Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pattern Writing, Designing, Teaching

A while back, I was asked to do an email interview on a Toronto designer's blog. Although it was a fun thing to do, I've been puzzling over one question ever since: "How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?"

Until the interview, I wasn't really aware of a controversy ...or of the "dumbing down" of patterns. It has taken me a few months, but I think I finally have an answer.

If you are a designer, you want to create something lovely. Writing the pattern is a secondary goal. You probably assume that the knitters you are writing for understand the process and can follow your directions ...or improvise. For the experienced knitter, patterns may serve as a jumping off point with inspiration to take you in new directions. There may be new techniques which challenge and excite you but do not defeat you, even if you end up improvising your way through!

If you are a teacher, you also want to create something lovely, but writing the pattern becomes your main goal. You want the knitter to follow your instructions without confusion, end up with a successful project and learn a few tricks along the way. Since inexperienced knitters may not have a mentor or know how to access information, their pattern needs to be thorough and complete. In my books, this is not "dumbing-down." It is step-by-step skill development.

So back to the interview question - maybe 'dumbing down' is something else entirely? If you have an opinion, I'd love to hear it.

And in the meantime ...there are patterns out there for everyone. I hope you'll check them out and be inspired!

* * * * * * * * *

Okay, you've heard of Jack-in-the-Pulpit plants and Knitting-in-Public, but have you ever seen someone Knit-in-the-Pulpit?

Here's Mandy at the Old St. Thomas Church posing for her scavenger hunt photo:

Thanks for the great photo, Nadine :)


  1. I've heard of the dumbing down thing. I actually think it's a little bit insulting to new knitters, to call a thoroughly written pattern "dumbed down". Everyone learns from the beginning, and grows and learns along the way. Why is a more inclusive long form pattern "dumbing"?
    I've written one very simple pattern, and I tried my best to make sure a new knitter would be able to understand it.
    I do understand designers not writing their patterns that way. I feel that a designer should be free to write their pattern any way they choose, but be aware that you may limit the people who then knit from it.

  2. By dumbing down, was the reporter referring to more thoroughly written patterns, or to simple patterns making stitching easier for beginners? I am a crocheter (not a knitter). Some of the yarn companies continue to publish very simple patterns that are quite popular. At the same time, there are more independent crochet designers writing complex but thorough patterns with stitch counts, photo tutorials, patterns repeats, etc. One shawl pattern I have is over 20 pages long! Heirloom patterns from the early 1900s were sometimes 1 paragraph or less. I support any new patterns that help make stitching more widely accessible.

    Knit in the pulpit is very cute!

    I want to visit Little Red Mitten sometime soon, as I live in southwestern Ontario. Maybe on our way to Toronto this summer!

  3. I get both sides, but I think that as long as 'complex', advanced patterns provide further explanation or links to how-to videos or something then a beginner/intermediate knitter learning a new technique is a bonus. I once knit a bunch of stuffed animals, and it would have been much easier to knit in the round - particularly with the magic loop method. It annoyed me because I thought there must have been a reason to knit all these fiddly pieces straight and then seam it all. So I followed the directions to the T, and those pieces would have looked much neater had I knit them seamlessly. It was written that way so as not to scare off 'new' knitters or knitters who did not wish to learn a SIMPLE technique that would positively open a whole new world without straight needles!! :) I think the designer would have done everyone a favour by writing it a bit more advanced. I did learn something from that designer though. I should learn to trust my instincts, and designers don't always know more than me!