Knitting 101: How to Write a Pattern (Or How I Write Mine)

With the growth of my brand, I've been getting emails from knitters of all levels, mostly at the beginning stages of designing their own patterns, seeking advice on various topics: social media how-to, pattern writing basics, collaborations, etc. However the most common question I get is "Where do I start for writing a pattern?" so that will be the focus on this post today. I'm going to address this topic assuming you, aspiring knitter, already have a design or sample in hand. If you want to learn how to design a pattern, well... I guess that would be a post for much, much later. 

Please note that through out this tutorial you may seen some things listed here that sometimes I forget to follow or do (especially on measurements). It happens and I'm learning myself! ;-) 

These tips and guidelines are things I have learnt from other knitters during test knits and feedback from knitting publications.

First, let's start with the basic layout of the pattern:

  • About the Pattern
  • Stitch Abbreviations
  • Pattern Stitches or Stitch Guide
  • Pattern Instructions

About the Pattern

First things first, you want the title of the piece, your name and photo(s) of the piece.

Write the pattern romance in this section; inspiration behind the project, features of the design, and other notes that will make knitters want to knit this! I usually include pattern notes - tips that the knitter would find useful, eg. order of construction, here as well. Sometimes the pattern notes can be put right before the Pattern Instructions. 

Needle: List needles in ascending order in both US and mm sizes. Include length of circular needles and “or size needed to obtain gauge”, if gauge is crucial to the project.

Yarns Used: Yarn Company name Yarn name (common yarn weight name; fiber content; yardage/weight per put-up (skein or ball, as appropriate): number of balls/skeins, color and color number (if available). Ravelry is super awesome for already providing this format for you. Just copy and paste!

For example:

Woolfolk TYND (Fingering/4 ply; 100% Merino; 223 yards/50 grams). 3 skeins used, color 3.

Yardage: If pattern has multiple sizes, provide yardage for each size.

Gauge: Measure stitches and rows/rnds over 4 inches/10cm and specify pattern (St st, stitch pattern, color pattern, etc.) and needle size used (e.g. larger/smaller). Include multiple gauges if more than 1 pattern stitch is used in project (optional; include this if the gauge is crucial).  

For example:

Gauge: 20 sts and 28 rows per 4”/10cm in St. st. in larger needle. Save time and check gauge.

Other Notions: Stitch markers, stitch holders, cable needle? Any materials outside of yarn and needles are listed here.

Final Measurements: Include measurements after blocking the piece in inches (and centimeters). For patterns with multiple sizes, include the sizes, final bust measurements (and other measurements you deem necessary) and the amount of ease. Also note which size the sample was knit in.

For example:

  • Sizes: xs[s, m, l, xl, xxl]
  • Final Measurements: Bust 32(36, 40, 44, 48, 52] inches. Model is wearing size S with 4” of positive ease.

Stitch Abbreviations

List all of the stitches you use in the pattern here. You don’t want to write out “knit 1, yarn over, knit two together” in full through out the pattern. You can view a list of standard abbreviations here or in the pattern template download at the end of this article.

Pattern Stitches/Stitch Guide

Special stitches/stiches repeated in the pattern. These should specify Rows or Rnds. Give stitch multiples if necessary. Charts of pattern stitches may also be needed, especially lace. You can add the chart here or at the end. It helps to have all the pattern stitches listed here so you can just simply refer to it in the pattern. 

For example:

Mesh Pattern

  • Row 1 (RS): Sl wyif, p1, k1, [k2tog, yo, k2] x 7, k2tog, yo, pm, p1, pm, [yo, ssk, k2] x 7, yo, ssk, k1, p1, k1. 
  • Row 2 and all WS rows: Sl wyif, k1, p until marker, sm, k1, sm, p until last two sts, k2. 
  • Row 3: Sl wyif, p1, [k2tog, yo, k2] x 7, k2tog, yo, k1, sm, p1, sm, k1, [yo, ssk, k2] x 7, yo, ssk, p1, k1. 
  • Row 5: Sl wyif, p1, k3, [k2tog, yo, k2] x 7, sm, p1, sm, [k2, yo, ssk] x 7, k3, p1, k1. 
  • Row 7: Sl wyif, p1, [k2, k2tog, yo] x 7, k3, sm, p1, sm, k3, [yo, ssk, k2] x 7, p1, k1.

Pattern/Pattern Instructions

Now for the big stuff. I can't pretend to know everything there is to writing a perfect pattern but here are things I try to keep in mind.

  • Always start with the Cast on. If there are multiple colors or needles, note which one to start with. It's a pretty easy one to miss. Don’t forget to note when to switch needle sizes.
  • Be friendly, simple, clear and concise. However, if you feel like a lengthy explanation is needed or you think a knitter will have difficulties with a stitch, make note of it in the pattern notes or include outside links to tutorials.
  • Include stitch counts for every increase and decrease (sometimes I make a table with all of the st. counts at the end of the pattern).
  • Capitalize the first letter of the row/rnd and use periods at the end of every instruction and sentence (look at pattern stitches for an example).
  • Add section headlines to help guide the knitter.
  • Use X[X, X, X] format for stitch counts and inches knit. Sometimes I also add in how many rows such be worked, according to gauge.
  • Bind-off stitches or place on stitch holder.

Finishing

Included here would be weaving in ends, blocking pieces, sewing pieces together, adding borders, fringing, etc.

Graphics

  • Include Charts/Key for any complicated stitch patterns. I use Stitch Mastery for my charts and key.
  • Include Schematics with measurements for sizes.

I believe this may be the section that most people refer to when asking "How do you write a pattern?". I hope this guide has helped but also, don't be afraid to refer to other designers' work to see how they write. Don't copy them word for word of course, but use it to learn and understand how to use knitting jargon. 

I've included a pdf file of the pattern layout that you can download to refer to when you are writing your patterns. It may not be the most comprehensive guide on the internet, but it's a start. If you are planning on selling your patterns and are unsure about clarity and errors, get it test knit! There are always test knitters who are willing to help, such as this forum on Ravelry specifically for that task!

If you have any questions about this article or would like to request another tutorial, leave a comment or shoot me an email at fdanoy@arohaknits.com!