STOP! Step away from the pattern.

I like my patterns to be clear, so I’ve been chatting with like-minded knitters about the worst pattern-writing crimes we’ve seen. I’m not talking rare events; these are the annoying things we see far too often for our liking.

Here are my top 10 reasons NOT to cast-on a pattern. Come, join me on my soapbox. 1. It’s going to get ugly. Let’s start at the beginning. I haven’t even got to the instructions, but the photographs have already put me off the pattern. If the sainted sample knitter can’t make it look good, what chance have I? Please don’t try to persuade us with lumpen knitting, fairisle that’s pulling, strange things going on where the border meets the body and that shawl with a dirty great join across the centre. If the sample is an ugh, my project hasn’t got a hope.

You do have to watch for the ones that are carefully disguised with artful photography. I once picked up a pattern because I loved the cover image showing beautiful shoulders, but the model had her arms crossed so you couldn’t see the front clearly. I looked inside but there was only a partial back view and cuff details. I couldn’t see how (if?) it would fit and flatter me. If they can’t get a good photo of the whole front, maybe there’s a good reason. Time to put the pattern down, and I didn’t even get to the size chart.

2. Inadequate sizing. How am I supposed to pick my size when there are no measurements, merely S, M, L, XL? One of the reasons for making things myself is so that it will fit me. Properly. This is not the high street. Perhaps this is a sweater: why such a limited range of sizes anyway? If you’re going to get the pattern graded for sizes, then get it graaaaaaaaaaaaded! I also like to know where I could best adjust lengths and widths, but maybe I’m being picky?

Then there is the most inadequate size of all: one-size fits all. One-size fits no-one, more like. I’m mainly talking gloves, hats and socks here. There’s rarely a good reason for one-size, even in an accessory – maybe if it’s veeeeery stretchy or there are issues caused by an all-over design. One-size makes me nervous. The minute there’s a plain section, or a small pattern repeat, it deserves sizes, don’t you think?

3. Crimes against yarn. No yarn composition. No m/yds per skein. No grams per skein, even. C’mon, don’t be shy, tell us! If I don’t know what the yarn is made of, how can I tell how it will feel or wear? Or even if I’m allergic to it? How am I supposed to shop my stash for an alternative? How am I meant to choose a locally-available substitute for that spectacular hand-dyed yarn, tragically only available on another continent? How can I begin to guesstimate what it will cost to make?

Yes, I know: the yarn company that paid for the pattern think they’re making it harder to substitute the yarn. But the thing is, all they’re doing is making it harder for us to work out if we need to buy their yarn. We need to know if we can shop our stash, or if we have just found the perfect excuse to buy more yarn – from them. And now we’re not even going to buy the pattern.

4. Measurements headache. No metric/imperial measurements converted for us (delete angrily as applicable)? What’s with alienating half the world’s knitters?

5. Decrease evenly across the row whilst keeping in pattern and at the same time complete right front to match left, reversing all shapings.  Can you feel your heart sinking? Designer can’t be bothered to write the pattern so that my attempt might look vaguely like the picture? Then, frankly, I can’t be bothered to cast on.

6. Adventure book patterns. When I was young, I used to enjoy the books where you could choose “red door or blue door?” and it would send you to a different section depending on which door you chose. The problem is, I don’t want my knitting patterns written in the same style; I want to know right now what I’m supposed to do. I don’t mind being referred back to a previous row, as long as that row actually says what I should do. In fact, I sometimes find this useful if the designer is trying to help me understand the rhythm of a pattern.

But sometimes this is not the case. Let me share an example: I once knitted a pattern which descended into farce, like this… Row 18: As row 12. I looked back up the pattern. Row 12: As row 8. Sigh, where’s row 8?. Row 8: As row 4. This is getting annoying now, in fact I’m not sure what Row I was actually meant to be working. Let’s check that again. OK, Row 4: As row 2. Seriously?…..now wait for it…..Row 2: purl!!!!!!! The fact that “purl” was shorter to write than the “as row x” was not lost on me. Surely would have been easier for the pattern writer, too? It was so bad it did actually make me laugh. But then I had to write out the remaining pattern rows so I could actually follow what was going on, and it wasn’t quite so funny any more.

7. Page numbers. Ooops, I just dropped my pattern pages. I’ll just put them back in order. Oh. Now I realise there are no page numbers.

8. Teeny tiny charts. I know sometimes it’s OK to do this so the chart fits on one standard page and can be enlarged on a photocopier. Sometimes the pattern needs to fit on an even number of pages for commercial printing. Sometimes there is really no excuse, is there?

9. Too much sewing. I know lots of people want to knit sweaters top-down and seamless; the modern way. And lots of people don’t. I support you all in your preferred technique and pattern construction. But cardigans with side seams?

OK, OK I know I’m still alienating pit-knitters who (rightly) love their knitting technique and it would be hard to fit all the stitches on straights…but baby cardigans with side seams? Can we all agree that is some kind of lunacy?

10. Sting in the tail. I once did a lace shawl Mystery Knitalong which listed knitting needles, yarn etc at the start, and was well written too. Then the final clue announced a crochet edging. There was no mention at sign-up of crochet skills being required. There was no mention of hook size, even – I had to get on the MKAL forum and ask around for advice, as did others. My lovely crocheting mother in law walked me through it. My nice, even knitting is finished with lumpy (despite my best efforts) novice crochet, my other crochet experience being provisional cast-ons. I know it could’ve been worse. I only did 400m and 4 weeks of knitting on that project.

A friend encountered the same horror at the end of a 12 months of laceweight bedspread-sized mystery extravaganza. She could crochet, but the fellow knitter she reported as living in Alaska with no way to even get hold of a crochet hook “until the snow melts” was less impressed. OK, so this one isn’t strictly a reason not to cast-on, because it’s too late when the crochet hook rears its ugly head, but it’s a reason to avoid another MKAL from the same designer. Maybe they’ve learned and won’t do it again – but would you dare risk it?

Did I miss anything? What are your pet pattern peeves? The soapbox is now available for your comments.

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6 thoughts on “STOP! Step away from the pattern.

  1. I swear I’ve seen this: a long blurb about how charts are best because you’ll be able to spot errors more easily etc etc only to find a huge mistake in the chart. The sample didn’t have the mistake. Yeah, I know many marvellous Japanese knitting books are exclusively charted – but you better be good to go with charts and no supporting instructions. (and have your sample knitter use the chart you print – not the written instructions you made the chart from – we know what you did you know…..)

    • Oh yes, awfully familiar! I did a straw poll recently about which was best: charts or written instructions? The winner was….both, please! 🙂 A charted stitch dictionary is one thing; chart only pattern? Not the same thing at all.

  2. I hate patterns that don’t have metric and imperial…frustrating
    Knitting with side seams might suit knitters that don’t like lots of stitches on their needles…or have RSI and find the knitting heavy.
    I’m not in total agreement that a sweater is modern if it’s seamless and top down…I think that’s personal preference but baby cardigans shouldn’t have side seams…unless you like flat knitting.

    • I agree there are some perfectly good reasons for side seams, like those you give…but even if you only knit flat, they’re still not needed on a baby cardigan worked in rows anyway! I guess I specifically mean the body part.

      • I agree with you totally. Another pet hate I have is when pattern says insert zipper but doesn’t tell you how to and they don’t show you how to hide the inside of the zipper. It doesn’t take long to insert instructions or a web address and knitting zipper linings isn’t hard to include on a pattern.

        I love your patterns as they feature written and charted instructions 🙂

      • LOL knitting with zippers can be a nightmare – difficult to make them look beautiful sometimes! The designer should definitely be helping achieve a good finish. I’ll bear that in mind 🙂

        I’m glad you like both charts and written instructions – I found I just had to include the options for everyone.

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