Writing a Useable Knitting Pattern

finished design sample plus worksheet
My finished scarf sample and worksheet.

Did you just finish designing a hand knit sweater, and now you want to show it off to the world? You want other knitters to enjoy making and wearing this creation. Achieving this requires you to write knitting instructions that other knitters can follow. Whether you want to create pattern instructions for friends to make the sweater, or you’re a designer wanting to self-publish patterns or submit a project to a magazine, I’m going to provide you with the important ingredients needed to write patterns that knitters can understand. 

Ingredients of a Knitting Pattern

This seems like a given, but prior to writing any instructions, you need to record all the design steps and technical information needed for each section of the pattern. Your record should include: a materials list, sizes and finished measurements, test swatch measurements, gauge, pattern stitches, design sketches, schematics, the finished sample, and other important information necessary to complete the project. I start the design process by drawing the schematics on graph paper, which becomes my worksheet and draft of my written instructions. When it comes time to complete and edit the instructions, I have everything I need to finish the task.

The same things you look for in a commercial pattern, should be included in the instructions for your design. Let’s take a further look into the key ingredients that are important to writing a pattern. The following information can be used as a Basic Knitting Pattern Template.

Photographs

There are no set rules for taking photographs, but go for a true representation. Multiple views are helpful to show close-ups of stitch patterns and other details. Garments should be shown on an appropriately sized model to show how it fits. Lace shawls look best with photographs of a model wearing it, and one of it lying flat to reveal stitches. Most knitters prefer an image of the entire project. For individual patterns, a photograph is usually included somewhere within the instructions. In magazines, photographs of the whole project are usually placed in the front, with the instructions following all the images.

Name of the Pattern

It’s difficult to be original with a name for your pattern, but try to choose one that’s interesting, inspiring, and hasn’t been used very much.

A Brief Description

This could give an overview of the construction, inspiration, or what’s interesting about the design.

Level of Difficulty or the Skills Required

Some pattern writers use a “level rating” such as beginner, intermediate, and advanced, whereas others prefer to describe the required skills needed to knit the project. It’s more helpful to describe the necessary skills. For example, indicate the relevant skills such as working in the round, working from charts, grafting stitches, or how to knit with beads.

Sizes and Finished Measurements

For garments, instructions should provide two sets of measurement information. One set includes the sizes reflecting actual body measurements, given in inches and centimeters. Sizes indicate the dimensions of the person or thing the item is supposed to fit; for example, 34(36, 38)in/86.5(91.5, 96.5)cm. The second set is the finished measurements or actual size of the finished project. The finished measurements is the most important in choosing a garment size, rather than the relative size. Finished measurements are typically given after blocking. Note: Indicating what size a model is wearing in the photo, reveals what the garment looks like and how it fits. Sample garments are usually knit up in one size, but grading skills are necessary to size the garment for a variety of figures, and for the pattern’s saleability.

Generic terms such as small/medium/large should only be used with context, such as a hat fits “Adult(small, medium, large)”. I prefer numeric values for sizing, because they are more accurate and fit the wearer better.

Materials List

For a single yarn description, include yarn manufacturer, name of yarn, fiber content, yardage/meterage per ball plus weight in ounces/grams, color code, and the number of skeins needed to complete the project. For instructions with multiple colors, use terms MC (main color), and the additional colors as C1, C2,… or label with letters A, B,… along with the color number, name, and number of skeins for each color.

The list wouldn’t be complete without needle sizes, type (straight, circular, double pointed needles) and length, as well as any notions like buttons and zippers. Note: Give yarn quantities and needle sizes in metric and imperial (US) measurements. For example, 4mm/US size 6 needles. Items like stitch markers are a good idea to include in this list, as knitters may forget to include them in project bags for knitting on the go.

Gauge

The success of any project is gauge, or the number of stitches and rows per inch of knit fabric. To create a project that is the same as the designer’s, a knitter must obtain the same gauge as given in the instructions. Knitters often neglect knitting to gauge, but gauge matters and is critical to many factors including sizing.

Gauge is written as the number of stitches and rows equal to a 4in/10cm square with the designated needle size over the pattern stitch. It’s best to give the gauge for the main pattern stitch of a project. For a design with a mix of different pattern stitches like cables with lace, gauge should be given for each pattern stitch. I don’t like this practice, but some instructions only give the stockinette stitch gauge, even if the item is knit in a different pattern stitch. However, writing the stockinette stitch gauge in addition to the main pattern stitch gauge helps with substituting yarn, since yarn bands give gauge in stockinette stitch.

Schematics

A schematic is a line drawing to scale of the garment pieces or other project, revealing the finished measurements and what the pieces look like. Schematics are helpful in understanding the shaping and construction of garments. Most knitters find visuals very helpful when choosing a project. I work from a schematic throughout the design process, and the knitting of my samples. Quality pattern instructions always contain schematics.

Pattern Stitches/Abbreviations/Notes and Techniques

The pattern stitches for a design are given in written or charted format, and should be included in the instructions. Abbreviations are the shorthand of knitting. Pattern magazines and books often have a section devoted to abbreviations and a glossary of terms. 

In this section of your pattern, make sure to address those terms and notes that are important to the design, or what works for a particular design. Techniques such as  uncommon cast on methods, special notes important to the design, and less common terms or methods should be explained. Addressing the type of increase or decrease used is helpful to the knitter, something pattern writers often exclude. The more information provided is beneficial to the knitter.

Instructions for the Design

The rest of the pattern is devoted to knitting the pieces, which is written in text using abbreviations. I won’t go into the details of writing for this section. However, make sure to include finishing and assembling the project; steps that are often excluded from instructions.

Style of Your Pattern

There are as many ways to present your pattern, as there are designers. Regardless of the style and layout of your pattern, written instructions should include all the sections given above. My suggestions are to be clear and concise, keep it simple, be consistent with the formatting, and develop a visual hierarchy of all sections. As you gain more experience, you’ll develop your own style of writing patterns.

If you are submitting designs to a publication, they usually provide style guidelines, and you are simply providing the essential sections in a clean, simple style without a formal layout. There will also be guidelines for photograph submissions.

Designer Name

Always attach your name and/or design company to your pattern. 

Optional Details

Depending on where the pattern is being distributed, the following are optional details to include with your written instructions: 

Pattern Information – include designer name, website url, and email address so knitters can contact you. 

Credits – anyone who worked on your creation – photographer, sample knitter, tech editor.

Copyright – ©designer, year (a good idea for legal purposes).

You can never include too much information when writing pattern instructions. The above ingredients are key to well-written patterns. Eliminating information makes the assumption that a knitter understands what you mean. A pattern writer shouldn’t be vague or assume the information is known. “It’s all in the details”. These details are important to helping knitters understand your instructions, and to successfully reproduce your design. And you don’t need to hire professionals to create attractive and useable knitting patterns!