The Reductionist Pattern

In my previous post I shared a form of pattern writing that I have not seen much in the last couple of decades. In email conversations about this style, blogger cbkrug at home called it the “reductionist” style. While a bit post-modernist sounding, I could think of no better term!

So how did those old patterns keep their instructions on a single page folded into a two page booklet? They utilized a tablet format – from the materials to the pattern. Here is the part of a pattern that, reading across, indicates the pattern is written for six (6) sizes, which I have highlighted in yellow. The first row (below the sizes) indicates how grams (gr.) of each of the Peer Gynt yarn two colors (nr. 10 and nr. 17) you need for each size.


Below is one section of the pattern, the arms (ermer). (By the way, some of the terms are also given in Danish; those terms are in ≪italics≫.) I underlined in green or highlighted in yellow examples of the instructions that apply to the numbers across. The instructions are in the far left-hand column, and when you see the ellipses (…), that is your signal to move your eyes horizontally across the table until you find the number for the size you are knitting. For instance, for the 16 year old size …

  • The green highlighted instructions tell the knitter to, using a size 2.5 needle and yarn number 10, cast on 50 stitches and knit 1 knit stitch, 1 purl (so a 1/1 ribbing) for 8 cm.
  • The yellow highlighted instructions tell the knitter to change to a size 3 needle and increase until she has 60 stitches (evenly spaced). (So the knitter increases 10 stitches on the needle.)


I recently used Numbers – the iOS spreadsheet software (similar to MS Office’s spreadsheet software Excel) – to rewrite a pattern. I can only post an unusable portion because of copyright considerations, but I think you will get the gist. The numbers 10 through 17 in the far left column are row numbers. The “notes” are my deciphering of the pattern’s unclear instructions or its assumptions.


I once asked the owner of an excellent art and craft store and a lifelong fiber artist why U.S. knitters don’t use the table/column pattern format I saw growing up. It was her experience that American knitters want more instructions – preferably line by line. More recently I talked to (well, corresponded via email with) a Norwegian designer about this and was surprised to learn that more and more Norwegian knitters also want the line-by-line instruction format.

In email conversation earlier this week with blogger cbkrug at home, I learned that patterns from Regia/Coats/Schachenmayr and Junghans-Wolle (both German companies), utilize reductionist pattern instructions – “usually 1 page, with a schematic of the garment, and the construction instructions contained within the schematic.”

I have two theories as to why, increasingly, knitters want line-by-line instructions – one less flattering than the other:
(1) Because knitting simply is not as ubiquitous as it once was. This means you might be the only knitter on your block or in your office and just feel more comfortable with having more instructions rather than less – a sort of safety net (whether or not illusory).

(2) It seems “easier” to many knitters to be walked through every step of the pattern. There is scant adjustment; just pick the size, get the gauge and start knitting.

There are benefits to having patterns in the table-column format: There are far fewer words to read, which means the written instructions have to be tight. The overall pattern is much smaller; for those who like to use printouts of patterns, this takes care of the problem of carrying around 8-10 paged instructions.

KnittingLanguagesMy favorite benefit, however, has to do with language: It is far easier to decipher knitting instructions written this way in a language you do not speak. Why? There are fewer words. 🙂 That’s where this book has been invaluable – 132 pages of knitting terms translated into American English from British English, Danish, French, German, Icelandic, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish. Sadly, Margaret Heathman’s book is out of print.

You may want try out DROPS Design’s Dictionaries for knitting terms to/from (1) English, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish; (2) English, Finnish, German and Dutch; (3) English, French, Spanish and Portugese; (4) English, Estonian, Czech and Icelandic; and (5) English and Italian. (Thanks to Linda Marveng for this suggestion.)

I would encourage pattern writers (knitters and crocheters) to try the table and column approach and see what they think!

This entry was posted in Crocheting, Knitting, Norwegian Knitting, Pattern Construction and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to The Reductionist Pattern

  1. Pingback: Three Examples of Excellent Narrative Pattern Writing | The Sweaty Knitter, Weaver and Devotee of Other Fiber Arts

  2. Or you could take one of your own patterns and rewrite?! 🙂


  3. 1marylou says:

    I definitely prefer fewer words in a knitting pattern. Ann Budd’s “The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns” seems to favor the “reductionist pattern method.” Also, Ann Norling patterns. Japanese patterns also appearl to me because of the straight forward schematics and attention to rows and measurement.


  4. I’d be interested in trying a pattern in this format, but first I think I would have to get through the translation and that would make it more troublesome. -Nizzy


  5. Thank you for reading! I have not tried a Norwegian Pickles pattern – I will look them up. No, I do not think their brevity has to do with translation problems but because Norwegian patterns traditionally were written in a fashion almost abbreviated compared to its U.S. and U.K. counterpart.


  6. I was sorry to see it is out of print … I paid less than $20 for my copy ($14.95) when it was brand new! I hope you find it and at a decent price1


  7. cleo14 says:

    I would love a copy of that book… Hmm I’ll have to hunt around on ebay.


  8. And ar! Hm, liker is like? 🙂


  9. Good points. And know you know some more: “å strikke” (to knit, unconjugated verb), “strikker” (knit), “strikk” (knit [command form], “Jeg liker å strikke” (I like to knit). 🙂 🙂


  10. I have knit from only one Japanese pattern but it wasn’t a garment so sizing wasn’t an issue. (And I would think a size 10 would be large for the average Japanese woman?!)


  11. I’ve read U.S. and U.K. knitting and crocheting patterns from the turn of the century, and they might as well be in Vulcan!


  12. I think it’s a lack of confidence and a lack of reference, both on the part of the knitter and perhaps on the part of designer too sometimes. Knitting is no longer, unfortunately, an inherent skill, an intrinsic part of culture and learning so for many of us newer knitters it is a second language. I now know one word in Norwegian: pinne. 🙂


  13. textileshed says:

    Great post! Do look at Japanese patterns – I have bought a book with very intricate projects and they take one or two A4 pages and one photo! They have simply very clear schematics, so there is no need to write a novel. I love it! All self explanatory. The only drawback with Japanese patterns- they only come in one size, which seems to be size 10.


  14. I’ve yet to find a pattern I desperately wanted that wasn’t available in a language I speak, but I always figured that between language dictionaries and the wonder of charts, I’d get by if I ever do. It’s good to know that so many vintage patterns will limit the amount of language to translate too!


  15. So interesting to read about the different styles of writing patterns. I’ve made some knits for my daughter using the Norwegian Pickles patterns – they’re not in table format but definitely briefer in words than some of the other patterns I’ve come across. I wondered if this was related to translation issues but maybe it’s due to traditional styles of pattern writing in Norway. Really interesting.
    Thanks for visiting & following my blog 🙂


  16. I adore your website. Your pattern series has been so timely for me. Its one thing to work without a pattern and a totally different thing to communicate to others how you did it. It is also a wonderful insight for me to read the comment of others. I am inspired to write succinct instructions but then later on I would like to offer my patterns in schematic form as well. I love the way, like music, the charts cross the language barriers.


  17. It’s a-coming … 🙂


  18. caityrosey says:

    It’s a bit daunting to think of trying a new format for pattern instructions, but I’m all for simplification and efficiency. It would be helpful to see this done for one very simple pattern, like a stockinette hat or a very simple sweater, so that one could see them side by side. I know that would help me understand it better. And I really like the idea of using this method to eliminate language barriers. There are some dutch patterns out there I really like but I’ll never knit unless I can find a translator.


  19. Yes! My daughter just showed me a knit pattern written by a woman that included no fewer than six photographs of her, the sweater and her child. 🙂


  20. I agree … I have a couple of more posts on related topics in the works.


  21. I think so too!


  22. I think people simply learn differently. A friend of mine asked me to teach her how to make sushi rolls, and she asked me questions such as, “Exactly how far from the edge of the nori should the rise come? Should it be in a square or a rectangle shape.” I barely measure ingredients, and she prefers step-by-step detailed instructions.


  23. I have found it a useful format – especially when rewriting, translating or untangling patterns. 🙂


  24. I wish pattern writers would use this format more often. I don’t like printing 20 pages (the patterns are usually pictorials) just to create a project. The wordier ones, I have found, hardly come with pictures and use stitches I haven’t done before. I end up having a booklet in the end. I also run into the problem of personal abbreviation, ones not standard to crochet and poor punctuation. A stitch diagram and a construction diagram coupled with these instruction grids would be perfect!


  25. Some interesting points you have made. I very much like the Japanese style of crochet pattern because it is usually in a chart form and language isn’t used a whole lot. Now the interesting thing about charts is that I have charts that were from around 70 years ago but you don’t see them much anymore. They really are a very straightforward, impossible to confuse, method.


  26. knotrune says:

    I get lost in a sea of words, I hate those sorts of patterns (I crochet, not knit yet) so this table seems much better to me. You can actually see what is going on.


  27. monsteryarns says:

    I really like the idea of simpler patterns. It may be just me but quite often I get confused with the detailed instructions!


  28. jengolightly says:

    I will definitely use this with vintage patterns, patterns that are badly written, and with daunting patterns (probably the same thing!). Great post!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s