What Comprises The Best Pattern Instructions?

There are many sources for pattern instructions: fashion magazines, yarn manufacturers pattern books, designer books, social knitting groups, yarn stores, and the internet. Just as there are many well written patterns available; there are many poorly written pattern instructions, particularly the online sources. The problem is that  anyone can place instructions online, but often these patterns aren’t edited. As a beginner, when you don’t enough practice reading patterns, poorly written ones can be very frustrating. A knitting pattern needs to contain all the information required for someone to reproduce the design – meaning the knitter can understand and successfully follow the instructions.

Great Instructions Need to Include the Following Sections of Information:

  • Name of the Pattern
  • Photographs – Garments should be shown on an appropriately sized model to give an idea of the fit. Multiple views are helpful to show close-ups of stitch patterns or other details. Lace shawls look best with a photo of someone wearing it, and one of the shawl lying flat to reveal the pattern. Most knitters prefer to see an image of the entire item.
  • A Brief Description – This could give an overview of construction, inspiration, or what’s interesting about the design.
  • Level of Difficulty and Skills – Some pattern writers use a “difficulty level rating” (beginner, intermediate, advanced), or some writers prefer to address the challenge level. However, it is most helpful to the knitter to describe the required skills. For example, mentioning that a pattern requires knitting in the round, able to read a lace chart, grafting with kitchener stitch, or how to knit with beads.
  • Materials List – includes the yarn manufacturer and name of yarn, fiber content, yardage and meterage (plus ounces/grams) per ball/skein, and required number of balls or hanks for each size. Note: *yardage and meterage is most important when substituting yarn. The color codes used for the design, and some form of yarn guidance is useful to aid with substitution, such as the yarn weight category, whether yarn is self-striping and variegated, or non-superwash wool for felting. Needle sizes and type (straight, circular, double pointed needles), and accessories required including notions (buttons, zipper).
  • Gauge – is the most important section of the pattern. To knit the appropriate sized project, requires that the knitter obtain the gauge in the instructions. Gauge is written as the number of stitches and rows over a 4 inch square in pattern stitch with the needles given in the materials section. It is best to write the gauge for the pattern stitch(es) used. Some pattern instructions only show the stockinette stitch gauge, even if the item is knit in a different pattern stitch. For a design with different pattern stitches, gauge should be given for each pattern stitch. For ease in substituting yarn, indicating the yarn weight category or writing “using yarn that knits to gauge” is helpful. As well, mentioning the stockinette stitch gauge may help with substitution, since yarn ball bands show gauge in stockinette stitch.
  • Sizes and Finished Measurements – Instructions should provide two sets of information. One set includes the sizes reflecting actual body measurements, given in inches and centimeters. Sizes are an indication of whom or how the item fits (eg. 34(36, 38)in [86.5(91.5, 96.5)cm]. The second set is the finished measurements or dimensions of the item. This information should be used to choose the size, rather than the relative size. Finished measurements are typically given after blocking. Note: Indicating what size a model is wearing, shows how the garment is worn and the amount of ease.
  • Schematics – A schematic is a line drawing of the pieces, showing finished measurements, and what the pieces look like. I think a schematic is extremely helpful in understanding the shaping and construction of garments. The best instructions include schematics.
  • Abbreviations/Pattern Stitch Instructions/Special Notes and Techniques – Abbreviations are the shorthand of knitting. Pattern magazines often have a section devoted to abbreviations, and a glossary. Usually in this section of the pattern, terms, techniques such as cables, or special notes important to the design are explained. What type of increases and decreases are helpful in this section; often patterns forget to include this information. The more information to help the knitter, the better, particularly with complex instructions. The writer shouldn’t be vague or assume the information is known.
  • The rest of the instructions are devoted to knitting the pieces, written in text and abbreviations with any charts. Finally, there should be instructions on finishing and assembly. Many patterns forget to include a section on blocking and the assembly steps.

I don’t think you can have too much information in pattern instructions. A major problem by pattern writers is the assumption that a knitter understands what you mean when information is eliminated, or that a knitter already knows how to work a technique. As with any instructions, it’s all in the details, and the reader’s ability to interpret this information to reproduce a project successfully. Pattern instructions should include most of the above information to make your knitting easier.