What To Look for When Picking the Perfect (for you) Pattern

One of the best things about being a crafter in 2021 is that you have so many ways to find your next project. Whether you buy a magazine, book, digital download or grab a free pattern from your local yarn store or favorite blogger, there are millions of knitting patterns at your fingertips.

I was looking at patterns online and realized that there are some designers that I trust to write really good, high quality patterns that will help me successfully knit the pattern. And there are other designers and publishing brands that I’ve had a not-so-great experience with. Patterns that are missing information or are hard to follow because the layout or fonts are difficult to read can lead to a really disappointing knitting experience.

It can be really frustrating to buy a pattern (or download a freebie), get all ready to cast on and realize the pattern isn’t what you expected or just isn’t going to work.

Which leads to this post! As someone that has written a few patterns and really likes to knit other people’s patterns, I wanted to share what I look for in a knitting pattern as well as talk a little bit about why I hope to see this information in a knitting pattern. The six things I recommend looking for when picking your next project are:

  • Pattern Description & Skill Level
  • Pictures, Graphics & Schematics
  • Size Information & Gauge
  • Materials List
  • Abbreviations & Stitch Definitions
  • Construction Notes

Can you follow a pattern without the ‘stuff’ I list and get great results – yes, absolutely. Will having all of this information help you find a pattern that you can enjoy working on and avoid needing to put the project in time out in the back of the darkest closet you can find – also, yes.

Also, this isn’t about your skill level. Looking for these six things when picking a pattern will help whether you’re a brand new beginner or an advanced knitter with thirty years experience. This is about making sure that you have a good idea of what the project will involve (skills, process, etc.) and how it should come out.

(1) Pattern Description and Skill Level.

The first thing you should see when looking at a pattern is a description of the project, the skill level, and the skills needed.

Most patterns will have a at least a brief text description telling you a bit about the pattern. Some designers write beautiful, multiple sentence descriptions telling you not only what the pattern is but also why they were inspired to create the design.

But most descriptions are short and sweet, telling you that pattern is for ‘a cabled hat knit in the round’ or ‘a lace scarf knit horizontally’. It doesn’t really matter if the description is long or short, as long as the designer tells you exactly what the pattern is.

The pattern should also give you an idea of how difficult it is before you buy it and if you’ll need any special skills like stranded colorwork or brioche knitting. Many designers and publications use a standard like the Craft Yarn Council’s project levels or have a proprietary system like Knitty’s Levels of Difficulty (which I personally love because referring to skill levels with terms like ‘mellow’ and ‘extra spicy’ just makes sense).

A really thorough pattern description will tell you both a skill level and a list of the skills you’ll need for the pattern. Although this isn’t as universal as I’d like it to be, a lot of designers give you at least an idea of the skills needed to make the pattern.

A peak at my pattern writing process, which is basically a lot of swatches and notes.

(2) Pictures, Graphics, and Schematics

The pattern (or pattern page if you’re shopping online) should include pictures, graphics and schematics that show you how the knit will fit, look, or how the designer suggests it be worn. It’s important to know if that sweater is long and loose or cropped and fitted; if that hat is a beret; or if that accessory that looks like a cowl is actually a scarf.

Sometimes I see a pattern I’m really interested in only to flip through the pictures and realize it’s not at all what I thought it was. True story: sometimes I can’t tell if the pattern is for a cowl, scarf, or skinnier shawl when looking at styled pictures and I’m betting I’m not the only one that has this challenge!

There should be at least a couple of pictures showing the pattern either worn or laid out so that you can see the design and understand what the pattern will make. 

(3) Size Information and Gauge

Information about the size (or sizes) and gauge should be listed in a way that’s clear and easy to understand. A sweater pattern should give you a number of measurements such as chest, waist, arm circumference and arm length to help you figure out if the pattern will fit in the way you want it to. An accessory like a scarf or shawl should give you at least a length and width of the longest and widest points.

The gauge should tell you not only the stitch and row count but also the stitch pattern to used to get gauge. For some patterns (scarves and shawls, for example), the gauge may not matter as much as for a sweater, but that gauge information can make the difference in whether your project comes out as expected.   I wrote a post about making your gauge swatches work you here; check it out if you’d like to learn more about swatching.

(4) Materials

Tool pouch and common knitting notions used for most knitting projects.

A list of materials including yarn, needles, notions, and any special items .

The materials list should include every major item you need to complete the entire project and should at a minimum have a good description of the yarn used (including weight, length, and fiber), all of the knitting needles needed, and if you need items to finish the project such as a pompom, buttons, zipper, etc.

Often designers leave out items that you need to complete most knitting projects. This comes from an assumption you’ll have ‘standard notions’ like measuring tape, scissors and a needle to weave in your ends.

In other words, expect to see everything you’ll need specifically for the pattern in the pattern, but don’t be surprised if a sweater pattern includes instructions like knit for 8″ but doesn’t actually tell you you’ll need a measuring tape.

If you’re interested in the tools I keep in my knitting bag that I use for pretty much every project, I wrote about that here.

(5) Abbreviations or Stitch Definitions

The pattern should have a list of the abbreviations, acronyms, and stitches used in the project. If the pattern includes charts, there should also be a key explaining the chart.

When you buy a stand-alone pattern or digital download, you should expect to see a list of abbreviations or stitch definitions that explain every term the designer uses in the pattern.

Patterns in books and magazines will frequently include a single abbreviations list somewhere in the magazine for all of the patterns and each pattern will only have a stitch guide or list if there are special stitches unique to that pattern. You should not expect to see an abbreviations list printed with each pattern in book or magazine.

Also, it’s really unlikely you’ll see stitch abbreviations before buying a pattern online, but a good digital download will have all the information needed to knit the pattern. That doesn’t mean a pattern purchased online will include a full set of instructions on how to work every type of stitch in the pattern like a knit or purl stitch, but you should have complete instructions on what the abbreviations used in the pattern mean or how the designers want a special stitch to be worked.

And if you’re shopping in person, I would flip through the pattern book or magazine to see how the designer writes their instructions and stitch information. Whether you’re buying a single pattern or a book of patterns, the designer or publisher should provide you with all of the stitch and abbreviation information you need to read the pattern.

An example of a pattern designer that writes incredibly clear, easy to follow patterns is, Olga Buraya-Kefelian. Her Aaranmi Shawl pattern is pictured.

(6) Construction Information (Or Design Notes)

Notes about how the pattern comes together is really important, especially if you are buying digital downloads online. There should be some written information that tells you if the pattern includes written instructions, charts, or if there is special information about how you need to follow the pattern. Often, designers of digital downloads will include the notes from the pattern in a description you can read before purchasing the pattern. This is really good because if you prefer to work from written instructions or charts, it’s good to know if you’re buying a pattern that only includes one type of instructions.

The notes will also likely tell you if the pattern requires special skills or a has a unique construction. This section will tell you if the sweater is seamless or seamed and if you’ll need to use techniques like picking up stitches to knit a collar or button band. This may also be the place you’ll find information about shaping or if you need to pay special attention to any part of a pattern.

Bonus Tip:

When picking a pattern, you can also go to Ravelry.com and see other knitter’s projects. So if you aren’t sure about a pattern, you can see other people’s projects, notes, and whether they had trouble with the pattern by looking at projects on Ravelry. Ravelry is also a really great source of inspiration! I love seeing the yarn and color choices other knitters have used on their knitting projects.

I hope this is helpful when choosing knitting patterns. I really love knitting, but hate to spend my money on something that just isn’t going to work out. While most patterns aren’t too expensive, it can be frustrating to spend money on something you ultimately can’t use. Looking for these six things when selecting patterns has really helped reduce my pattern frustration. I ‘d guess I’m not the only that knits to relax and enjoy the process, so hopefully these tips help you pick patterns that work will for you too!

Happy Knitting,

Kara

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