Knitting Patterns as Technical Writing

As you may already know, I am a knitwear designer. This means I come up with ideas for things I think other people may want to knit and make them. Then, and this is the part that distinguishes a knitwear designer from a knitter, I teach other people how to make exactly the same thing by writing a pattern. A pattern is like a recipe. It conveys the information necessary to recreate the original:

  • tools needed (mixing bowl / knitting needle size)
  • how much of each material to have on hand (1 cup of flour / 300 yards of thick wool yarn)
  • size of final result (serves 4 / size 12)
  • directions

Just like recipes, patterns vary widely in the amount of detail provided. Remember the recipe your Aunt May wrote for you after Thanksgiving 15 years ago... the one everyone tries to make but it never tastes the same? Patterns are like that too. If you leave out a step or accidentally change an important detail your instant mashed potatoes become instant potato soup.

Like cookbooks, there are conventions and specific terminology used to help the patterns be more universally understood.

And audience matters. Cookbooks and knitting books for kids and beginners spell out the steps more thoroughly and provide extra details that a book for more experienced cooks or knitters will not.

So now you know how knitting patterns relate to an everyday thing you do: eat!

But how do knitting patterns relate to technical writing?

Let's ask the Society for Technical Communication (STC). They are a widely known and very large professional organization focusing on technical writing and related skills.

According to the STC:

Technical communication is a broad field and includes any form of communication that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics:

- Communicating about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations.

- Communicating by using technology, such as web pages, help files, or social media sites.

- Providing instructions about how to do something, regardless of how technical the task is or even if technology is used to create or distribute that communication.

Is knitting a specialized topic?

Why yes it is!

Do knitting patterns provide instructions about how to do something?

Yes, they do!

Can this information be presented using technology?

Yes again!

Technical writers create materials that are easy to understand by the intended audience. They research a topic and then present the information they learned clearly. They simplify the complex.

This quote sums up the whole idea very well and is, in a way, the philosophy of my life:

What all technical communicators have in common is a user-centered approach to providing the right information, in the right way, at the right time to make someone’s life easier and more productive.

- Society for Technical Communication

That's how I write patterns. That's why I'm studying UX. This is why I teach all levels of knitting classes. This is why I do the things I do.

And, for you, here is a knitting pattern I wrote. It's aimed a beginners who know a little bit about knitting.

Pattern Design
Pattern Design