Patterns are the driving force of making. We all fall in love with the beautiful photos of the designs, and our itch to make that cool new thing begins. Yarn companies produce yarn, fabric companies produce fabric, but after the makers buy the materials, they then need patterns to transform those stashes of wonderful fiber and textiles into finished items they treasure and gift to others.
Without patterns, there is no substance in the crafting industry.
Yet creating those instructions for handmaking is a serious challenge. Translating the detailed tasks your makers will complete with their hands into words on a page is no simple feat. It is a highly specialized form of technical writing that requires experience, practice, insight, and (we recommend) a healthy collaboration with a great editor.
A good pattern does two very important things:
- With effective, clear, and correct instructions, it conveys to your makers that you, the designer, are reliable, authentic, and conscientious – this tells them they can trust you and what you are selling to them.
- It gives the maker a great experience with their craft.
The ultimate result is that those happy makers will want to buy more, create more, and expand their making skills. They will also want to buy more of your patterns!
So excellent patterns are great for business and great for our overall industry. But how can designers achieve pattern writing bliss? How do you ensure that your pattern is communicating instructions well and not frustrating your makers?
Having a consistent style is a great way to build your brand and gain the loyalty and trust of your knitters.
Here are six tips to get you started on the path to great pattern writing:
1. Be thorough.
Provide the maker with everything they need to know to reproduce the design. Make sure all the elements to have a successful finished item are there: a list of tools and materials needed, instructions, and technique and abbreviations explanations. Completeness will alleviate a lot of frustration.
2. Don’t assume knowledge.
Remember that any pattern could potentially be someone’s first. Your instructions must tell the maker exactly what they need to do in what order; don’t assume your maker will know what you mean if you don’t tell them. Explain and define things clearly. If you write for a more advanced maker, be sure that is clear in your marketing and in your pattern descriptions.
3. Be concise and clear.
Give the maker the best information possible without being overly wordy and overwhelming, repeating things that could be explained once. There is an art to wording technical language in a way that is easy to read and not lengthy, so practice this as you develop your designer skills.
4. Be consistent.
Make informed decisions about how you will punctuate, abbreviate, phrase your instructions, and format your text, then do it the same way every single time throughout the pattern. If you have a hard time remembering how you did things last time, create a style sheet as a guide to help you and your editor conform your patterns to your preferences.
5. Make it user friendly.
Think of your maker when placing certain elements or sections. Will they have the best experience if they have to flip pages over and over to complete a part of the design? Is the text in a font that is easy to read and legible and is it broken up in a way that makes it easy to find your place later?
6. Enlist help.
A fun fact is that none of us can see our own mistakes. After working on a design for a long time you won’t be able to edit your pattern yourself, even if you are an editor! Your pattern is your product, and ensuring it is correct and clear before you sell it is a principal responsibility of any pattern writer. Makers count on it. Do them a favor and hire a technical editor to check that your instructions are correct and the pattern does indeed create what you promise.
If you are a knitting designer or are interested in knitting patterns, grab a copy of our book, The Knitting Pattern Writing Handbook, a unique, essential, and practical reference about writing great patterns that knitters will love to make. Here is an excerpt from the chapter on Foundations of a Good Knitting Pattern.
Establish Your Style
Every designer has their own style or way of writing and presenting the pattern information. Your style becomes a hallmark of your brand, and all the unique style choices directly reflect you, your work, and your designs. Having a consistent style is a great way to build your brand and gain the loyalty and trust of your knitters (because you always write things the same way!).
There are only so many ways to say and present certain kinds of information. But we promise you, the way each small choice in every area of a pattern comes together to make a whole is completely unique to each designer or company. The things related to style are not standardized; it is up to you to decide what you think works best and then do it consistently. Expressing your work is an integral part of designing clothing and writing patterns. Making style choices and using them consistently means that no matter what choices you make, the knitter will be able to enjoy using your patterns.
Creating a Style Sheet
The easiest way to be consistent when it comes to style, both within a single pattern and across all the patterns in your collection, is to make a document called a style sheet (or style guide). This does not have to be complex. It can be as simple as a list of your preferences about how your pattern should read and be punctuated and formatted. Or it can be elaborate and beautiful, laid out the same way as your patterns and employing the same colors and fonts that you use. It is up to you whether the style sheet will serve as a pattern template or you use it only as a guide to help you and your editor check your patterns. Just as with every other style choice—make it your own!
A style sheet can be a huge help when it comes to consistency, making writing your patterns easier because you won’t have to cross-check old patterns or draw on your memory of how you did something before. See What Is Style? on page 17 for a list of some things that need to be addressed in a style sheet, and see page 142 for a sample style sheet.
Here are some tips to help you get started creating your style sheet.
If you are unsure what choices you want to make, take a look at patterns you love, or yarn companies or designers you admire, and see how they have done things. You may get inspired.
You can copy and paste sections from your existing patterns into your style sheet to show examples of how you want certain elements. Or you can describe the items, without including specific examples.
Use one of your own favorite patterns as a starting template for your style sheet, then remove any pictures and change and update information as needed.
Always include a full abbreviation list and special technique section in your style sheet to remember how you explained things in the past.
Don’t feel daunted by the task of creating this document. It can start slow, and you can add to it over time as you discover how you like things and how you want to present your patterns. You can change and update your style sheet as much as necessary.
Once you have developed your style sheet, simply refer back to it as you write and/or review your patterns. In addition, it’s a good idea to send your style sheet to the tech editor so that they can help apply your style and check for consistency in your pattern. Finally, remember that your style can (and probably will) evolve. You can update your style sheet, add to it, or alter it as you grow as a designer, develop your pattern-writing business, and fine-tune your brand.
Excerpted from The Knitting Pattern Writing Handbook by Kristina McGrath and Sarah Walworth, used with permission from Storey Publishing.
Kristina McGrath and Sarah Walworth
Kristina McGrath and Sarah Walworth are yarn pattern technical editors, consultants, and coaches in the fiber industry. They have edited over 1000 knitting patterns between them. Since 2020, they have hosted Tech Tip Talk, a monthly broadcast about pattern writing and knitting design, and have written a handbook for knitting designers. They are committed to improving access to industry knowledge, helping designers create patterns that fit every size body well, to fully deliver on the promise to the maker. You can find them at techtiptalk.com