All about clarity in knitting patterns

When you think of tech editors, do you think of someone sitting at their computer, staring at an Excel spreadsheet for hours? You’d probably be right, but that’s not the only thing we do! Of course we check that the numbers in a pattern is correct, but another important part of tech editing is improving pattern clarity.

So what is pattern clarity? One way to think about it is how easy it is to understand your pattern. Can a knitter give your pattern a read and automatically understand exactly what you’re telling them to do? Then that’s a clear pattern, and you’re good to go. The opposite of this would be a pattern that is constantly tripping your knitter up, making them scratch their heads, or sending them searching for your contact information so they can ask you what the heck you meant.

I’ve knit patterns where things weren’t clear and it just made me frustrated and made me not want to ever knit patterns from that designer again. It’s never fun to be confused and then worrying you’re knitting something up wrong because you just can’t make sense of the instructions. 

One example that comes to mind is when instructions say to repeat a set of rows. Depending on how it’s worded, you could interpret that as repeating x MORE times or repeating x TOTAL times. If instructions are vague then it’ll be tricky to decipher what you intended. (I’m a fan of either saying “work x total times” or “repeat x more times,” never “repeat x times” because what does that even mean??)

When you’re writing a knitting pattern, you have to go above and beyond just explaining what you did when you knit your sample. Just because something makes sense to you doesn’t mean it will make sense to the knitter. 

It’s important to be as clear as possible in your instructions, so that things aren’t being misinterpreted. 

One way to improve clarity is to read through your pattern as if you were knitting it. Can you follow it based solely on what’s written and not take advantage of the extra knowledge you have of the pattern in your mind? If the answer is no, you need to get that info from your brain onto the page and fill in the gaps of information that is missing. When we write instructions down, sometimes we make assumptions of what the person reading knows and leave important bits out, so taking a look at it with a detached mindset can help you determine what needs to be cleaned up and added.

This doesn’t mean every single piece of information from your brain goes onto the page. There’s a fine line between providing too much information and not enough. Include too much information and the knitter will just skim past it, but include too little and they might not have enough information to actually knit the item. 

The language you include in your pattern is so important. When you’re reviewing your pattern, take a deep look at the language you’re using. Are there areas where things can be phrased more concisely without losing their meaning? Are there areas where a little more explanation is needed? Can things be cut altogether

See how all of a sudden I started bolding things? That was to showcase one way you can have readability while still including lots of information. If you absolutely need to include a long paragraph of instructions, playing with the formatting can help your knitter make sense of it more easily. Bold the really important things, break stuff up into smaller paragraphs, etc. A recent episode of Tech Tip Talk with knitwear and graphic designer Erin Clayton as the guest gave lots of useful advice on how pattern layout can contribute to clarity.

This is hard work – especially on your own words – but it’s so worth it. Finding that right balance of information will ensure that your pattern flows, is easily readable, and most importantly, provides a good experience for the knitters because they don’t have to spend too much time reading or being confused. 

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