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What designers consider when writing a knitting pattern

 

Have you ever worked on a pattern and wondered what the designer was thinking when they created the design? Stay with me today and tomorrow and I’ll take you on that ride!

This week, we’re playing with Papyrus, a lovely, soft, summery yarn. With a fiber content of 78% cotton and 22% silk, Papyrus is perfect for stylish summer knits.

 

Papyrus comes in what I refer to as "European style balls." Years ago, I was advised to work these from the outside of the ball, rather than pulling from the inside, as this style of ball tends to collapse faster than the more oblong shaped ones. For this reason, a yarn bowl is a very convenient accessory.
Papyrus comes in what I refer to as “European style balls.” Years ago, I was advised to work these from the outside of the ball, rather than pulling from the inside, as this style of ball tends to collapse faster than the more oblong shaped ones. For this reason, a yarn bowl is a very convenient accessory.

 

As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, I had hoped to design a tunic for myself from Papyrus, but time got away on me, so I’ve designed a toddler’s tunic instead.

Come along on my designing journey! I want to show you why patterns should be considered a guideline, and why I wrote this pattern the way I did.

 

This tunic will fit a size 2 toddler. The pattern has been written for 12-18 months, size 2, and size 4.
This tunic will fit a size 2 toddler. The pattern has been written for 12-18 months, size 2, and size 4.

 

In this post, I give the pattern for the tunic from the hem up to the bodice. After that, I list the abbreviations for the pattern, and following that is a detailed run-through.

Child’s Tunic in Papyrus

skill level beginner

sizing

  • Small -12-18 months (20″ [51cm] finished chest)
  • Medium – size 2 (22″ [56cm] finished chest)
  • Large – size 4 (24″ [61 cm] finished chest)

materials

yarn

  • Papyrus, 1.75oz [50g] ball, 131yd [120m] per ball
  • 3 (3, 4) balls Col A (elderberry)
  • 1 ball each Col B (Camellia), Col C (Daffodil), and Col D (Gardenia)

needles

  • circular knitting needle size 6 [4mm], 16″ [40cm] long or size needed to obtain gauge
  • straight knitting needles size 5 [3.75mm]

other

  • stitch markers
  • tapestry needle

gauge 21 sts and 29 rows to 4″ [10cm]

Notes:
This piece is made in the round from the bottom hem to the bodice. The skirt is tapered by decreases at the sides – stitch markers are recommended at these points. Slip markers as necessary. The bodice is worked back-and-forth.

Instructions are given for size Small. Instructions for Medium and Large are given in brackets: S (M, L). If working from a printed pattern, highlight the instructions for the size you want to make ahead of time.

Skirt

With Col B, cast on 166 (174, 190) stitches. Join in the round, being careful not to twist the sts.
TIP Double check your stitch count!

Round 1: Pm, (k1, p1) for 82 (86, 94) sts, k1, pm, (p1, k1) to last st, p1.
Round 2: (p1, k1) around.
Round 3: (k1, p1) around.
Rounds 4-5: Repeat Rounds 2 and 3.
Round 6 (dec round): K2tog, (p1, k1) to 2 sts before marker, ssk, slm, p2tog, (k1, p1) to last 2 sts of round, ssp.
Rounds 7-11: Repeat Rounds 2 and 3 twice, then repeat round 2.
Round 12 (dec round): P2tog, (k1, p1) to 2 sts before marker, ssp, slm, k2tog, (p1, k1) to last 2 sts of round, ssk. Break yarn. Join Col C.
**Round 1: K around.
Repeat Round 2 to 12 above. Break yarn. ** Join Col D.
Repeat from ** to **. Join Col A.
Knit in stockinette stitch (K every round), working a decrease round on 6th and every following 6th (6th, 7th) round:
Dec. Round: *Slm, k2tog, k to 2 sts before marker, ssk; rep from *.
When there are 106 (114, 126) sts on the round, continue knitting without further decreases until work from cast on edge measures 13 (14, 15)” [32.5 (35, 38)]cm.

Abbreviations

K – knit
P – purl
k2tog – knit two stitches together
ssk – slip, slip, knit – slip one stitch knitwise, then slip the next stitch, also knitwise. Place these two stitches back onto the left needle with the left needle tip in front of the right needle tip, then knit the two stitches together
p2tog – purl two stitches together
ssp – slip slip purl.  slip one stitch knitwise, then slip the next stitch, also knitwise. Place these two stitches back onto the left needle together and remove the right needle. Purl these two stitches together by inserting the right needle tip into the two stitches from the back of the work, then wrap the yarn, draw the loop through and slip the two stitches off the left needle.
pm – place marker between the last stitch knit and the next stitch
slm – slip marker
rm – remove marker

The run-down

The title of a pattern should be pretty self-explanatory. Ideally, it should give the type of garment, the category of person it will fit, and sometimes the name or type of yarn (I could have said “in DK or double knitting yarn”, if I didn’t want to cite the proper name of my yarn in the title.)

Skill level is something that can get a bit murky. Ideally, it should be clear to the reader exactly who could properly execute the pattern, but different designers have different ideas of what a beginner knitter is vs. what an advanced knitter is. Some designers use “cutesy” descriptors for their skill level, but I’m challenged to know if “lumberjack” or “axe master” accurately describe beginner or intermediate.

As for sizing, not all patterns give the measurements clearly – most give measurements, but don’t always say if that measurement is for the finished chest of the garment, or if it’s the size of chest the garment will fit. There can be a difference! Ease is an important part of garment construction, so it’s helpful to know which is which in a pattern!

Materials – this is where the rubber starts to hit the road. Again, not all patterns include information such as fiber content, yardage, and weight but this opinionated knitter/ designer believes they should and here’s why:

Not all yarns stay with us forever. So, 15 years from now, when someone comes across this little pattern for a child’s tunic, it will be very helpful for them to know that it took 3 balls of yarn at 131 yards per ball to make the project. That way, if Papyrus is no longer available (and I hope it is, as it’s a beautiful yarn), our future knitter can go shopping and know how many yards he or she will need to complete the project.

Almost all patterns include the size and type of needles, but they don’t all say what length the circular needle needs to be. I’ve prescribed 16″ [40cm], because a 16″ needle should comfortably hold enough stitches for the hem of the largest size and for the least number of stitches on the smallest size.

Not all patterns include such notions as stitch markers and tapestry needles. For more advanced level patterns, a designer can assume that such things are already in a knitter’s tool kit and that they’ll know to grab them, but for absolute beginners, this information is helpful.

 

A beginner knitting pattern should include all the items necessary to complete the project -- even the stitch markers! When I took this photo, I had already knit the tunic. There's enough yarn here to make at least one more!
A beginner knitting pattern should include all the items necessary to complete the project — even the stitch markers! When I took this photo, I had already knit the tunic. There’s enough yarn here to make at least one more!

 

Gauge – now the rubber is really hitting the road! Gauge, or tension, is, in most cases, non-negotiable. It’s imperative that the knitter get this tension if the garment is to fit the person for whom it’s intended! “But what if I’m not getting that?” you ask. Then, we refer back to the materials section above where it says “or size required to obtain gauge.” And we do another sample until we get our gauge.

Having said that, there is some wiggle room: This pattern is a child’s tunic, and, knowing that children grow quickly, we can knit the larger size if our gauge is too tight, or a smaller size, if our gauge is looser than that prescribed. If I were making this top for me, though I would do a solid math calculation to make sure that working the pattern in a different size is going to fit. It bears saying, too, that working a pattern in a different size may mean I’ll use more yarn than the directions for my size prescribe. (Word to the wise!)

Not all patterns include notes, but over the years, I’ve come to enjoy seeing them. Often, notes give you little insights about what the designer’s thought process was, and in the case of beginner patterns, the more explanation the better, right?

 

Here's our skirt as far as the pattern takes us today. The following text talks about how I constructed it, and the decreases I used to shape the sides.
Here’s our skirt as far as the pattern takes us today. The following text talks about how I constructed it, and the decreases I used to shape the sides.

 

Now we tackle the actual pattern:

Normally, a pattern with several colors of yarn would begin with the main color, Col A. However, this pattern begins with 3 contrasting stripes, so we begin with Col B.

The cast on method is rarely prescribed in any pattern. Designers usually leave this up to the knitter. As a knitter progresses through their skill-building, they’ll learn new cast ons and adapt them to their use. If yours is an enquiring mind, I’ll fill you in: I used a long tail cast on because I like the edge it gives the bottom of a garment.

I’ve included two important things in the following instruction – double check your stitch count, and be careful not to twist the cast on. Very rarely would a pattern recommend double checking the stitch count, but because I want an absolute beginner to succeed with this project, I’ve included it.

The photos below show what twisted and non-twisted cast ons look like. The reason a twisted cast on is very bad is that the knitting will progress in a “twisted tube” and you don’t want that! By keeping the edge of that cast on inside the loop of the needle, with the stitches toward the outside, the knitting can progress as it should.

 

The photo on the left shows a cast on that has a twist in it (big blue arrow). In the photo on the right, the twist has been removed, and the stitches all lay pointing outward, in anticipation of the knitting to come.
The photo on the left shows a cast on that has a twist in it (big blue arrow). In the photo on the right, the twist has been removed, and the stitches all lay pointing outward, in anticipation of the knitting to come.

 

And so, we are ready to knit. In the first round, you’ll see that I’ve prompted where to place stitch markers – this is useful information to the beginner or intermediate knitter.

After the first few rounds, the directions say to repeat rounds 2 and 3 – this type of notation is often used in publications, especially printed ones, because it saves precious column space. It also saves the designer some typing, which reduces the chance for error. It’s quite easy for the knitter to refer back up to the previous two lines!

In this pattern, I’ve added “(decrease round)” to Rounds 6 and 12. Not all patterns would note this, and an absence of this instruction might make a pattern more directed at the intermediate or advanced knitter who might understand this just by reading the instruction for these rows. Because I’ve written this for a beginning knitter, however, I’ve flagged this in an effort to be helpful.

Let’s talk about the decreases. I’ve put 4 in the pattern: k2tog, p2tog, ssk, and ssp. Most beginner knitters will be familiar with the k2tog and p2tog, and likely ssk, but ssp? “What’s that,” you say?

With both ssk and ssp, you slip stitches knitwise, one at a time, from the left needle to the right one.

With ssk, you slip the stitches back onto the tip of the left needle so the right needle crosses behind the left one, then you wrap the yarn and draw the loop through, essentially knitting the stitches through the back of the loop.

For ssp, when you slip the stitches back onto the tip of the left needle, you take the right needle tip out, then re-insert it into those two slipped stitches from behind, almost pointing the right needle tip directly at yourself. Then, you wrap the yarn around the needle tip at the front of the work and draw the loop through to the back. Ssk is illustrated in the photo on the left, and ssp in the photo on the right.

This is a very fine point of detail, especially for a toddler’s jumper. This is a good time to note that patterns really are guidelines, and that there are no “knitting police”. When your toddler is moving around at the speed toddlers do, nobody is going to say “Oh, she should have done those as ssp instead of p2tog!” But, if I was sizing this pattern up for an adult size, I would want this amount of detail in my garment.

 

 Two photographs showing the difference of execution between an ssk and ssp. On the top, I'm about to knit the ssk, and below, the ssp. Ssp is a bit of a tricky maneuver, and if it's causing you problems, substitute it out for p2tog. Nobody's going to notice the difference when that toddler goes speeding by! Note that my yarn should have been at the front of the work in the lower picture.

Two photographs showing the difference of execution between an ssk and ssp. On the top, I’m about to knit the ssk, and below, the ssp. Ssp is a bit of a tricky maneuver, and if it’s causing you problems, substitute it out for p2tog. Nobody’s going to notice the difference when that toddler goes speeding by! Note that my yarn should have been at the front of the work in the lower picture.

 

OK, home stretch – just 3 more things to cover:

First, asterisks – inevitably, when working up a pattern for knitting, the reader is going to come across the humble asterisk (*). It may be the most helpful symbol used in knitting. Its primary use is to indicate that a series of instructions that follow will be repeated at least once in the row. Sometimes, asterisks also denote that a number of rows will be repeated. Often in such cases, two or more asterisks are used.

On our decrease round, when you follow this direction “*Slm, k2tog, k to 2 sts before marker, ssk; rep from *” you will reach the end of the round when you reach the semi colon the second time. The semi colon is also an important signal to the pattern reader – it usually signals the end of the repeat.

An example of a series of repeating rows appears after the first color stripe. After joining in Col C, two asterisks (**) indicate the beginning of the next color stripe. The two asterisks before “Join Col D” signify the end of that repeat – think of them as “starry little brackets.”

But, what’s with that vague instruction “Knit in stockinette stitch (K every round) working a decrease round on 6th and every following 6th (6th, 7th) round:”? This is just an efficient way of writing the pattern. I could have written it like this:

Rounds 1-5: K around.
Round 6 (Dec round):

but that would have given me a problem with the larger size, where decreases occur on the 7th round instead of the 6th, as with the other 2 sizes. The instruction as I have written it in the pattern, above, is the way most other designers will write it, and it brings me to this important point: read all the way through a pattern before you begin. If you stopped reading at “Knit in stockinette stitch every round,” and knitted merrily on, your tunic would have no shape at all above the stripes, and you would have more than 20 too many stitches when you got to the bodice!

The last point to touch on today is “continue knitting without further decreases.” Sometimes, this instruction will include a nod to maintaining a certain stitch pattern, but in this case, it literally means “knitting.” Because we’re making stockinette stitch in the round, every row will be knitted without any shaping, once the prescribed number of stitches are on the needle.

We’ll talk a bit more about this in tomorrow’s post, when I give you the pattern for the bodice, including the armhole, neck, and shoulder shaping.

 

This is part 4 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 3: Summery patterns for Papyrus, a summery yarn

 

About Cynthia MacDougall

Cynthia MacDougall is a multi-discipline craft artist who teaches knitting. She has taught at venues from Kingston, Ontario to Olds, Alberta. A designer and technical writer since the mid-1990s, Cynthia is currently a contributor and knitting editor for A Needle Pulling Thread and KNITmuch magazines. She is also the owner of Canadian Guild of Knitters which she operates for the love of Knit!

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