There is no question that the problem I hear the most is teaching crochet is that students struggle to read patterns. The combination of learning both a new skill and the new language of crochet patterns is tough - there is no doubt. This is then often combined with poorly written or quality controlled pattern writing and can cause a lot of frustration.
What to Look for in a Pattern?
I am not going to beat around the bush here - there are a lot of bad patterns out there. Mistakes creep through no matter how hard a designer tried, but when you are starting out, there are a few things you can look for to quality check your patterns before you begin.
- What do other people say?
Having a pattern recommended to you is a great way to start - maybe via a blog or a super-awesome Facebook group or a friend. Knowing someone who has made it and recommends it probably the best way to weed out the unreadable patterns. If you have found the pattern on a blog post, read the comments to see if there were any problems. Alternatively Ravelry has a rating and difficulty system, so people who have completed the pattern can give feedback on how the pattern worked for them. This is a great system for beginners to both search for the level of pattern they are after AND weed out the good from the bad.
- Is is tech edited and/or tested?
A technical editor checks the readability and maths of a pattern. They check that the instructions will actually produce what is intended and the wether the reader has all the info they need. A tester debugs the pattern and double checks the sizing. Both are elements of quality control and important steps in releasing patterns. No matter how many times a designer looks at something, mistakes are missed and another set of eyes is crucial to get it right.
I work with the ultra fabulous Joanne Scrace to tech edit all of my patterns - even the free ones.
- Does it come from a known entity?
While I absolutely believe that we should support new designers, if you are just learning crochet, it may be an idea to stick with known designers, magazines and books for those first couple of patterns. These sources will have quality control measures in place and it is there business to make things work. Many designers who sell patterns will also have free patterns and it is worth checking those out before you buy to see how the designer works and if their style is OK for you.
Free isn't always free
There is so often a temptation to always go for free patterns...and who doesn't like a freebie? However, a word of caution. As with everything online, there can be a problem with quality control. Use caution, read over the pattern first to see if there are any blindingly obvious elements that don't look right and contact the designer if you get stuck. Most of us want to help you make our designs - that is why we got into this job in the first place!!
Reading a Written Crochet Pattern
When you get to the basic instructions of a crochet pattern, there are a number of things you need to know in addition to the common abbreviations. In many ways, its like a code or another language that tells you how and where to make stitches. Unfortunately, each designer and publication will do things a little differently, which can add to the confusion. While I don't believe that there should be any sort of dogma in pattern writing, people do need to understand what you are telling them to do. And while testers and tech editors can really help with pattern clarity, the reader still needs some basic pattern information.
Let's look at an imaginary line of pattern:
At the beginning of the line, you should have some indication whether you are working in rounds or in rows.
Immediately following this, you will have an indication of what row/round you are currently on. Numbers in brackets (parentheses) refer to the corresponding instructions for different sizes, working from left to right, smallest to largest. If there is a "-" in the instruction, this means that this particular instruction doesn't apply to that size.
Next up, you should have some indication of what the beginning chain will be. You should also have an instruction, either in the pattern or in the beginning instructions of the pattern, of how this stitch will be counted in your stitch count. This is done because the first stitch at the beginning of a row or round in crochet needs to be raised up to the correct height of the rest of the following stitches, otherwise the work will be sloped. A designer needs to make a decision whether or not this is counted as a stitch and what works best with the pattern.
In this example, the next section of instruction means to make 2 half double crochet stitches into the next stitch of the previous round (the pattern tells us the previous round was a double crochet) and then make 1 half double crochet in each of the next 2 stitches. This is often when there variation occurs in crochet patterns. When I first started writing patterns, I would have written "HDC2, 2HDC" for the same line...not terribly clear. If you do come across problems in any designers patterns - ASK! Don't get in a muddle. Its not worth the frustration.
In this case, that line of pattern is in square brackets (some designers may use normal parenthesis/brackets) . This tells us that bit of pattern is repeated the number of times directly after the second bracket. In this case, 4 times. There may be variation in relation to sizes, following the same left to right, smallest to largest order.
When instructions are preceded by a *, this means to repeat that sequence of stitches as many times as indicated, usually to the end of the round or row.
'Join' means to join the round with a slip stitch. This is usually used at the end when working in rounds.
'Turn' means to turn your work. This may not be in the line if there is a general instruction at the beginning of the pattern for how to deal with turning.
The stitch counts at the end of the row tell you how many stitches you should have worked in that row or round. This may be followed with the specific stitch that is used in the round/row, the word "stitches" or nothing.
Does that help anyone? I certainly hope so!! Experienced crocheters, have I forgotten anything?
(I could not have ever written this post without the stellar tech editing skillz of Ms Joanne Scrace, she taught me most everything I know.)
Tomorrow we will look at Reading Crochet Charts. Who is excited?!?