Writing a Knitting Pattern
The 12 Weeks of Christmas knit & crochet-along series is my favorite thing that we do at Over the Rainbow yarn. It’s so satisfying to present a series of new, original patterns in this format, to dwell on the idea of gift-giving for 12 straight weeks, to knit or crochet sweet little things that can be finished within a week, to display our samples in the shop and tell people about this thing that we’ve worked hard on, and to give our community the gift of free patterns and free instruction while they knit gifts for their loved ones.
But the 12 Weeks of Christmas is kind of consuming my life lately. We probably should have scheduled a 12 Weeks of 12 Weeks of Christmas to keep ourselves on track. We’ve been ambitious this year, putting out 24 patterns instead of the usual 12. Crocheters of the world, we love you too! Despite our best efforts to begin working on patterns for our 12 Weeks of Christmas yarn-along series back in April of this year, it’s become a mad scramble in the final weeks.
The reason for the scramble comes down to the long and awkward process of designing and writing a pattern. I don’t know how you write a pattern, but here’s the step-by-step which I never set out to follow, but which I inevitably do.
- Daydream*. Get distracted while waiting in line at the coffee shop or while knitting something else by a novel idea of how one might do a thing with stitches. The idea is either vague or weirdly specific. I either want to knit some sort of raglan sweater and I need to figure out the details and finishing treatments, or I want to knit a colorwork motif that looks like cat heads and and I need to figure out what to put it on. Daydreaming about knitting sometimes prevents me from sleeping. As of yet, I don’t recall ever night dreaming about knitting. *For 12 Weeks of Christmas Patterns, substitute brainstorming with Mim. Ideas like “man hat” and “brioche cowl” present themselves at this point.
- Whip Out The Yarn. I get ahead of myself every time. I go straight from vague daydreams to whipping out the yarn that speaks to me at first glance, and casting on. I just start knitting something without even knowing where it’s going. Sometimes I have this feeling that the yarn is telling me what it wants to become. It reminds me of when novelists say that their characters tell them what to write. I make it up as I go along.
Pause and Doodle. Maybe do some Math. I started by casting on an arbitrary number of stitches (ok, not 100% arbitrary – see tips below), but further ideas have occurred to me as I was knitting, and I need to check if it will work. I draw weird, scribbly, non-standard symbols on the back of whatever paper-like material is at hand.
- Rip It Out. There’s always something wrong with the first shot. I have to rip it out and start over at least once. I’m pretty good at visualizing things, but I never visualize it thoroughly in advance.
- Knit. Pause. Knit. Pause. Knit. When I’m making something up as I go along, I spend an absurd amount of time stopping to hold the thing up and look at it from every angle, thinking about it, wondering if it’s worth proceeding or whether I’m wasting my time, and ironically wasting endless hours contemplating whether I’m wasting time.
- Write it Down. For me, this involves a combination of remembering what I did and studying the object I’ve made. And not only writing down what I’ve done, but thinking about how to logically reduce the pattern to the fewest possible rules. I have to follow my pattern in my head or scribble down notes to make sure the numbers check out.
Take Photographs. Photography will make or break your pattern! Nobody will know how great my pattern is if it’s not reflected in a clear and attractive photograph. I’m not the best photographer, but I have high standards. If I take 100 photographs, I can usually achieve one that’s satisfactory.
- Page Layout. Next, I think about visual hierarchies and laying out the text I’ve meticulously recorded and refined for maximal clarity and ease of use. I don’t want anyone to get lost. I try to put headers on sections even in short patterns, so you know where you are, like the “brim” or the “decrease section”.
Tip #1: As a general rule, you can figure out how many stitches to cast on by multiplying the standard gauge (stitches per inch) for the yarn weight you’re using by the number of inches around/across you want the item to be. Round up or down a little considering tip #2.
Tip #2: When you’re making stuff up as you go, try to cast on numbers that have the maximum possible number of factors to accommodate as many kinds of pattern repeats as possible. I really like the number 72 because it’s divisible by 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 12!