5 Ways To Level Up Your Pattern Writing Today
Updated: Mar 28
When I first decided I wanted to write my own patterns, it seemed like such a daunting task. Although I had been knitting for decades and creating custom pieces either by modifying existing patterns, or without a pattern at all, I still worried that I didn't have the knowledge or experience to write quality patterns. I took Aroha Knits' SWATCH course which gave me a framework for how to design, write, and launch a pattern. It improved my confidence immensely, but I quickly realized there were some things I'd only learn through experience.
Some of you only know me as a designer, but I'm a technical editor too - so I see new patterns in progress across my desk every week, and I learn something new from every single pattern I work on. Here are a few of my favourite easy ways to improve your pattern writing today.
1. Size by measurement
Sizes like XS, S, etc are not consistent from one brand to the next. They can be confusing, or worse, alienating. Make sure your customers have an easy time choosing their perfect size by providing the garment measurements instead. Here are the most important measurements for someone deciding to make your pattern:
- Chest circumference
- Upper sleeve circumference
- Waist and hip circumference if different from chest
- Sleeve and body length
- Yoke depth or armscye depth
An easy way to present these measurements is on a schematic. You can ask your tech editor if they offer this service, or learn to make one yourself.
An important thing to include when sizing this way is the recommended ease. This is the amount of difference between the actual measurement of the garment and the measurement of that point on the body. For example, if I wear a sweater with a chest circumference of 38" and my full bust is 36", then I am wearing the garment with 2" of positive ease. The photos of your sample should be modelled with the recommended amount of ease, and the amount of ease shown should be listed to help knitters choose their size. Here's how this will look in your pattern:
Designed to be worn with 0-2" of positive ease (or more). Model is wearing size 38" with 2" of positive ease
Chest - 31.25 (34.75, 38, 42.5, 47, 50.25, 54.75, 59.25, 62.75)"
Upper Arm - 10.75 (11.25, 12, 13, 14.5, 16.5, 18, 19.5, 19.5)"
Yoke Depth - 6.5 (7, 7.5, 8, 8.5, 9, 9.5, 10, 10.5)"
Underarm to Hem Length - 10.5 (10.75, 11, 11.25, 11.25, 11.5, 11.5, 11.75, 11.75)"
Sleeve Length (optional) - 14.5 (15, 15, 15.5, 15.5, 16, 16, 16.5, 16.5)"
I see many designs that list sizes as 28-30 (32-34, 36-38 ... and so on. I suspect this is because this is the way some sizing charts, such as the Craft Yarn Council's, are set up. A discussion with other tech editors recently determined that this method can be misleading. The same size sweater is not going to fit a 28" chest and a 30" chest the exact same way. It also makes an assumption about how much ease the knitter might want. We agreed that giving the finished measurement and information about the amount of ease shown in the photos is much more useful and clear.
2. Convert measurements using 2.5
Trust me, I know how controversial this sounds, but hear me out. I was converted, and when I've explained it to others, I've convinced them too. It all comes down to gauge, and understanding that if you offer both metric and imperial, your knitter is only going to use one or the other, not convert back and forth.
We all know our convention is to offer gauge at a size of 4" = 10 cm. But 4" does not really equal 10 cm - unless you use a conversion of 2.5. If you're using 2.54, 4" = 10.16 cm, and 10 cm = 3.94". Seems small, but the difference adds up in something like a 60" sweater (150 cm or 152.5 cm, depending how you convert - that's a difference of a whole inch).
But the knitter will not notice. Like I said, they won't be comparing one system to the other. They will choose what is comfortable to them and they will either knit a 4" gauge swatch or a 10 cm gauge swatch. If they work 300 sts at a gauge of 20 sts = 4" or 10 cm, they'll get either a 300/5 = 60" sweater, or they'll get a 300/2 = 150 cm sweater. What they will not get is a 60x2.54=152.5 cm sweater, and if that's what they were expecting, they'll be coming up short.
Some food for thought, though, just when you thought your grading math was getting easier - this doesn't necessarily apply to length instructions such as "continue in pattern for xx inches / xx cm" - this type of instruction isn't related to gauge so it doesn't need to rely on a conversion of 4" = 10 cm. Fortunately, instructions of this type typically land in places where precision is not required and there's some room for modification, such as a sleeve or body length. Give more precise instructions (eg - "work xx rounds") where it counts, and save these instructions for places where you'd like the knitter to feel comfortable adjusting to their own taste/measurements.
3. Upgrade Your Sizing Standards
Earlier I referenced the CYC sizing standard. These are great beginner sizing charts that cover nine measurement points in a pretty wide range of sizes and body types, including traditional male & traditional female adult, child, and baby. But once you move beyond simple garments, you'll probably be looking for some more specific measurement points that just aren't there. Here are a few charts I love to use and recommend to clients:
This free chart includes women's sizes in 2" increments from 30 - 60" / 75 - 150 cm chest and includes many more measurement points. Some I find particularly helpful are the neck base for grading necklines, and wrist for figuring out sleeve taper.
This free chart has seven measurement points for just the head alone! It's extremely useful for different styles of hats, such as earflap.
These charts are not free, but they have everything you need for some serious grading. All sorts of body types are offered, including petite, curvy, maternity, mature big men, and more. Definitely worth the investment if you are interested in designing for anyone other than the "average" female adult.
4. Professional charts made easy.
Is lace your niche, or colourwork? Mosaic, or even brioche? All of these can be clearly, beautifully, and simply charted with the right charting software. There are two that I use depending on the project. If you're still charting using a spreadsheet software or some other method, your life is about to get a whole lot easier.
Stitch Fiddle is a great free basic chart maker with some nice premium features. My favourite free feature is the ability to drag and drop an image file and turn it into a colourwork chart. I made this one by finding an image I liked on Google and dropping it in. From there, you can adjust the number of colours you want to use, gauge, and size. You can polish it up with some manual tweaking as needed, download, and enjoy. Here's one I whipped up in zero minutes with zero tweaking - pretty good!
To me, for ease of use and array of features, Stitchmastery is the gold standard - I am in no way sponsored for saying that. After checking out the free demo mode and a generously long trial of the paid version, I purchased a lifetime license and am totally happy with it. One of the biggest advantages of Stitchmastery is that it writes your instructions for you. That's right. Anything you chart produces matching written instructions. This is fantastic for anyone wanting to improve accessibility on their patterns. It also lets you know whether your rows consume and produce the correct number of stitches to line up with the next row - crucial for lacework with lots of increases and decreases to keep track of.
5. Mind Your Abbreviations
I know that in knitting and crochet, we all love our short hand, our jargon, our abbreviations. My husband thinks it looks like a secret language. It's totally fine to use abbreviations that quickly get your message across, provided that the meaning is made very clear to the knitter. Otherwise, they could quickly become a source of frustration. Maybe this is just a tech editor pet peeve, but I've seen a lot of abbreviations gone wild.
Regional uses can be an unexpected source of pain for your global customers. In crochet, always ALWAYS remember to note if US or UK terms are used - a single crochet in the US is a totally different stitch from the UK. I came across the abbreviation "NB" in a pattern that was not listed in the abbreviations list. Although it is common usage in the designer's country for "nota bene" meaning "take note", it's not used much outside of legal circles where I'm from, so I was quite lost. I suggested the clearer, and not much longer, "Note". If you are in a country that uses "cast on" and "cast off", you'll certainly not want to abbreviate either to "CO" (for what it's worth, I prefer "cast on" and "bind off").
Other abbreviations to be careful of are "m" for marker and "m" for metre/meter, "in" for inches (this causes confusion because "in" is already a word), and "st st" for "Stockinette Stitch" which, to me, just looks like a typo.
A great reason to minimize your use of abbreviations all together is accessibility. I talk in much more depth about accessibility here (affiliate link) but it's worth bearing in mind. When screen readers come across abbreviations in text, they often get it wrong. I've heard "st" read as "street" and "rep" read as "representative". If it's something that you are only using a few times, or isn't a common abbreviation that everyone will recognize, I suggest spelling it out completely. But everyone starts somewhere, so even common abbreviations will always need to be listed in the abbreviation key.
Bonus Tip: Multiple Sales Platforms
I know - this isn't exactly pattern writing, but it very much affects your customer's experience, so I figure it counts. I have covered this in other articles (affiliate link) but I'll say it again because it's important - please don't put all your eggs in Ravelry's basket. A lot of people are still unable to use the site, and you have no control over what the site owners will do next. So if designing is an important part of your income, it would be wise to have another place to sell. I have my own website, but I love Payhip (affiliate link) for handling digital download sales. Unlike some of the other options I've tried such as Shopify, Etsy, or a website, there is no monthly fee and no listing fee - you only pay a small commission when you make a sale. If you offer multiple formatting options, you can upload them all as separate files, rather than having to compress them into a zip folder - these can look sketchy to customers. They have options for creating coupon codes, and buy button/embed options so you can sell from your Payhip shop right on your own website. If building your own site is not part of your plan right now, Payhip has really jazzed up the shop customization a lot since I first joined, making it easy to create a clean, professional looking shop and adjust the colours and fonts to my liking.
Need help writing or publishing your first pattern? Contact me! I'm always happy to work with new designers.