It's a wide, wide world of knitting out there, and it's getting wider. Every day new knitting patterns are added to the worldwide library, through almost every means possible - monthly and quarterly magazines, printed books, online periodicals, local yarn shops, yarn company leaflets and websites, and online blogs. Many designers now self-publish patterns through online channels such as Craftsy, Ravelry, Patternfish, and more. This diverse combination gives us a wonderful amount of choice of patterns to knit from, and also many ways for budding knitwear designers to publish and circulate their patterns.
So if you are a knitter embarking on writing your own patterns for self-publication or free distribution there is a huge range of ways for you to put your pattern out into the world. It can be very exciting to see your creation through, from the idea phase all the way to writing the pattern and watching others knit the same thing from your own instructions. If you are new to the process, you might want to start with a simpler project such as an accessory (like a hat or mittens), since these are less complex than large garments and will allow you to get a feel for the process before diving in to more adventurous patterns. However, regardless of the kind of pattern you are writing, there are several steps you can take to ensure your pattern will be clear and "knittable" for a broad audience.
An important consideration to begin with is that it is impossible to predict the level of knowledge with which a given knitter will come to your pattern. Many publication companies or pattern designers choose to assign a broad skill classification to their pattern for this reason: you may be familiar with labels such as "beginner," "easy," "intermediate," and "advanced." The Craft Yarn Council offers one such set of standardized categories. For example, a hat pattern worked flat with simple stripes and a small amount of finishing and shaping would qualify as an "easy" pattern, but a hat worked in the round including cabled stitches would qualify as "intermediate." Another similar approach is to be specific about what skills are necessary to successfully complete your pattern: write down what skills the knitter will need to know in order to execute your pattern (for example: working knit and purl, sewing seams, and following a chart), and then they can decide for themselves whether they are ready to tackle it. You could include these in the pattern description or in a separate list.
Before tackling the pattern instructions themselves, you will need to be sure you provide a clear list of the materials your knitter will need. Identify the yarn, needles, and any other tools or notions that are required. If the yarn you have selected is very unique or harder to access, it is a good idea to be specific here about the kind of yarn required, so that the knitter will be able to easily substitute a yarn more readily available to them. For example, noting that the project requires "X yards of worsted weight plied wool yarn," is a useful piece of information which a knitter can take a long to the yarn shop when she is buying supplies.
Hand in hand with a materials list comes gauge. Be sure to note the gauge for the pattern ("14 sts/18 rows over 4 ins in stockinette stitch on 6.0mm/US 10 needles," for example), and consider offering both a pattern gauge (for example the gauge over cable pattern or lace pattern) and a stockinette gauge for the same needle size, for even more accuracy. Don't be shy about encouraging knitters to swatch first to be sure of their gauge, since pattern gauge is one of the most crucial pieces of information knitters have to refer to. Make sure you have taken time on your own to ensure you have swatched with the yarn and taken gauge measurements that you are confident in.
The most time consuming part of pattern drafting is usually writing the notes, since this means calculating the stitch counts and shaping instructions for many different sizes. This is often referred to as "grading" the pattern for a selection of sizes. Your first step is to decide how many sizes you would like to include and from there, use your gauge measurement to calculate stitch counts for that range. Remember that the more sizes you include, the more time consuming it will be for you to write the instructions (and likewise for your technical editor), but it will also make your pattern more accessible to a wider range of knitters. For example, if you are writing a sweater pattern, consider that women with bust sizes less than 36" or larger than about 48" are those most likely to be under-represented in modern pattern selections. If your pattern is for a smaller accessory (such as a hat or scarf) and written for only one size, be clear about this in your pattern description and consider offering tips on how it could be modified to produce a smaller or larger item if desired.
The Craft Yarn Council also offers a suggested set of size guidelines for child and adult garments, so this is a good place to start when writing patterns for multiple sizes. If you are less familiar with writing patterns for large garments (especially sweaters), it is wise to consult a few references on the subject. Knitwear Design Workshop by Shirley Paden, Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns and Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns by Ann Budd, Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book by Vogue Knitting Magazine, and even some of the reference chapters in Stitch n' Bitch by Debbie Stoller are all good places to start. As you build your experience you will become more familiar with the steps required to achieving a clear and complete set of pattern instructions. You can also take a class on pattern drafting right here on Craftsy!
Do work to include clear charts for any stitch patterns included in your pattern instructions, as well as photographs of the finished item. Give the knitter a clear sense of what the garment looks like as a whole item and in small details, and this will help them to know what it is they are working towards. Additionally, include size indications for the finished item (hat measures 20" around at brim after washing and blocking), so that knitters will be able to judge if it will fit them. Finally, for large, shaped garments such as sweaters, be sure that you have included a pattern schematic that shows the finished measurements and dimensions of the finished item.
Once you have completed your notes, it is advisable to send them to a technical editor to help correct any mathematical or written errors, and if possible a fellow knitter who will "test knit" the instructions to be sure that they can be executed successfully. Inquire in your local knitting circles to find out who may offer such services nearby.
Pattern writing conventions and expectations change over time. If you compare a pattern written this year with one from fifty years ago, you will notice many differences in their written style. Overall, it is best to imagine yourself in the "shoes" of an experienced knitter and a beginner knitter: would both of these people be able to complete your pattern with ease? If not, what different or additional information would you be inclined to provide the less experienced knitter? Beginning with these kinds of considerations will help you to write a clear pattern that knitters can interpret and assess for themselves.