This is the 4th 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.
In a lot of ways, the math of crochet is treated like the most intimidating part of designing projects and writing patterns, but math is utterly logical, so aside from deciding how best to convey different kinds of units and being sure to be clear about gauge, there isn't much wiggle room when it comes to the math. You do the math, you convey the numbers, you're done.
It's the language that can truly make a mess out of a crocheter's experience, or deliver a blissful project. This is because language is variable, grammar and punctuation don't always behave according to crystal-clear logic, and people from different places interpret the same words or phrases in very different ways.
But no fear. Here are some tips and rules that will help you write clear, accurate patterns after you've figured out the numbers.
This Is Technical Writing
The kind of writing used to convey any kind of instruction is technical writing. Technical writing should not be flowery or conversational. It should not involve use of a fancy word when a basic word will do. It should consist of precise directions that are totally unambiguous. You are not telling a story, you're providing step-by-step instructions for how to replicate a crochet design.
Indicate Regional Terminology
Crochet stitches are named in different ways in different regions, using the same set of terms. For example, the stitch Americans know as single crochet Brits call double crochet. It's insanity. I don't know why it is this way or how it came to be this way, but it is what it is and we must be sure to be very clear about which convention we use.
Because the internet knows no regional boundaries, every pattern published online (whether for free or for a fee) must include a note about which regional convention is used. Something like this is all that's needed:
American crochet terms used throughout.
That's it. That gives your crocheter enough information to look up equivalent terms if they need to. But if you don't include a note like this, an English-speaking crocheter from across the ocean from where you live might have a truly confusing and frustrating experience. So be sure to include that one wee line in the front matter of all of your patterns.
Ambiguity – when the same phrase could be interpreted equally well in more than one way – is the scourge of technical writing. If an instruction is ambiguous, your crocheter might not do the thing they need to do. Without necessarily noticing there's another way to read an instruction, they may forge ahead on the wrong path. Or, if they do realize there's more than one interpretation of the instruction, they may pull their hair out in frustration as they try to figure out which meaning to choose, then fill your inbox with perfectly reasonable demands for you to explain yourself. Oftentimes, ambiguity in a pattern can be solved with a comma or other straightforward punctuation.
Note: It's not unusual for writers to have difficulty seeing ambiguity in their patterns, because they have the bias of knowing exactly what they want to say. This is one of the many reasons it's extremely important to have your patterns tested and tech edited!
This one's the doozy. You need to decide a whole bunch of style-related things, and then be utterly consistent with them throughout your pattern (and, since you're amazing and have loads of design ideas, across all of your patterns if possible).
So create a style sheet for yourself. For every decision you make about the kinds of things I'll exemplify below, write that decision down in your style sheet. (Be sure to include your style sheet when you send your pattern in for tech editing, so your editor can follow it, too.)
The following list of things you need to make decisions about is not an exhaustive one, but it should be enough to get you going. The good news is that once you've made your decisions, you'll have them in your style sheet so you won't have to ponder the same questions again for your next pattern.
Will you use abbreviations or spell everything out? Abbreviating stitch names and common words is standard fare in crochet patterns, but some designers, especially of beginner-oriented patterns, prefer to write everything out long-hand. That's a fine decision when publishing digitally (because page space is unlimited), but I prefer to always abbreviate basic stitch names, and here's why: The names of basic crochet stitches consist of two words, and one of those words is a very general term. Single crochet, double crochet, slip stitch. What a pain! It's actually clearer to use abbreviations: sc, dc, sl st. Using abbreviations for stitch names makes it even clearer when you do need to use the words crochet or stitch in other ways.
Anyway, decide which abbreviations you'll use, and write them in your style sheet. Will you abbreviate words like continue, follows, increase? There's no right or wrong answer. Just decide, then be consistent not only with abbreviating the words you decide to abbreviate, but also in the abbreviation you'll use.
Finally, decide on capitalization rules. Will you write your stitch abbreviations in all caps, like SC, DC, SL ST, or in lowercase, like sc, dc, sl st? Again, consistency is key.
Final note on abbreviations: Though it's perfectly okay to decide to write everything out long-hand, do not fall into the trap of thinking that using more words makes for clearer instructions. Overly wordy patterns can be too long to follow easily.
In all projects that are worked in rows, and in some that are worked in the round, you must tell your crocheter over and over again to turn their work. Be consistent about where you place this instruction.
Is it at the end of the row?
Row 1: Ch 1, skip 1 ch, sc in next ch and in each ch to end, turn.
Or at the beginning?
Row 2: Turn, ch 1, sc in each st across.
Pick one, write it in your style sheet.
Brackets and Parentheses
Square brackets and parentheses are used to group instructions within a row or round of a pattern. Be consistent in the way you use these; do not use them interchangeably!
Generally speaking, use (parentheses) to group a set of instructions to be worked together one time, and [square brackets] to indicate a set of instructions that's to be repeated.
Row 3: Ch 3, skip first dc, (dc, ch 1, dc) in next ch-1 sp (v-st made), ch 1, v-st in next ch-1 space, dc in top of tch, turn—2 v-sts.
Yes, I did use parentheses in two different ways in this row from the Resa Shawlette. But that doesn't make it confusing. It's clear that the first set of parentheses indicates that those three stitches should be made in the same space, and that the second pair of parentheses houses a straight-up parenthetical comment.
Here's another row from the pattern, which uses both square brackets and parentheses, nested for added flavour:
Row 5: Ch 3, [(v-st, ch 1) in each ch-1 space of inc-w] 2 times, dc in top of tch, turn—4 v-sts.
See how the part inside the square brackets groups instructions that are to be repeated? Very useful, that.
As I said, this list of style-related decisions to make is hardly exhaustive. You also need to think about how you'll use asterisks in your pattern to indicate repeats, how you'll use hyphens or m-dashes, and what kind of wording you'll use over and over again. As long as you keep a running list of the decisions you make, you'll ace it. I know you will.
This has been the 4th post in a multi-part series on how to write a top-notch crochet pattern. The previous post was a guest post from Kate Atherley, where she talks all about setting expectations for your pattern. In the next post we talk about The Images and creating a first impression, you can find that post right here.
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Not writing your own patterns but ready to up your crochet game? To celebrate this long-in-the-making blog series, here's half off my class Next Steps in Crochet! See you there!