Monday, October 27, 2014

Making a Case for Learning to Read a Written Pattern

As a designer and pattern writer, I have noticed a trend in the last few years toward video tutorials to learn new patterns, designs, stitches, etc. I have been asked many times if I have video tutorials for my patterns, and I am sad to say that I struggle in the technological side of things. It may actually be easier than I am thinking it is, but the thought of it overwhelms me so I haven't made any progress in that department. Maybe it will happen in the future. I hope so. (12/18/19 UPDATE: I do make videos now and my YouTube channel is here. You know I would love it if you would subscribe!)

With so many requests for videos, I have actually begun to be concerned that they are becoming a crutch for crocheters and knitters. Now, before you shoot me down, hear me out! I am a user of YouTube videos! I admit it! For example, even though I can usually figure out just about anything I have the hardest time working the Bavarian stitch from written instructions. 

                                                            Bavarian Stitch Afghan 

                                                  Lush Garden Bavarian Stitch Afghan

It's like the words become gobblety-gook on the paper and I just can't make heads or tails of it. However, when I pop on over to YouTube and watch Crochet Geek's Bavarian stitch instructions, it all becomes clear and I can move forward with whatever project I'm wanting to start. I don't work the Bavarian stitch very often, so every time I get a hankering to do it- I have to look it up! [I even had to look it up to start my Lush Garden Bavarian Stitch Afghan (pictured above). I include a link to Crochet Geek's video in those instructions as well (no sense in trying to reinvent the wheel).] Another video that I recently watched was how to make a one-row buttonhole in knitting. I will never say that YouTube videos are wrong, or that they shouldn't be used. I'm just here to make a case for learning how to read a pattern. 

When I learned how to crochet my Grandmother sat me down with a hook and some yarn and gave me basic instructions. I made a newborn hat, and I learned how to make what is today called a "Magic Square" potholder. That was 35 years ago. There was no YouTube. I lived over 4 hours away from my Grandma, so I got very few lessons from her in person. I used my Mom's old wool from her knitting days and made really horrendous Barbie clothes. I remember seeing them years later and I didn't even recognize them as clothes. They were just blobs of yarn. At the time, though, they were the most brilliant, fashionable things my Barbie had ever owned! I made the yarn work for me! LOL 

When I was about 15-ish, I put my crochet hook away. I had a hard time making myself finish anything. I think it's just the age. I see the same thing happen with a lot of the young people I teach. They all start out wanting to make an afghan. I love the desire, I just know the drive isn't there and they probably won't finish it. I didn't pick a crochet hook back up until I was about 26. My daughter was 3 and we were at a craft fair. I saw these crocheted scrunchies and decided "Hey! I know how to do that!" I went to the grocery store (small town, USA), bought a skein of baby yarn and a D hook and took it home. I sat down with the scrunchy I bought and taught myself how to make it. From that moment on I was totally hooked on crocheting. I'm not proud to admit that there were days my kids lived on cheerios and yogurt...but, they did. I was a woman obsessed. 

An example of 90's crochet pattern books.
 Not exciting, unless you count the creepy clown pattern.
That's how I got my start, but...I was never taught to read a pattern. When I got back into crochet there were not a lot of pattern options, but there were some really cute designs I wanted to make for my kids. Still...I couldn't read a pattern. I couldn't stand what I was coming up with on my own, and I was SO LIMITED by only knowing how to do a single crochet and double crochet. I don't think I was even working chains and slip stitches correctly at the time. My husband's Grandmother walked me through learning how to make a granny square again, but, even then I was limited. So, I called my Grandma. She talked me through a half double crochet on the phone. Then, later, she talked me through what the different symbols meant in patterns. Mostly I learned by looking at the symbol charts and the sample stitch pictures. Boy, oh boy, did I frog a lot. I would rip out projects so many times my yarn would completely lose its elasticity. And we are talking about the yarn quality of the '90s.....not amazing. 
So, what is the big deal about reading a pattern? Think about it like this: what if the Internet stopped working tomorrow? What if you no longer had access to all those videos to walk you step by step through every pattern? What if, and this is far-fetched, the Zombie Apocalypse happened and you were left to be the mitten, hat, and scarf maker for your Zombie Apocalypse survival gang, and all you had were the patterns you had printed off the computer way back when? Will you be able to make the needed items? 

I know my questions may seem silly, so let's look at it logically. Written patterns are a treasure. They are something that can be handed down from one generation of crafters to the next. I have many that my Grandmother has passed down to me. Our society has become so technology-driven that many of the "arts" of old are beginning to pass away; like reading a crochet or knitting pattern. I find it ridiculous that even manuals aren't included with products anymore. You have to go online and download it. What happens if you don't have access to the Internet? I had a friend that recently lost thousands of saved patterns because her iPad crashed. How do you even remember what you had saved so you can go back and get it again? It seems strange, but I know people who do not have the Internet and do not have an email address. That's a completely foreign concept to many of us, but they are still alive and functioning. Probably better than a lot of us that are completely consumed by our technology tether. You would be doing yourself a favor to expand your brain capacity (I'm not saying you aren't already smart), challenge yourself, and learn how to read patterns. The Craft Yarn Council put out an interesting article on the health benefits of knitting. Knitting and crochet, alike, challenge the brain. They make you focus, do the math, and use your creativity (I hate math, but I love crochet math). In my humble opinion, it's not JUST about making something. It's about WORKING the pattern. Looking at a piece of paper and figuring out what is being a puzzle. I love puzzles. Besides, you can call yourself bilingual. Crochet really is it's own language. Haha! It's not just a bunch of symbols and abbreviations. It's your ticket to turning a ball of string into something genius!

If you use YouTube exclusively, do you ever feel bad that a pattern you really want to make doesn't have a video? I don't want you to feel bad. I want you to be able to pick up any pattern you see and make it. I know that sometimes it's about being a visual learner. Picture tutorials have become almost commonplace in many written patterns anymore. I know that the patterns that I have written in the last year or two have pictures included to help you make the pattern. We don't always have people surrounding us to show us all the stitches, so I understand the need to use YouTube as a tool to teach you something new. I use it to learn new knit stitches when I just can't figure out what the instructions are saying. The one thing I want to encourage all of us about is not to allow ourselves to become indifferent, or passive, about our craft. Let's not become so reliant upon technology that we actually cripple our creativity. Liberate yourself! Become independent! Learn to read written patterns, it can only make you better! Use YouTube as the stepping stone it is, not as a vice or crutch. ;)

Here are a few resources from the Craft Yarn Council to get you started down your pattern reading journey: 

Here is a very well written blog post on How to Read a Written Pattern from Stephie's Corner: crochet 101

Happy Crocheting!


  1. I'm a pattern reader from way back and I have to say it takes a very special project to use a video on how to make something.

    I have used them for small items and certain techniques like the sc and dc foundation stitch.

    I like the written word not the video and am upset when I find something that doesn't have a translation or pattern to go with their video.

    Good thing there are now choices for all of us tho.

    thanks again

  2. I can't imagine having the patience to work through a pattern by video. I like videos for looking at stitches that I can't figure out from a flat picture in a book. Although I'll say nothing substitutes for being able to speak to a human when you have a question. However, I like being able to sit on my couch, watch TV, and work from a written pattern.

    I will say my symbol work is weak. I prefer a written pattern to a symbol charted one. Our crochet group did some symbol work recently and while I know more magazines are printing dual written/symbol directions I still prefer words to symbols.

  3. Thank you for your outstanding post today. You are so right. I am one that can't read or understand a pattern. I have missed out on so many projects that I'd love to crochet because I can't read the pattern. It's like a foreign language to me. I'm going to try to find someone in my area that will sit with me and walk me through a pattern. I have a strong feeling that once someone sits with me and we read the pattern together, I'll be able to have a good understanding.
    I love You Tube but seldom make anything from a video. They usually go too fast for me and I'm not computer savvy. Stopping and going on a video doesn't work for me. I get too frustrated.
    Thanks for the encouragement to ''get me act together'' and learn to read a pattern. You are right on target, in my opinion, about being dependent on videos and pictures to follow instead of reading a pattern.
    I follow your blog constantly but am not one to comment often. Tonight I just HAD to thank you for this excellent and encouraging post.

  4. My mom taught me to crochet when I was a kid but all I ever did was chains. Long, long chains. For some reason I never got any further than that. When I got older (college age) My mom and grandma retaught me crochet and knitting over one amazing family vacation. I forgot it all almost as soon as I got home. Again I stopped. Eventually, I sent all my yarn, hooks, and needles to my sister. Within about a month of giving all my stuff away, I wanted to do it again (isn't that how it works). I retaught myself by watching videos on youtube. It was awesome. It came back to me very quickly. But as soon as I got the hang of it, I turned off the computer and switched to printed patterns. No one wants to knit at the computer. That's no fun. I wanted to sit on my comfy couch.
    I still on occasion watch videos to learn something new if the written instructions are confusing. But that's not very often. I actually really need to get my patterns organized. They are all on loose paper. Scattered among the different places I like to sit. It's all a big mess :)

  5. My story is similar to yours - I learned the basic stitches as a child, created some truly awful stuff, then gave it up until I was an adult. But I picked up a crochet book along with my hook and ball of yarn, and taught myself how to read patterns. It has been wonderful, and crocheting is as much a part of my life as eating and sleeping. I love being able to look at a pattern and think, I can make this. A few years ago I learned how to read the chart patterns, where they draw the stitches instead of writing them out, and it opened a whole other world of patterns available to me. I'm glad my mom took the time to build my crochet foundation when I was young, and I'm glad I took the time to teach myself more when I grew up.

  6. Thank you for sharing a link to my post :)


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