The KnotMagick Guide to Pattern Writing

This page from my knitting journal shows my sketch and initial notes for this hat, as well as a finished photo and the yarn label for the care instructions.

This can be a rough as you want to make it, or it can be a finished drawing. No one has to see it if you don’t want them to; the basic idea is to get what is in your head, down on paper. If it’s a scribble on a bar napkin, that’s fine, so long as you know what it means. No drawing skills? No worries. Most of my sketches are a basic outline with squiggles of different sorts to mark out different stitch types, and notes on the side to describe fit and construction.

Rough draft
Before I start to knit, I rough out the bones of the pattern. “Cast on ___ sts, work ribbing for 1″, switch to stockinette” is a fairly good start, and I can fill in the details later as I’m working. I’m not looking for stitch counts, just estimates of lengths and dimensions. If you are more visual, this would be a good time to sketch out a schematic, particularly if you are working on something like a sweater.

You would think swatching would be the first step to writing a pattern, but for me it comes much later. Once I have an idea of how I want the end product to turn out and a road map of how to get there, then I can fill in the individual stops along the way.

Do the math
Once I have a swatch I like, I can record the needles and gauge, and then estimate the rest of my numbers–how many stitches to cast one, roughly how many rows I need to knit at each stage of the project, and roughly how many increases or decreases I’ll need and where. These will provide guidelines as I’m working, but aren’t set in stone.

It’s finally time to cast on and start working on the project.

Flesh out pattern
As I’m knitting, I fill in any details I might have forgotten–perhaps realizing I need additional ribbing to cinch in a waist, or deciding that my cable twists should be every 6 rows instead of every 4.

Rinse & repeat
You didn’t think we were done, did you? Nope. I go back and forth between my rough pattern and my knitting until I have the finished object. Depending on the pattern–for example, a sock or a sweater–you might even find it necessary to knit the item or part of the item twice to make sure the complex bits are correct, and counting stitches when increases or decreases have happened.

Once the bind off and blocking are done, it’s time to revisit that pattern and make it pretty and readable. I like to put all of the pattern statistics into a text box at the start of the pattern, where they are easy to find–dimensions, gauge, materials, and needle size. Keep your formatting for the rest of the pattern simple but consistent. Do you always capitalize the K in K1, K2? Make sure it’s that way throughout the pattern. I usually break up my patterns into three sections to make them easier to digest (the beginning, the body, and the finishing work) but you might need more or less depending on your style and what the pattern is for. It might also be necessary to include special instructions, such as for a special stitch or finishing technique.

We’ve all heard not to judge a book by its cover. We also all know that’s a load of bullshit, because we always judge books by their covers and knitting patterns by their photos. For accessories I usually do a selfie or use a timer. Most important however, is good lighting and a clear picture of the knitting. A beautiful, artistic shot of the finished product does nothing if we can’t tell how it’s constructed or see that complex lace pattern or get clarification on where exactly those seams go and how they are supposed to be arranged. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rejected or abandoned a pattern because there was only one photo and it didn’t show what I needed to see. I usually include at least three photos: front and side, and then either a shot of the back or a close up of a detailed or more complex part of the pattern. As a general rule, the bigger or more complex the project, the more photos you need to include. If it’s a sweater, shawl, skirt, dress, afghan, or includes lace or color work, I would say there shouldn’t be less than five images. More is better, and until you hit double digits “too much” is purely hypothetical.

I confess, I usually skip steps 10 and 11, purely because I am knitting accessories and small items that use basic shapes and don’t need to be graded. In most cases, they can be sized up or down with simple math, which I include in the pattern itself. Because my patterns are usually for small items, I also usually make more than one, so in a way I’m my own pattern tester.

Testing means sending your pattern to someone else to knit or crochet to make sure the pattern is easy to read and accurate. You can ask fellow crafters on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media or in-person knitting/crochet groups, or you can post a request in Ravelry groups such as The Testing Pool.

Some test knitters/crochets do ask very least yarn support (that’s where the designer provides the yarn, either by sending it directly or providing a gift card or similar so the tester can purchase their own), but others work for free for the joy of the pattern. Patterns are always provided to testers for free. Most testers do not ask for monetary compensation; however, if you need samples knit for a trunk show or other event, you will want to pay them.

Once your testers are done with the pattern, you should have it fairly well polished. But how do you figure out other sizes, especially for things like a sweater? How do you make sure the pattern is really perfect?

Tech editors are a specialization of editor that focuses on creating easy to understand instructions for the general public. Technical editing is involved in everything from your Ikea instructions to that new blender you just bought to that manual that’s been sitting in your glovebox since you bought your car. They make sure all of the steps make sense, the measurements are correct, and, if necessary, can calculate the different dimensions for various sizes for sweaters or other garments, as well as consistency in the language and formatting.

Prices for tech editors vary, depending on the pattern, the editor’s experience, and how much work needs to be done. The reason I recommend hiring a tech editor after going through testers is that testers are aware they are getting a rough pattern, and by editing as much as you can yourself based on that feedback, you can sometimes save yourself a bit of money on the final pattern edit, but really steps 10 and 11 can be done in either order.
To find a tech editor, I would start with Ravelry groups like Tech Editing Services.

Once you’re confident you have made the best pattern you possibly can, it’s time to convert the document into a PDF and upload it to your desired platform or website. I post my patterns here in my shop and on Ravelry, and I’m now starting to upload them to my Gumroad shop, but there are other options like Etsy.

Like what you see? Check out By The Grace Pattern Dive.