Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How to Write a (Good) Indie Crochet Pattern

Have you ever wanted to write your own crochet pattern? There are so many folks out there with creative ideas that they want to share with others. The internet has made it possible for an idea to be shared faster than ever and to many people at once. However, there are responsibilities that come with this rapid transmission of information, if only to oneself. How will people perceive you based on your work? A typo might not mean that much when texting with a friend, but in a pattern it could really frustrate the people you are trying to share your ideas with. Trust me, I've learned the hard way :) No one is perfect and there is always a learning curve, but today I'd love to share my pattern writing tips with you. I hope that they help you to avoid some of the mistakes I've made and give you confidence as you create.

Here are some basic steps to take when writing an indie crochet pattern for self-publishing. Note that this is not a tutorial on how to get your patterns published in books and magazines. I am in the process of doing that right now, so I'll let you know after I'm done if I have any tips for you :) As a side note, please note that every designer is different. These tips are based on what has worked well for me.

You've got an idea. That's great! An idea is special, but don't let it become your "baby". You will likely need to change it in some way. If you get too attached to the very first thing you come up with, it's going to be difficult for you to make your pattern the best that it can be. Ask yourself hard questions... Has this idea been done before? If so, how is your version different/better? Is this a pattern someone will be able to figure out by looking at the picture? Does that matter to you? The most successful pattern will be one that is difficult for others to replicate without your unique instructions. It will also be something that is desirable to a specific group of people, your target audience. If you're not interested in getting paid for the pattern this is less of a concern (and I hope you have a good reason not to get paid for hours of hard work). In all cases you will want to refine your idea to the best of your ability. Don't be afraid to frog, both in real life and in your brain.

Now that your idea has been polished, you are likely chomping at the bit to get started. Hold up! First you need to figure out how your pattern will be presented. Will you be posting to a blog? Keep in mind that large image files may load slowly for some readers, potentially driving them away. Will you be uploading a PDF to Ravelry or another site? You will want to create a template for your crochet pattern, making sure to include all of the necessary information. Will this be passed out as a leaflet? Perhaps the quality of the paper matters. As soon as you start analyzing your medium of choice you will likely come up with a specific set of things to consider while formatting the pattern.

Here's one last thing to think about before you get your hook moving. Crochet patterns come in all kinds of styles. There are written patterns, photo tutorials, charts, diagrams, and video tutorials. You may be including only one of or a combination of these. Decide now what type of instructions best suit your pattern so that you can gather the necessary information as you go along. It's hard to include a photo tutorial of that special stitch if the item is complete and you forgot to take any photos. Make future you happy and save them some unnecessary work. Also, think of your audience. Something that seems easy to you may not be easy to them. You can help them out by including the same information in multiple styles so that hopefully one of them clicks.

That's right, you can totally get hooking now! As you do, remember to record everything you are doing. Seriously. No, you will not "just remember" that you chose to count the turning chain as a stitch for one part of the pattern and not another. It's much safer and easier to record everything as you go along rather than trying to recount a bunch of stitches while spreading things out and wondering where exactly the slip stitch went. Remember, this is like the scientific method. You need to keep track of every variable and process so that someone else can precisely replicate your result. As you become more adept at pattern writing there will be exceptions to this rule. I could probably write a simple beanie in my head without even making it (but I wouldn't!). As you start out you'll want to be strict with yourself. It doesn't matter if you record digitally or on paper. I happen to like paper because it feels better to me to write things down by hand... and I also have a pretty rainbow notebook.

Along with recording the process comes recording everything else as well. Everything. Else. Keep track of your yarn label because you'll want to share a lot of the information on it. Record what hook you are using in case the project and hook get separated. This is especially important if you have multiple styles of the same hook size. If it is a larger project, record how many skeins you started with. Eventually you'll also want to weigh your yarn to determine how much you used based on how much is left. This will require some math. Did you use any buttons or findings? You may want to keep track of where you purchased them. As you can see, there are many details to track.

This step is non-negotiable. Once your pattern has been completed and prepared you will be tempted to post it right away. After all, you spent all of that time focusing on details, right? I'm here to tell you that there is no substitution for field-testing your pattern. Pattern testers provide fresh eyes and perspective. They will let you know if part of the pattern confuses them, if the pictures aren't clear enough, if they can't find the type of yarn you used, or if they can't match your gauge. Your pattern will hopefully be worked up by many hobby crocheters, so it only makes sense to gather the thoughts and opinions of hobby crocheters. Additionally, editing should be a part of this process. Someone other than you needs to make sure all of the stitch counts are correct and that the wording is consistent. There are technical editors out there that you can pay for this service if desired. Use the comments of the people above to drive thoughtful revision and editing of your pattern.

Make sure to get some inviting photos of the finished object, both for advertising and to include in the pattern. It's okay to send a simpler photo of the item to your testers. However, you will eventually want some shots that have flair. You don't need a fancy camera to achieve this. In fact, I take almost all of my product pictures with my iPhone! The main thing to think about is lighting. Indirect, natural light works best for me. Also, go ahead and edit the photos a little if you need to. Don't change the color too much or misrepresent the item, but some cropping and a tweak of the sharpness settings can take a photo to new and better places. You've put in a lot of work here, make sure the finished item shines!

This is it! What began as an idea is now a realized pattern. It's time to share your work with the world. This is the most satisfying part of the process for me. There's nothing quite like seeing your pattern up on Ravelry or getting blog hits. When people post project pages it gets even better! Of course, by this point the next idea is probably simmering pretty noisily on that back burner in your mind :)

Have any questions? Did you think of something I missed? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Great advice and very timely too (I just blogged about a pattern issue last week). I recently was trying to make a relatively simple project and errors in the pattern writing actually made the pattern much, much more complicated and difficult than necessary. It was enough to abandon the pattern altogether.

    Problems included inconsistencies in presentation/writing style, missing instructions and stitch counts that did not add up, and ambiguities in descriptions and instructions. A lack of detailed photos for reference meant that one couldn't even use a photo to clear up any questions.

    Thanks for your advice and good luck with publishing your patterns, Sara! I hope it is all good news for you.

    1. I'm so sorry you had that experience. I've had that happen to me as well. At first I am annoyed, but I try to remember that the designer is a person like me who makes mistakes. I can always learn from their mistakes in addition to my own :) Was the pattern paid or free?

      I do have good news, I'm just patiently waiting to be allowed to share it!

    2. The pattern was paid for as it appeared in a pattern booklet that I purchased. I see frequent errors in local (Australian) patterns and occasionally first editions of books, especially those that are published with different versions for the UK and USA. I suspect this is due to publishers trying to translate US notation to Aus/UK as the US crochet scene is much bigger than here. In the editing and layout processes things go astray. This is why it is important to always have an accompanying diagram or chart. I am sure tech editors appreciate the cross reference.

    3. Yes, as a US crocheter I very much acknowledge the privilege that comes with not having to worry about the difficulties of translation as often. Although, perhaps in the future I could offer all of my patterns already translated into UK terminology as well.

  2. Wow, you are amazingly clear!!
    The only thing that occurred to me while reading the considerable ground you covered in your post is that over the last couple of years of reading blogposts, I have read several heartbreaking stories of hard work stolen/plagiarized, which has got to be just terrible for the people - like yourself - who were being so generous to share them (or sell for what is always a fair price if one realizes the love and of course the time that goes into it!), so I would just add that some way of copywriting one's words (& pix!!!) unfortunately seems an essential reality to figure out and actually do as well. Btw, I mean this not only for the paid patterns, but also the free ones which apparently other people like to pick up & then sell as their own...shame on them, grrrrr.
    Thanks again; love your blog :)

    1. Copyright is definitely an important issue to consider. I am among those whose patterns, both paid and free, have been sold or distributed illegally. Luckily, copyright is something that is automatically granted to the creator of words and pictures, both on blogs and in PDF patterns. However, it doesn't hurt to put © , the date, and your name on your text as well as watermarks on your photos.

    2. I have conflicting thoughts about watermarks. I don't really want to watermark my photos because I don't want the details obscured but then I don't want others to steal them and claim them for themselves. I have never posted any of my pictures on Pinterest but it is very interesting to see how quickly they have appeared. There are conflicting views about photo sharing - some people think they are doing us a favour by sharing our photos and thus giving us publicity, others are just thoughtless and issues of intellectual property and content copyright are not on their radar and then you get those that just blatantly copy and paste entire articles that others have written to their websites without so much as a byline to acknowledge the author (that has happened to me).

    3. I have found that watermarks are really the only way to ensure that people know where the picture is coming from. I combat the obscuring of details by purposely taking photos with an idea of where the watermark will be placed. I personally enjoy the publicity of Pinterest as it is one of my main blog view sources for new readers, but I also agree that the digital landscape in general is totally fraught when it comes to copyright and courtesy. Growing pains.

      Funny that you mention that last bit... it JUST happened to me on a foreign site. I was at first miffed about my pictures being used without my consent, but when I translated the text with Google I realized that all of the words were mine as well. Urg!

  3. Thank you for the very useful tips!

  4. I'm so glad to have discovered you through NatCroMo 2016! I'm grateful to have found your terrific post about pattern writing while my first ideas are in their fledgling stages! I promise not to become attached to "my baby." :-D I'm certain that your tips will ease at least some challenges through this learning curve. Thanks so much for your sage advice! Best of luck with the book and/or mag publishing process!

    1. Yay, I'm so glad you're here, too! That is my greatest hope; to be helpful. Glad to know I am putting good content out there, though I am hardly a "sage" :p


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