Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Are Knitting Patterns being Dumbed Down?

One of my readers recently commented "I regularly read your blog, and you provide a plethora of information, but I feel you need to provide an explanation of why you feel there is a controversy with the "dumbing down of patterns." I personally find beauty in a well executed simple knit as well as the most complex lace shawl. I don't see a controversy."

I agree that simple is often the most beautiful. The question really refers to the specific details of pattern writing as opposed to designing. It's in all of the designer interviews, and originally came from a conversation with a group of designers. The words "dumbing down of patterns" were used at the time. It is the one question that stimulates the most in the way of conversation with the various designers behind the scenes with me. Usually when we discuss the topic it is an off the record conversation. I think the original discussion was due to the frustration designers sometimes feel as patterns frequently turn into lessons instead of just patterns. This is due to techniques having to be explained in detail as knitters have increased the expectation of what a pattern should include. As well, the demand for expanded size ranges adds to the amount of work required for every pattern, while limiting design variations. At the same time, compensation for the work of designers has remained static. Most  designers struggle to earn a living and often, when we do, it is not from design work. It is especially of concern to self publishers as magazines normally include a separate how to section.

Since I've been doing the interview series, I've noticed that the designers who have a strong opinion on this topic are always the ones who have been publishing the longest. They are, therefore, the most aware of the changes that have occurred with the shift in consumer expectations. New designers often don't respond at all which tells me that this is a question that only makes sense if you are aware of the industry’s evolution. The changes also seem to have occurred mainly in North America. European designers rarely have much to say on this topic.

Designers struggle for balance with the amount of technique detail. The usual advice is that techniques beyond the basics must be explained, but there is not always agreement on what is truly basic. Every knitter brings a set of experiences to their knitting and that experience varies widely. As more and more detail is added the pattern becomes longer, more expensive to produce and tech edit. At the same time designers who add a high level of detail are criticized for their lack of conciseness. Some knitters have told me if a pattern has too many pages they won't even consider knitting the project.

When I worked in my LYS the hardest books to sell were technique books; many knitters felt they were an unnecessary expense. Yet designers gobble this type of book up because they want to continually expand their skill sets. As designers, we like to experiment and sometimes we forget that not all knitters want to go down that path. Secondly, designers are focused on finding the best way to accomplish a given outcome and they want to share this knowledge. Check out the prices on The Principles of Knitting: Methods and Techniques of Hand Knitting by June Hemmons Hiatt here. (The new edition coming out in Feb 2012 will probably change the high cost of the older edition.)

It is a situation where I find myself thinking of the famous quote you can make some of the people happy all the time, all of the people happy some of the time but you can't make all of the people happy all of the time”. The good news for knitters...designers talk about this because ultimately we are all trying to make sure that every knitter enjoys the process and the end result. We want you to get the same joy that we do from knitting because we are passionate about our vocation!


  1. Thank you for the explanation. That was my comment. Since I have not been knitting long enough to see an industry change (just under 10 years), I was not aware of pattern writing changes. I personally love extra information provided within the pattern, but I am sure that requires more work and cost to the designer. I did buy the new POK book and LOVE it. I couldn't bring myself to buy the out of print version for over $200!

  2. It is difficult sometimes to hit just the right combination of technical difficulty and design in a pattern. Since it's the designer's business and we love the work we do, we know a lot of techniques which may not be common knowledge to some knitters. And some techniques are just so perfect for what we want to do that we have to include them. Learning as you knit is a wonderful way to learn new techniques.

  3. I think this is follows the internet: designers didn't used to get e-mails asking to explain details, now they do. Putting extra explanations or links to tutorials is a way to avoid having to write e-mail explanations or send e-mail links to tutorials later.

    It's like when a book is made into a movie; different medium, different needs.

    Only that's a bad comparison, because everyone knows books are always better than movies.