what makes a pattern


the percentage theory out there is that when you change 10% of a pattern, it’s a new pattern. so what is 10% of a pattern? and, frankly, what i’m more interested in is what makes a particular pattern successful? let us talk scarves. a shorter or longer scarf? narrower or wider width? different yarn? how many ways can you really change it?

consider the my so called scarf pattern. the ingenuity in that pattern is that someone discovered that that particular stitch pattern (it’s been around for quite a while because it’s in one of the barbara walker treasuries) looks great with the manos variegated yarn. brilliant, really.

so what makes a pattern? there’s color. yarn choice. shape. design. combinations of stitches. then there’s the less measurable – ingenuity. creativity. skill at execution. what is a pattern made of? or rather, what am i, or any designer, made of?

the thing that i love about some of my favorite designers is that they take traditional knitting and add a flare without losing the traditional. desingers like eunny jang and veronik avery come to mind. although i have a serious lean towards these designers, i am not them. my so called scarf, my favorite designers and me? all very very different.

so. my theory is that different designers join all of the things list above (can you think of any more?) in different ways, which makes their designs ‘them’ and unique and interesting. so what equation am i? what equation is your favorite designer?

i think i might rely heavily upon my color choice/yarn combinations. not that that is bad, but it’s funny to me that i’m so far from my favorite designers. maybe it has something to do with the way i started designing – getting approached by my editor. and mix in a whole lot of the craft fair part of my business – viable designs that people can wear, not too much time so it will be worth selling, yet interesting enough to keep my interest etc. it’s interesting what shapes us – that must be a part of designing too. for me, my mother is an artist also – and i have a good deal of natural ability from her. nature? nurture? who knows, but it has been there as long as i can remember. pretty sure my natural artistic ability plays a humongous role, maybe a little bit is influenced by the art degree and a big dose of the color combinations of me as a painter.

those are my thoughts. more thoughts on pattern writing to come… and maybe even (gasp) my first independently published pattern available in the shop (both etsy and the yarn store). i’m not promising anything – just saying.

happy holidays!

p.s. ben traded in some classical cds for the wizard of oz yesterday and we watched it last night. the first person dorothy sees when she wakes up in the twister? a nice old woman sitting in a rocking chair knitting :)

4 thoughts on “what makes a pattern

  1. Only 10%, really? That doesn’t seem like a whole lot to me. I’ve been wrestling with finding the “perfect” toddler mitten pattern* and ended up converting Louisa Harding’s baby mittens. I upsized them and worked them in the round instead of flat. Does that make it an entirely new pattern?

    *And so for me, knitting for children, function becomes the most important part of design. Unfortunately the aesthetics come later.

  2. Very interesting questions. I think my favourite kind of pattern is one that has the possibility for infinite variation…does that make it less of a pattern though? I don’t know, a design that is both creative and inspires creativity.
    Looking forward to seeing and hearing more about your pattern-writing adventures!

  3. I’v been thinking about this post. I love your eye for putting shape, texture, color and decoration together, and giving us something new and unique. On the other hand I’m disturbed by knitters who “publish” a pattern that to me seems to just be, well, them knitting.
    Maybe I’m harder on this than I should be. Where did you get the 10% theory? And as you asked, where is 10% of a project? Knitting is such an ancient craft, it is hard to say what is a pattern or design and what isn’t. I think about this a LOT!

    ps I’m looking forward to your book, April 08 will be a good month for knitting books in my very biased opinion!

  4. I think a “design” exists when you picture something in your mind and then you figure out how to knit it, what to use, how to tell other people how to knit it, write it down, test it, and have made something new in the world. The design includes not only the stitches used, but also the yarn used, needle sizes, drape, edgings chosen or not chosen, and in the pattern itself your own unique voice as a pattern writer (which is a different skill than designer).

    Crucial to this definition, for me, the item does not have to be unique in all the world. That would be a tremendously difficult standard to achieve. It’s more the process that counts, in my mind.

    I agree with Christabel that I love patterns that are simply elegant and allow room for creativity. I think those can still be “my designs” if I conceive of them in the way described above. In fact, those are the designs I’m most proud of. The very elegant ones that don’t involve a whole lot of fussy work, but are satisfying to the knitter nonetheless, and that represent my own satisfying work. (I have a picture of one such design in progress on my blog today).

    I have a few things on ravelry called my “designs” that do not meet these criteria, but that’s just how ravelry works. There is not category for “my common sense guidelines for this easy scarf.” So some things get called my designs or my patterns that are soooo simple I would not define them as such.

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