What a year it's been! (And then some. For about 14 months of it, I forgot I had a blog, until a fellow volunteer friend mentioned reading it and how funny it was and it all came back to me).
I've restarted my amateur theatre company (www.thebroadwaychorus.com), went to Japan the day after it opened to tourism again (and learned Japanese, even reading it, for the occasion), wrote a novel (and when I have time, I'll revise that novel and seek publication, I swear I will!), and published several knitting patterns to Ravelry.com.
So now I am a famous knitting designer, give-or-take the famous part, with three dishcloths, a hat, and a shawl under my belt.
Coming up with a pattern is child's play, really, although I must say the shawl took a bit of thinking about, but that was countered by the hat accidentally happening (I was aiming for something else), so they even out. The hard part is writing about it.
The main problem: there are two camps of knitters in the world, roughly (but not entirely) equivalent to beginners and experts. If we were baking instead of knitting, the first camp wants pages of instruction, details about which flour to use, visual guides for how to fold, how to pipe frosting, etc. etc., whereas the second bunch is happy to read the one line "make a lemon meringue pie, drizzle caramel over meringue in grid pattern" and they'll know what to do.
For instance: one method of decreasing the number of stitches you have (a common maneuver for shaping or other purposes) is the SKP. Depending on the pattern writer, you may see this as:
sl 1, k 1, psso
slip 1, knit 1, pass slipped stitch over
Or even worse: "SKP, sl 1, k1, psso" which might lead those knitters who have half a brain on their knitting and half watching TV to make the identical decrease twice in a row, not realising the author was merely explaining how to accomplish the first maneuver.
Over-explaining can trip people up immediately. Often a section of a pattern will begin with a short report about what's going to happen, and then a blow-by-blow. Knitters are always told to just follow the pattern and all will be well, but they may not realise that these well-meant instructions don't apply all the time. So, take something like this, from an actual pattern (I've added the bullets to separate each idea/statement) :
The heel flap is knit on half of the foot stitches - 22.
Leave the other 22 stitches (the instep stitches) alone or put them on a holder.
Knit the stitches from Needle 1 onto Needle 3 – it’s easier to knit the heel flap if all of the stitches are on one needle.
Turn and Purl 22 stitches back, putting you at the end of Needle 3."
It can make you wonder when one is actually to start knitting. From the start of the instructions? The third line? Surely by the 4th line, but you should already have started by then if you're going to turn.
The right answer is NOT YET. There is more.
When I say “turn,” I mean to turn your work around so it faces the other direction – you will be knitting back and forth on Needles 1 and 3, leaving the instep stitches on Needle 2 unworked for now.
Don't knit yet. Here it comes!
To knit the heel stitch -
Row one - * Slip 1 stitch, Knit 1 stitch* repeating from * to * across.
Row 2 - Slip the first stitch and Purl across.
You knit where it says "Row one" (and how awkward that it changes from "one" to "2" rather than 1 to 2), and not before.
So when it comes to my instructions, I try to be as clear, concise, and thoughtful as possible. I have a tendency to see ambiguity everywhere, so I'm sure I incline to overexplanation myself—but thanks to running my patterns past friends first, I've simplified my approach. And made judicious use of sidebars, which clearly represent optional things to read (e.g. alternative methods, hints for best practice, etc.) which don't need to be in the main body of the text.
Here are some instructions I'm particularly proud of. They won't rival Shakespeare, but I think they make sense:
MC kfb, k to last stitch, kfb (RS)
MC k across (WS)
CC kfb, k to last stitch, kfb (RS)
CC k across (WS)
repeat Crown Pattern.
In the knitting pattern biz we use abbreviations where possible, because counter-intuitively it makes it easier to read the pattern, not more difficult. In this case MC = main colour, kfb = knit front and back, k = knit, RS = right side, WS = wrong side, and CC = contrasting colour. By naming the section "Crown Pattern" it's readily evident which rows to repeat.
(The long-winded pattern writers can make a meal of this sort of thing. Row 1 in other hands might have come out as "Turn the work so the right side is facing you. Using the Main Colour yarn, insert right-hand needle into the front of the first stitch on the left-hand needle, wrap yarn, pull yarn through, but do not remove stitch from needle. Next, insert right-hand needle into the back of the same stitch, wrap, pull yarn through, and this time do remove the stitch from the needle. Then knit across all stitches except for the last stitch, then once again insert right-hand needle into the front of the remaining stitch on the left-hand needle, wrap yarn and pull through without removing stitch, then insert right-hand needle into the back of the same stitch, wrap yarn and pull through and remove stitch." I'm exaggerating, but I daresay only a little.)
And because everyone's brain works slightly differently, even your best efforts will confuse some of the people some of the time. There's a standard instruction in sweater knitting, to increase "at each end" of every nth row, which always throws me because I think of a row as having a beginning and an end, not two ends, but this is apparently not a bother to most other knitters.
So next time you read pattern instructions, pity the poor designer who not only had to think up the design, but (hopefully) agonized over the clearest and best way to explain that design, without over-complicating it, but without over-simplifying it.
A minor problem, compared to writing the entire pattern, is naming the darned thing. Sometimes the names spring, fully-formed, like my bobble-filled dishcloth (necessarily named "Bibbity Bobblety Boo") but my shawl's name was agonized over for days. Above, you can see the right side (in knitting the 'right side' means the front, or the outside, the bit people see) folded over the wrong side (which is also pretty). The unique selling proposition of my shawl is that its stripes run in the other direction than usually happens in such shawls, but thanks to my clever sideways construction, we get cute little short stripes instead of very long horizontal stripes). The main body of the shawl (easier to see in the photo below) is the slip-stitch pattern showing little fleur-de-lys-looking bits on a dark blue field.
What to call it? Well, since it had stripes ... and a slip-stich pattern ... I thought "of course it must be called Barbra Stripes-and," but my knitting friends immediately vetoed the idea. Apparently cute or silly names are appropriate for dishcloths, but if one might invest weeks of knitting into a shawl, it should have a more serious name. After a few false starts I came up with "Borderland" and I think it works!
P.S. When I last wrote, I was hoping to invent a Whole New Method of Knitting, like entrelac, or Fair Isle. Needless to say, this has not happened. But I am nonetheless proud to have come up with three dishcloths, a hat, and a shawl, so far. If I ever do invent a WNMofK, you will all be the first to know.