How Much is Too Much Pattern Information?

Writing knitting patterns is an exercise in brevity. The abbreviations, repeats and the lack of definite articles can compress pages of instructions into lines. No-one really knows why we do this, although it is likely that it began as a money saving strategy for mass market publishers, a pattern that used less paper and ink was cheaper to print and distribute.

As an independent publisher of knitting patterns I decided early on that I was not interested in making my patterns as short as possible. All my patterns are digital downloads, so I don’t have the paper and ink overhead. But I’m also not going to write out every instruction in full like the author of this great book of knitting patterns first published in 1846 and available now through Project Gutenberg.  I hope I’ve hit a happy medium, I certainly include lots of photos and descriptions and there’s always the hints and tips blog entry, if I feel that the pattern is getting too crowded.

Sometimes, however, I get a new idea and I can’t work out how to describe it in a sentence or with a photo. I want to write “this is where it gets weird”, a great example of this is the Robot pattern legs pictured above. The challenge gets even more complex when this new idea is destined to be published by someone other than me. Knitting magazines often have very limited space to squeeze a pattern into, there’s no room for a long explanations and they certainly don’t want boring technical pictures on their glossy pages.

Next month, one of my patterns is published by Knit Now magazine. I am really excited that they will publish my work, but I’m also nervous. Did I cram enough explanation in there? Did I over-explain? I guess we’ll find out soon.

I’ll leave you with a quick quote from Elizabeth Zimmermann in Knitter’s Almanac (p126), solving this problem in her own unique way:

“Here are the directions, on 60 stitches for the blind follower. The thinking knitter can glean two different pairs from one chapter.”

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