Wednesday, June 5, 2013

More on Dumbing Down Patterns


I had coffee with a knitting friend recently. She is an accomplished knitter and we got talking about the pattern writing process. She has read some of the same threads I have read on Ravelry on what knitters hate about patterns. We discussed when we were first knitting we both would take extra notes and make charts to check off while knitting more complex patterns. Reverse shapings was not considered to be an impossibly difficult instruction. Knitters didn't think it was expected that the pattern spell out every technique. Many modern knitters seem to have much higher expectation of what patterns should provide in terms of detail. BTW the phrase "dumbing down" is not mine. It came from a conversation with several high profile designers.

My coffee friend reads my blog interviews and was struck by the differences in the responses to what has become my most controversial question. The question is, "How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?"

Many designers don't understand what I'm asking. Many give very carefully worded responses to avoid anyone taking offense. It does appear that there is a cultural component as well as shifts in modern standards to pattern writing. Below I've added in two of my favourite answers.

Here is the response from Michelle Porter:

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?

I hope I’m not offending too many knitters out there, but I try to write my patterns for real dummies! I also include myself in this group! If there is any way to miss-read, miss-interpret, count wrong, or measure wrong – I will find it! So, I try to include stitch counts whenever it changes and describe exactly where you are measuring. I remember to state which needles you are using and if increases and decreases are done in pattern, how and where. I hope all the questions are answered on the pattern, with no ambiguity. I feel all patterns should include a difficulty rating and “beginner” patterns should really include nearly everything.”Experienced” patterns can get away with less detailed explanations and an assumption of a degree of knowledge. Every pattern should include a tension gauge done in the stitch pattern used and an abbreviations key. I do try to keep my patterns for yarn companies to 3 pages, though, so it can be printed easily on a folded sheet. For my Fondle Patterns collection, I make them as many pages as I need and include several photographs. I also like to use a flat photo of the sample garment (not on a model) to help with the construction. Sometimes my blog has more photos and notes than the pattern. If a knitter still has questions, I am very happy to answer by email.

Michelle's complete interview can be found here.

Erica Patberg's answer is below. Her original interview can be found here.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?  
I didn't know that there was a controversy. As an American knitter, I tend to lean towards specifying more rather than less. Giving stitch counts at the end of a row with increases or decreases, specifying the type of cast on if it matters.  In the Netherlands, where I live, knitting was taught in schools until recently. There is an assumption that knitters have more independent knowledge thus patterns are more brief, giving just the essentials needed to knit a piece and leaving more decisions up to the knitter. I think both styles of directions have their place. As a beginner more step by step instruction can help you to learn a new skill or complete a project. For publication, pithy instructions keep costs down and allow for more designs in each magazine.


  1. I love that you ask this question because the answers vary so often. I learned to knit alongside my mom, first at home with a book then in a "workshop" type class with a couple of excellent teachers. This class I took over and over, for the friendships and instruction. I think a lot of today's new knitters learn off the internet or at a knit group. Sounds like they need more help and instruction...and this is done through patterns.

  2. this is interesting. I had a test knitter tell me I needed to explain something more and then my tech editor decided it wasn't needed as it was an intermediate pattern. I am still wondering what to do there.

  3. Thank you for this interesting article, Robin. I was a knitwear designer from 2002 to 2010. I now offer my patterns (over 40) for free on my blog ( As I decided my patterns for beginning knitters they are written in the manner Michelle has described. However, like Erica has pointed out I think there is room for less and more help in patterns depending on the background of your target knitter.

  4. I love your designer interviews. Thank you!
    I am sort of mixed over this question. I don't like really wording patterns but I hate having to unknit something because I didn't understand the pattern the first time. However usually after knitting it incorrectly the first time, the pattern makes perfect sense. My favorite question is what advice would they give to a person who wants to pursue a career in knitting. I would also be curious about how/why they got started designing.

  5. I have recently come across "Reverse shaping" (haven't knitted the sweater yet as I need to order yarn) and I was immediately thinking "OH oh, I could screw this up".

    I wish the pattern included the exact instructions instead of me having to figure it out for myself but only because I am worried that I will make a huge mistake like reversing the wrong side. I am guessing that once I read up on the subject I will be able to figure it out and in doing so this is likely to benefit me greatly. Having said that, I am still afraid of having to begin all over again due to making an error. This will not deter me from knitting the sweater at all but it may deter some.

    We all have different perceptions regarding what is beginner, intermediate and advanced so I can see how someone would get tripped up.

    Including links for tutorials on a subject would help to eliminate the need for dumbing down patterns.

  6. This post might help for the patterns that tell you to reverse shaping,

    1. I can't seem to find the post. It didn't come up as a link. I will try looking again later as I am sure it will help me at some point.

    2. Ii worked for me but you may need to do a copy and paste.