Three Examples of Excellent Narrative Pattern Writing

I love the reductionist-style knitting patterns from Continental Europe.  Drawing from the Norwegian knitting patterns of my youth and the reductionist-style German knitting patterns, I created my Neo-Norsk pattern construction method.  (See my blog posts The Reductionist Pattern, A Very Reductionist Pattern, Deconstructing the Very Reductionist Pattern, and The Neo-Norsk Pattern Construction Method.)  But many (many) knitters are more comfortable with the narrative form.  Well-written narrative-style pattern also takes skill; just because one is able to write in English doesn’t mean s/he can write a good pattern.

Following up on my dissection last week of Bay Bay Poncho, this post compares the commonalities of three patterns written in narrative format by skilled knitwear designers – ones who also write excellent pattern instructions:  Linda Marveng (Norway), Wei Siew Leong of Kiwiyarns (New Zealand), and Kate Davies of Kate Davies Designs (Scotland).

SprigFintryAs pattern writing skills can (and should) evolve and improve over time, in this post I focus on three of the designers’ newer patterns:  Kiwiyarn’s sock pattern Sprig (available in Ravelry); Kate Davies’s cardigan Fintry (from her book Yokes); and Linda Marveng’s Yellow Gold Pullover (in Interweave Knits, Fall YellowGoldPullover2015).

(Note:  Currently I am knitting Sprig [for myself], and the Yellow Gold Pullover [with modifications for Thor].  I have my eyes on Fintry!)

The Focus is the Project:  None of these authors drowns readers in stories; the instructions focus on knitting their designs.  There is no intertwined rambling narrative stories about their lives, and no bombardment by pictures of favorite pets or adorable children.

Written Form:  The authors use standard English (NZ, UK or US) writing rules and expectations.  (No tortured English here.)  While spelling and punctuation norms may vary slightly, the reader will not be confused by misspelled words, misplaced punctuation marks, missing or inconsistent capitalization, et cetera. 

If you remember your English writing classes, the rule is only one main idea per paragraph.  Davies_SpacingThat applies in crafting knitting instructions as well.   As you can see from the pictures, Leong (left) and LeongWrittenDavies (right) provide adequate spacing between paragraphs, making it easier for knitters to follow the instructions and keep their place.   To further knitters’ ease, Davies also has put alternate numbers (for sizes) in bold. This decreases the chance the knitter will select the wrong number for her/his size. 

Marveng_textDue to length limitations imposed by Interweave Press, however, Marveng couldn’t space out her instructions as she would normally.  Instead, as shown by the picture on the right, in InteMarveng_text2rweave Knits Marveng’s paragraphs are (by necessity), delineated by the use of bold italics.  With the her own published patterns available on Ravelry or the patterns in her book, To rett en vrang), Marveng spaces her instructions nicely, as noted by the picture on the left.

Sizing:  Leong lists three adult sizes:  S, M and L and provides the finished measurements for foot circumference in both centimeters and inches.  While it is easy to adjust sock lengths, circumference measurement is critical for people with very wide or narrow feet or  high arches.

Davies provides instructions for 10 sizes (in both centimeters and inches) and offers size recommendations for positive or relaxed fits.

Marveng also provides instructions for multiple sizes.  In the case of her Yellow Gold Pullover, knitters can select from sizes ranging from 34.5″ to 52.”  Though the patterns Marveng releases and/or publishes on her own contain both metric and Imperial measurements, as Interweave Press is in the U.S., it (sadly) offers sizes only in inches.

Graphs:  Both Leong and Marveng provide pattern graphs:  Leong for the lace patterning and Marveng for the two cables.   The Yellow Gold Pullover also includes an welt pattern;   I graphed that out to put along side the cable graph as I’m very visual.  Fintry doesn’t need a graph, but Davies includes graphs with her cable and color work patterns in the book.

Schematic: Unless a sock pattern is one that is teaching sock construction, sock patterns generally eschew schematics.  Marveng, as expected (and is usual for her) provides an excellent schematic.  I was disappointed to see that no pattern in Yokes contains a schematic, though Davies includes pretty sketches.  It is needed for Fintry; the black and white sketch reveals both waist and bust shaping.  This, for many knitters (at least those who prefer to make modifications in advance so as to avoid the anguish of ripping out rows of knitting and reknitting), necessitates modifications to ensure a good fit.  I like Fintry, however, and Davies’s instructions are always so clear, so I’ll draw my own schematic and adjust for my height and arm length.

Gauge & Yarn Requirements:  All three patterns include gauge.  All three authors provide the name, fiber content, weight and length (in both metric and Imperial) of the yarns used.  This is critical for knitters who want to substitute yarn.

Pictures:  The patterns of Leong, Marveng and Davies include very nice photographs of the finished garments from different angles.

Blogs:  All three of these designers have excellent blogs worth following.

Leong’s blog has introduced me to many beautiful flowers and birds of New Zealand, not to mention yarns.  (I’ve come to love knitting with possum!)  While many of Marveng’s designs are photographed and modeled by professionals, if you follow her blog, from time to time you’ll see pictures of her modeling a design (photographed by her husband).  Marveng also writes about her travels to various knitting, design, or fiber events.  Further, offers excellent video tutorials on knitting backwards and knitting hems and tucks.  (While admittedly you might find them more useful if you understand Norwegian, the actual knitting, I believe, transcends language.)

Davies wonderfully models her designs; she appears relaxed and almost mischievous in the photographs.  (I admire/envy that; I have the “Resting Bitch Face.”)  Davies also brings the beautify of the Scottish Highlands to the reader; clearly her designs are influenced by it.  Davies also provides video tutorials.

In Conclusion:  Based on the above discussion and comparison, in rating the pattern writing skills of these designers on a Likert scale (1 being the lowest, 10 the highest), I give Wei Siew Leong of Kiwiyarns a 10.

The squished nature of Yellow Gold Pullover’s run-on written instructions are problematic and even difficult to follow.  (Before starting that pattern, I rewrote them into my Neo-Norsk format.)  But Marveng did not have control over how Interweave Press would rewrite her instructions.  Certainly the single patterns that she sells (e.g., through Ravelry), are well-spaced.  Thus I give Linda Marveng a 10 as well.

Assigning a number to Fintry gave me pause.  In both Issues 1 and 2 (July 2011 and August 2011, respectively), of Davies’s well-written Textiles, she includes a schematic for each of the patterns:  Warriston and the Betty Mouat Sweater.  Only because of the lack of schematic for Fintry as well as for any other pattern in Yokes, I give the ever so talented Kate Davies of Kate Davies Designs an 8.5.  (This was a hard call.  I love her designs and blog!  Why did Davies drop schematics in her most recent book?!)

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18 Responses to Three Examples of Excellent Narrative Pattern Writing

  1. Janet says:

    Reblogged this on Janet's thread.


  2. I’m glad it was useful. Yes, tension and yarn weight and content are critical for people to be able to reproduce your pattern and have it look at least similar to what you designed! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. See her comment below where she explains. If there are so many sizes (and numbers) on a single schematic, maybe a work around would be to provide a blank schematic for each design, allowing the knitter to fill in the numbers. That might work. What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You make an excellent point about the technical drawings included with dress patterns. I always look at the drawing as it reveals more than the picture about the structure!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. They’re all excellent, careful, detailed designers, though quite different. I recommend them without hesitation.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well, I’m glad that comment made your day! 🙂


  7. See the comment posted below from Kate Davies. She explains.


  8. Yes, Yokes includes a lot of sizing details, which are appreciated. And I will use those details to create my own technical drawing. I understand your comment about distraction from a lot of numbers. However, perhaps a “blank” technical drawing – a drawing where the knitter fills in the numbers for her/his size? In any event, because of the sizing details and great sketches, I will be making my own technical drawings for your designs. 🙂


  9. I’m a very visual person and want a technical drawing. I looked carefully through Kate’s book, sure I had merely overlooked them. But, alas … But Kate’s designs (as you know) are so carefully crafted that I’ll make my own technical drawings.


  10. Rebecca says:

    I only know Kate Davies patterns of the three. Having knit from Yokes, I found the sizing info and instructions so comprehensive, I have only just now (from your post) realised there was no schematic. This is usually the first thing I look at. A very thought provoking post.


  11. Kate says:

    Thanks for your comments! We decided to include very detailed sizing tables, plus sketch, in Yokes instead of schematics. This is because of the wide size range in Yokes, and we (my editorial team and I) find that with schematics with a *lot* of numbers it can be really difficult to see what’s going on. There are 10 sizes for each pattern in Yokes, and I wanted to be able to include as many measurements as possible – so the sizing table includes all the information (and indeed more) that you would find placed next to a traditional schematic … the only difference is that there is a sketch for reference instead, and the numbers are found in table form. With the sketches, I asked Felix to include all the pattern’s essential features (texture, waist and bust shaping and so on). The sizing table is just a different way of presenting exactly the same information as a schematic.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I agree – except for some inexplicable reason, “Yoke” contained nary a schematic. 😦


  13. liwella says:

    Kate Davies is one of my favourite designers. Her patterns are always very well written and the detailed sizing information is invaluable.


  14. Susan says:

    My take away from this posting was………….Bitchy Resting Face!!! Laughed so hard. I seem to look like my father which would be fine if I were a boy…NOT. but I agree, well written patterns are a treat!! Thanks.


  15. salpal1 says:

    great post – and you introduced us to some wonderful designers. I have discovered Kate Davies before, but never heard of the other two. Thank you!


  16. This is really interesting. I agree that schematics are extremely useful and all too often missing. The pattern I’m currently knitting could use some!

    I can remember working on sewing projects when I was younger. My mom taught me how to read a sewing pattern. They always include a schematic of every variation the pattern offers. When looking through patterns, she would typically go right to that to determine if it was appropriate or not. The modeled photos don’t show much about the construction of a garment.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. kiwiyarns says:

    Thank you for your generous words. It is a relief to know I have passed your rigorous standards! 🙂 In Kate Davies’ defence, I see that she does include a detailed sizing table for each pattern, which is almost the same as a schematic?

    Liked by 2 people

  18. As someone who has only recently started putting her patterns in a blog I’ve found this article very useful. I was pleased to see I ticked a number of good points but one I’m going to change is that I fail with tension and also the more specifics of my yarns so people can substitute. If I ever get any spare time I will be sure to correct these omissions. I just wish I had the time to knit something bigger than just a hat! 🙂


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