This guest post by technical editor Kate Atherley is part of an in-depth series on how to write an outstanding crochet pattern. In addition to designing her own knitwear patterns and serving as the lead tech editor at Knitty.com, Kate has written an incredibly useful book called Pattern Writing for Knit Designers. She and I have spent considerable time discussing the particular challenges crochet presents when it comes to writing clear, enjoyable patterns. Read Part One: The Front Matter, Part Two: The Numbers, and Part Three: The Language.
There’s an interesting challenge in writing any sort of instructions: to put oneself in the shoes of the person who will be working through them. It’s pretty common in schools to assign students a technical writing challenge – for example, asking the students to write instructions on how to make a peanut butter sandwich. When I was in university, my first-year computer science professor dedicated an entire lecture to the instructions on the shampoo bottle: “lather, rinse, repeat”.
The purpose of those exercises is to think about who is going to read (and attempt to follow) the instructions, and what they know. Think about how much goes unsaid in “lather, rinse, repeat”: most notably, any instruction to actually put shampoo on your hair. Heck, even to say that shampoo goes on your hair requires background knowledge. “Lather” requires knowledge that shampoo goes on hair, and an understanding of how much to use, and even the most basic knowledge that to create a lather requires water. Right… and you have to be in the shower or bathtub! And then “rinse”. Ok, assuming that you’ve figured out enough to get that done, you’re told to repeat… but crucially, not what to repeat. The rinse? Or the whole thing?
Now, I don’t know anyone who has seriously failed at using shampoo. There are three reasons for this: It’s a simple thing, there aren’t that many variable or steps in the process, and it doesn’t actually require that much accuracy. If you use too much or too little, nothing disastrous will happen. If you repeat only the rinse and not the whole process, you won’t notice a difference in the end result. Also, most of us learned to shampoo our hair as a child, from our parents. It’s an activity that we see modelled on a very regular basis, from early childhood.
These things aren’t necessarily true, however, of crochet. There are multiple stitches and steps and skills required to make even the simplest project. Accuracy is important: if a hat turns out too big or too small, it won’t be able to fulfill its purpose of keeping your head warm. And chances are, even if someone near you does crochet, you won’t get the daily in-depth modelling of the craft starting at a very young age.
When writing up a pattern, consider what you’re expecting the crocheter to know.
The first time I tried to work through a crochet pattern, I made a complete mess of things. I had learned in the U.K., but the pattern I was following had been published in the U.S., so of course the “sc” I used wasn’t the “sc” the designer was expecting me to use. The pattern writer had made a dangerous assumption: that my “sc” would be the same as hers. That is, the pattern writer had expected me to read the terms in a particular way, but didn’t indicate that expectation.
There is an easy solution to this particular issue, one you’ve probably seen in use: a simple statement that the pattern uses U.S. (or U.K.) terminology.
But this sort of thing happens all over the place in patterns: we give instructions and assume that the people using the pattern can follow them. You need to ask yourself over and over if they’re going to know what you mean. For example, assuming the regional issue has been resolved because you put a note in the pattern, you can safely assume that the crocheter knows how to make the basic stitches like sc, hdc, dc, and probably tr. But can you safely assume they know what you mean if you refer to a 5-dc shell? Probably not. For one thing, there isn’t only one way to define how to make a 5-dc shell – don’t assume that the crocheter knows exactly which variation you mean. Also, you may consider a 5-dc shell to be simple enough to include in a pattern aimed at beginners, but don’t assume your crocheter even knows what a shell is. Always define what you mean if there’s even a slight chance your crocheter won’t know before they start in on your pattern.
As another example, finishing instructions often get short shrift when it comes to being explicit. A pattern may only say “seam and block” in the Finishing section. Can you be certain that your crocheter knows how to do those things? If you can’t be, then you need to expand these instructions.
This isn’t about you having to write out every single detail of the instructions and every required technique line-by-line. If your hat needs a pompom, you don’t have to give instructions for how to make one, but you are going to significantly increase the chance of success and happiness with a project if you do one of two things: either identify up front that the pattern requires knowledge of how to make a pom-pom, or provide instructions or a reference to a tutorial (or do both!).
Including a good glossary and list of references can add great value to a pattern, making it significantly more accessible to a broader range of skill-sets (thereby broadening your audience and potential sales, too…).
This isn’t about “dumbing-down” patterns or projects. It’s great to have a pattern that uses lots of interesting and challenging techniques – many crafters are attracted to those sorts of projects. This is about playing fair. Make it clear up front what’s going to be required for the crocheter to be able to successfully work the pattern. Because after all, this is what pattern-writing is all about: making sure that users of your pattern are successful!
Look for more from Kate later on during this series!
A few months ago, my mother-in-law told me she’d been dreaming of taking a ceramics class. A wheel class for beginners is proving difficult to find here in Vancouver, but I did eventually come across a one-night workshop at a local arts studio on how to make a mug.
If I had to name a single kind of object that’s my favourite, that embodies qualities I find important and beautiful, it would be the humble handmade mug. These are the objects I can’t resist at a craft fair. These are the objects I seek out at open studio events.
Even when money is tight and original art is too expensive to buy, a handmade mug can be affordable. That I’ll use it regularly as part of a daily ritual that brings me joy makes it all the more valuable a purchase. Working from home, I routinely use two mugs a day – one for my morning coffee and one for tea in the afternoon; maybe another for herbal tea at night. I have a relationship with my mugs.
So it was thrilling to make my own at the workshop last week. Clay feels so good. It felt good to throw it down onto the table to get air bubbles out of it. It felt good to roll it and smooth it into this shape, however clumsy I felt about it. It felt good to quietly work on it as my mother-in-law quietly worked on hers next to me.
I realized while enjoying myself so completely that this mug is as much a product of my first Year of Making as anything else I’ve made*. It wasn’t too long ago that a one-night workshop about something I had no experience with would have been a little stressful to me, no matter how much I wanted to be there. But I wasn’t at all stressed about making this mug. I wasn’t concerned about getting it done in time. I wasn’t concerned about screwing it up to the point that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the finished product. At the same time, I was excited about the finished product. Though I was happy to live with the many imperfections I put into this mug, I didn’t go all Mighty Ugly on it. I didn’t throw this first mug under the bus in the interest of calming myself down. I started out calm. My enjoyment of learning and exploring and making was total.
I’ll show you a photo of the fired mug after I pick it up!
* I haven’t been chronicling my second Year of Making on a daily basis, but I have continued to make something pretty much every day this year. And I’ve been thinking about how my experience this year has been different from my experience in 2014. I’ll write more about it very soon!
PS Are you doing a Year of Making? How’s it going?
PPS Do you want to do a Year of Making? There’s no rule about when to start, so start now! This can help.
This is the first part in a series on how to write an outstanding crochet pattern. Read Part 2: The Numbers and Part 3: The Language.
Two unexpected and delightful things happened recently, and they’ve combined to finally get me to write up a series of posts I’ve been meaning to write for years. I mean years.
The first thing was that a student in my Next Steps in Crochet class asked me if I had a good resource she could use to learn how to write up an original crochet pattern. And the second is that I wound up a skein of yarn and it shouted in my face that it needed to become a certain kind of shawl, and I’ve been meeting its demands. Which means that just as I’ve had a request for a resource on how to write a crochet pattern, I’ve come up with a pattern to write up. Score.
So here’s the first post of a five-post series outlining, in broad strokes, how to write a solid, accurate crochet pattern that crocheters will enjoy following.
I will be blunt and uncompromising about this. If I say that a certain piece of information is necessary to include, I don’t mean sometimes, I mean every time, no exceptions. Writing a clear, easy-to-follow crochet pattern – even for a complex, complicated project – relies on a set of skills that’s wholly different from the skills required to design a crocheted piece. We’re talking technical writing, here. So if you’ve got the design part nailed but need a hand conveying clear instructions to others, this series is a great place to start.
I’m going to break up the sections and aspects of a pattern and cover them one by one, because each is very important and deserves its due.
Note: I’m writing this series with beginner designers in mind, but this information is as applicable to a seasoned designer’s patterns. I’m focusing on technical information rather than on style or graphic design, because it’s the technical information that’s harder to come by, and unlike with style and design, there’s actually very little wiggle room when it comes to covering the technical stuff.
One more note: I’m writing this with self-publishers in mind, but publications require the same kind of information in their patterns. If you’re going to self-publish your pattern, please have it tech edited after you write it (if you’re writing for a publication, your editor will have the pattern tech edited for you). This is a required step to ensure that your pattern is as clear and accurate as possible. Even the simplest patterns should be tech edited. Before I release the very simple shawl pattern I’ll be using as an example throughout this series, I’ll have it tech edited.
I’m not sure if anyone else calls the beginning bits of a pattern the front matter, but that’s what I call it, probably because that’s what publishing people call the first few pages of a book – the ones containing copyright information, publisher info, title page, table of contents, etc. But unlike the copyright page of a book, which you can totally skip without it affecting your experience of the book in any way, the front matter of a crochet pattern includes information that’s very, very important.
The first text you see when you open up a crochet pattern is the description of the project (this is often what designers copy and paste onto sales pages, too). This might seem like inconsequential filler text, but it’s not. The pattern intro is the second place crocheters go for information that will help them decide whether they want to make the pattern or not (the first place, obviously, is the gorgeous photo you’ve taken). So the intro is very, very important.
Write a short paragraph – two to four sentences should do it – about the project. Describe your inspiration or motivation briefly, and be sure to include some information on how it’s constructed.
Go ahead and include flowery (for the love of puppies, not too flowery) marketing copy here, but also include enough plain-language technical information that crocheters can determine if they have the skills and/or curiosity to commit to making it.
Here’s an example:
Named after my paternal grandmother who was, by all accounts, both stylish and of colourful personality, Risa is a triangular shawl designed to showcase high-contrast variegated yarns. The pattern’s two-row repeat makes it very easy to memorize, and the simple stitching is appropriate for beginners ready to experience the wonder of crocheting shawls, and for more experienced crocheters who enjoy a relaxing, rhythmic project.
See what I did there? Not only did I explain why the shawl is named Risa, I also included enough about how the project is made that beginners know they can totally tackle it, and advanced crocheters know there’s something in it for them, too. I also specifically mention that the design is lovely when made in high-contrast variegated yarn, because this kind of yarn can be hard to pair with a great design, since the bold colour changes can drown out details like lace or cables, and colour-pooling drives some crafters nuts. Based on the two sentences of the introduction, crocheters know the shawl is shaped like a triangle, that the pattern is a two-row repeat, and that it’s simple enough for beginners to make. They also know that my grandmother was a character, which isn’t important to the writing of the pattern, but it’s important because it allows crocheters to feel a personal connection with the design.
List all the tools and materials the crocheter will need to complete the project. This section is extremely important, because crocheters must make decisions about the materials they’ll use, and those decisions will directly affect their happiness with their finished item. (We all want our pattern followers to be happy with what they make from our patterns, in case that needs to be said!)
Specify the exact type of yarn – its weight, fiber composition, and quantity – you used to make the sample(s) shown in the photos. You may want to acknowledge that crocheters can easily substitute a different yarn for the one you used. Here are two options for how to list the yarn requirements for the project. Either is good, just choose the one you prefer.
Yarn: SweetGeorgia Yarns Silk Crush (fingering weight; 50% superwash merino, 50% silk; 375 yds per 115 g), 1 skein in Starfish custom colourway. (This colour is not readily available, but any boldly contrasting colourway will look great in this design, and solid colours or low-contrast variegated yarns will look great, too.)
Yarn: 375 yds fingering weight. Shown here in SweetGeorgia Yarns Silk Crush (50% superwash merino, 50% silk; 375 yds per 115 g), in custom colourway Starfish.
Both options tell the crocheter the weight of the yarn required, and how much of it they need.
You must include all of this information: the yarn weight, what the yarn is made of (the composition of the yarn is very important to the overall look, feel and behaviour of the project), and how much the crocheter needs to buy. Unless you have no way of knowing exactly what name the manufacturer calls the colour(s) you used, also be sure to include the colour information so crocheters can buy that exact colour if they want to replicate the design exactly. (In this example, the colour I used for the shawl is not readily available because it was an errant skein the manufacturer had leftover from a colourway she designed for a specific client. That’s not ideal, because crocheters won’t be able to exactly replicate this shawl, but I’m going with it because I want to, so I’m also including information about other colourways people can use.)
Tell the crocheter what size hook they should use. Note that this is always a recommendation, not law, because as we all know there’s quite a lot of variety in people’s tension, so crocheters should also be told to adjust their hook size if needed to obtain the required gauge.
Important note: No matter where you live or how you think of hook sizes in your mind, you must, without exception, include the metric size of listed hook(s). Alphabetic and non-metric number sizes used in the U.S. and elsewhere are not standard from manufacturer to manufacturer or region to region, which means that there can be variation between the actual sizes of hooks bearing the same designation. The metric size of a hook, given in millimetres, is not variable. Ever. So even if you decide to include letter or non-metric number size labels, you must also include the metric size. Otherwise you leave your crocheter to guess. And good instructions never rely on the follower’s guesswork.
List any items the crocheter will need to finish the project, in addition to yarn and hook. If buttons are needed, indicate how many and what size. Same with beads, zippers, etc. If you use stitch markers in the pattern, specify how many. You don’t need to list obvious things like a yarn needle for weaving in ends, or scissors.
List all relevant dimensions of the finished project, as measured after blocking. If the design is flat, as in a scarf, blanket or shawl, list its finished length and width (or wingspan and depth, if you prefer those designations for a shaped shawl). If the design is made in the round, as in a hat or mittens, include the circumference at the most important place, like the brim of a hat or the palm of a mitten. If the design is a garment of any sort, include, at a minimum, the finished bust or chest circumference and the intended ease. (Ease describes the difference between the garment’s finished chest/bust measurement and the wearer’s actual measurement. Ease can be negative for a snug fit, zero for a flush fit, or positive for a loose/relaxed fit.)
If your design is for anything beyond a simple hat, scarf or blanket, consider including a schematic drawing of the finished shape so that you can include as many important measurements as possible. For example, the schematic for a sweater design should indicate not only the chest/bust measurement, but also the length of the sleeves and their circumference, the width of the neck opening, the length from armpit to hem, and, possibly, quite a bit more.
You do not need to create a schematic on your computer if you don’t know how to do that. You can use graph paper and draw it out – just make sure it’s neat, accurate, and very clearly legible.
If your design is written for different sizes, include the finished measurements for every size. For example, if I’m including instructions for a small and large version of the shawl:
Length: 60 (72)” from point to point; depth: 24 (29)”.
Gauge information is crucial to include. Crucial. Even if you don’t think the exact finished size of your design is important, you must include information about gauge.
Determine the project’s gauge by measuring the number of stitches and rows in a 4″ (10 cm) square. For example:
12 stitches and 8 rows = 4″ (10 cm) in dc.
If your design is primarily composed of a stitch pattern, list the gauge in that pattern. Like:
8 v-sts and 7 rows = 4″ (10 cm).
3 shell-st pattern reps and 5 rows = 4″ (10 cm).
Do not list the gauge in a smaller range than 4″ (10 cm) square – it leaves open too much room for variability, and therefore inaccuracy.
Be specific to the half-stitch – if there are actually 12.5 double crochets in 4″, that half a stitch makes a difference, so don’t round.
Gauge is usually measured on blocked fabric. If, however, there’s a good reason to measure the gauge before blocking, specify that the crocheter must measure gauge before blocking, and put in a note about why.
(And yes, as a crocheter, the way to ensure that your project is the same size as the designer’s is to make a gauge swatch before you start, and block it before measuring.)
If your pattern involves a stitch pattern, define that pattern here. Likewise, if you’re using any uncommon abbreviations, like stitch combinations that go beyond the basic stitches, define those abbreviations here.
V-st (v-stitch): (Dc, ch 1, dc) in same stitch or space.
Inc-w (increase): (Dc, ch 1, dc, ch 1, dc) in same stitch or space. (Note: I made up this abbreviation because I think it’s the most direct way of easily indicating exactly what I want the crocheter to do. You can totally make things up – but only make them up if you’re solving a problem that hasn’t already been solved in a widely known manner, and only if you very clearly define what your made-up instruction means.)
This final section of the front matter is where you can tell the crocheter important things she needs to know before starting to crochet. Tell her about the way the project is constructed – if, say, the hat is worked from the top-down or the bottom-up – and if there are any potentially unexpected quirks she should know about ahead of time. If there’s lace in the project that needs to be blocked severely in order to look best, say that here.
Stay tuned for the next instalment in the series!
To celebrate this long-in-the-making series on writing crochet patterns, here’s 50% off my class Next Steps in Crochet! See you there!