Bad Patterns

Regardless of how one encounters them, bad instructions make for a bad experience.

Exhibit #1: IKEA "assembly instructions" for putting together any piece of furniture.

Ouch! My head hurts.

Who of us hasn't cursed the Swedes while in the throes of trying to make a chest of drawers actually look (and work) like a chest of drawers? The complete lack of words coupled with the pretentiously well-intentioned illustrations are really just harbingers of doom. They speak to the fact that, if you misinterpret a picture (god forbid you're not a visual person) you may end up with a chest of drawers that falls to pieces the first time you try to use it.

IKEA's a big company. You'd think they could afford to make instructions with words - in various languages.

In recent months, I've had a run of bad luck with knitting patterns. The same basic issue applies as with the IKEA example - if I misinterpret the pattern, my finished object is going to be seriously wrong. And, when you spend time and money to knit something by hand, you want it to be right.

So, what does one do when faced with a bad pattern?

In my case, the minute I realize that the pattern is written badly, I shift my entire approach to the pattern itself. A well-written pattern means that I can sail along without paying much attention. I simply read the next row and do what it tells me. But, if I encounter a line of confusing instruction, I immediately put down my work and read through a big chunk of the pattern to see if the writer repeated the offending communication. Generally, they have. Then, depending on how badly the instruction is written, I either rewrite it or make a mental note of the writer/designer's particular tic (often its the same thing over and over) and just adjust my knitting when I encounter it again.

I have, more than once, contacted a designer and asked for help. My success rate with this approach has been 50/50. Sometimes the designer will say, "Oh yeah... that's a common problem. I need to rewrite the pattern." But, just as often, the response is equally as confusing or (even worse) seriously defensive because I questioned their pattern.

Cassandra and I strive to make our patterns as clear and understandable as possible - whether it's knitting, embroidery, sewing, or anything else. This is at the top of my mind right now because I'm in the process of editing two patterns that are going into a book. We wrote them as we created them but now they have to be "cleaned up" to match the publishers style guide and to ensure that we're consistent with how we reference certain instructions. For example, I might write this:

Row 10 and all even rows through 20: K

Cassandra might write the same instruction like this:

Rows 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20: K

Both are understandable, but we have to be consistent in how we say it. So... I picked my way, of course. LOL

Regardless, we want to make sure that anyone can understand what we're trying to get across. Interestingly, trying to make a pattern easy-to-understand can also come across as "dumbing down" a pattern. If you've been knitting for twenty years, you've probably seen every iteration of how to write an instruction. However, I feel like we have to write for the person who may not be as adept at interpreting pattern writing. Hopefully, we can strike a balance so that everyone understands the pattern and no one feels like we're pandering.

So, if you ever download one of our free patterns or end up owning one of our patterns - regardless of what craft we're writing about - PLEASE don't hesitate to contact us if you can't understand an instruction or if you have a suggestion for how to make an instruction easier to understand. I swear, on the graves of my foremothers, we will never get defensive, we will listen to your concerns, and we will accept all constructive criticism with grace. In the end, the most important thing is that we become the best pattern writers we can be.

- Alex (a writer and editor 'till the end)

This has nothing to do with today's post but I thought you all might enjoy it since, you know, it's Thursday and we knit.


  1. You know - I think I like Cassandra's version of that instruction better ;) I think it's because I'm from the UK, and the phrase "x through y" is slightly less common here, so I always have to think about whether I am supposed to include y or not. But that's just me - if people say "up to x" I wonder the same thing, my brain screaming "is that up to and including x?!"

    1. Aha! I didn't consider the potential need for localization! Maybe you can be my UK interpreter...

      Funny. "Up to X" is one of my Bad Pattern pet peeves. To me, "up to" means that you stop before it. "Up to and including" means that you include that line. I really hate when writers leave that off. Such a simple thing to clarify!!

    2. Oh... and regarding the term "x through y", I would assume that "y" is included because it's "through y" (stopping after). That's not to say that EVERYONE would interpret it that way but I would.