Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: Pattern Writing for Knit Designers

It's not an exaggeration to say that the Digital Explosion has allowed knitters of all stripes to become knitwear designers, too.

On Ravelry alone, right now, there are over 190,000 patterns available. Some are free, some are for sale, and all of them would have been much harder to find 15 years ago.

It's important to say "buyer beware" about all of those patterns, and especially the free ones, because many of them may not have gone through any sort of traditional editing process. The free patterns I offered on the Journal Gazette's Crafty Living, for example, were generally only checked for spelling mistakes by one other person (a beginning knitter), and were almost always only test-knit by me. I'm not saying they're bad patterns, and a lot of knitters have happily knit things from them. But, I've also received messages from people at 2 a.m. who are freaking out because k2tog, k2t and knit 2 together all mean the same thing, but I used one that's new to them, so they just don't know what to do.

The problem there isn't just free patterns, or the fact that people are able to publish patterns much more easily than before, but ALSO that there's no one rulebook, language or code that is always used by every designer.

In bellydance circles, we sometimes are a tiny bit jealous of ballerinas, because when one of them says "rond de jambe," they can expect other dancers to know what they mean. When we say "hip figure eight," it can mean at least 2 and, maybe, 8 different things. There's no one code for us.

Perhaps not having a set code or method helps creativity. But, mostly, it leads to confusion, unless you can show your student what you mean.

By the way, this "no rules" world in knitting isn't a problem caused by the internet era. I've found it in almost every knitting publication I've ever read, starting with ones from the late 1800s. To an extent, it seems like every writer (and publisher) has to decide not just what they want to say but how they're going to say it. That's probably why every knitting publisher has its own stylebook - the same pattern for the same thing will read differently if it appears in Knitty than if it appears in a book by Interweave Press. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just the way it is.

I guess this is all a long way of me saying that I've been looking for a resource like Kate Atherley's new Pattern Writing for Knit Designers for a long time.


Short review: For the same $$ you would spend on that magazine subscription that I will totally get for myself if I don't get one for Christmas (that's a hint, mom!), you could get a book that will help you write better patterns, make your tech editor think you are wonderful and get knitters from "I like what you knit" to "I loved knitting your pattern" faster and with less panic.

Longer review: Kate's simple philosophy is this: "Good pattern writing matters because we want knitters to keep knitting." There is nothing more destructive to a knitter's will than encountering poorly-written or confusing instructions. When a pattern doesn't work, some knitters will decide that pattern isn't for them, some will decide that technique isn't for them, and (hopefully very few) will decide that knitting isn't for them. That's a bummer for everyone involved!

She includes a downloadable pattern template (that is also printed in the text), to make everything easier for you, but also explains why each element of a pattern is important. 

I love her tips, too. She includes "don't just take it from me" snippets from knitters, "things you can do to make knitters LOVE you!" and advice from other knitting experts.

I've always found Kate to be smart, professional and polite, and it shows in her book. She's not afraid to share the opinions she's developed from her experiences as a knit teacher and tech editor, but she also explains the reasons for her opinions. 

Just a few: 

- Including metric needle sizes is mandatory.
- Charts are an excellent way to express repeated pattern stitches. They’re mandatory for colorwork, and are highly recommended for lace and cables.
- It is never, ever true that gauge “doesn’t matter.”

All I can say is: Amen, amen, and preach it!

Everything a designer needs to know is covered in this book. If you have questions about writing, grading (that's sizing) or copyright law, Kate is your guide. For anyone wanting to get more in-depth than is possible in a book her size, Kate also includes great information about where to dig deeper on your own.

*Kate gave me a digital copy of the book so that I could write this review. She's also been the main technical editor/angel in my life. But I would have loved this book either way, I promise!
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