Tag Archives: patterns

I wanna hold your haaaaand…

Well, I’m not sure if I do, really, but is that what you want?

The familiar question of handholding in pattern writing came up again on Twitter this week. 

Dependency issues 

This conversation tends to provoke strong feelings, so I’m going to come out right now with my opinion. I say absolutely, definitely maybe.

No fence sitting for me. 

The thing is, I’ve actually been changing my mind about it this very afternoon, in the course of a mental conversation with myself. (Don’t judge. I have kids under 5. Most days I’m my own best company.) I’d dashed off a comment to Angela in which I started off saying, well, basically yes (and for the record, in my own patterns I certainly try for maximum clarity), but by the end of three paragraphs I was already questioning myself. And after hitting submit, I kept thinking about it, and, well…

I think knitters of the past were more “independent”. I think modern knitters do expect a lot more handholding. But I think that the handholding can actually promote more creativity, better skills and ultimately even more independence. Wow. I think I’m coming over all attachment parent-y on pattern writing.

Here’s my earlier comment:

The question about “dependent knitters” I think comes from comparing modern patterns with the kind that were published a few decades ago. The further back you go, the less detail the patterns contain (to the point of excessive mystification and frustration, if you read Franklin Habit’s columns!). But even back in the 1980s there was a LOT more expectation that knitters would basically know, or figure out, what was required. Things like “at the same time” or “repeat for other side, reversing shaping”. Those terms are still common enough, but increasingly avoided by designers because they make knitters cry.

There were probably a whole bunch of reasons for the higher level of expectation then, and reasons why pattern writers now are able (and increasingly expected) to give more instructions. Eg self-publishing designers don’t have to worry about magazine space constraints. That said, a lot of customers will complain if the pattern contains “too much” detail, making it longer and more expensive to print. Some may even be irritated by having every detail prescribed, eg which cast-on to use! (Seriously, do you expect that and BO method in every pattern? Do you actually spend time thinking about it for every project? I’m honestly curious about this because most knitters have their favoured, stand-by methods and only use something else when there’s a very specific reason, which would certainly be specified in the pattern. I wouldn’t expect a standard sweater for instance to start with “Cast on, using the cable or long-tail cast-on methods…”)

All of which is to say – there is of course a lot of benefit in providing plenty of detail. I know that I’ve learned a lot of new techniques from carefully written and detailed patterns. But it’s interesting to ponder how recently knitters were dealing with very different instructions, and must have been much more “independent” as a result. (But of course knitting was then a more common skill, *and* the techniques used were perhaps less varied…)

It’s this last bit that I’ve been chewing over. I’m not a knitting historian, but I’m pretty sure knitting techniques were far more regionally restricted in the past than they are in the glorious internet age. There’s a reason techniques are known by names like “Continental” or “English style”, for instance. I bet you can think of a few people you know who’ve been knitting for half a century or more and churned out FSM knows how many sweaters, but always use the same increase method. Whereas you can find a crowd of relative n00bs having a rollicking discussion about the relative merits of kfb, m1 and lifted increases.

People may learn new tricks because they go looking – or because they stumble upon them. If you are perfectly happy making sweaters the way you’ve always done it, and you’re used to patterns that assume you pretty much know how to do it, it probably isn’t going to occur to you to look for a different way. But if you find a pattern that says “Cast on 20sts using the Turkish cast-on”, welp, right away you’re going to be trying to figure out this particular Turkish delight. If you’re lucky, the pattern writer will have included a little tutorial. (Thank you, Ann Kingstone!) If not, hello Google. But either way, unless you read through the pattern, figure out that this is recommended because it’s a single-row provisional cast-on and you just so happen to already know a really awesome single-row provisional cast-on that will totally work instead, it’s upskilling time. 

Another point: while some nervous novices are careful to look for beginner-friendly patterns – especially when trying a new-to-them kind of project, eg socks – more cocky ambitious types are likely to try their hands at things that may be considered advanced, in the expectation that if they know their knit from their purl, they can follow instructions and get a decent result. Most times, they will. If, however, they happen to pick a lovely lace sock pattern that says at a crucial point simply “Work your favourite heel” (oh yes, I’ve seen this)… well, this is not ideal. Especially if, say, that lovely lace sock is the only knitting they’ve packed for a long train journey, with poor mobile and wifi reception. Not that I’m overthinking this.  

Since I started knitting back in the 80s, I do tend to have a bit of latent snobbery about being able to work with the more minimalist instructions. I do kind of think that everyone should be able to handle a bit of shaping on both sides of a piece at the same time, reversed from the first side, without breaking a sweat. I also think that everyone should be able to read their knitting, knit lace while watching TV, drop stitches (on purpose) and ladder them up again to fix errors 20 rows down, in cable patterns, in the dark. Ok. Maybe not that last bit. I think I have maybe got unrealistically high expectations, based on the fact that I grew up in a family that was all (Dad included) pretty handy with the sticks and string, and reading knitting patterns was considered about as basic as reading recipes. (Actually… thinking about my mother’s cooking… make that way, way, way more basic than reading recipes.)

There is perhaps a place for patterns that expect you to already have a certain framework on which to hang their specifics. But using patterns that spell it all out will actually equip knitters with a whole arsenal of frameworks. (That can’t be the right collective noun, but just go with it.) Those knitters will, soon enough, be tweaking patterns on the fly, using the techniques gleaned from all those handholding, dependence-inducing modern patterns: “Eh, no, I don’t like that method. The shadow wrap short rows are much neater and easier.” 

Think over-dependence on instruction is a bad thing? Want to breed confident, multi-skilled, independent knitters? Job done.