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.
This is the 3rd post in a 7 part series on how to write an outstanding crochet pattern. The rest of the series can be found here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7. There are five posts from me, and two fabulous guest posts from Kate Atherly.
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!
This has been the 3rd post in a multi-part series on how to write a top-notch crochet pattern. The previous post was all about The Numbers & doing the math. In the next post we talk about The Language & Terminology, you can find that post right here.