just mechanically following instructions ‘because it tells me to’.
    It helps you become a Knitter, rather than a knitter, i think.

  61. “join for knitting in the round being careful not to twist”. That’s one of those useless instructions, in that, how many times have you (meaning me) twisted anyway when we know better? Reading it in the directions doesn’t really help.

  62. Sometimes a designer puts all of the directions into the pattern, but the publisher changes them to fit the booklet or publication. EZ got her start as a self publisher for just such a thing. She created a pattern in the round, and the publisher changed it to be worked flat and in pieces.

  63. Same with cooking and recipes — when I write one, I assume you already know how to boil water, and I shouldn’t need to tell you to get a pan and put water in it and put it on the stove and turn on the heat. If I say “knead the bread dough” I don’t feel obligated to teach you how to do that. Is it safe to assume that someone reading a recipe for Italian herb focaccia has already made bread before?

  64. I think you developed this discussion for/against highly detailed instruction writing because you wanted to redirect people thoughts or opinions away from the topic of colors for baby items.
    Grey?? I agree with Presbytera.

  65. I LOVE the fact you go to reference books to learn things you don’t know. Justifies my entire career as a librarian. A friend took a “learn to knit” class with a less than patient instructor, who allowed her first project to be a scarf made with yarn of different types twisted together. Poor friend never knew whether or not she was twisting stitches.

  66. I prefer detailed schematics, they allow me to use patterns in any foreign language!
    I also like clear photographs of the stitch or stitches and of the finished garment, that way I can decide if I need or want to modify something! 🙂

  67. I like figuring out the pattern. My strategy is to download a pattern, copy and paste only important “stuff”( techniques, CO/BO. Numbers, etc) onto a single page if possible, often without a picture, then print. I can always go back to the original if I have a question, but enjoy working with/figuring out the basics as I knit. For most shawls or sweaters, I only download the charts.

  68. Quote for truth: (Emily at 1:29 PM) “In an age when I don’t usually physically see the pattern before purchase because I’m buying it online there are already too many unknowns”
    There are several things that may keep me from purchasing a pattern online. FIRST among them is being required to purchase a pattern with basic information “sight-unseen” prior to purchase. For example: I will never, ever buy a pattern that gives no pre-purchase size information other than “S, M, L, etc.” This is true for socks as well as for garments.
    I learned “to knit” when I was around 8 years old (I knew knit and purl stitches), but it took me 40 years of on and off ‘knitting’ to learn how to make things and read patterns. I knew *no one* else who knew how to knit, and could not figure out even “beginner” patterns or books. I would guess that not a whole lot of people are successful at learning to knit from a book (I sure wasn’t). Knitting seems to be one of those activities that is passed on from person to person. Now the person passing info on to me often comes from YouTube, which is wonderful IMO.
    I’m still a relatively new knitter. If I understand the ‘logic’ of how something is constructed (mirror images on cardi fronts / SSK as opposite of K2Tog), then less detailed/wordy instructions are less likely to confuse/overwhelm me. However, if I’ve never knit a cardigan or a pullover before, I prefer a lot of hand-holding, or at least a clear explanation of *how* to ‘reverse shape.’
    My knee-jerk reaction is to say I like a lot of explanation, but my recent experience with sock patterns/techniques (in which I get overwhelmed and just knit a plain sock with my ‘recipe’ format) suggests that might not be the case. Apparently when it comes to socks, I am like Aunt Helen…happy to insert new and interesting stitch patterns into a sock recipe that I already know and understand.

  69. I like patterns that explain what you’re supposed to do. I like the legend that tells you what the abbreviations stand for. I know most of them, but there might be something new there that I haven’t run across before. If I’m trying a pattern that has something new that I’ve never done before, I really appreciate a clear explanation from the designer. After all, I’m taking the time to make this garment and I find it very frustrating if I can’t understand the instructions. I don’t want to have to find an alien to send this sweater to. Having said that, I don’t mind seeing instructions for something I already know how to do. It’s there to assist the knitter, but it doesn’t insult me. I can quickly look through the instructions, etc. and get on with the project. I’d rather have lots of information than not enough. To me it means that the designer thought about the person who was going to make the garment.

  70. Briefly I wondered at 32 st to inch but was struck smack dab dumb at “the reverse of a k2tog is an SSK”. I’ve knit plenty of patterns with Reverse Shaping directions…the smack dab dumb part of the equation is because having never considered looking for RS directions, I’d not be inclined to bet it entered my mind that “the reverse of a k2tog is an SSK”. Of course it makes perfect sense BUT after thinking about it I realized my brain interpreted RS as being concerned with the edges of the piece matching. I’m going to distract myself for a bit then re-visit your thoughtful reader interactive post as it’s one of my favorite kind.

  71. I’ve only been knitting for about 5 years, but I think I’ve learned (not mastered) a fairly wide variety of techniques. The patterns that helped me learn most quickly early on were those that spelled out most of the information- but I still check at least something in any pattern through a reference or online source. Because of the patterns that spoon fed me some of the initial skills, I think I’m much more confident to look something up and feel like I’m inserting the instructions in the right place. I’m also more likely now to modify a pattern because I feel like I’ve learned something on an older project that can be applied to a new one. So maybe it’s not an issue of experience but rather one of confidence. The more confident I’ve become, the more comfortable I am with a pattern that is less specific. (and your baby sweater is lovely)

  72. Firstly that baby cardigan is gorgeous; its intricacy and fun completely negates the grey.
    As for pattern writing, I don’t mind having to look things up or figure them out as long as they can actually be done. I’ve come across a few patterns where “reverse shapings” just didn’t make sense, or gave you wonky shoulders and when that happens, then I mind.
    I suspect a lot of it has to do with electronic publishing; if I had to print out copies of my patterns to sell them I’d probably be far less inclined to spell things out, and the charts would be a lot smaller. As it is I could be as detailed as I liked. The advent of smart phones/tablets has probably had an impact too; I don’t routinely print out an electronic pattern, I download it to my phone so a really long pattern is no longer an issue in terms of printing costs.

  73. I’m a huge EZ fan (and other knitters of her ilk) who pretty much empowered us by saying something like learn how to knit and you will be able to make [this].

  74. My preference is the level of instructions Susan B Anderson has in her patterns. They are perfect! I love that she tells you when to switch to DPNs from a circular needle. Yes, I could figure that out but I usually end up trying to stay on the circulars too long.

  75. Too much explanation makes my eyes glaze over, and I start to skim because I can’t be bothered with all the TL;DR of how to do whatever increase or decrease the designer deems appropriate (which, frankly, I often disagree with).
    Then I miss important stuff because of skimming.
    Just give me a succinct outline of the important stuff, and let me figure out the rest. Maybe set off all the little wordy bits that others crave somehow — online it could be via links. I’m not sure how to do it on a print pattern.

  76. I believe knitting is quite a bit like a lot of things in my life. If it’s a huge hassle to me, I either will not do whatever the thing is that’s a pain in my arse or I will pay someone decent money to do it for me. Life is too short to do things I can’t or won’t do, especially if I feel it’s drudge work for something that I believe should bring me personal enjoyment. So, as I have with several patterns, I will ask the collective knit hive mind that is the SnB for guidance if I’m really stuck in puppy love with a pattern. I give it a try, if I can’t get it, then I pay someone to figure it out for me.
    Finally, if I can’t find someone to pay to do the job, then I give it up altogether. Giving it up and walking away usually leads me to an *even better* pattern that I’ve loved much more because it wasn’t painful/boring to me.

  77. As a pattern writer myself, I think the pattern should be priced accordingly. If you are going to TEACH in your pattern you should charge for it, and you have the right to charge a lot for it. You pay for information. If you are going to put vague or pithy instructions (I’m looking at you EZ!) you shouldn’t do so. I am apt to point you to links or resources available to teach you want I want you to do in my pattern, rather than do it myself. And my for-pay patterns are priced as such. If I were to teach German Twisted Long Tail Cast On, I would charge much more.

  78. I am actually proud when a designer assumes I know what they mean in a less “wordy” pattern. It makes me feel like an expert. And if I don’t know something, I go and look it up. I don’t like patterns that spell everything out, because at some point I roll my eyes and think “I know, I know!!!Good grief, I wasted half a page of ink on this?”

  79. You will find what you need to know. My daughters can’t do long division either. I had to learn slide rule in high school…skills adjust, you know.

  80. Fascinating discussion. I think I’m in the ” more is better” camp because, as others have said, I knit to relax and get a product. I love learning new things, and will spend a bunch of time researching a process and watching and rewatching videos to get it right. But when I want to crank out something sitting in front of the television or at my local coffee shop, I don’t want to stop.
    The thing I find most fascinating, though, is the power of your blog. No one queued that pattern in the last six months, and suddenly today, the Yarn Harlot Effect!

  81. I think the sensible thing to do is to read the pattern through so you know just what is expected of you before you start.
    Thank goodness I don’t do any such thing myself, though. I can’t tell you how many techniques/skills etc I’ve picked up over the years simply because I’ve knitted something to the point where I’ve done so much work on it that I’m damned well going to work out how to do whatever it is if it kills me!

  82. Me – I am absolutely on the side of “short instructions, without repeating anything, please”. Maybe it is because I am a european knitter. In american (and english, too) patterns I usually have to take time and look for the (for me) really important information. I like to understand a pattern, than I can knit it. If everything is spelled out line by line I find that you knit first and afterwards understand what you have done (or don´t). But of course, that is absolutely fine, too. A way of habit. And brains working in different ways? Mine always was like that, even back in school. I hope you figure out your sweater alright.

  83. If someone is writing a teaching pattern, where the point is a new technique or stitch or even the type of yarn. Then yes. More detail rather than less. But assuming that some one knitting knows the basic elements of casting on and off, and anything that has to be to create the item. Ie turn a heel if you are making a sock; should not be too much to expect. Now if the point of the pattern is the fantabulously cool way you turn the heel then yes more detail. Cranky as it sounds I’m not responsible for some one else’s lack of knowledge.

  84. I think both sides are quite valid.
    Personally, I’m at the stage where, if I was making a sweater, I want the reverse shaping spelled out for me, line by line. Once I make a few sweaters, and I understand the gist of what I’m doing and what it should look like as I go along (as opposed to knitting everything and finding out at the end that something has gone horribly wrong) then “reverse shaping” will be enough to move me forward.
    I’m venturing in to charts, but I still prefer instructions written out.
    You buy the pattern that has the amount/type of instructions you need to make the pattern. If that means that designers decide to do more hand-holding to sell more patterns, then that’s lovely. But I don’t think they should *have* to do so, nor should they be criticized if they don’t. If the pattern has enough information that a knitter with “ordinary skilly in the art” can figure it out, then they’ve done their job. 🙂
    Guess it’s time for me to start knitting sweaters!

  85. As you mentioned, the internet/downloads/pdfs have made the ability to explain things in a pattern less expensive. That is great for the independent pattern writer as well as the ‘paid professionals’.
    However, the same statement should be made for those who use those patterns. I consider myself an experienced knitter in the realm of patterns I choose to knit. That being said, if I find a direction in a pattern I don’t understand, I will go to google and look that up.
    The pattern writer isn’t responsible for teaching me a particular skill, unless that is the product they are selling me. They are responsible for providing a key of the techniques they use (ie. k2tog, ssk, m1r) in that pattern.
    The internet makes it easy for those who choose to find the information they need quickly. It should be used as the tool it is, not just a crutch.

  86. N American patterns tend to have way too many words. It makes me dizzy. I clearly prefer Scandinavian patterns, less words more knitting – and more freedom 🙂

  87. I think I fall in between on something like this. I don’t mind if a pattern tells me to use a particular technique, like kitchener stitch, for example, and I have to go look it up to refresh my memory on how to do it. However, I think the instruction “reverse shaping” is just lazy. If the pattern writer doesn’t write it out, I’m going to have to, and I wouldn’t buy another pattern from a designer who did it that way. I also HATE “increase x stitches evenly across row.” Why would you make me do the math to figure out how often to do my increases when you’ve presumably already done it to write the damn pattern? Basically, my take on this is that designers don’t need to include basic instructions for general techniques, but anything that’s specific to the pattern should absolutely be included!

  88. There are SO many pretty patterns out there, that if when I read thru a pattern and it says “reverse shaping” and I am not in the mood – NEXT pattern please!

  89. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how the like/dislike cilantro and prefer/don’t care on detailed knitting instructions camps intersect?!
    I’m with those somewhere in the middle. Give me enough information that I can at least figure out how to look it up, please. 🙂

  90. Whatever you do, as a designer don’t read any of the “pattern peeves” threads that you’ll find around. Half the people want stitch-by-stitch instructions, the other half only want to print one page. Designers can’t win: not verbose enough and it’s “too hard”, too much explanation and you’ve got a 20 page pattern for a simple sock.
    I’m a European knitter so have no problem with “reverse shaping”. I particularly welcome it if it means the pattern fits on two pages (or even one). There are lots of online calculators know for when to increase to make it even given number of increases and total stitches, so people don’t even need to do the maths themselves – just plug in a couple of numbers.

  91. With me, it depends on how much I want to knit the project. If I’m not 100% into it, and there are directions that I will have to look up, I’ll move on to something that spells out the directions. If I really really really want the project, I’ll learn it – and I don’t mind. It’s a new skill and I’m always happy to learn something new. Also, I haven’t felt like the directions should be there or that the designer was being unreasonable. I guess I’m just used to patterns being this way. I am a newby knitter, though, 5-10 years, so maybe I never caught those patterns from an earlier time that spelled it all out?
    On another note, what a cute baby sweater! I was trying to see if those were the flowers that you knitted, but I can’t make them out? Is that another part of the sweater with a different pattern? That kind of looks like a bird of some kind?

  92. I’ve been knitting for roughly 35 years, and have managed (maybe not as well as I’d have liked) to knit a variety of projects – lace, fair-isle, baby stuff to sweaters to afghans, pieced projects, knit-in-the-round. I have found that non-American patterns have significantly less detail in instructions. There are a number of things that have bothered me for years – things that are not my strong suit – like the space between buttonholes, and when the pattern says to increase or decrease “evenly.” I assume the designer had to knit her own design – so she’s already done the math. Why not share it? Why make me jump through those hoops? Other vague instructions, like knitting a separate button band, “slightly stretched” to match the front. What does “slightly stretched” mean? Is there a concrete, standard measurement for that?
    I believe some of that has been space considerations for the printed pattern. Some of it is “curse of knowledge” – you know how to do it, and you assume others can, too. I think some of those problems/complaints are mitigated by the patterns starting to list specifics about skill levels – listing as easy, medium, hard (beginner, intermediate, experienced), or listing “charted only” or the like in the descriptions before you buy the pattern. If you really love it, you’ll get it anyway and figure it out or get someone to teach you! But as they say, you’ll never make 100% of the people happy 100% of the time!

  93. The solution to “reverse shaping” is to join on another ball of yarn and knit the two fronts at the same time. Or start the two fronts on the same needle. One result is that you don’t have time to forget what shaping you just did. Another is they will both be the same length, which is not to say the correct length. One word of caution: never put the work down without putting a few of the stitches of the second front on the right hand needle. It’s too easy to turn it around otherwise. I knit two sleeves at a time, as well, for similar reasons.

  94. 32 sts per inch??? That’s all I got! I would like to think that I am a better knitter for having to translate what the heck a designer/pattern drafter is trying to get me to do. It has helped me think of the project as a whole instead of line by line and it has also helped figure out when they were totally on crack! Like WTF!!! I’m not doing that, I am doing what I want! Sometimes less is more. The over zealous pattern writer can fill up your head with too many irrelevant instructions..(puerperium, first version I downloaded..what the hell, you lettered your markers!!..) anyway, knitting is mathmatical and the more you can figure out on your own, the more creative you can be.

  95. Personally I prefer patterns to be consistent. If the pattern says “make a heel”, then it shouldn’t include a dissertation on 2×2 ribbing. Likewise a detailed pattern that ends with “Block pieces and sew together.” is begging to be shredded. Bad seaming can ruin a sweater. If a designer is going to take the time to explain how to work a cable or yarn over correctly, then they should describe how to sew a beautiful seam on two knit pieces.

  96. Other than the basics I learned from my grandmother as a little girl, my knit-knowledge in regards to patterns is limited. I have taken some introductory classes and have watched videos on the internet to master some of the skills needed – but I tend to stick to the few patterns I’ve mastered, because the odd pattern I’ve picked because I liked the picture, have all ended up leaving me confused and frustrated when they give vague instructions. If I buy a ‘beginner’ pattern, I feel like it should be written as if I’m just learning the craft.

  97. I think it depends on how important it is to the designer that their intentions be followed specifically. If a designer says “cast on”, chances are I will do a long-tail cast on. If a designer says “do a stretchy cast on”, then I will go remind myself how to do Jeny’s. But if the design is ideally served by a specific cast on, then I hope they will provide instructions. IN the pattern, since I’m not always knitting with internet access and it’s a bummer to put a project aside until I can go look something up.
    With something like “reverse shaping” — which is a clear term to an experienced knitter, but kind of opaque to a newbie — the pattern designer is running the risk that a less experienced knitter won’t know what that means, and will either forge ahead fudging their own solution for better or worse, or they will have to stop and go ask questions, or (worst case) get frustrated and put the project aside. If getting this wrong is going to make the finished garment look weird or crappy, it’s probably important to include more detailed instructions.
    Knitting is in such a vibrant heyday right now, with millions of knitters out there inspired to try all sorts of shiny new things, that it seems to make sense to want to make your pattern as accessible and clear as possible.

  98. I am completely okay with being challenged by a pattern to learn new skills and search out my own reference materials to do so. However, I do wish more designers would include a notation stating which cast on and bind off they have used. As an advanced beginner I would dearly love to learn more about how the different varieties affect the garments. I’ve found a few articles that discuss the topic in theory, but so few patterns include this information that it’s taking a long time time see it in practice.

  99. As with many things, the advent of computer and the Internet is a plus and a minus. Plus — more spelled out instructions for those who want them. Minus — less skills built, including the ability to research, read, interpret, experiment, learn, appreciate something beyond what you already know or have experienced previously. It’s true in knitting, music, various types of work skills (as a lawyer, I so miss the days of “slow” research in a library filled with actual books…). Hail invention and progress, but try not to lose the history. (Now, where is my typewriter?) Great, thought provoking post, Stephanie! Thanks!

  100. The more instructions the better. If I know how to do something I can always skip the instructions and do it my way. But if there are no instructions and I don’t have the foggiest knowledge of how something is done… Well, I have more patterns that I’ll be able to make in my life time so I’m sure I can find something else to make.
    I do like learning new things but I don’t want to have to search the internet and/or several books to figure out how the pattern writer expects the project to be made. There are so many new and different ways of doing things than there was years ago when I first learned to knit.

  101. Not related to your Auntie, but here’s a favorite quote of mine regarding experience:
    “Twenty years of experience can mean twenty years of learning, or the same two years of learning repeated 10 times.”
    I’ve knitted for over 40 years, but I’m just a few years in of terms of learning. And that’s okay.

  102. I’ve been thinking about that for a few years now. Namely, how “English” and European (as German, or Hungarian for that matter) differ. Why is that an English pattern is five page long, one in a German magazine is half a page. I personally prefer the shorter ones (since my german is rather limited I look at the picture and the charts and knit that looks pretty much like the pic)… I lately started to write up some of my knits into patterns, and struggle with the fact that many knitters do not look/see/think like I do, and what is obvious for me, might need explanation for a less practiced knitter…
    I’ve translated a few Drops patterns, and though many hate them for being rather vague I just love them. I think I know what I am doing when knitting and I like when a pattern writer believes when the pattern say knit straight for 10 cm, or knit the other side reverse I will know what to make of that, and not want to spell out stitch by stitch what I am supposed to do…

  103. …People use patterns to knit? I have never used a pattern in the (measly) 6 years I’ve knitted (since age eight) and I’ve never followed a pattern once. For me, it’s more creative, more enjoyable and fun – on the other hand, it explains all the “gorilla suits” (as my Dad eloquently says) that I’ve produced. 😉 Lovely sweater!

  104. My problem with “standard” instructions is that they so often aren’t.
    For example, I have seen at least 4 different ways of “accurately” performing an SSK. I really would like the pattern writer to spell out what her abbreviations mean.
    I’m a literal, left-brained knitter and I want to know what the pattern writer means, exactly. After that, I can always modify it, but I do want to know what (s)he intended.

  105. I think how much instruction I want completely depends on how I am feeling at the time and how much I want the project.
    If I am knitting just to feel the yarn in my hands, then I want the pattern spell it out for me. If I desperately want that knitted piece (like my 4-day shawlette or 2-week sweater), then it doesn’t matter if something requires a little bit of knitterly know-how like reversing shaping, I will dive right in and do it without problems.
    Of course, if the pattern is wrong, that is a different ball of wax. Sometimes I feel like writing out the reverse shapings and other similar instructions creates an area where more errors can creep in. Not good for a less confident knitter.

  106. Cheryl at March 25, 2013 2:22 PM:
    You were right the first time. Reverse Shaping is solely concerned with the edges. If you were supposed to reverse the entire design, for example, making the cables twist the other way, that should be written in the instructions.
    EZ used to give both “pithy” and the insultingly-named “blind follower” instructions.
    Lynne in Florida at March 25, 2013 1:51 PM: It’s a typo. Have you ever tried to knit 32 st/in? My best so far has been 16 st/in and that took 5-0 needles.
    Generally: If someone asks for help, I give help if I can. Otherwise, I’m teaching them that no one will ever help them, that the answer is always “No.” That’s not a good thing to teach a child, that they will never get help when they ask.

  107. I prefer having the reverse set out, but usually I can do it just fine. But I knit a Kaffe Fassett sweater that was cuff to cuff. The color work changed in the middle of the back and was supposed to be a mirror-image. The instructions said work reverse or something to that effect. About three inches or so in, I realized that it was off. Well, I didn’t rip it out. That sweater was started when my 25 year old was new (or maybe it was when my 28 year old was new) in the 1980’s and went on hiatus for maybe 15 years. My skills are better now and I would rip it out, but I would have appreciated more explicit directions. Charted color also would have been good.

  108. I think there is a fine line.. And you are right, all people who have an opinion on this will be right no matter what the opinion. I have seen people curse out a designer for “not giving them enough information” and then I have seen designers hit by an avalanche of questions that would be easy for the knitter to look up themselves. This advent of being able to self publish has made it easier for designers to spell things out, or not, to their liking. But it also has made them easy to hunt down and contact them at 4am, and then badmouth them online if they don’t hear by 5am.
    It is a fine line. I want to know something, I look it up. If I really really can’t make it work, I contact the designer AFTER I ask my friends if they can make it work in their heads.

  109. Give me a schematic and a chart, and I know what to do – if need be, I look it up. I vastly prefer the short German or French instructions to those that spell everything out. Are the five pages describing the pattern stitch by stitch really necessary? Sometimes, more is less….

  110. Before I had kids, I would have welcomed the challenge of figuring things out on my own. Now, with two kids under 5, I want to knit, not figure out new techniques. Right now, I gravitate toward patterns that have little to no new-to-me techniques, knowing that when the kids are older, I will have more time to think — I mean, learn new things.

  111. I’ve been knitting long enough that I’ve abandoned a fair number of projects because I missed something crucial in overly cryptic instructions (asymmetrical baby hat, anyone?). Back about 20 years ago, I first ran into Penny Straker patterns. Each brochure included instructions in one technique that would contribute to the overall look of the item in question. One of those brochures provided my introduction to the three-needle bindoff for shoulder seams. Another one explained the ratio with which to pick up stitches for button bands and neck bands.
    These days, I don’t need as much instruction in techniques, but I do appreciate it if a designer suggests an appropriate caston and provides links to tutorials for unusual techniques.
    As for “reverse shaping”, I find myself opening up Knit Visualizer and charting both sides myself. For an item with cables, for instance, I’d have to stop and think about whether the cable-crossings needed to be reversed, and charting it out would give me an easy (i.e., not potentially requiring extensive frogging and reknitting) way to consider the options. (I also chart out “at the same time” shaping.)

  112. Not commenting upon the larger issue here – just pointing out that not only are you knitting a sweater in DARK GREY, but it also has SNOWFLAKES in it. Apparently you’re not as ready for Spring as you think you are. ;-P

  113. I agree with Erin 1:28. College level math is not good at 35, try it at 60. I think it depends on your tolerance for reading for knitting. I usually have reference material around, so I try not to let it take away from what I’m doing. Maybe you’ll find a better way. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at something and said, ‘not so much’. If that way doesn’t work, make up your own.

  114. I, too, fall into the camp of wanting complete directions but if pressed, I can usually figure out when they aren’t – not always, but most of the time.
    As far as cilantro, I love the stuff, but people who find it tasting “soapy” apparently have a genetic predisposition to taste it that way – at least that’s what my daughter tells me – she researched it when her dad – my ex – compleined that it tasted like that to him and he avoided it at all cost.

  115. I think there’s also a difference in who is knitting now. Not all that long ago, most women (and men, depending on where you lived) knew how to knit. They knit at the knee of their mother, grandmother, aunt, next door neighbor from the time they were bitty. I’m assuming they learned from experience and instruction, not a pattern or book. So, the first time you run across a new skill, you probably turn to the person closest to you and get a quick lesson.
    Now, many of us have taught ourselves to knit. I don’t have a single person in my family who knits.* And I know I’m not along in that. People like me learn new knitting skills from patterns and books. Or we make a time consuming and often expensive trip to pay the instructor at the yarn store. So, I am willing to figure it out up to a point. A new to me but basic skill that is common enough I can find it in one of my reference books (I only have two and I’m not investing in more), a tutorial on youtube and probably a dozen more places? Its totally fine to ask me to figure it out. An unusual skill I’m going to have to go pay someone to teach me? It better be a seriously kick ass pattern, or I’m not buying it.
    As I type this, I’m thinking that someone living in a different climate (Florida isn’t exactly a knitting Mecca) might have found it more reasonable to establish a knitting community. They exist here, but unless you’re a hardcore knitter (and I’m definitely a recreational knitter) you probably are still mostly on your own.
    *I do in my husband’s family, but they speak only Bulgarian. After his grandmother tried to show me a ‘better’ cast on and asked him to translate many, many words he doesn’t know in either language, he banned all knitting lessons during our vacations there.

  116. I think that how much instruction is put in the pattern is up to the author. Although sometimes I would like a little more clarification, I have the resources to google “reverse shaping”. As for things like casting on or heel making, I really like how I have the freedom to choose from the many techniques that are available. All I have to do is a little research. For the me, the research is usually part of the fun. But like you say, that doesn’t make me right.
    And, I love cilantro. My mom thinks it tastes like soap.

  117. I don’t like the “reverse shaping” instructions. It’s confusing and I agree that’s lazy pattern instructions. If I’m looking at a pattern to purchase and it has “reverse shaping for th other side”, I’m not buying it.

  118. I love grey! To me, it looks good on everyone, kinda like black. It’s a wardrobe staple. As for knitting instructions, to me (a fairly new knitter), the more the better. However, if I don’t know how to execute a technique in a pattern, I get to googling. There is a wealth of information at our fingertips!

  119. I prefer things spelled out. This is partly because I’m a newer knitter (knitting for just a couple of years) and partly because I’m easily confused. I’m not very visual, so if I see the instruction “reverse shapings,” I’m not going to be able to do it just by looking. Instead I write it out line by line (or open Excel and laboriously reverse the chart). It’s difficult, but at least when I’m done, I understand how the pattern functions. This may change, but at this point in my knitting experience, there’s no way I could do otherwise.

  120. An interesting discussion. I can’t help but think that the pattern detail preference may fall along the line of process vs. project knitters.
    Or, whether you learn visually.
    Or whether you are a very linear thinker.
    I’ll bet some designers fall along those lines as well and that guides our preferences for different designers.

  121. I’m in the more instruction is better group if it’s a purchased pattern. If a pattern is described as a general guide or recipe, then you would assume you would be figuring some things out. But when I pay for a pattern, I expect some level of detail. Doesn’t have to be crazy specific, but it should offer a bit more.

  122. I don’t mind figuring out stuff. However, I front load it. First thing I do with a Dale of Norway pattern is re-write it with all the details I need to just sit and knit. I can do the math and the figuring, but I’d rather do that in one sitting. Then when the needles are in my hand, I can just go.
    I get annoyed at EVERYTHING being spelled out. I don’t want everything spoon fed to me. There’s an extra level of accomplishment when you ‘get’ something. I don’t like blindly following instructions and getting results. I want to understand what I did, so I know that I know it.
    However, there are some kits sitting around because I have to knit a gauge swatch and then do math. I’m not scared of the math…it’s the fair isle gauge swatch that I’m balking at (plus a pile of UFOs)… Maybe I should do the ‘make mitts’ version of a gauge swatch, so my swatch is a FO…oooh…maybe a mug cozy…
    Good debate, it just inspired me…

  123. Very interesting. I am personally annoyed by the implication that I need everything written out; it’s just hard to make my way through all those words. But, I know that I am a technique person, and finding ways to do things make them challenging and fun for me. I now have many tools in my toolbox, and I love sharing them with others, so my knitting students are subjected to the whole lot of them. At least they keep coming back, class after class! One of my fun challenges a few years ago was knitting a sweater from an Icelandic pattern. I don’t know Icelandic, but I can read numbers and charts, and I’ve knitted Icelandic sweaters before–no problem. I learned a few Icelandic words along the way. Time to try Japanese, I guess.

  124. I expect to need to go and learn things while I’m knitting, and (often) consider that part of the pleasure of it. YouTube, Ravelry, sites like TechKnitting and books make this rather easy, and there are often several methods available for accomplishing the same goal (provisional cast on, for example) and I like to find the technique that works best for me and bookmark that description for future reference. I’m most often a visual learner, so techniques described in a pattern can be confusing – I’d rather look elsewhere for an explanation that will stick.
    That said, when I say in my Ravelry reviews that a pattern is a “well-written pattern”, it’s usually because the designer has managed to teach me something – a technique, often – right in the pattern. Gudrun Johnston comes to mind at being especially adept at this. If the writer is especially skilled at writing out instructions in a clear way, I like to see it in the pattern. Otherwise, I just assume look around and find a description or demonstration elsewehre that works for me.

  125. As most people have said, I don’t think there’s any absolute right or wrong here. It just comes down to the designer’s targeted audience. The more instruction on technique and precision on the directions given, the more accessible your pattern is to the ever-growing audience of people who are new to knitting (or new to knitting with your precise techniques).
    Personally, I don’t get upset if the designer uses a technique that I’m not familiar with because it’s straightforward enough to look it up. What annoys me sometimes is if there are certain ways to do things that are not suitable given the type of item or the way the pattern works (e.g., if you really need a loose bindoff or caston) and no mention of this is made. I’m often thanking people (in actuality or in the dim recesses of my mind) on ravelry for their kindness in making helpful comments!

  126. The question of whether or not to explain (or over-explain) when writing patterns is one I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. I don’t like wordy patterns, I far prefer the satisfaction of using my brain to figure something out. I think I’ve learned more in my 14 years of knitting from trial and error than I would have learned otherwise if I had used overly explanatory patterns.
    I also feel unusual that even when using a pattern, I am not in the least bothered if my garment ends up a little different than the designer’s. After all, I’m knitting my sweater in order to have a garment that is uniquely mine. If I weren’t interested in that, I’d just head to the closest big box store and buy the darn sweater.

  127. Honestly, some patterns are starting to get annoyingly long for my taste. I think some explanation is a good thing, but when a pattern for a baby hat winds up being 10 pages, something needs to give. (Can you tell I’ve worked a pattern like this recently?)
    In my ideal world, designers would give links or references to instructions, especially in digital patterns.

  128. I agree with what a lot of people have said regarding the cost of the pattern being in proportion to how much “teaching” the designer is doing. The only wrinkle I have found is buying patterns in PDF, which for obvious reasons have to be bought sight unseen. I have bought a few patterns through Ravelry that cost me $6.50 but turned out to be nothing more than a copied Barbara Walker stitch pattern and confusing construction directions. I don’t mind doing a little extra reading on the Intergoogles, but I get frustrated when a pattern doesn’t facilitate even an experienced knitter’s attempt to figure out what the designer had in mind AND I paid for it without being able to find that out first.

  129. The irony is that now you don’t have to run out and buy a book to look for directions, you can just google anything you don’t understand, and even go look at a youtube for step by step instructions.

  130. I totally agree that neither way is “wrong” or “right,” but if I notice that a pattern has vague (to me) instructions like “reverse shaping,” I’m less likely to knit it, personally. That’s because I think and do math all day every day at my job, and knitting is meant to be relaxing for me – something to do with my hands and exercise the creative part of my brain. It’s about what you expect to get out of the project.
    I’m great with learning new skills – a cast-on or how to create a lace stitch pattern – as long as it’s something I know how to look up or is directed in the pattern. I can easily look up “tubular cast-on” in a book or on YouTube. I’ll be excited about learning Estonian lace if you tell me row by row how to create it. But directions like “reverse shaping” are difficult to look up, especially if you’re new to knitting, and take a lot of brain power (for me) that I just don’t necessarily have available during my knitting time.
    I think to decide whether it’s lazy vs. high expectations, I’d have to look at the rest of the pattern. If the whole thing is vague with a minimum of directions, probably lazy. If it’s otherwise well written with plenty of schematics or other info, that’s a different story.

  131. I’m somewhat on the fence. I’m not a really experienced knitter, so instructions DO come in handy. But they don’t have to be in the pattern, if they include perhaps a link because they think it illustrates the stitch or technique the way they want it done.
    I have, at times, paid more for a pattern simply because they told me that the techniques or stitches used were explained in there.
    And, I love it on Rav when the designer lists out all the things that I’ll be doing. So, in case I’m looking for something simple, I won’t end up knitting in front of You Tube for the whole thing.

  132. The older patterns, especially from the 40s, are so compressed for a couple of reasons. As someone said up-thread, everyone knit, and lived nearby, so it was easy to ask for help. The other major reason is war-time rationing of everything from ink and paper to gasoline to deliver things. So shorter was better on all fronts. I still use some of those patterns, but I constantly curse the lack of schematics. I guess it depends on your background. My mother and grandmother both knit, and as we lived in Canada, a lot of patterns came from England.

  133. i am perfectly willing to look up techniques mentioned in a pattern. The instructions I’d like to see from the designer are how to handle some unexpected aspects of the pattern (I couldn’t come up with a good term for this–it has to do with abrupt changes, etc.)–or, if not instructions, a heads up!

  134. I’m happy with schematics for the general shape (but how do you show dec 6 evenly over the next row in a schematic?) – I’m also happy with schematics for colorwork. I am very uncomfortable with schematics for complex stitches though. The symbols for K2TOG or SSK or K or P, etc. are not the symbols I would use and just clog up my little brain. Give me a row by row description for stitch patterns, please. [and K2TOG is the reverse of SSK – go figure]

  135. I preface my comment with “I am at work and have not read any other comments except the one from Jillian and only becuase it is visable while I type this.” I am one of those knitters who is self taught from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitting w/out tears maybe 32-33 years ago? (I took about a 27-28 year hiatus from knitting when I got a divorce) I couldn’t figure out the ‘American way’ so I knit continental. I can figure out the reverse shaping and all that sort of stuff but please, please, PLEASE when there are fifty million ways of doing something, (as in ‘make one’) tell me what way you do it. Okay, that’s maybe my lack of experience talking. I can do the math but lack of actual knitting makes me struggle with choices, and the fact that I don’t have a whole lot of time to knit so I want it to look good. And yes, I like cilantro.

  136. If anyone is wondering: Go to Fanasaeter link YH thoughfully provided.
    32 stitches and 40 rows = 4 inches in Stockinette Stitch
    PS Thank you! =Tamar at March 25, 2013 3:20 PM

  137. Re: Aunt Helen and other knitters: in many curling clubs (yes, curling, let’s not get distracted [g]), there are often members about whom it is said that they have (say) twenty years’ experience – but it’s the same single year of experience, twenty times.

  138. One thing that I find annoying is buying a knitting book with 100 pages and finding that 30 of those pages deal with casting on and binding off and other basic knowledge. And I get the same information over and over and over again.

  139. I never found myself to be bothered either way – I write out my notes for vague instructions myself to be safe since I still have baby induced stupidity. I think all garment patterns should have better schematics to piece sizes together since not all of them do it. It never hurts to learn something new !

  140. I like both.
    If the first stab at something, I will make sure it is not vague until I understand how size/guage/shaping influence the pattern. Repeat — wing it.

  141. Over the weekend I had to rip out 3/4 inch of needle size 0 knitting, with cables, because of a mistake in the pattern. I’d have fared much better if it had said only “space buttonholes evenly” or “space buttonholes x amount apart.” Grrr.

  142. Patterns that include super explicit instructions from very beginning to very end leave me better equipped for patterns that don’t.
    I don’t need every pattern to spell out every step, BUT I learn better from those that do.

  143. Here is another perspective (haven’t read all the comments, so I don’t know if it’s been said yet, but here it is).
    Back before the internet, people learned how to knit from their family members or friends, or people in their community. The world was not as globally connect as we are now. So if your grandmother knew one bind off and one cast on, those were the ones you learned. Now though, I can go online and learn a technique that used to be endemic to a small island off Europe with the click of a mouse. However, the sheer volume of information out there makes it difficult to keep track of all the information in my brain. If patterns have a little more explanation, sometimes it will jog the memory, or it will mean that I don’t have to remember all the bazillions of cast-ons.
    That said, one of the benefits of the internet is that you can look up most knitting techniques on youtube. So really if I come across something in a pattern (eg “reinforce steek before cutting”) I can look online for all the different ways I can do it and then choose the one I think is best…
    As for the whole experience thing, the more you knit, the more confident you will be that you can figure things out, whether you knit complex things or simple things. More knitting means being able to “read” the knitting more easily. When I first started “turn the heel” was very daunting, but now I can do it in my sleep. I needed some detailed instructions the first time, but not anymore. 🙂
    I’ve noticed the same thing will cooking. Lots of old recipes say things like “bake until done”, no temperature, no time. Perhaps it’s not that knitters are not willing to search out the skills, but rather that the skills aren’t ubiquitous as they were once assumed to be and so we need a little more explanation in the beginning to learn them.

  144. Very interesting discussion! I think it also has a lot to do with problem solving skills in general – some people are good problem solvers, and they will always find a new way to look at things and to accomplish something that they want to accomplish, even if their workaround is, shall we say, nontraditional. Others might need more direction, but that doesn’t make them wrong.

  145. We need for knitters and designers.
    DISO knitter who likes everything spelled out, sometimes two or three ways, with diagrams, charts, and tips, too. Must hate cilantro.

  146. When I started knitting and got together with my grandmother who knits, I taught her, a woman who is to be 80 this summer the knitted cast on. She has knit mittens and hats galore for her kids, grand kids, and great grand kids, and she made his and her lopi sweaters for her kids and their spouses one Christmas (this is what I’m told, I wasn’t in existence at that time) and she only knew one cast on.
    ps Steph. I showed her your scarf that becomes a hat idea, and she fell in love with it.

  147. For whatever reason, I made the analogy to sudoku puzzles. I like them – even (occassionally) the fiendishly hard ones. *As Long As* it’s the kind that one can logically reason one’s way through. The kind that demand that you GUESS and then see if that works out all right? Not so much.
    Similarly, I’m dandy with patterns that assume previous knowledge and/or willingness to go acquire the same. But I can certainly see how some folk (and that includes me, at times) don’t want the extra effort. Just as I like to whip off the simple sudoku puzzles every so often.

  148. Um. I couldn’t process anything past the 32 sts to the inch remark. Um. Please tell me. Was that a typo??? 32 stitches to the frakkin’ inch??? 32!?

  149. this is incredibly timely. I’m in the process of designing a pattern, and I find my self wondering how much instruction to give.
    many times before, on other patterns I’ve published, I’ve gotten e-mails inquiring how to do techniques that I hadn’t thought were necessary to spell out. (seriously, I got a very rude e-mail once claiming I was a horrible designer because I didn’t spell out what SSK was)
    then the question is, is a link to another website or book explaining it enough? or should I spell it all out in the pattern itself?

  150. I don’t mind reverse shaping, but I constantly wish that the designer would tell me which kind of CO and BO to use. And I love a good chart.

  151. Personally, the more in-depth the instructions are, the more likely it is that I’ll mis-read something and screw it all up. “Reverse shaping” is just two words. I can handle two words.

  152. Maybe we should refer to “knowledgeable” knitters instead of experienced knitters.

  153. I think it has to do with problem solving too. some people love it (like me) and actually get annoyed when presented with too much information. I’m the same with someone giving me directions… But other people are totally different – and I love the fact that there is no single answer and people can choose the type of pattern they want…
    I would hate for all designers to do the same thing…

  154. I expect to be asked to “reverse shaping”. I remember the first time I did this – I was knitting a navy duffle coat for a teddy bear and maybe 9 years old? It was the first thing I’d knit other than squares or scarves, and I was following a pattern book. Mum explained it to me and off I trotted… I think it makes sense with printed patterns, there is not room to spell out the same shaping in reverse.

  155. If I can see a printed pattern I can decide whether the instructions are adequate for my skills or ambition. Obviously with electronic patterns this is not feasible. I don’t know what the solution to that will be. I can order patterns without hesitation from designers whose work I know and have made before, but for new designers I might hesitate.

  156. I’m in the “fewer words please” group. Patterns with tons and tons of instructions overwhelm me and then I miss the important bits. Someone upthread somewhere said that in that situation they end up skimming and then missing the actual instructions. Which I completely agree with.
    I’m ridiculously visual so if there’s a schematic or chart I can wrap my brain around what’s supposed to happen and then I’m fine and don’t need much in the way of written directions. The directions for the EZ Baby Surprise sweater confuse the daylights out of me because I can not visualize what is happening. (Went hunting and found an explanation of that sweater with a paper mock-up, that made it much clearer.)
    I think it very much comes down to different people’s brains working differently. For example: My first shawl was a top-down Faroese shaped one covered with cables (I used the shaping from the Stahman book and then had a LOT of fun playing with cables) The two sides are mirrors of each other. I only designed/charted one side, when I was knitting one side I went the normal right-to-left direction, the other side I knitted left-to-right and flipped all the cable crossings. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with that, but I know that would be completely out of the question for a lot of people. I completely chalk it up to brains being fascinating and wired differently!
    I do have a really hard time following line-by-line instructions. Partly because I can’t “see” what’s happening, it’s harder for me to understand how it all fits together. I need to know WHY I’m doing a decrease in this spot. That’s totally part of my personality though. I do not like following directions if I don’t understand WHY.

  157. I’m a new-ish knitter and while I think the trend for longer more detailed patterns is there, and makes sense, it’s also interesting that it’s happening at a time when it’s never been so easy to find resources on unfamiliar skills. Whenever I don’t understand what a pattern is telling me to do I look it up on YouTube. I get a real sense of achievement out of working out how to do something I’ve not done before, and deciphering a pattern that doesn’t always hold my hand. That said I’m very grateful for all the really easy beginner patterns that are getting me started. A mix is nice.

  158. If a pattern calls for a specific type of bind-off or cast-on, I like if they give me a link to instructions online or give directions. I have found several different directions for the Russian bind-off and a crochet cast-on. Which did the author mean?
    Sometimes when given very explicit instructions, say for how to do a selvedge or where exactly to place shaping, I learn something new that improves my knitting, which I can incorporate into patterns with minimal instruction.
    What surprises me most is the wide variety of pattern writing styles designers employ. I have tried some 8 page sweater patterns that were much harder to follow than a 3/4-page VK pattern.
    One thing I wish all patterns had were stitch counts after major increases or decreases. This is not because I can’t figure out that after casting on 297 stitches and then decreasing 54 stitches evenly around should leave 243 stitches, but because I want to make sure that the designer knew that there would now be 243 stitches, and that yes, the 9-stitch repeat will work (I’ve been burned in this regard–the number of stitches to decrease was wrong). I’m a scientist; I check everybody’s math (often in my head).

  159. I’ve got some really old patterns (1920s+) and they’re often very brief in the amount of instruction you are given, but I think that’s probably because printing space was at a premium at the time. I quite like having things spelled out for me a bit, but then even if a pattern has a sort of glossary page I usually end up on YouTube to figure out how to do a particular stitch just because I learn better from watching than reading. Also I wondered about personalities being a contributing factor here, as I am a project knitter who knits to have the finished product, not just for the joy of knitting. I wonder whether the process/project knitter thing might come into play in the too much/not enough instruction debate.

  160. I feel like I’m trying to handle all types of knitters when I write a pattern – info up front for people who haven’t tried a technique before, written out instructions for chart-haters, and then I’ve got instructions + charts for the experienced knitters who just want to dive in and get on with it already.
    It’s impossible to please everyone.

  161. Thank you! I have only been knitting 8 years and did not know that in reverse shaping instructions that I would have to use two different decreases. While I know how to do both it would have never occurred to me on my own as I would have chosen one and just been consistent.
    Lovely gray and yes, it works for babies too. It is all in the details and I am sure you have some cute buttons picked out to make it jazzy!

  162. I am far more tolerant of ambiguity in a free pattern than in one I paid for.
    In fact, if I’m going to pay for a pattern, it will be in a book that I can flip through first to see if I like the layout and the level of detail.
    I’m fine with “reverse shaping” and any standard abbreviations. I don’t care if it’s charted or written out or both. But I do want to know what I’m buying before I pay for it.

  163. I actively prefer to have “reverse shapings” or, even better, a diagram.
    I don’t care if the pattern also includes info that I’m not interested in; it’s there for those as are – but (big but) I often find that people who go to all the trouble of writing out both halves individually don’t bother with putting “and this is the same as the other but backwards” at the top.
    It’s because I really find it hard to follow written out knitting directions; much easier for me to follow a diagram. I’ll have likely created one for the first half… it’d be nice to be warned that there’s no need to create a different one for the second.

  164. I like both kinds, depending on my knitting mood. Sometimes I want to develop a new skill and sometimes I just need something quick. Also, I have never come across a pattern that describes how to do the seams or weave in the tails….same with quilting patterns that say “quilt as desired”. It is up to me to figure that out myself and I go into the project with eyes wide open. I love cilantro 🙂

  165. I think it depends on what I’m knitting. If I were working a sock pattern and it said, “make heel,” I’d have something to work with. I have a preferred heel. It doesn’t mean I don’t know how to do something else but it means that I know this one works for me. If it’s a frustrating or complicated pattern and it had something like, “reverse shaping,” I would probably sit and write it out. Oh wait, I’ve done that (Vancouver Fog Fingerless Mitts).

  166. Is the embroidery at the end in spring colors?
    My stance on pattern instructions depends on where I am. Unbelievably, there are areas that don’t have Internet. And you would hate to be stuck there with everything…except directions on how to do a Norwegian cast on! And based on how you fly out the door before your travels, it might even happen to you!
    And, like you, there is a point at night where, if the only directions were, “reverse shaping”, I would call it a night and go to bed.
    I think that, if you are going to use a technique that cannot be reasoned out (like reverse shaping), it should be part of pattern (and I think it is presumptuous to just reference a web link only for further instructions.) But then, I live in a rural area where dial up Internet (or satellite)is the only option.

  167. I responded to your tweet with something along the lines of ‘hate that’. Not because I’m not clever or experienced enough to figure it out, but because it was late on a Sunday night. Monday morning is a whole ‘nother story.

  168. I am a beginner…I want all the directions you can throw at me. I would rather sort and sift thru it all than guess. Love the grey! 32 sts per inch…wow! Reverse directions would blow my mind….I am too inexperienced.

  169. I’ve knit for a considerable time…. but per your article, I dont’ consider myself an “experienced” knitter. I tend to go to a single cable cast on no matter what the project. It works generally and I’m never really sure what would be better (and in a retirement life I may take time to experiment …. but don’t have the luxury now.)
    What would be nice in a pattern is perhaps some suggestions and options for things like cast ons, bind offs, increases or decreases so that a knitter might choose and have options. Maybe a suggestion of short rows…?
    I have some books for various of these techniques but admit to being just timid enough in a major project (especially if the investment is costly) to sticking to what I know when another idea might be better – and build my skills.
    So “cast on” … maybe with some options.

  170. If the designer can do the reverse shaping once, why would everyone doing the pattern (100 people? 1000 people?) do the work as well? It seems like busy work for everyone, no?

  171. I like having more instructions. Better safe than sorry. But you have to understand that I am a relatively inexperienced knitter: I have knitted scarves that are simple, about a dozen pairs of socks (also simple patterns), and one shawl (Color Affection). That’s it.
    I *Yearn* to knit a sweater, but almost all of the ones I want to knit have dreadfully scary instructions (meaning, there is “Assumed” knowledge involved, and almost no instruction). Sure, I could probably find something really simple with lots of instruction so that I actually can say that I’ve knitted a sweater, but then what’s the point? It will likely not be a sweater that I love.

  172. I always do patterns every wrong possible way before getting them right no matter how well or how poorly written. I learned to knit from Stitch and Bitch, added books by the Yarn Harlot, and add to that knowledge with the internet. So more info is preferred, but it can be links to references rather than written out.

  173. 32 stitches to the inch is some serious gauge. I’m sure its a typo. I pray to the FSM for your sanity its a typo.

  174. So, I’d say at least 99.7% of what I have to say about patterns and pattern writing has already been covered by other commenters, so I’ll skip that.
    HOWEVER, I knitted a color affection with almost exactly the same color values as the one you just abandoned, and I haven’t worn it, or really blocked it yet, because I haven’t forgiven it for nearly killing all desire I’ve ever had in my life to ever knit again because it was approximately 99 miles of garter stitch in lace weight yarn and OMG, I want to tear out my eyes just WRITING about the stupid thing, so if you want it, I will send it to you, because it is just sitting here looking sad and lonely and unloved. Here it is:

  175. It all depends – not at least on how much I paid for it. I agree with many others that, as long as it is crucial for the finished piece, it should be explained – not necessarily in many words, but clearly. I love patterns with a list with the things you need to know, and a general estimation how complicated a pattern is, like “For an intermediate lace knitter” or “You should be comfortable with cables and shortrows, or willing to learn these techniques”, and so on. And as we have all the possibilities of the internet, I’m completely happy with a link to a tutorial or video where I can see the specific CO, BO, short-row-technique the designer uses.
    And finally, I like to understand what I’m doing. I learned a lot from EZ and knit most of my stuff with handspun, so I don’t mind doing the math myself – but I get angry when I pay 7 Dollars for a pattern and then find out I have to figure everything out by myself.

  176. I don’t particularly mind having to look up directions on a particular skill, but I think one thing that’s interesting to note is a difference in reference material. You keep mentioning books, but I’ve been regularly acquiring new knitting skills since 2007 and have never even considered purchasing a book of skills (rather than patterns.) I always go straight to YouTube and watch a video. It’s so interesting to think about how much the knitting community continues to change!

  177. I would be totally happy with the “knit heel” instruction. I recall the time in the lab when we took apart a pretty complicated piece of machinery with many tiny-teeny little screws following lengthy instructions and a complex explosion drawing. After cleaning everything the instructions to put it back together were read. They were indeed very clear and to the point: REASSEMBLE IN REVERSE ORDER.

  178. I guess I separate techniques from patterns – so I might expect to need to go to another book (website, video, friend, etc) to learn something I need to complete a pattern. It seems a little silly to expect a pattern to spell out every technique necessary – you could really get carried away with that! Unless you want your pattern to actually be a book, or something.

  179. I think, like most endeavors, that it is better to know how things work. As a knitter, knowing increases your ability to be a great knitter and allows you to modify patterns or go out on your own. There’s nothing wrong with having things written out, but it might diminish a knitter’s ability to intuitively “know” their knitting and how it works. Love cilantro, by the way, and love knitting patterns written either way! Kathy

  180. I don’t think designers should be required or expected to teach knitting skills in a pattern. I do think that they need to be clear about what is required – if the piece needs a long tail cast on – it should say so, if it’s not important then it should indicate the cast on of your choice. If the piece requires a unique stitch, that should be described. The important element is to confer clearly to the knitter what is required to make the piece. Good patterns do this and it’s the responsibility of the knitter to acquire the facility with the techniques necessary for the successful knitting of the pattern. With all the internet, knitting group and LYS resources available there is no excuse for not achieving the desired result if a knitter really wants to. Expecting to achieve excellant results without investing the time and effort to acquire the knowledge and skills is unrealistic. Knitting is a craft and all acomplished craftspeople continually hone their skills to produce a desired result. You can’t qualify for the Tour de France if you are still riding with training wheels.

  181. I’ve never really thought about the questions today’s post offered before. I guess I take the pattern at face value, change the things that aren’t working for me, figure out what I don’t know and keep knitting. After 15 years of knitting, I’ve experienced a wide variety of patterns with various degrees of success. What I do know is that when I run across something new and I figure it out on my own, I feel like a rock star. Some days I don’t have the time or energy to be a rock star, so garter stitch whatever is good enough, but there are those days when I wonder why I knit when I could buy the same thing for a lot less money. Those are the days that I need to figure something out on my own and enjoy the fact that once again knitting taught me something I didn’t know and it turned into a lovely, one-of-a-kind handknit piece of art.

  182. I would say it has to do with how they were taught, but the number of seniors in my classes who just want to know how many stitches to cast on, thank-you-very-much, is high enough I can’t blame that. These same knitters bring random yarn of approximately the right weight, a quasi-random pair of needles, and expect me to know how many they should cast on. Scary thing is, some of the other teachers know. I guess they’ve memorized the yarn tables. Next year, I’ll specify the yarn and needles very carefully, so when they don’t bring them I can at least say, “I haven’t experimented with that.”

  183. Knitting for me is as necessary to life as breathing . It is therapeutic and pretty much my only attainable cha llenge .
    I NEED it to focus my mind not be mind numbing hence the challenge of reaching for a forum or you tube !
    Having said that patterns should suit all and beginner patterns should always hand hold.

  184. The thing I love about patterns with really explicit instructions is that they’re likely to teach me something I didn’t know before. If the pattern says “make heel” I’m going to make my favorite heel. If it has explicit instructions for something new and interesting, I’m going to follow them and learn something new. Of course with the whole internet right there they can just put the name of the new technique and I can find a YouTube video showing me how to do it…

  185. The other day, when shopping for a book for my grandson, I discovered they now have wonderful early “readers” labeled 1, 2 and 3, and it is easier to look for a good match to the person that way. I think it is the same with patterns. There are already Beginning, Intermediate and Experienced designations, but it would be nice if all pattern writers used them. And the Beginning patterns should spell out all but the most basic instructions, while the Experienced knitters would be annoyed at this. Sometimes I feel like knitting different levels of patterns. Sometimes I am lazy and just want to churn out a garter stitch scarf, and other times I want to challenge my brain and my skill.
    But I ALWAYS appreciate more photos with the pattern!

  186. personally, i really like when designers add preferred techniques to patterns (bind-offs and things like that). i may never have heard of italian tubular cast-on and cast-off if it hadn’t been for a very clearly written free pattern i once used. and there are so many different increases, decreases, heel and toe options etc that having the designer put his/her favourite in exposes me to a new technique! but i don’t think it’s necessary.
    and if you’re at the stage of the game when you’re knitting a whole sweater? well, i don’t think i’ve ever just grabbed a garment pattern and knitted it as written, without making A LOT of notes, so i don’t think it’s unreasonable to have a “reverse instructions for other side” in there instead of line-by-line instructions because i’m probably going to alter the instructions anyway in some way.
    come to think of it, writing “reverse for other side” is a good way to remind me to make sure i make both sides the same and don’t forget to sub in my alterations.

  187. You know, it’s interesting that you bring this up. I was just at a book group meeting this afternoon and we were talking about how children struggle to make the pictures in their heads when they are reading, and that perhaps it’s because so much in their lives is already presented to them in pictures or other visual forms, and maybe their brains are changing in ways that don’t let them create the pictures themselves. Very serendipitous that you bring up the same kinds of thoughts related to knitting.

  188. I think you’ve nailed it at the last section… if you don’t need to remember it, if you’ve got the information stashed away somewhere, or if it’s spelled out every time, then you make very little effort to remember it on your own.
    Personally, I have no idea what reverse shaping means. I would need to look it up, and then say, “Ah… that makes sense” because if I bothered to think about it, I could probably figure it out logically. I have knit quite a bit, but I still can’t remember on my own which way ssk leans, and which way k2tog leans (because I can’t be bothered to remember). It’s this apathy that limits me as a knitter – I rely on someone else’s instruction to tell me what to do and how to do it so I can mimic the final result. While I have the stitches, I do not have the knowledge to make something on my own – and it’s all due to the “I can’t be bothered to learn.”
    As a fairly new knitter (3 years) I think it would be nice if things were spelled out a bit. I appreciate it when a pattern tells me to do something so I can carry on knitting and not put down what I’m working on. I like it when a pattern says bind off and leaves me to my own deviced to figure howI wish to do it that day – but I really like it when the author tells me what they recommend. It helps a lot, and builds my awareness of skills I might not yet possess or know exist.
    Now, next time, I will go and look up what reverse shaping means – and exactly how to do it!

  189. Here’s the thing. It’s not that beginner knitters don’t know enough, it’s that intermediate knitters already know too much. They know that there’s a cast-on for every reason and a best way to decrease or increase for every occasion.
    At this point when a designer doesn’t specify a cast on for me I have to spend some time figuring out which cast on would look the best. I’m assuming that the designer used a cast on when he or she designed the thing and it would be nice, if not polite to give us a hint as to which one.
    You know because as if it wasn’t hard enough to knit a swatch, I know have to test different castons and bind offs too.
    But thank goodness we have The Principles of Knitting and the new cast on and bind off books because when designers omit this information we at least have good references to check to figure it out for ourselves.
    In the end, it’s good taste to include as much info as you can so that knitters can decide how to knit their pieces, however I’m not going to get in a snit if it’s not included. Sort of like batteries for toys.

  190. When I started knitting (30+ years ago – yikes!) it seems most patterns did ask the knitter to reverse the shaping. And I did it. No problem. Now it is mostly laid out for both sides. And I do that. No problem. So… as an inexperienced knitter in every sense of the word, I did something that may seem more complex than I regularly do now. I never considered whether the designer was lazy, but whether I was a good enough knitter for the project. Perhaps it is also why I’ve felt free to modify patterns all these years.

  191. I almost replied to your tweet last night, but I was knitting and got distracted and suddenly two hours later and that’s ancient in Twittertime. My reply would take more than 140 characters anyway.
    I feel “as for X, reversing shaping” is fine in print patterns in formats where column inches mean money. I’d expect that in magazines and pamphlets, though it might get a raised eyebrow in a book. When it comes to a pattern I buy digitally? Yes, I tend to feel it’s lazy. I’m paying for someone else to do that work. It’s not much work, true, but it’s still design work I’m paying for, that has already been done, and just not written down.
    As for Japanese patterns, the ones I have actually do have the shaping explicitly in the charts, which is wonderful for visual knitters like myself. I can, and have, knit complex lace from written instructions but I’ll take a chart over that any day.
    That is not to say that the Japanese patterns are wonders of the world and infinitely superior. For one thing, most of them are one size, maybe two or even three if you are very lucky. None of those sizes is going to fit my fifty four inch bust, so I still do a lot of “design work” with them. They are more work than a US pattern that has “reverse shaping” buried in it in most cases, even if it doesn’t have my size it generally has one a bit closer to what I need than a Japanese pattern does.
    So, in short, I can use any pattern (or none at all) and knit what I set out to knit, but I have more appreciation for patterns that save me work. I am more willing to purchase patterns that take the time to reverse the shaping, or write out a chart, than ones that don’t.
    In conclusion, cilantro tastes like soap.

  192. This sounds like my 11 year old son’s line of thinking… He debated with me on why he shouldn’t learn how to do double division on paper. I told him it helps develop life skills. He said he is skilled on the calculator…
    We, as a society, have more skills than ever before, but our memory is shorter than ever before. I honestly only remember how to do 2 casts on, and 1 bind off. I have done probably 5 different ones, but always with the help of youtube.
    I think having a skill is being able to do something from memory, and do it well. The pioneer women before me had a bunch more skill than me. They could look at a shirt, see a brief pattern and recreate it. I need a short video to explain to me how to do it.
    It’s like cooking. Anyone can follow a recipe and cook, but not everyone can grab basic ingredients, eyeball it, and throw it together (without measuring cups/spoons) to create cookies. Sure, following the recipe and eyeballing it, both produces cookies, but the eyeing it person has more skill than the recipe person.

  193. I’m a book learner and I learned to knit about 10 years ago from my LYS. I still remember how I had to hold the “Vogue Knitting Book” open on the table in from of me to see which way to place the needles and wrap yarn for knit/purl stitches. This last summer, I spent a ferw months in the hinderlands of Galicia, Spain and met some amazing knitters, spinners and weavers who taught me how to KNIT… no books, no patterns, 3 stitches: knit, purl and a type of brioche stitch. I was amazed at how differently they thought about knitting than I did. They “owned” what they did in a very intimate way. Once, I turned my mind around from the “let-me-write-it-down” mentality (not without serious pain), a whole new world opened up. Oral-kinetic methods get one inside one’s knitting as nothing else. Its too bad that we don’t use more of this method in teaching anymore. I guess, it takes too much time? (And if that’s the reason, I feel so sad for us).

  194. Back in the days when I was a new knitter, I certainly appreciated a pattern that spelled things out for me. In those primitive times (no Ravelry or youtube), there was no one around me who could explain or interpret. Hence, I only bought pattern booklets with diagrams & details in the back (how to KFB for example), or patterns that were easy enough for a newbie to understand.
    I guess in the interest of saving space some shorthand was used, but I know I would avoid such patterns in those days, even though I REALLY wanted to attempt the project.

  195. Gee, I take whatever I get in a pattern and work with that. When I get instructions I don’t understand, I either pull out one of my reference books or go online for directions. If I can’t find an answer pretty quickly, I moaner groan, and look again or try to figure it out. If I’m going to knit someone else’s pattern I’m already delighted at the creativity that has been shared with me.

  196. Wonderful blog as always.
    You are a Knitting Sociologist (I seriously hope you write a book on the “Sociology of Knitting” one day – although hopefully with a much snappier title…). Part of this has to do with eras and technology IMO. I have lot’s of old Dale and other older nordic knitting books – and the directions are as you describe. However – they were trying to save space and paper (half of those books are in a 2 pt. font already!). Now we have the luxury of going on and on for pages – because I can download 3 pages as easily as 5 – we’re not worried about keeping the “book” light enough.
    So yes – while there are different knitter profiles for sure – part of this must be generational rather than personality driven? Maybe not.
    I actually find long directions exhausting. I prefer the “reverse left front” just fine. I figure it out in a way that makes sense in my head. I think it’s part of the fun of knitting!

  197. I say this only to tease you (and not to be a jerk) but since you were joking about your math skills – you did write that that this sweater was “32 stitches to the inch”… I’m guess you meant 8 stitches to the inch and 32 to 4 inches??
    I couldn’t resist teasing!

  198. I am not one to start knitting without reading through a pattern and trying to get a good idea of how it fits together and if I understand the directions. If I really like a pattern and I can’t figure out the how and why, I MIGHT ask a more experienced knitter, but I’m more likely to chuck it and look for a pattern I can understand.

  199. To those wondering whether the gauge is a typo: Look at the picture and compare the stitches to the size of the print in the book. If that’s 32 stitches to the inch, the picture is four times life size, and the book would be unreadable, even to the youngest eyes.
    The light, machine-knit top I’m wearing now, with tiny machine stitches, is about 20 st. to the inch.

  200. I may be excited when I see a picture of a beautiful knitted item, but if the instructions aren’t spelled out for me, I won’t even bother trying to knit it. For me, I think it’s a combination of not knowing any other knitters that I could go to for help if I get hung up, having had bad experiences at yarn stores when I’ve gone in for help (and yes, I had bought the yarn AND the pattern at the shop all three times that I was brushed off), and oddly, not wanting to ‘screw up’ the yarn. So yeah, I want patterns to be written out assuming I barely know how to knit. This is the only time I’ll accept being spoken down to 🙂

  201. Well, I knit not only for fun and to be entertained, but to learn new things and new ways for doing new things. And I maintain that learning in itself can be fun. So, I prefer my patterns to have something in the way of a schematic, whether it’s an actual drawing or just measurements, and limited instructions is fine because I don’t mind, actually relish my way through deciphering them. I worry that if we don’t encourage knitters to think their way through a pattern, a new concept – where will we get new/future designers from? So much of what I enjoy knitting has resulted from someone sitting down and thinking about knitting, and if that ceases to happen… I fear the ingenuity, the new patterns, the looking at knitting in a new way – will be incredibly changed. Or at least unrecognizable to those of us who care about that facet of this particular diamond.

  202. Great post! I’m not “experienced” per se, but I think there is something very exciting about all of a sudden “getting” what a stitch is doing. When I first started knitting lace, I finally realized what a SSK or a K2TBL did to a garment. Now I can improvise if I want a different heel or stitch or if I just realize what the pattern is supposed to look like- the directions become superfluous to a large extent- although they aren’t to other people working with the pattern that isn’t as experienced. I think more information is better, but that the more advanced you are at knitting, the less you find yourself needing to flip back and forth between a stitch explanation and the pattern. Having said this, I think there are people like myself who just don’t want to learn every cast on ever! I know two and I stick with those two- even sometimes when a pattern calls for something fancier. I can usually improvise a little and figure it out- but I think sometimes patterns are overwritten sometimes, and even when an easier maneuver could be used, certain stitches or cast ons become popular for short times. I’ll stick with my old cast ons and be happy with that!

  203. I like more info and I have a preference for written instructions but I”m very book oriented. I read manuals vs tinkering to see how something works. This also means if they tell me to do a specific cast on I go look it up. I tell everyone that wants to knit to go buy them saves a good knitting reference book that speaks to them so when you have the WTF? moment you can go look it up (I tell people the same thing about computer manuals too).
    On a totally different point didn’t Phildar make the loveliest baby layette magazines in the 80″s? I wasn’t even thinking about having a kid at that point (heck I didn’t even like em much then) and I bought them anyways. There’s a baby poncho from one that I’ve lost count of how many I’ve made it.

  204. So here’s the thing. I’m with the ‘beginner’ and ‘experienced’ thing when selling patterns. (If you give them away it’s a whole other conversation.) But ‘beginner’ or ‘experienced’ doesn’t mean experience knitting. It means experienced at turning a printed pattern into a garment. And honestly, it should warn the purchaser that you have to do math. Because for some people, regardless of their experience, math is hard. Geometry — and that’s what a sweater pattern requires — is hard. They can’t see a pattern piece in reverse in their head.
    So you have ‘experienced’ knitters who make things in the same size, yarn, and color as the original pattern because they can’t imagine anything else. I wouldn’t be asking them to reverse shaping. And there are those folks who may be very inexperienced at the physical part of knitting who can turn those patterns upside down and backwards in their heads.
    Here’s what’s changed. Knitting is more accessible. More people do it. Let’s help them.
    (Apologies for the length …)

  205. I really don’t care if there is a lot of instruction or a little, just that it be clear and correct.
    and I’m not talking typo’s here.
    The internet has made errata simple and fast, so typos can be easily remedied.
    If you pay good money for a pattern you shouldn’t have to be messaging all of Ravelry to figure out how to knit it.

  206. There are a lot of things that I am happy to look up, and enjoy looking up to learn- a common stitch pattern, a joining technique, etc. The only thing that I really value being explained thoroughly is the construction and finishing of a project. Since this isn’t the kind of thing you can look up (every pattern being different) I appreciate as much explanation as possible- written, pictures, diagrams, whatever the designer is able to explain. This part of the project gives me the most anxiety.
    I feel that it’s up to the designer if they want to explain how to do a turkish bind-off or not. It’s so much easier to look these things up today, I feel spoiled demanding that they write it out in the pattern so I don’t have to type in a few keywords on Youtube
    I love Katie (at 1:40)’s idea to have two patterns- the cheat sheet and a longer version. I would definitely pay a premium for that!

  207. That’s a beautiful sweater for a very lucky baby! Doesn’t matter that it’s grey.
    As for the pattern question, when I knit something, I expect to figure things out. I like learning new techniques. I also tend to modify the pattern when I don’t like how it’s going. It’s knitting…knitting is fluid that way.
    I work in a profession that has nothing to do with knitting and have found that it’s more and more common for people to want every step of a process spelled out for them, almost to the point of “blink,” “breathe,” and “swallow.” I feel so sad that people seem to be choosing to give up thought and reason in favour of being given every answer so they don’t have to know anything or know how to find the answer if they don’t. It makes me fear that our future will be directed by people completely lacking the ability to think.
    Maybe designing patterns that require knitters to make a few assumptions or dig a little can help prevent that?

  208. Knitters of my generation in Britain were raised on knitting patterns in the women’s magazines. And to a woman, they ALL said “reverse shaping” for the opposite front/side to the one described. They didn’t mean mirror-image the pattern because if they DID mean that it would be specified in the line-by-line instructions. They meant literally, if you K1, K2 tog at the armhole edge of the right front on row oughty-ought then you should do whatever you need to do to dec 1 st on that same row on the left front armhole edge. It really isn’t brain surgery here. I admit that at 10 pm after a frazzling day, it can be a bit of a challenge; but if every single pattern you ever read up to the age of 30 had said that, as it did for me, then you would do it without even having to waste a lot of thought on it. As for me, I have a strong preference for a pattern that states what special techniques it uses and then gives a brief tutorial on any that are specific to that pattern. Colour patterns should be charted, no question. Isn’t it wonderful that we are all so different, yet all doing the same thing within the very broad confines of the discipline? Just one of the many things to love about knitting!

  209. I have tried so hard to use all the pretty, space efficient charts, oh, so hard! but, my brain isn’t wired for visual. I *need* the words. I also agree with Julia, if the designer wants me to use a technique, I can, and will, look up the (many) ones I don’t know. If it’s part of the pattern that I paid for, i.e., reverse shaping, I want the designer, who’s already done it, to write it out. (I would classify myself as one of those curling club members on bad days, and an experienced beginner on good days.)

  210. Yes, I made the mistake of whining in a comical way about a “reverse for opposite side” knitting pattern on Ravelry once. You would have thought I was announcing I enjoyed eating skewered baby kittens. The response was rough and semi-rude and very VERY strong.
    So, um yeah, I a) don’t post on Ravelry anymore (except the knitters with breast cancer board, because they never yell at me and we all have matching haircuts) and b) I check to make sure that unless I have enough brainpower in the bank to flip a pattern (which is like, never, sine I have small children, work full-time, and am enjoying a chemo experience), I pick one that spells things out.
    My theory is that if I wanted to design a pattern, I wouldn’t have bought the one I was using. But that’s just me.

  211. …. all I got from this, honestly, is this: am I the only one who is really bad at math but prefers to use a pen and paper for most of my math even when a calculator is at hand?

  212. I adore YouTube videos for tips on instructions I don’t know! I’m a self taught knitter from the get go and always willing to learn new things. That being said, I have, in the past, written out the instructions by hand for clarity and not having to rip out over and over. Mostly I don’t have to do that anymore, which excites me. Although this whole “reverse shaping” thing…yeah…I might have to write that all out, at least that first time.
    That baby sweater is going to be FABULOUS! Must get pattern. Must find people having babies. Oh! Just remembered I have a work friend having a baby! Squee!

  213. I think Angela at Knit Luck at 6:52 summed up my feelings so well I wish *I’d* written it: ” It’s not that beginner knitters don’t know enough, it’s that intermediate knitters already know too much. They know that there’s a cast-on for every reason and a best way to decrease or increase for every occasion.”
    If I desperately want (certain aspects of) my FO to look exactly like the one in the pattern pic, then I need to know the choices the designer/test knitter made (don’t I?).
    I suspect that there is a subset of ‘old school fiber artist’ we’re not hearing from here…the ones who never learned to read patterns at all, because they understood how to *create* what they had in their heads or what they saw in other people’s FOs or purchased garments.
    My grandma (born in 1905) crocheted, and did not knit. When she was young and her eyes were good, she did very fine crocheted lace with teeny tiny hooks. When she got older she did afghans and stuff with worsted weight. And she never learned how to read a pattern. She could look at someone’s FO, or stitch pattern, or whatever and read the crocheting and re-create it. But she could not afford to buy books or purchased patterns, so she made do without. She’d occasionally glance at a pattern, decide she couldn’t make sense of the goobledy-gook, and either just go from a picture or go on to something else.
    I’m guessing there were lots of knitters like that too.

  214. I think there’s an important difference between adequate instruction and the opposite. A pattern can assume you know (or can figure out) how to reverse shaping and that’s ok with me. Where I have problems is when pattern instructions are incomplete or unclear. To me the principle job of a pattern writer is to make sure that a regular knitter can interpret the pattern accurately without resorting to screaming, crying or booze.

  215. As a designer, I just can’t let this one go without some comments. First, I agree with you that there’s no right or wrong on this issue–it’s like whether you like dpns or magic loop for socks. Second, I think Elizabeth Zimmermann hit the nail on the head when she used to present her patterns both ways. She would give a loose description (my fave), followed by more detailed directions for “blind followers”. I think knitters who are spatial thinkers probably prefer the former, but not everyone thinks that way. Third, sometimes it’s simply not possible to write totally detailed directions for a pattern because it would take a thousand words to say what is obvious to someone who thinks spatially. This was the case with my “Brookline” cardi in last spring’s Twist Collective. When I submitted the pattern, I directed the knitter to “mirror image” the knot pattern in the back and fronts. Turns out that’s way too vague for tech editors, but at the same time it was impossible to put detailed instructions into words given the number of sizes and other variables. So, in the end, the decision was made to start the knot pattern on the next row, even though this meant it wouldn’t be the mirrored perfectly in back and front. While I understand the rationale behind this decision, I secretly hope that thinking knitters will ignore the written instructions and do the mirror imaging on their own. Finally, in my “Perth Cardi” I again asked the knitter to mirror image the pattern in the fronts and back, but in a sort of halfway house of pattern-writing, I explained how to go about calculating the mirror imaging. I think my goal was to acknowledge that although not all knitters are “thinking” knitters, they can move a little closer to that goal.

  216. The comments are fascinating.. I think it depends on whether you are someone who would read the “32 stitches to the inch” line and not bother to mention it because it is obviously a typo, and/or someone who thinks that cilantro tastes like soap, full stop. 🙂 As for the pattern instructions, I do math for a living, at times involving billions of dollars of public money (no instructions provided). Still, if I were writing a pattern I would err on the side of completing the instructions. To me, “reverse shaping” is not completing the instructions. It doesn’t have to be the Decameron, and those purists who prefer the skeleton of the design can look at the schematic, the stitch pattern and the cast on and ignore the rest if they wish. Love the grey, classic baby sweater! Go you!

  217. Hee hee I had a big case of this recently, wanting a pattern for WW1 socks. The good people at the Australian War Memorial have a PDF of the pattern for them distributed at the time, for the two socks at once version (but not yet the one done at a time version). The instructions start with something like “Cast on the usual number of stitches”, which is just fab. If I was like my great great grandmother I would have known how many that was. I’ll try and persuade the AWM to do a PDF of the one sock at a time version which might have the sts number, but it might not…
    I’m in the ‘depends’ camp – how tired I am, how quickly I want the item, etc. I do like to be challenged, and modify / design things (which is why I love Ann Budd’s books and stitch dictionaries), but find I get very anxious about the fitting sections – darts, necklines, armsyce’s. When I was a new knitter I used to drool over the designs in American magazines, but get frustrated that not only did we not have the specified yarns in Australia easily, most of our yarns weren’t able to be substituted (our 8 ply or DK weight has only recently been used in patterns, most mid weight yarns in the US use 20 stss/10 cm not 22). Ann Budd’s instructions about how to modify are great, but I do tend to write the pattern out if I’m changing. I make lots of mistakes! And hell, I have to add 14 cm to the length of each standard sleeve if I’m making anything for me anyway (yep, a step closer to our simian ancestors than most people!)
    But it is an interesting idea about how much we keep in our heads rather than writing down, and how much we learn from written as opposed to from those around us.
    I love my mother’s comment when I asked her if she could show me how to do kitchener stitch. “Technically, Sweetie”, meaning that she had probably done it once apon a time, but not for a while. Mum has been knitting for more than forty five years and taught knitting workshops for ages and ‘unvented’ a stitch. She just knits things that don’t use Kitchener. I use book instructions for most things, and vidjos for others.

  218. My daughter is a smart woman (MD/PhD) and told me some people have a genetic condition that makes cilantro taste like soap (She, obviously, has that problem to know it’s soap one tastes)…interesting. Like you said, all opinions are valid.

  219. I don’t know what patterns should and shouldn’t include. I know what instructions I, personally, am comfortable with, but that’s probably not the same as everyone else. I do find patterns with too much instruction kind of cumbersome and irritating, like in a couple of baby knits books I own for the sole purpose of adorable designs, not because I need a 6-page tutorial on garter stitch. It’s okay, though. I can wade through it. EZ’s patterns, on the other hand, rather intimidate me, still, though I’ve made a few by now. I go to those when I want a challenge for my brain.
    I guess the beauty of the internet and the wealth of instructional books out there is that anything you don’t already know, you can just go look up. Also, with electronic patterns, the designers often include links to tutorials for things like special cast-ons or short-rows so they don’t have to write a 12-page document for a pair of socks. I think that’s great.
    So for that reason, I’m fine with whatever is or isn’t in a pattern already. When I’ve paid my good, hard-earned money for a design I am way more irritated by errors in the pattern than lack of detailed instructions. That’s just me, though.
    My other pet peeve is lack of charts. There’s a book of patterns published in the last couple years that I would love to buy but it’s full of cable designs with all written-out instructions and no charts. It’s from a major publishing company, no less!
    I’m not sure if I’ve actually contributed anything to this conversation…but it’s an interesting one. I hope you follow up!

  220. For me it totally depends on my own state of mind/the state of my life. Before kids? Sure, I’m happy to go look stuff up, and learn something new in the process. With two children under 2.5? I need everything spelled out because I get about 3 minutes of knitting time a day, and if I have to go look a technique up… POOF, there went my knitting time (and then of course, I forget it by the time I can pick up the needles again. It’s a vicious cycle). One solution I’ve seen and really love doesn’t bog down the pattern with a lot of extra instructions, but does provide citations to the designers website where she shows you how to do them. Ann Kingstone is great at this–she has inspired me to try some really complicated things that I might not do as a (fairly) new knitter with limited “calculation time” as it were, but if the technique is something I already know I don’t have to wade through it in the pattern itself (and thus risk missing instructions that are really necessary like “at the same time”). If I don’t know/remember the double-front-circle-spearmint-increase (okay, I made that one up), I just go to the url listed at the start of the pattern, and TA-DA, there is a video tutorial I can put on repeat until I get it. If I do remember it? I think, “Oh yes, the DFCSI!” and sail along. Of course, I also keep knitting reference books around because once I get some knitting time again I will not want to be limited by patterns that spell it all out for me.
    All of which is to say: I both love and hate cilantro depending on what stage of life I’m in.

  221. I make Dale sweaters all the time. It is true that the patterns are not detailed but I have never been unable to complete one.
    I love the yarns too. I become more weary with pages of instructions. I agree with the post that stated that patterns are not necessarily meant to be instructions.

  222. I see both sides of this debate and have made both kinds of patterns. I consider myself an experienced knitter leaning toward the more instructions the better. I knit a pair of intricate socks that involved cables travelling across the top of the foot and up the outside of the leg. The socks mirrored each other and for the second sock that was the instruction – ‘knit the left sock to mirror the right’. I came to this instruction late at night when I was too tired for my brain to effectively compute this and, quite frankly, it pissed me off. It wasn’t as simple as it sounded and it involved rearranging the chart, so sock B needed a completely different chart than sock A. My argument is that if I’m going to pay $7 for a sock pattern, I don’t want to have to figure it out. I should get a full set of instructions. Secondly, with the majority of patterns being sold as digital downloads, we can’t read over the pattern to see if the instructions are complete or if we want to hassle with it. And we can’t get our money back after the fact because we’ve already downloaded it. I firmly believe designers should get paid for their work. In my opinion, that involves delivering a complete pattern.
    Okay, that was more long-winded than I intended it to be. :/

  223. Short and sweet, usually, is my preference. I need more than “make heel” but I know how to do seed stitch and how to do ribbing and what makes them different. Reverse the shaping threw me once, about 1985, but now I find it perfectly reasonable. I think people repeat themselves, and designers should be able to present their designs without writing a how-to book as well.

  224. Please put me in the “spell it out camp.” I enjoy knitting, not the math problem, or stitch problem. I think it comes down to the question of being a process or product person. I’m definitely a product person. Also, sometimes it seems as though some designers may be trying to keep the craft “pure” by making it hard for non-process people to break the code. And to show off.

  225. I love knitting, it has brought so much joy to my life…I didn’t start until I was 67. I truly appreciate complete instructions. It allows me to get on with trying to knit as many different things as I possibly can before knitting becomes a reminder of how arthritis takes some of the joy and a whole lot of speed out of the fun. I’m still learning about the weights of yarn etc. Read it and knit.

  226. I think it comes down to this question: do they know what they don’t know?
    As you said, someone who sees “German Twisted Cast-on” in a pattern can realise they don’t know how to do that and Google it. Someone who sees “reverse shaping” might not know that it involves different decreases and that’s just mean, in my opinion.
    I had a disastrous experience with a Tomten last year for precisely that reason – I didn’t know that there was quite a bit of assumed knowledge in the pattern and so I ended up with a complete mess. Still gave it to the intended recipient, though – if I had to suffer, so should she!

  227. I feel like there’s more to gain by having more instructions. One of the ways I learn new skills is by following detailed instructions in patterns! Consider the possible reactions of knitters of varying degree of experience coming across the instruction “Reverse shaping to match other side”:
    An experienced knitter who has done reverse shaping before and doesn’t mind doing all the figuring will just repeat the same skill they already know. An experienced knitter who is knitting the project more for relaxation than for the challenge may come to that instruction and decide to knit something else that doesn’t require as much brain power. An inexperienced but adventurous knitter who has never done reverse shaping before may have a vague idea of what that entails and go on a Google hunt to find out how to do it. Hooray! They learned something! An inexperienced knitter who is not so adventurous may stall at that instruction and never finish the project.
    In this scenario only 2 of the 4 knitters will complete the project and only one knitter will learn something new.
    Consider the reactions to a pattern with the instructions for reverse shaping spelled out:
    There’s probably many ways to do reverse shaping, so an experienced knitter who doesn’t mind doing some figuring may come across instructions that don’t match their previous experience. Simply by reading the instructions, they have learned something new! The knitter can then decide whether they want to use the written instructions or to use their previous knowledge to complete the reverse shaping. An experienced knitter who is knitting the project more for relaxation than for the challenge will simply follow the instructions and complete the project. An inexperienced but adventurous knitter who has never done reverse shaping before will follow the instructions and learn how to do reverse shaping! An inexperienced knitter who is not so adventurous will also follow the instructions and learn how to do reverse shaping and will probably be a little more confident the next time they come across a similar pattern!
    In this scenario all 4 knitters completed the project and 3 out of the 4 learned a new skill!
    I don’t think including more instructions stunts our growth as knitters, I think it makes knitting more accessible to all levels of experience and patience.

  228. Your calculator comment made me (age 59 years) wonder if there is an age component, too. Like using a calculator versus doing calculations in your head, or cursive writing versus printing.

  229. If a pattern is verbose and spells everything out, in my mind it’s a “good” pattern. Clear, concise, nothing left to guesswork. If it’s of the “now, make heel” genre, I feel irritable that the pattern is so “poorly written”. But really, personal laziness aside, I think patterns of the EZ philosophy–fearless knitting!–will ultimately make us better Knitters with a capital K. Critical thinking is the hallmark of a professional. It allows brilliance and innovation to spring from the masses. Spoon-feeding never inspired innovation.

  230. Me? If there is something I don’t know how to do, I google it. I’ve learned almost all of my knitting skills from google and youtube!

  231. This is why I frequently design my own patterns… and I am one of those people (30%) that cilantro tastes like soap.

  232. If I like the pattern, I’ll knit it. If that means doing some research and/or calculating, so be it. But there are times when I just want to knit and on those occasions I like it spelled out very clearly. There’s room for all kinds and we find our way, but I do think it would be helpful if designers could agree on a simple code for the front of a pattern that tells us how much thinking might be required!

  233. Just like cilantro…are you trying to incite a fiesta? Lol. I’m a rookie knitter and I would just be happy if the people that write the patterns, TEST the patterns. I’ve found errors in 3 of 5 patterns, and yes, I had yarn Yodas review and concur. Patterns that give short directions ie w&t, get my attention as the internet is NOT everywhere or cannot be used everywhere-I like a complete pattern that is, add needles, yarn and maybe stitch markers for spice and you have a one gallon sized ziploc freezer bag o fun on the run.

  234. A detailed pattern BUILDS skills; it doesn’t deplete them.
    Brooklyn Tweed patterns are great examples. I learn something new from every simple looking pattern because they took the time to put some detail into the pattern and bother to explain how to do it. I’ve learned new cast-ons, new ways to increase and decrease, new ideas for shaping. Every time, I take those ideas away as something that I can now use if I need to improv my way out of a situation.

  235. I feel that in genera,l we have shifted the onus of responsibility out of our hands and into others. I think that this is unfortunate. Part of the beauty of being a knitter is the enjoyment of finding that perfect pattern…if it’s too wordy or not wordy enough we always have the option to forgo it!

  236. I say, “it is (just) knitting!” If you can do the pattern, do it. If you don’t know the technique and the pattern doesn’t offer it, don’t get mad, either figure it out, find someone that can teach you, or go on to another pattern. Some yarncrafters enjoy figuring out what the pattern means, some don’t, some love charts, some don’t, but really it’s mostly just a hobby and should be fun. I know the time spent creating something from string is important to those of us that knit/crochet, but if the pattern doesn’t work for you either figure it out or move on.

  237. Now that we have entered the digital age and patterns are available for individual download, I think that when knitters pay anywhere between $4 and $8 (or more) per pattern that they expect clearly written and detailed instruction. I think we’d be more forgiving with freely distributed patterns, or ‘bundled’ patterns – where you are buying a lot of patterns in a book for quite a reasonable ‘per pattern’ price. I think the very convenient individual pattern pricing model (one that is convenient for both designers and knitter) has increased expectations about what is/should be provided.

  238. More detail, less detail – I can live with either as long as what is provided is accurate!

  239. Hear, hear! Nicole at 10:11. She said it all for me. The object, presumably, is for most people to be able to complete the project and learn something. I have a lovely cabled cardigan sweater 90% finished which has languished in the UFO pile for a YEAR because of the da$#@d! “reverse shaping on other side”. May that instruction fall completely into disuse! It is counter productive. See Nicole’s post.

  240. Speaking as someone who is mildly dyslexic, I’ve made some very creative mistakes, and mirroring shaping is an anxiety inducer par excellence. Reducing them to one sentence at a time and mounting them on index cards helps but there is still plenty of ways to drive off the road.

  241. ”It’s a pretty fussy baby jacket, knit at 32 stitches to the inch ”: This really caught my eye, I just couldn t imagine such a gauge. Had to look up the patern. Adorable and challenging. Good luck!

  242. Just to add a comment for the sake of representing all sides. I like a chart that shows the stitches along with inc/dec on both sides. Magazines can provide a link for the whole chart if rom is an issue. This can be done even for relatively complex cables etc. For simple sweaters, the reverse shaping or do the same on the opposite side are easy enough to figure out. Thanks for interesting comments. I learned a few things!

  243. I’m kind of the middle of the road. I like it when I learn something new. I like the feeling of accomplishment that comes with working a pattern that takes me to a place where I have to research or learn new things.
    At the same time, I sometimes like the completely spelled out patterns. This is usually when I’m too stressed or tired to focus on learning new things.
    All in all, I think both are fine. 🙂
    (The baby sweater is gorgeous, btw! I may have to actually start knitting baby things…)

  244. On the one hand, “Too much explanation makes my eyes glaze over…” On the other hand, I’ve seen patterns where “Reverse shapings to match other side” requires more compute power than NASA needs to get a banana to the space station. Which is slightly more than I can do in my head on a normal day. (Only slightly, of course.)
    So let the designer follow their Buddha nature and seek the middle path: provide both. In these days of instant graphic design, it’s pretty simple to separate the short instruction from the gory detail while showing that there is a relationship between them. (For instance, put the short instruction in bold and the details in italics. Trust me, if you can design knitting, you can design simple graphics. Think of your pattern as a pattern of color and texture.)
    Or not. That’s ok, too. I’ll just get confused when you don’t tell me what you’re trying to explain, and you explain so much that I can’t tell what you’re trying to explain.

  245. If i am knitting from a confusingly written pattern i get very miserable, and after awhile give up. I think life is complex enough, do knitters have to be like John Wayne? Are you a better knitter if you tough it out with a sketchy pattern and a Wimp if you need a more detailed one?

  246. I think the limit is in the complexity of the pattern. For a simple sweater with a bit of waist shaping? “Reverse shaping” is fine. For a meticulously sculpted monstrosity with bobbles and cables and four different charts for the lace panels up the sides and darts and waist shaping and special room for shoulder-pads and shortrowwing over the bum (optionally) if you need it…Yeah, I’d much rather you spell that stuff out in both directions, thanks. If you don’t, I will, but that takes away from the time I’m actually knitting your pattern and therefore makes me less likely to buy it.
    But in general, simple, general techniques are fine to assume. If your pattern needs this ONE SPECIFIC CAST ON OMG, please put the instructions for it in the pattern. At the top is nice. That way I can find it if I ever want to use it again. But if any old cast on will do, so long as it’s stretchy, then just tell me to use a stretchy cast-on. Likewise, I’m fine with sock patterns that tell me to cast on the usual number of stitches. I’ve made enough plain socks that I have a pretty good idea how many stitches I need to cast on, and I usually always substitute the heel and toe I prefer for whatever’s in the pattern anyway…
    I think the difference in opinions comes down to this:
    There are folks who like to do things “by the book” and who prefer to knit patterns exactly as they are written (though maybe in a different yarn or with an adventurous extra repeat). These are the folks who would prefer it if you write detailed, clear directions for all parts of the garment. They may tackle even very complex patterns with great confidence, but prefer to knit things that have been knit before (and therefore have had any kinks worked out). If they run into trouble such as previously undiscovered errata, they tend to ask for help from another knitter or email the designer directly. Their knitting is almost always beautiful, with very few “back of the closet” sweaters. They can probably knit at least a few things similar to things they’ve knit before without using patterns, and it’ll probably come out well.
    Then, there are folks like me who think of patterns more as “guidlines” than actual instructions. Folks like that don’t mind vague directions so much because we’re probably going to alter the thing anyway, and that usually takes the same sort of skills that vague directions require. So we don’t really notice that we’re doing extra work. We do, however, have an especial love of very clear schematics, thankyouverymuch. If we run into trouble, we tend to try to sort it out ourselves rather than ask for help. Chances are good the problem isn’t with the original pattern, anyway. Our knitting tends to be beautiful as well, but there’s a higher risk of “back of the closet” sweaters due to our sometimes reckless disregard for following instructions properly. We knit a lot of things without patterns. It’s a crapshoot as to whether or not they work out as we intended.
    So basically,
    Sane, stable, comfortable knitters with clean houses and orderly children
    Crack monkeys

  247. I’ve been knitting for about sixty years now, so experienced but NOT expert. So – I read the pattern through, and if I don’t understand the instructions (or the abbreviations, more likely), I look it up – books, internet, etc, or I ask someone for help. Reverse shaping – no problem. Knitting from charts – easy-peasy – for lace but NOT for cables – no idea why. Basically, if really stuck, ask Daughter, who has just learned to knit a couple of years ago, but is very adventurous! I really love that little baby jacket, my sort of knitting – I just need another grand-baby to knit it for. By the way – 32 stitches to the inch?! You must be joking!

  248. I have learnt in the last two years how to knit from the internet.
    I was poor, but still all this wealth from generous people, who would share what they knew, was free for me to access. In that light (and I have knitted lace and done some colour-work) most things have been Greek to me at first (remember poor, so no reference books). But I look and I seek and even then I have to do it, fail and re-do to get most of the things the way I’d be at least content with.
    Like Stephanie says sometimes working things out is not fun. But hopefully we can put it off ’till we can deal with it.

  249. I tend to take patterns more as “suggestions” anyway, so write what you want, designers. All I really need is a picture, a gauge, and some measurements and maybe a chart. I can take it from there.

  250. I think, the thing is: we know that the designer had to work out the reversed shapings him or herself. And, when it’s not plain and simple, we often like a bit more guidance KNOWING that someone else has already had to go through the pain of arithmetic.
    (and let’s not forget the gloves I made. I got my reversed shapings right on the third attempt, after I employed pencil. Just two lines in that pattern needed altering to get it to work…Almost the same amount of typing as saying “reverse the shapings”!)

  251. Well, you can write out all of the instructions you want to, but I’m probably not going to read them anyway…

  252. I have nothing against abbreviated instructions and understand that I can do my own research. But what I don’t think is wise is to direct a knitter to an online resources for part of the instructions, in lieu of writing it out. The knitter wouldn’t have bought the book if she/he prefered to use the digital medium. Personally, I don’t have mobile access to the web and I prefer paper many times, especially when travelling, and I was once sidelined by this designer’s style.

  253. I loved your Miss BB sweater. I loved it so much I stalked the exact same yarn on Ravelry, scored 20 balls (yay me!), and set to work. I made the back and one front in record time (for me. I know you made your entire sweater in ten days). Then I came to the second front, and the dreaded “Reverse all shaping.” It’s been a month, no two, since I’ve picked it up. I wrote out the whole thing (including all the increases, decreases, buttonholes – gah!), and made the bottom half. I put it aside. I picked it up again a few days ago, sighed, and tried to remember what I was doing. My feeling is that if I’m spending $8 on a pattern, I’m paying for all the basic instructions. It would not have killed the pattern writer to do all the math and charting required for one more column of instructions.
    I hope I can finish it by Rhinebeck (of this year).

  254. The irony is that now it is so easy to find instructions for things that are not spelled out in a pattern. We don’t even need reference books any more (tho’ i have many). Almost everything you can imagine is online. And I have to say I appreciate brevity in a pattern. If i’m going to print out a pattern on my own paper with my own printer ink, I often edit it (if I can) to make it as brief as possible.
    But, as you said, to each her own.
    I love your thoughtful blog. It is always a joy to read. Thank you!

  255. As a knitter with rather bad dyscalculia a pattern written with space-saving things that assume I can work this stuff out is immensely frustrating – as in burn the project outside the publisher’s office-building level frustrating.
    Yeah, I suck at counting, maths and spacial awareness and decided to take up knitting. My number one knitting aid is a pad of paper and a pencil for writing everything down and doing the sums longhand, then checking them thrice.
    I am all for the hand-holding. If a designer chooses to publish a design without writing/charting everything out then I don’t buy the pattern (and if it’s a gorgeous pattern then I will walk away with a pout). I do find people who can knit those sort of patterns very impressive though.

  256. Knitting patterns are like recipes. They give you information about which ingredients to use and which order to use them in. They are not instruction manuals. Recipes do not teach you how to chop or boil water, it is assumed that you know or will discover these things before cooking your stew.

  257. The gray sweater is darling, but I’d love to see you write out the pattern for the baby sweater you’ve modified and perfected and fall back on as a default item.
    That’s a proven item, and I bet all your readers would like to have that one in their bag of tricks.
    Thanks, always love reading. You are a peach.

  258. I’m in both camps…I do like things spelled out–it does help me learn–but there’s a limit to how much to spell things out before you totally confuse the reader.
    For instance, when you add for clarity that there are 32dc, 12 loops and a slst at the end of a row in crochet, people have looked at me with confusion written all over their face! As a teacher, I tell them “It’s just a note for clarity, so you can go back and count to make sure you have things JUST SO, because otherwise, your NEXT ROW may not work.” It’s good to have those counts sometimes, because those of us who are experienced might just whoosh right across the row, be short one, not look, and find out 10 rows later, that it’s all wrong and the whole thing is wonky…this is especially hard to take when you’re on the 150th round of a doily!

  259. And I can’t believe you spun up all that pretty wool, started on a perfectly nice sweater with springy colors, and set it aside (a bit too casually, I’ll add)
    Honestly, Steph. I can’t believe you did that.

  260. I thought I should read the previous 80,603 comments before posting.. gave up 1/3 through. WOW, it must be exhausting to be so popular! I hope your computer reads them to you, so it doesn’t interfere with your knitting. 🙂
    I say the market will decide. It used to be that you might spend your entire life with only one good baby raglan pattern, for instance, but now that we have ravelry, the competition is obvious. A poorly written or sparse pattern will just not take off. Reverse shaping is a thorn in my side. Many knitters multi-task to justify their craft, so our attention is split. My UFO bin is full of projects where I’m at the fiddly part.. socks up to the heel, sweaters with no buttons, baby pants needing kitchenering.. etc. If you can write a pattern so that it doesn’t have parts that make people break out extra tools, paper and brian power (or look down from their movie), all the better. My ultimate fear as a pattern writer would be for a person to knit my project entirely wrong and not realize it until it was fairly well along, because I hadn’t explained it properly. That said, it’s annoying when patterns are 16 pages long, too. Fickle, we are. Another option: to be able to print a “pithy” version or an expanded version.. or have an expanded version available online for those who need it.

  261. 32 stitches to the inch? Just lock me up right now…
    I think it used to be that most knitting was done at home, in easy reach of a reference book. Now we tend to shlep it all over the place (5 hours each way to daughter at university?) and the books are not near at hand, though now we have the web. I can reverse shaping easily enough, but the mirror image for an increase or decrease? Not in my cranium.

  262. I write as someone (a newbie to knitting, really) who would find ‘reverse shaping’ completely and utterly stumping.
    I wonder if it’s something to do with how you came at knitting, in the first place? Were you taught by a person, who might have taken the time to explain what a stich’s opposite was? Or did you (like me) pick it up from YouTube tutorials, scratching at bits of knowledge as and where you come across them?
    Also – I think you’re right about personality types. I’m a very language driven person – wordy, written patterns are great. I don’t understand charts, and I can’t keep my place in them, just as I don’t understand maps, and I prefer tables to graphs. I have no maths brain, and ‘reverse shaping’ smacks of maths-y type things to me. No, no, no!
    I regret this, though. I think you need to be of the visual, good at charts, mathsy type to be able to understand knitting enough to write patterns, and I don’t think I’ll ever get there.

  263. What a great discussion! I am a fairly experienced knitter, having knit on and off for over 30 years. I’ve knit almost everything over the years from baby garments to lace shawls with beads. I was ecstatic when charts were “discovered” as I am a visual learner. My opinion is that there is an assumption that knitters purchase a pattern that is appealing to them and they want to duplicate. Over the years, my worst gripe has been that many designers do not include enough directions to duplicate their designs. I agree with the knitters who have said that they would like more precise instructions for specific techniques to make a particular item. To me, this would include, at the very least, what kind of cast-on and bind-off the designer used and why they used it as well as any specific shaping, patterning etc. I don’t need to have the technique itself explained, but it would be nice to know if the designer used a German cast-on, Channel Island cast-on or a generic long tail… and how it affects the project in question. I believe designers should treat this as a way to expand and promote knowledge in other knitters.
    I have often had to write out shapings row by row on an index card and check them off as I go to be sure I haven’t missed anything. I have also been annoyed on occasion at instructions such as “use full fashioned shaping” without having it explained.
    I guess the bottom line, as many have previously stated, is being able to duplicate the designer’s vision and having fun doing it. I would be hard pressed to pay $7-10 for a one page pattern with basic instructions or a bunch of YouTube links.
    As for the side discussion on calculators & other technology, I have strong opinions that even though we have machines to do the work for us, we should be able to do it ourselves in a pinch. My biggest pet peeves regarding this, are that (as someone has already mentioned) spell checker is not our friend, children should be taught to do basic math without calculators, even though the USPS is probably on the way out – children should still be taught how to address envelopes correctly, and the lack of basic knowledge of grammar is very sad and disturbing. Sorry about the length and rant.

  264. personally, i do appreciate a thoroughly written pattern, but i also like a challenge. i have plenty of reference books and the whole if the internet at my fingertips if i have a question on how to do stuff.
    will those older or more-vague patterns die out? will it become some kind of new “Julie/ Julia” style challenge one day for people to knit something that requires them to do legwork on their own, vs. a Rachel Ray cook it in 30 minutes? we shall see! 🙂

  265. I don’t mind when patterns leave things up to you. I’ve read a bunch of knitting books and the technique sections of magazines and I know how to Google, so there is not much that I would need explicitly written out.
    Then again, I knit from patterns pretty rarely and even then treat them mostly as suggestions. My method for knitting sweaters, for example, is guesstimating a good number of stitches to cast on for a sleeve, and then doing the maths to figure everything else out based on the gauge I get. I scribble stitch counts on post-it notes and figure out colourwork on graph paper – it’s all very low-tech. (It should be noted that I have most of a BSc in mathematics, so I am something of a glutton for punishment.)
    On the other hand, once I made a hat that was knit flat using a number of short rows, and when the pattern instructions were limited to “seam” without any indication as to which bits were supposed to be sewn where, I nearly threw the whole thing into a dark corner of the closet, never to be seen again.

  266. I’ve only been knitting for about 2-1/2 years but have managed to knit some fairly complex things. I think it helps me tremendously that I sewed when I was younger and have a really good understanding of how garments are constructed. There is an absolute wealth of help online for knitting, many with videos. I learned just the other night how to do an i-cord bindoff via utube. And then there is Ravelry and the great knitters and designers there, who have to a person been so wonderfully generous (and supportive)with any and all questions I’ve posed.

  267. I like my knitting patterns clear and concise. The fact that I’m Norwegian likely has something to do with that – Norwegian knitting patterns don’t spoon feed you everything the way British and North American patterns do. I don’t necessarily mind wordy patterns, unless the pattern’s clarity suffers due to the verbosity.
    If you know several cast-ons and cast-offs, shouldn’t you also know when to use which one? At least have a vague idea? Because knowing loads of techniques but still needing the hand-hold-y patterns seems a bit odd. Then again, I’m surprised at how many people find ‘reverse shaping’ so difficult. Seems pretty self explanatory to me. I mean, you do the same shaping as before, just at the beginning of the row instead of at the end (or the end instead of the beginning, or whatever).

  268. I’ve been knitting for 28 years. Once upon a time info wasn’t at my finger tips the way it is now. I had a couple of good books and a LYS. I was excited to learn, read about and practice my new skills.
    I’ve spent many hours teaching classes and individuals what I’ve learned. I think it’s fun to be thrilled with my knitting and it is indeed THRILLING to learn a new skill. If every last bit of a pattern isn’t there I’ll be just fine. That being said, if I’ve paid a decent amount for a pattern or magazine or book I expect that I’ve paid for someone else to do the figuring and explaining. Sometimes I need my knitting to be fun, relaxing, mindless, not always thrilling.
    Maybe what is needed is a sort of universal rating system for patterns so that the knitter knows what to expect in terms of skills and knowledge needed.

  269. I saw one person make this point already, but to me it is really key. I think there is a difference between assuming that people can go out and learn set skills (this cast-on, that bind off, p5 tbl, whatever) and the step of reversing the pattern. Reversing the pattern is, yes, a skill itself, but in a complicated pattern, there is a lot of margin of error. And I, at least, need to stop and actually write out the pattern in reverse. I can do it, just like I can iron a man’s dress shirt, but I do not like to do so. And since I both have limited knitting time and it tends to be when I am 1) on the go or 2) kind of fried, I want chores to be removed from the process. And for whatever reason, looking up a new skill feels like a fun challenge and reversing a pattern feels like a chore.
    Someone mentioned the difference between decrease evenly by x stitches versus writing out the decreases. That kind of thing makes no difference to me, again, because all the necessary information is included. But with reversing, you need to remember to reverse the direction of all the decrease, do the math to flip things around. All of that.
    Oh, and if a pattern will be effected by the choice of bind of, cast of, increase, or decrease I want to be told which kind to do. I may ignore the instructions and I do not mind having to look up and learn the skill elsewhere, but I want to be told which method to use.

  270. This is how we find our favorite designers. Some designers tend to write for beginners, some tend to write for more experienced knitters. I’ve also come across patterns that became confusing because they were overexplained.

  271. I like that you noted your Aunt Helen could do calculations without a calculator; it’s a valid point that we learn a skill if we need to learn a skill. I can’t recall phone numbers as well as I could before I had a phone that stored them, for instance. As for cilantro, some of us taste the aldehydes more strongly, and associate it with soap or certain bugs – ew – per this article: . Cilantro always reminds me of Thrills Gum, which is not horrible, but doesn’t belong in a salad or stew.

  272. I learned to knit in the dark ages, over 50 years ago, and all patterns had the “reverse shaping” instruction. It’s not rocket science, you just have to think about it a little bit, and look at your work. If you’ve done the right side then when you get to the armhole on the left side you decrease the same number of stitches as you did when you reached the armhole on the right side. We didn’t have computers or Youtube then, usually just one good knitting book that illustrated cast on’s, cast offs, increases and decreases.
    I stopped knitting for 16 years and when I started again there were all these “new” instructions. One of them is the SSK. After I did about 5 of these the light bulb went off, how is this different from “knit 2 together through the back”? It isn’t, it just a different way of doing the same stitch with the same result. Some people have a difficult time fitting the needle through the back two knit stitches so this makes it easier. Faster, better, nope, just about the same.

  273. This is an interesting post. I’ve had a lot of knitting experience, mostly in the past 15 years, though I’ve know the basics for 40+ years. I have this thing of re-writing patterns, especially free ones that I can cut-and-paste. I don’t like the wordiness, don’t like all the instructions spelled out, and don’t want to waste printer ink on a bunch of photos. And yet, the paradox of the thing is that when I’ve knit projects with tricky areas, I want all the wordiness and photos. So, for me, it depends on the project.

  274. The first knitting book I bought was Debbie Stoller’s “Stitch n Bitch” It very clearly and conversationally taught me everything I needed to know to knit my first hat and sweater. Before that, I knit only K2P2 scarves. That is one awesome book, and I still refer to it from time to time. It empowered me to understand my knitting, rather than just follow directions. Understanding it has made knitting come alive for me. I am grateful that knitters who prefer that instructions be specific can find what they want also. Our diversity is one of the things that makes knitting so interesting! Thanks for the knitterly controversy.

  275. My preference is fewer directions and more complete schematics. I also prefer charts over line-by-line directions. And I like them “as seen from right side”. Otherwise I rechart.

  276. I prefer directions clearly written out, but I’m not opposed to looking something up, and often do!
    However, I wonder if we’re not seeing the results (at least in the U.S.) of years of spoon-feeding our kids facts and not only not requiring, but even discouraging independent and creative thought.

  277. I think, as with most things, it also depends on price. If it’s a free pattern or just a dollar or two, I would expect to have to do more work on my own. If, however, a pattern is over $US5, then I would expect more information to be spelled out.
    I feel I learn more if I have to look things up on my own. (I learn best kinesthetically, then visually, and last auditory.) But, I also think designers tend to stick to techniques that they know well and use frequently. I would have no problem, in this day of easy access technology, of looking up the designers recommended methods on her website before starting. (I always check for errata anyhow.)

  278. I think the knitter should have the choice. The pattern maker should have the info available in the pattern, then I as the knitter can use it or not. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to think you have everything you need only to find out you need to find another source for information.

  279. This is what I love about knitting! There is something for everyone. If you want to knit lace doilies or cables or garter stitch scarves for the rest of your life, you can. If you want to change it up with every project, you can. And everything in between.
    I just wish when I find a beautiful pattern I want to knit, it would be written the way I think. But then, that’s not the kind of knitting that keeps one’s mind sharp and keeps dementia at bay. Life long knitting learner.

  280. And don’t forget the horror of reading the instruction “At the same time…” when you’ve already several inches in.

  281. Wow, I didn’t expect so many people to think this is a black and white issue – you either want the written out sections or you don’t.
    My thought is that I wish patterns were more of a “choose your own adventure” idea. I am skilled enough and more than capable of doing the math to reverse the shaping, however, when I’m on a deadline, its T-24 hours to go and I’m trying to finish something, my brain is fried. I want those numbers already done because the pattern writer is my helpful friend, making sure I can do the pattern.
    Its nice when they say “Rows 16-32: Reverse Shaping OR as below:” and spell it out. Then I can pick and choose which one I’d like to follow, check my work, and affirm what I’m doing. That also helps me grow as a knitter, because I can make the decisions.

  282. A designer is not necessarily a teacher, a teacher is not necessarily a designer. You can’t substitute parsley for cilantro all the time and have the recipe turn out ok. Sometimes you can.
    I think the designer or publisher should be clear on level of instructions before you buy. The onus is on the customer to choose what they like.
    Btw, I don’t buy wordy patterns. I see the need for them. Let me know what I may be (or not be) buying, and I’ll make my choice then.
    If there was a side of camp forced, then the knitter would no longer have this choice; and that is what we should be concerned about.

  283. As an English major, retired from both the computer programming and teaching fields, I consider knitting instructions to be a form of technical writing. I feel that tech writing is the hardest type of writing to do well because it MUST be precise. This is where the creative process of making a unique design gets married to the precision of the instruction, and to do this well the designer has to have both of these qualities. Of course, the instructions should be tested before being published.
    As a knitter who began about 7 years ago, I appreciate precise,accurate, detailed patterns. The more detail the better. I prefer written instructions to charted ( this is also the way I like crochet lace and tatting patterns, too.)
    Great topic and discussion.
    As a side note: I wonder how many people have googled ‘harlot & shades of grey’ and been dismayed what they found. Might even turn some of them into knitters.

  284. Ki at 10:32: I love Brooklyn Tweed patterns for that very reason! Also Debbie Stoller’s Stitch and Bitch book was instrumental in bringing me back to knitting after a decades long absence, just because it was so conversational and helpful. And the Harlot’s Knitting Rules instructions for a basic sock are that way as well. Now I am a much braver knitter, but I do still love those patterns where it’s almost as if the writer is kind of talking me through things. I can always skip that nice part if I’m feeling master-ful.

  285. I’ve been knitting for over 40 years and I still consider myself a beginner. I’d prefer to have clearly written instructions, but I have looked things up as needed (the Internet makes this a breeze, although I’ve also purchased several reference books to turn to). I’m a process knitter, so understanding the process is very important to me. I don’t know if this discussion will have any effect on pattern makers, but that would be nice. 🙂
    P.S. I hate cilantro.

  286. I think all baby things are related to spring in a way. The delicate tininess, the new life after the long wait, the anticipation of joy – I think these are all thing we associate with spring. I sat behind a baby wearing a highly textured sweater in that exact shade of grey (yes, she was red-headed) and she looked absolutely precious.
    On the knitting question, I agree that experienced knitter and experienced pattern reader are different. I don’t think that every designer should be expected to completely write out their instructions or multi-level them. My understanding is that most designers are not reimbursed in a way that would make this feasible for every pattern. At this point, most knitters should be able to find a pattern that meets their needs in pattern verbiage, charts vs. line-by-line instructions, and schematics. Wanting or needing different levels of details is intrinsic to the personality or circumstances of each knitter not a fault of the designer. And don’t we want to be careful pushing for every designer to offer the same things in their patterns. I’m no economist, but doesn’t this most always lead to homogeneity and lack of choice and regionalism. The value of a pattern can be determined in multiple ways by multiple people, it could be level of instruction in the pattern, innovation of design or construction or even name recognition of the designer.

  287. I’m in the camp of PLEASE-for-the-love-of-wool put in the exact directions for reverse shaping (or anything else that is more complicated than “cast on”). And don’t get me started on the 4-things-AT-THE-SAME-TIME you had to keep track of for Lizette. If not for a Ravelry helpful post, mine would have been trashed before the medallion was completed.
    [An absurd sidebar: I’m American, but have always used “grey” vs “gray”, which (I was told by many teachers) is a “British-ism”. It’s all English, people!]

  288. I guess that part of my early knitting education was a lot of Elizabeth Zimmermann, who gives very minimalist instructions, so it gave me a lot of experience in figuring things out for myself. I have also made a handful of things from the Norwegian Garnstudio site, who sometimes give a whole sweater’s worth of instructions in a couple of paragraphs. It’s given me a lot of confidence in my knitting, knowing that I can knit something from just the bare bones of a pattern.
    That being said, I do keep a few projects on the go at once, so if I’m not in the mood to do a lot of thinking/figuring, I can fall back on the stockingette socks until I’m in the mood to figure out the math for the sweater yoke.
    I love cilantro.

  289. As a ‘budding designer’ who recently started publishing her own patterns, I’ve struggled with these ideas. How much detail to put in? How much to assume? In my opinion, especially if I’m paying for a pattern, I want it to tell me EXACTLY what the designer did. Which cast on? How many inches/repeats to knit? As a relatively experienced knitter, I don’t need a pattern to tell me how to make a hat. BUT if I bought a hat pattern it’s because I want it to tell me how to make THAT hat so it looks like the sample. Or I want all the details so I can better guess how any modification I make will affect the finished garment. I don’t necessarily explain every cast on or bind off in my pattern, especially not when it is just a matter of personal preference, but I do provide links to videos/pages about the ones I used.

  290. NurseBrandy @1:10pm “I would like suggestions about alternatives to my go-to long-tail cast-on. I’m perfectly capable of learning them, I just don’t know when they’re appropriate.” THIS. When there are so many different possibilities for cast-ons and bind-offs, it’s sometimes appropriate for a pattern to narrow the field: “Use a firm cast-on; reverse loop cast-on will be inadequate here” or “Use a stretchy bind-off such as Russian Bind-off.”
    Mallory @1:18 “…have NO IDEA what that meant, or that it’s something I could look up.” Sweetie, these days everything is something you could look up. Everything. –Ah. Sorry. I do believe my privilege is showing. If one doesn’t have a smartphone, or easy access to a computer, that becomes much harder. Still, there are yarn stores, and librarians, and library help lines.
    Many have said they want just the meat of the pattern, thank you, and find full-on detail to be cluttering. I will say I want the meat of the pattern to be obvious and findable, not buried amongst the detail.
    Consider the purgatory that is the IRS tax form. They’ll walk you through half a page of fiddly figures, baby step by baby step, without ever saying “This is to see if your health care (minus acupuncture) is more than 15% of your mortgage” or whatever. There has to be some overview, please; tell us what this next long chunk of detail is in aid of!
    The nuance I really really wish for is to know when some quirky instruction (or bog standard one, for that matter) is there because if you don’t do it this way it’ll bite you in the ass later. Is the designer calling for stair-step bind-offs because they’re essential to the construction, or just out of habit? “Don’t use short rows here, you’ll be sorry” could save a lot of grief.
    I just blocked a bottom-up raglan sweater to find that I attached the sleeves decrease-side out. No one to blame but myself for that one!

  291. I think if it’s a complicated pattern that the instructions should be complete in every way. Some of a more simple pattern should have the basics and the key should always be present for those just learning. If the pattern if for beginners then you should be complete as they are just learning. When the pattern if more advanced then I think a knitter should look at the pattern before buying (whenever possible) and decide if they have the skill set to complete it or are willing to experiment enough to acquire the said skill set. That is if they really want to do the pattern they will find a way. On the matter of if possible to view the complicated bits of a pattern are not available maybe contacting the seller of the pattern or the printer of the pattern would be appropriate. Then I am sure something could be worked out. Most patterns I see now tell you that you should be able to do an ssk or k22tog I think that might be the best way to go. Letting knitters know that is a required skill set for the pattern. Beautiful color, very rich.

  292. I’ve only been knitting one year and I’ve actually enjoyed having to look up different stitches and cast ons/bind offs. That said, I think if a pattern only calls for one or two increase/decrease stitches, how hard would it be for the designer to add what the reverse is, i.e. “k2tog rev. = ssk” to their “reverse decreases” instructions? You know, a “key” of sorts, but not writing the reverse instructions out. Seems like a fair compromise. 🙂

  293. Since I developed Fibromyalgia, confirmed 13 years ago, I have vision problems like big, painful migraines after fuzzy explosions in my eyes and floaters and spots from looking at knitting charts and all capital letters. Because of this, I don’t buy or even utilize free patterns that are charted only (or written in all caps, for that matter). Recently, thinking about this dilemma when I found a sweater pattern that I absolutely adored, then found it was charted only, I came to the conclusion that charted only patterns are lazy (now that’s my personal opinion). And that the pattern designers are incredibly wealthy and don’t need us serfs buying their patterns. Amazing, you’d think that if they didn’t need our money that they’d just put them out there for free.

  294. This was such an interesting post! I believe I am a Shade of Grey here. I’ve been knitting for a long time, but only have been avidly doing so for maybe 10 years. In that time, I’ve been pushing myself to work from EZ, to do my TKGA Masters, and to work out the pattern for myself.
    Then again, when I’m working on a pattern that I’m meant to enjoy and relax over, or one I’ve paid alot for, I do get disappointed when I have to stress over instructions. I don’t mind looking up a certain cast on, but when I’m experimenting with a new technique and that’s the challenge, I don’t want another headache of trying to interpret what the pattern writer was getting at.

  295. I second what an earlier poster said about the distinction between things that a knitter can easily look up elswhere versus things that one can’t — and how the latter should be in a pattern. I’ve been knitting seriously for 10+ years, made lace and cardigans and so forth and I’m generally ok with and/or at least willing to tackle a pattern with fewer instructions if I like the look of the finished product. As a result, I’ve cursed through a few Kim Hargreaves patterns because I love her designs, but not her habit of abbreviating everything.
    Here’s the thing — the stuff you can easily look up — it’s kind of like battle ‘tactics’ — very specific easy maneuvers to learn. There are a plethora of books out there on ‘tactics’. I am always keeping an eye out for a new book which would help me expand my skill set. My problem is a lot of books repeat the same ‘tactics’ over and over again (Ok I know how to increase!), but don’t give you ‘strategy’ — i.e. the big picture information to help you figure out when to employ specific tactics. I’d been knitting for several years before I heard the advice about how to analyze a sweater photo to see if the pattern would be decent (i.e. can you see the seams? and does it have a waist? etc). So that means for years I’d been modifying all kinds of sweaters that were just fundamentally not that great in the first place. Another thing I learned in the last year — move your waist shaping increases and decreases to 1/3 in from the side seams to get your sweater to lie better across your lower back etc. I’m not saying designers should be required to include ‘strategy’ in their pattern instructions — but I think this is the hardest category of information to find in any reference book and the area where a designer can most easily guarantee the happiness of the reader — I really appreciate when a designer says “for best fit, consider doing X”
    Last — there are things that are pattern-specific (continuing my battle metaphor, let’s call this ‘situational information’) and this is the category that I DO think designers should include just to make us not hate their pattern writing. For example, not long ago on a sweater, I was told to place buttons pairs in equal intervals such that there were X number of rows between the button holes (and then work out the other placement — these were unusually spaced) — while at the same time keeping track of the rest of the pattern. This felt like an SAT math problem. The amount of time I took to work out the placement was hugely annoying, whereas the designer could have inserted perhaps 2-3 sentences and resolved this problem for all the readers. This type of pattern-specific information I definitely think should be in a pattern! I can manage the ‘reverse shaping’ but failing to give me some calculations in the first place just seems unnecessarily unhelpful (particularly when it’s an “at the same time”).
    I’m always willing to tackle a new challenge. I enjoy making my own designs, but there are some higher level things — i.e. stylistic guidance and very specific segments of math that really should be in a pattern.

  296. Cliantro, bleh! 🙁
    Having said that, as I consider myself a novice knitter (having only explored a very small number of techniques that knitting has to offer) I love when the opportunity of a new techinque presents itself. If knitting wasn’t teaching me anything new it would be boring, and I would drop it like a hot potato. I do also beleive that if there weren’t as many easy to access references online I might not find these challenges so charming. This time last year I would have panicked if I saw instruction’s reading SSK and didn’t have the internet to look to. Having read your blog Stephanie, I have learned to have confidence in my own knowledge to use my own methods of increasing, decreasing, etc when I believe that the pattern looks like as you say “dog’s breakfast” or when I’m too lazy to look up a new technique. To each knitter their own, and if a pattern or a knitted object didn’t reflect a bit of the knitter that produced it, then I belive this craft of ours wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

  297. I adore cilantro and have failed growing it on numerous occasions. It defies my gardening skills.
    I knit a lot, but I do it while doing other things. I knit at my lunch hour, or I knit in front of the TV, or I knit at a social gathering. I, personally, prefer patterns to be very specific. I just want to knit. For me, I find knitting more enjoyable when all the tools I need to knit a pattern are included in the pattern. If the pattern is beautiful enough, I’m willing to do whatever work is required to make that item, but I’d prefer that they gave me clear instructions that I can follow while watching a British mystery.

  298. I definitely appreciate a pattern that has everything spelled out for me, but I don’t mind if a designer doesn’t explain every technique. I can look up a description or even a video of most techniques right on my phone – anytime anywhere, so I’m good with that. As a left handed knitter I often have to “reverse shapings” to get the right result anyway, and I will often create my own charts if one isn’t provided because it’s just easier for me to work lace or cables that way.

  299. This reminds me of a woman in my prayer shawl knitting group. We all started with the basic pattern- a seed stitch using panels of 3 instead of 1 stitch. This woman had trouble keeping track of what she was doing, so she found the same pattern in more detail, and then copied the row instructions over and over. The result was a pattern that said for literally every row: K3, P3, K3, P3…K3. So she would literally stop after knitting–or purling– every three stitches, cross out that part of her pattern, and move on. It made me absolutely crazy to watch her.

  300. I love cilantro, but my husband doesn’t because it doesn’t love him. (Trust me, you do not want to be around him after he eats it.)
    As for instructions, I started knitting in the late 1970s, so I’ve never really worried about having things spelled out for me too much. Heck, I knit an entrelac baby bunting, with a hood, and never even knew it was entrelac until a few years ago — it was just cute triangles and squares turned 90 degrees.
    I used to have a problem with a chart for only half a shawl because I’m left-handed and knit that way (self-taught and see no reason to change at this point), but the easy solution was just to read the chart right to left while knitting left to right, and then for the reverse just follow it left to right. So for me, the “reverse shapings” part is often easier than the original instructions. Go figure.

  301. A few last comments:
    Agree fixing errors comes first — I can deal with just about anything, but having to work out when something is wrong, is just a waste of my time (as opposed to learning something new).
    I love to problem-solve (hence my increasingly ambitious and complex projects), but if I’m already going to adjust the entire sweater pattern to fit my shape (lengthen because I’m tall, ensure all other measurements are right – which usually means different sizes at different sections of my body) – why do I also need to calculate special button placement on top of that? Give me the math and you’ve reduced one step for me (I’ll still likely have to modify those button placements).
    Agree we don’t want just one type of pattern. It’s good to have variety and market forces – but I still get annoyed that IMHO no one makes garmets quite as pretty as Kim Hargreaves ans so I’ll keep shelling out $35 per book (not counting shipping) only to curse my way through the pattern (I’m somewhat product oriented). And if I’m paying that much, you could at least give me a better schematic!
    If there’s too much information, you can rewrite to show less, but you it’s harder to do the reverse (beef up a pattern).
    It would be SO nice if there were an accurate system for grading pattern difficulty – i.e. standards for what ‘intermediate’ means. I get so fed up with KH and Rown descriptions of “suitable for a knitter with a little experience” — how much is that? It would be nice if a pattern told you upfront “You will have to calculate the placement of buttonholes”
    Debbie Stoller’s Stitch N Bitch book brought me back to knitting after a 10 year hiatus and got me to place where I’m more comfortable using less chatty patterns (although I just hate Drops which remind me of reading tax forms).
    I’d love to see you post an interactive poll where we could all vote on pattern and cilantro preferences.
    Sorry to be so long (again).

  302. Regarding the reverse shaping subject, I’m sort of surprised that you hadn’t worked both sides at the same time anyway!

  303. Your post made me think of this: “There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and a tired man who wants a book to read.” G. K. Chesterton

  304. About the Reverse Shaping. I am left handed and knit that way. A few years ago I learned to knit right handed so I could help a friend and not do a whole lot of purl stockinette. This was not as hard as it sounds and now I can do one side as a lefty and one side as a righty. But the throw of the yarn does matter; be consistent with the twist. Ah, I bet that was from EZ – Purl Back Backwards.

  305. Three years ago, I woke up one morning and said, “I’m going to learn how to knit.” I am 100% self-taught from library books or internet video tutorials, for free. The information is out there, and you can learn so much if you’re willing to google it. I’m at the stage where I like instructions for something like a “wrap-turn” to be written out, but “yo” no longer makes me think of Jay-Z.
    The question of “where is the line?” is so valid and so timely. I have a suggestion that might answer it with some modicum of objectivity: Maybe it would be helpful to think about how accessible this information is to a knitter who, like me, exists in a knitting void: if it’s at or one of those useful sites, maybe it’s okay to leave it out. If the technique isn’t there, or easily found with a google search, it might be good to write out the instructions.

  306. I like the directions to be complete. I often print out a pattern right before a trip and stick it in my project bag with only a quick look. I don’t want to find out, once I’m in an airplane at 30,000 feet, that I need some piece of information that’s back down on the ground. For this reason I prefer patterns that are downloaded — they’re usually more complete than the ones printed in books and magazines.
    Of course I know I should read the directions more carefully before setting out. But at this point, I am lucky just to get the yarn and needles somewhere near my suitcase.

  307. Well, if the instructions were written out, I’d write them out the other way. So turning
    “With RS facing, BO 2sts at beginning of next row, then k2tog at end of each row for 4 rows” into “with WS facing, BO 2sts at beginning of next row, then p2tog at the end of each row for 4 rows” would take me, um, a while.
    I’d make a (reversed) chart if a chart already existed. Or if–and this is unfortunately plausible–I couldn’t visualize how the written pattern was supposed to look. In which case I think I’d chart the pattern as written, and then reverse the chart to get the other side.
    It’s a good thing I’m a process knitter or I’d never get through any of this!

  308. If I am paying you money for a pattern, you should include all the information I need to complete it. Eventually, I will gain experience and be able to do lots of things without consulting anybody, but that’s my business. Your business, literally, is giving me a pattern I don’t have to rack my brains to follow.
    Quilting books do this without any discussion.

  309. Well, here’s the thing: If the information is THERE, and you
    don’t need it
    don’t want it
    can get by without it
    are going to change it anyways
    you can always just ignore it.
    If the information ISN’T THERE, and you have no way of knowing what it is that’s missing, no way of figuring it out, no method for getting the info you need, you are hosed, pure and simple.
    So, I would fall into the more tends to be better camp. FWIW.

  310. I’m in agreement with those who think it is lazy pattern writing. I call myself a seasoned knitter -rather than experienced or advanced- because it’s more about that I’ve been knitting for awhile, rather than I have varied or repetitive experience with certain techniques.
    I do love a challenge (my 1st year I jumped right into lace, socks, fingerless gloves, and a knit&felted cowboy hat), but having to interrupt my knitting groove to research what the designer might be talking about can be irritating. I learned to make sure I understand the whole pattern before getting started.
    I feel the designer has a responsibility to the quality of outcome of our project too, and therefore should make the pattern perfectly clear, no assumptions.
    I have your Foot Ovens pattern and it’s wonderful how you give the links to the techniques. Super, super good pattern. 🙂

  311. I have recently been saying that the vast new wealth of knitting and sewing books ALL seem to contain the same first two chapters of instructions. It’s frustrating and wasteful, if you want to own more than one book. It costs me and the publishing company more money, and my bookshelves more space. Besides which, it seems like the more they try to explain in writing, the more baffling the instructions are. YouTube is a better teacher (at least for me) than all of those first chapters combined. Even better than that, people you can see and talk to make the best teachers. In the end, that’s what making things is all about anyway.

  312. I love to knit while watching TV or when visiting friends or especially family. Those are all situations where I don’t have reference books or google readily available, so I need instructions I can follow without having to look up more information. If I want a pattern that’s not for free and I haven’t knit anything from that designer yet, I usually try to find a free pattern from that designer in order to see whether I like the way the instructions are given. I don’t want to spend money on a pattern that’ll just frustrate me because it isn’t clearly written or because it uses several techniques that I have to hunt down on the internet.
    Saying „Cast on x stitches using your preferred cast-on” is perfectly fine but if you write something like “cast on x stitches using a stretchy cast-on” please spell it out or give at least an example for people who have no idea what you’re talking about. If you consider the technique too complicated to describe, include a link to a tutorial video or a step-by-step instruction with pictures.
    If I buy a pattern (book, magazine, …) I expect that the bought document gives me all the information needed to complete the project. Otherwise I’d want clear content information (as in “contains just the chart” or “uses pattern x from book a and techniques from book b”) so I can decide whether the pattern is worth the purchase.
    I don’t mind as much when free patterns lack information. Those I can download, leaf through and delete if I decide the pattern’s not worth the effort.

  313. If I buy a pattern, its because I want it to look like it shows in the pictures. Please just tell me what kind of cast on and bind offs used so I can decide for myself! Not too much ink wasted here people!

  314. I like visuals. I used to subscribe to Sandra Knitting. What I liked was the detailed drawings of the pattern parts. Measurements were included, and stitches decreased were in brackets in the appropriate places. I like rechecking my guage as I work. It is also easy to see when you have increases or decreases to do. Adapting the pattern is much easier because some of the math is there.
    On the other hand maybe patterns need to go really modern. If patterns were made for ebooks or such being able to click on symbols such as ssk for definition would be nice. I do not know why I can’t remember such things from one pattern to another.

  315. I think Stephanie is right, in that it’s more of a personality & taste thing than an absolute right or wrong thing. Of course, I’m a shades-of-grey person anyway (NOT “Shades of Gray”). And where you stand always depends on where you sit.
    I’m an avid reader, but I still run across words I don’t know. I’d rather the author used that word s/he wanted to, and trust that if I didn’t know it, I could look it up.
    I’m an experienced seamstress, but I still look at the pattern instructions in case “they” have figured out what to do better than I could (and then I go ahead and do it my own way anyway, which drove my middle-school sewing teacher bonkers).
    I’m a novice knitter, so I expect to have to ask for help (often, more than once) when learning something new – that may entail looking something up, or asking someone for a demo.
    Bottom line – there’s no shame in saying “I don’t know how to do this [yet]”.

  316. I have a couple of really good reference books and I find it such a waste when every new knitting book has the same instructions. Really? First of all, if you are selling something, especially for an experienced (or even semi-experienced) knitter, do you really need to tell them how to do a SSK? No wonder the books/patterns cost so much. And besides, when you add all those extra pages to all those books, they suck up way too much shelf space and make it much harder for me to hide the quantity from, say, strangers that may be in my house, or say, my husband, who already thinks I have way too much yarn, much less books on the subject.
    Love the pattern. I too am excited about a new baby in our family and am looking forward to making a sweater. Have the yarn. Nothing pastel. Nothing grey either. Lots of bright fun colors.

  317. I think there is a sense of entitlement to newer/younger knitters that things should be spelled out for them. I see this all the time with young people i work with. I’m in the camp that if you don’t know how to do it you research, make the effort to find someone to help you if you don’t understand the directions, but it is ultimately up to the knitter to make the effort. If it is too hard–knit something else. BTW, love the baby pattern but put red buttons on it to give it some zing.

  318. I’m all for learning skills. I’m contantly trying to improve my knitting skills and learn new techniques. I don’t mind looking things up. But if I pay for a pattern then I want the designer to do the work of telling me things like where and how to increase and decrease. If I wanted to figure it out, I would just look at a picture on Ravelry for inspiration and make my own pattern. And I wouldn’t pay anyone for it. I might choose to alter a pattern and use a different decrease than the one specified, or place it differently, but I want the designer to specify and then if I change it that onus is on me. I hate to be mercenary about it, but it comes down to what am I paying for when I purchase a pattern. If it’s not a complete set of instructions, then I’m never going to purchase from that designer again.

  319. Dear Stephanie,
    When I looked for your Blog yesterday, I was trying to find the pattern for that darling little sweater you have now frogged, called “shades of grey. “It is exactly what I would like to knit. I know you said you did not remember the pattern, but you have enough know-how to go ahead, that is where I am lacking.I love garter stitch, the colors are beautiful.I am asking you to write this pattern,I will pay whatever you say, I need it for a three year old boy.I am limited in how much I can knit now, because of three Carpell tunnel surgeries, my hands are ok one day, the next day they hurt.This would be perfect.
    Thank you for your blog, been with you for years.

  320. I love learning new things and taking up knitting in 2005 and really sucking at it for two years certainly pushed me. When I started if I read ‘reverse shaping’ I’d not have done any different decrease, just moved where I put the decreases. Now, I’m all about the ssk and k2tog. I like my techniques. And I generally like being self-responsible and self-reliant and while I appreciate a pattern detailing special stitches or ways of doing things that I might not already know, I also love being expected to figure it out myself. Mostly because everyone understands knitting individually to them overall, so getting to work it out for myself means I know what I’m doing. But the lady next to me might work it out a different way, from the same instructions, and get the same result. It’s weird and astounding and fabulous.

  321. I’m probably “advanced beginner” to “intermediate” in skills, and I fall with one foot in each camp.
    I don’t WANT a pattern that’s a dozen pages long. I DO, however, want just a tad more than ‘reverse shaping’ because it’s just not sinking in!!
    I also can’t do math in my head, unless it relates to cooking; go figure! I think this discussion is great because as knitters, it’s always “ours” – we learn from others, but ultimately, our skill with our needles and fiber come down to what we knit and sometimes WHY we knit. If you’re perfectly comfortable making scarves or shawls your entire knitting career, who says you’re “unskilled”?

  322. I’m an experienced enough knitter that I don’t mind when a pattern says something like “reverse shaping”. There’s a good chance I’m going to do the shaping the way I want to do it anyway. However, I really like it when a pattern makes suggestions. For example, the instructions might say to BO n stitches at the beginning of the next few rows, but then say that they recommend the sloped bindoff and here’s a link to a very nice tutorial about how to do it. Sometimes I learn how to do something new, and even if I don’t, sometimes I find a nicer tutorial or video than the ones I’ve seen that I can link other knitters to when they ask me questions.

  323. My guess is a generational sense of entitlement combined with greater accessibility to designers – we can easily email people to complain, so they are more pressured to lay out every little thing. But then again, with access to the internet, we have access to every technique, so we shouldn’t HAVE to have the heel instructions written out. Hmm….

  324. Personally, I like to have the directions detailed and clearly written out. That way, I can understand exactly how the designer did what he/she did and copy it if desired, but I also have a better understanding of exactly how the pattern should work so that I can change it to something I like better or something that I think is more appropriate for the situation (or my body type, etc.). I frequently change patterns but it’s nice to be able to choose either option.
    Also, 32 stitches to the inch? Yikes! I really hope that’s a typo.

  325. Loved this post and the comments here! Most of the replies are so heartfelt and passionate, the response (and original post) shows how much we care about this issue. I learn a lot from some patterns, like Carina Spenser’s and Jared Flood’s… and I like details, but because I love seeing how people pass information along.
    I like special warnings when warranted, but I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do and if I don’t have a clue I look it up.

  326. i was with you, until you mentioned cilantro. cilantro is never ok. i’m once of the weird ones who think it tastes like soap.

  327. I agree that it would depend largely on the pattern difficulty whether or not a pattern should go into depth with specific instructions. Nowadays, so much can be researched online in an instant, so really the major necessity for a well written pattern is that it flow logically and not skip parts outright. A pattern that doesn’t describe each instruction explicitly is simply not a beginner pattern, but that doesnt mean that it’s not well written. It is handy to have direct explanations right in a pattern, but I would say has no bearing on how well written the pattern itself is.

  328. The thing to remember about the older “experienced” knitter who knew only 1 cast on, there was no internet, no ravelry, no YouTube, so you had access to a few books, maybe, and hopefully other experienced knitters who passed on what they knew, and if they only knew 1 cast on, that’s all you knew also. You could knit for years and not even realize there were other options out there. Now we have a wealth of information at our fingertips as well as all that is included on patterns, so knitters are at least aware of so many techniques we never heard of when and where I first learned to knit. As for patterns, I’m fine with not being told how to do a technique (YouTube!) but I do like to have a particular technique suggested to me or at least told what technique the designer chose as it often makes a difference in the look of the garment.

  329. GRAY SWEATER SPOTTED ON BABY!! This morning there was a real sweetie pie, just a few months old, at church wearing a gray sweater (store bought, but definitely gray) with a white, pink and gray onesie, a black tulle ballerina skirt, and she looked stunning.
    The color was perfect for the rest of the outfit, but the sweater itself wasn’t nearly as wonderful as what you’re knitting, Stephanie.

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