There are plenty of opinions out there about whether patterns are good or not, and what criteria makes them that way. But I find it more useful when evaluating knitting patterns to consider whether a specific pattern is good for me.
When I was a less-experienced knitter, I was easily drawn in by a pretty picture, one with an aesthetic that matched my own, on a cute model, with colors I like.
By that I mean: Is this specific pattern a good match for my skills, my expectations, and my preferences? Is it likely to give me what I want out of my knitting experience? Am I going to be happy with the end result, and also enjoy the process of knitting it? When I approach pattern selection from this perspective, I generally find I am more likely to choose a pattern that will not only produce something I’m happy with, but one that I will enjoy the process of knitting.
I didn’t always do this. When I was a less-experienced knitter, I was easily drawn in by a pretty picture, one with an aesthetic that matched my own, on a cute model, with colors I like. Yes, I know I can knit that pattern in any color I choose, but certain colors do catch my eye and it’s easier for me to fall in love with a picture of something and want just exactly that than it is to engage in the mental work of envisioning that piece in a different color or different size.
I find it’s terribly important to ask myself, “Do I love the way that sweater looks, or do I just love the way that sweater looks on her?”
But that mental work is just exactly what I must engage in if I want to avoid disappointment with my finished object. Even if I’m planning to use the same yarn and colorway, the item will look different on me than it does on the model. I find it’s terribly important to ask myself, “Do I love the way that sweater looks, or do I just love the way that sweater looks on her?”
For the answer to this question, I take inspiration from my own closet. I might not realize I already know what looks good on me, but actually, I do. When I think about those items of clothing I already own, the ones I love to wear, that I feel good in, that I reach for again and again… those are the items that flatter me and contain elements I should look for in my knitting patterns.
I have a short neck, and subsequently, crew necks look terrible on me. I have bought and then not worn many cool and interesting t-shirts over the years. It took me a long time to become aware enough to stop buying any but v-neck shirts or those with different neckline details.
If I’m a cardigan person with six different button-down sweaters in constant rotation and two sad, lonely pullovers at the bottom of my closet that haven’t seen the light of day in sixteen years, do you think I’m likely to start wearing pullovers just because I’ve spent 83 precious hours of my life making one? Dearest knitters, I am not. And the sooner I accept that difficult truth, the sooner I can start looking for a cool cardigan patten that’s going to become a much-loved staple instead of a guilty time and money-waster.
I prefer knitting to purling, so projects knit flat with a lot of stockinette tend to languish for years in lonely corners.
Similarly, I know things about my knitting preferences. I prefer knitting to purling, so projects knit flat with a lot of stockinette tend to languish for years in lonely corners, while garter stitch shawls and socks knit two-at-a-time fly off my needles. If I want that new sweater to be something I get to wear this season, perhaps it should be one that’s knit in the round.
[T]he important thing is to look for patterns that fit the way you like to knit.
It’s also important for me to consider the way the pattern is written and whether that information is presented in ways that are easy for me to understand and absorb. I am a paper-pattern person. I love to print out the pattern and scribble notes all over it, highlighting my size and drawing little check boxes for repeated instructions. So I love patterns that are available in pdf format that I can print out. Books and magazines are unwieldy for the way I like to knit, and I don’t do iPad-based apps. Everyone is different here — the important thing is to look for patterns that fit the way you like to knit. If you want to make sure it’s available to read electronically, then do your browsing that way, too.
It matters to many of us whether a lace or colorwork pattern is charted, or whether written instructions are included. When I was a new knitter I didn’t know how to read charts and really needed line-by-line instructions. These days I find charts more intuitive to work from, so I look for those. Neither way is intrinsically better, but it’s important to me to know that a pattern includes my preferred format.
I am an inveterate pattern-tinkerer, so I prefer my patterns to have schematics, or at least very clear measurements. I am always going to need to adjust the arm length, often the bicep width, and usually the body length. Sometimes I’m going to play with the length or width of a shawl depending on the amount of yarn I have or how big I want it to be. Schematics are the most straightforward way for me to evaluate the need to make those changes, so patterns that tell me they include schematics are going to be an easier “yes” for me.
The amount of detail, or lack thereof, in the written instructions is another common source of knitter/pattern disconnect. We’ve all seen phrases like, “Repeat for right front, reversing shaping.” I’ve knit a sweater in pieces whose entire assembly instructions simply said, “Assemble sweater.” And that’s fine for me — I’ve knit enough sweaters to know how to properly set in a sleeve, pick up stitches for a neckline, sew a shoulder seam, and all the rest. But not all knitters come into a project already possessing that knowledge and many prefer the reversing or assembly instructions to be specified in detail.
This is where I particularly appreciate patterns that list not just a skill level (really, how useful a descriptor is Intermediate, anyway?), but the specific techniques required.
When faced with a pattern that assumes a degree of knowledge or experience you don’t possess, you have the option to acquire that knowledge on your own (some of us look at this is a good push to acquire new skills), or you can pivot to a pattern that offers a little more hand-holding. This is where I particularly appreciate patterns that list not just a skill level (really, how useful a descriptor is Intermediate, anyway?), but the specific techniques required. When a pattern’s description says I’ll need to know how to knit in the round, work dip stitches, and do stranded colorwork, then I’ve got a pretty good idea of whether that pattern is going to be a good match for the skills I already possess. Or if I see the words, “tutorial included,” after an unfamiliar technique, I’m pretty confident that I’m going to be in the hands of a designer who is making an effort to provide all the instructions I’ll need right there within the pattern.
Not every pattern tells you all of this up front, of course, and sometimes we only learn after buying or knitting a pattern that it wasn’t the best choice. But the knitting industry as a whole seems to be moving in the direction of making more of this kind of descriptive information available. All of that means extra work for the designer or publisher, so when I find a designer or a publication that is a good fit for the way I like to knit, who is putting out patterns that I enjoy knitting and wearing, I try to return to them as often as possible and support them with my purchases, so that they can continue to do so!
About the Author: Amy Snell
Amy Snell is a knitter, instructor, and designer with an eye for the unusual or unusually captivating. Her designs focus on color, contrast, and texture, often exploring unique stitch patterns and clever construction in ways that are interesting but accessible.
Amy loves to help other knitters explore new techniques and expand the way they think about their knitting. Her goal is to make complex concepts approachable for all knitters, whether you’ve been knitting for several weeks or several decades. Amy teaches both virtually and in-person at national events and her designs and teaching schedule can be found on her website, DeviousKnitter.com.