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One of the things I’ve done a lot over the past 20-odd years is: look at what Ann Shayne is doing, and do that thing. Ann has never steered me wrong, except maybe the time we ate all those Krystal burgers.

Some would call it copying. I call it homage, which is the sincerest form of copying.

In early December, at MDK’s holiday open house and shopportunity night, we welcomed a special guest vendor, Nashville’s own Camellia Fiber Company. Silbia Ro’s custom bases are lush, and her hushed palette glows. When I look at these colors, I see longing, and wistfulness; they are poetry. At the open house, I stood in front of these yarns for a long while, dithering, drooling, and undecided.

And then Ann started swanning around wearing Silbia’s sample Bawi Sweater. This boxy cloud/cloudy box of a pullover is created by holding together a strand of CFC Fuzzy Yak Lace in Milk Tea with CFC Sōm Aran, an ethereal mix of 51% baby alpaca, 9% merino, and 40% pima cotton. The fabric is sumptuous, irresistible. Ann went all in on the Bawi Sweater. I had to join her! She scooped up her Sōm Aran in the same colorway as the sample. I (eventually) chose the shade Midnight to go with my Milk Tea. Midnight is a dark, grayish blue with soul; it’s a shade that has Seen Some Things.

The yarn arrived in New York right before I set off on a late-January trip to Nebraska that held lots of quiet knitting time. I grabbed needles, printed out the pattern, and off I went.

A Concise Word on Bawi

If, like me, you have felt the urge to follow Ann Shayne to Bawi Sweater glory, there is something you should know. The instructions are in a style that, when Elizabeth Zimmermann was writing patterns, she called pithy.

Merriam-Webster defines pithy as: having substance and point: tersely cogent.

The Bawi Sweater pattern is exactly that: tersely cogent. It doesn’t hold your hand. The pattern absolutely is attainable to the average confident knitter (i.e., me), but it expects you to be able to do things like evenly distribute increases across the front of a sweater, and make adjustments to stitch count so that the sections of side ribbing flow smoothly into the ribbed hem.  In other words, it expects you to think.

I love a split hem. Up next: sleeves. I like them, they’re real big.

I have not knit a pithy pattern in a while, so I scratched my head here and there, and I flat-out ignored an instruction in one spot (the joinder of the body under the arms) where knitting across the back stitches made more sense to me than the front. (Not sure I’m right about that, but: reader, I knit across the back stitches, and everything worked out.)

The curved hemline shaping, done with short rows, is a thing of beauty, and the secret sauce of the fit. You can sort of see the wedges of short rows at the left and right sides, just above the ribbing.

I think this kind of pattern helps develop the knitting lobe of my brain. It reminds me that I actually have a grasp on how a top-down sweater works. It also reinforces our good old MDK Rule: no project is too ambitious if you crave the result enough. I want this sweater, and I’m smart and capable and strong, so when I hit a little knot of uncertainty, by cracky, I can figure it out, or phone a friend. Ultimately, it’s freeing. In some ways, it’s what knitting is all about.

What do you think of pithy patterns? Do you want every detail spelled out, or do you enjoy figuring some things out?

Mmmm, fuzzy yak.


  • what do i think about pithy patterns?

    my answer is – it depends!

    i don’t actually need to look at the pattern for Joseph’s Blankie of Many Colours other than to confirm the initial stitch count because I have knitted more than 30 of them (hello, my name is Ella and i’m a Log Cabin Baby blanket-aholic). i don’t pay much attention to sock patterns because i have knitted a lot of them too. fingerless mitts – i can’t remember the last time i even looked at the pattern for the plain vanilla ones i knock up using leftover sock yarn as i mainly rely on ‘handy measuring’ i.e. does it go on my hand?

    i do appreciate a lot of guidance and detailed instruction for anything involving colourwork. i’m still very nervous about the whole process but have managed a couple of cowls which turned out OK.

    i’ve only knitted a few top down yoked sweaters so i still need numbers of stitches between markers to get the top correct (and still count every stitch after every increase row!).

    do i have some patterns for Fair Isle and Icelandic yoked sweaters in my library (and the wool for a couple of them in my stash too)? why yes! have i knitted any of them yet? nope but maybe i just need to be brave and make a start.

  • I am an experienced knitter but I want straight forward exact directions for EVERYTHING. I have sat with instructions muttering, “how am I supposed to know this,” or after something is pointed out to me by my several knitting guru friends, after asking them for help with directions, I stop muttering and proclaim LOUDLY, “it should have said that in the directions.” I wrote recipes for years for the Boston Globe. Everything had to be spelled, out in detail. No assumed knowledge. I feel the same way about knitting instructions. Definitely not looking for pithy or humor.

    • I agree…I’ve been knitting a long time and I still want a pattern that is spelled out in detail; and some photos of how the trickier bits should look are very helpful. As with cooking, I like to follow the “recipe” the first time, then play around the next time, if I like something enough to make it again.

      • Amen!

    • I agree. The pattern instructions should be clear for all experience levels

    • Agree! I don’t want to be challenged, I just want to knit

      • I too agree. Clear instruction so I don’t have to go looking for help and pictures are always a plus.

    • I totally agree. I can find delight in confusion elsewhere should I need it. I never have. (I’m a Globe subscriber, and thank you for your recipes.)

  • The pithy pattern I am currently working on is Daexel.
    Why pithy, it was in Danish when I downloaded it! So besides the language barrier there are the problems with different ways of writing a pattern in another country. But I’m still knitting it!

    • I LOL’ed at the Danish instructions but good for you!

    • I didn’t consider that aspect of pithy, but I’m knitting mittens from a book written in Norwegian. Google translate is hilarious with knitting instructions. “Gauge” became “strength of knitting”, for example. Thankfully everything is charted and I’ve made mittens before. I want to make the knee socks but I’ve only knit one pair of socks before, so patterned knee socks that I’d have to adjust the size are pretty ambitious. Maybe once I knock out a pair of the regular length socks…

  • Yep I love pithiness and even (whisper it) occasionally don’t use a pattern at all. I respect the work of designers, but if you’ve knit for 50 plus years you can look at something and work it out for yourself. Not always (I want knit designers to make a living) but sometimes….& it feeds the soul and the brain too.

  • I’m going to apologize but I will never, ever knit a pithy pattern. I knit plain scarves and plain hats for 8 years before I found a designer who spelled it out for me (like I was a new knitter). I can now knit some much harder things and join folks at the adults table of knitting because of her. I can branch out to harder things because of her. I see pithy and they make my head hurt and I won’t even try. I love Netflix knitting but now I can do the focused, challenging (to me), and quiet knitting too.

    • Who is your special designer? I love a pattern that spells it out clearly too!

      • For my own knitting I love a pithy pattern, as long as there are enough clues as to what the end product looks like- schematic, key to odd stitch code, etc. Good pictures, not styled in photos by pulling in areas in the back to give shaping that isn’t there.
        For teaching I need patterns where things are spelled out. Otherwise the student goes away with only my words in their head and a sometimes not clear memory of what I said. This leads to huge frustration on their part.
        So my answer is: it depends.

    • Who is the designer you found whose patterns are easy to follow?

      • I love Isabell Kraemer’s patterns. They are very well written with clear instructions.

        • I’m for pithy. When I started knitting, I looked up a lot of stuff. And guess what? I learned. A pattern should have instructions for stuff specific to the pattern, but not everything. That’s why patterns have ratings. They assume a level of knowledge. If you don’t have that knowledge, expect to do a little research. Learning is good.

        • If I’m paying for a pattern I expect clear and concise instructions. People do things in different ways and I want to do exactly what the designer intended and is shown in the photos. Think of all the different cast-ones, increases and decreases. I’d prefer exact and complete instructions not a vague outline.

          • Me too! I recently worked on a paid pattern with a mosaic border in the round and the instructions were frustrating. Other Ravelry people had the same problem. If you pay for a pattern it should be very clear.

  • I want the directions to be exact! I want my project to look lovely when it’s completed. I don’t want to guess where to do anything. I believe the creator of the pattern owes it to the purchaser of the pattern to write a pattern that can easily be followed without having to guess or do additional math. I like the math piece of knitting I just want the author to be concise. The comment above regarding the recipes is a wonderful comparison! Write so people can follow along, and enjoy the experience.

    • I teach sweater knitting. I have also test knitted sweaters. I can figure out almost any pattern. What I don’t want to do is test knit a pattern I have paid for. So many patterns (mostly from yarn companies), are poorly written, and not test knitted nor edited. When my students pick a sweater pattern to knit, I tell them to pick a pattern which has been knitted hundreds of time, not one in a book published by a large yarn company. I find these to be poorly written patterns. So pithy is okay if you have years of experience (I have 60) knitting sweaters and know the construction of the sweater. Pithy is not for those who are just beginning. I find it is too frustrating and they give up!

      • I absolutely agree with you Paula. I also test knit and, when testing a pattern, I strive to notice any places where an adventurous newbie could get stuck and suggest that the designer clarify those bits. When knitting a published pattern, I prefer extensive instructions that I am then free to ignore. I also love it when the designer gives alternatives (for example, short row and waist shaping suggestions for those of us that prefer those things with a pattern that works without those things for new and terrified knitters – one woman I test for does this sometimes and it is lovely).
        I often “Patty Lyons” or “Catherine Lowe” patterns that I choose to knit but I still want the initial pattern to give thorough directions for me to modify as I see fit!

        • Oh yes, so true!

    • Yup!

  • I like the Idea of pithy in all its historical, old-school figure-it-out for-yourself patterns a la EZ (just now a misspelling of a la EZ left autocorrect at a loss. I love it when we knitters can stump the forerunners of AI) …. But no longer have the brain power to embrace it. I am, though, getting to be addicted to the idea of gorgeous to-knit-and-create-beautiful-fabric-with yarns such as you just described. Luckily I have a stash of KSH that can get me started…but now I want to jump two income levels higher just to create a swatch with that CFC splendor. Can’t wait to see both your Finished Objects!

  • Pretty much everything I knit teaches me something. Some times that is how to find help! The Google and YouTube are the usual go-tos. And there I often find more than one option. I prefer clear concise directions but if I want the end result… We dive in and doggie paddle to the end.

  • I’m just here to say I am glad to see Olive.

    • Love any Olive cameo!

    • Me too!

    • Me, too!! “Olive you, precious pupper.”
      And having seen an awful lot of patterns in over 60 years, I definitely enjoy a pattern that doesn’t make me talk back to it except for saying thank you.

  • Not really! I prefer to have it stated what is expected. There are those days when we are off, and that 1 + 1=1. And then frogging has to happen with the *x”%&#’ spilling out of my mouth which normally doesn’t happen! I’d rather not frog!

  • Love a pithy pattern – yes I weirdly need some challenge in my knitting. This one going on my list and even better to be able to support a (somewhat) local yarn dyer!

  • With decades of knitting experience, I usually don’t mind a pithy pattern. However, when newer knitters come looking for help, and I see that just a little more instruction would have gotten them through, it is frustrating. Considering the cost of many patterns out there, I think there’s no reason for designers to skimp on instruction.

  • In my humble opinion, writing a Goldilocks pattern—clear, and succinct with just the right amount of direction, but not too much, is the signature of a master. (Isabelle Kraemer, Tincanknits, Joji Locatelli, et al, I’m looking at you) I do not like guessing what is intended (i.e., pithy) only to find that I misinterpreted the directions and end up frogging.

    • I really appreciate a well written non-pithy pattern. I can do math, but that should be for gauge swatches and yarn substitutions. I knit for joy of the process and the finished project. For all those designers who write a great pattern, I commend and appreciate you!

  • Hi Olive!
    She gets a cookie for helping with the photography.
    Sometimes it’s fun to have to figure something else, sometimes clear instructions are appreciated.
    Complex shapings often have instructions that are clearly written, but still have mental gymnastics to actually knit.

  • I like something pithy to keep my retired brain working, but I need to break it up with something mindless. So, I often have several things on my needles at once and pick them up depending on how clear my brain is at the time.

    • This yes

    • Same!

  • If I’m paying to download a pattern I expect to get my money’s worth, which to me is complete and clear instructions, perhaps some links to videos for suggested techniques. If the pattern is a free download, I don’t mind a”rough draft” that I need to work through on my own.

  • I grew up with “pithy” patterns, so I don’t have a problem. Now with self published patterns and the fact that you don’t need to fit your pattern into a couple of columns for a magazine designers are able to explain every detail and knitter’s expect it. It kinda of drives me a little crazy because it has taken the think for yourself element out. It’s like cooking, learn techniques and then when looking at a recipe make your own decisions about maybe changing up some ingredients or the way of doing something.
    I write patterns so sometimes writing out every detail so that every person will understand can be daunting.

    • Oh, do I second your opinion, including the frustration of trying to write a pattern. I get tired of knitters whose view is that they can turn their brain off and only learn part of the whole skill set. Where would their golf game be if they felt it unnecessary to ever learn to putt? And yeah, that tool box view means learn the few extra skills needed to join and edge finish knitting.

  • Pattern writing is where ephemeral creativity and professional rigor intersect. If you have pattern inspiration in a coffee shop, write it quickly on a napkin for your own pleasure. Don’t expect me to appreciate your flights of fancy unless you detail the process. Even a well written pattern allows for adjustments for fit or incorporating personal design elements. Don’t seduce me with a beautiful picture of the finished sweater without explicitly laying out the path to get there. If you’re in the business of pattern writing, do your job. Spell it out!

  • I rarely follow a pattern. I usually knit as I go along. But when I do buy a pattern, I prefer the instructions to be comprehensive. If I have to stop in the middle of the work to calculate the number of stitches needed or placement, I want that to be my own creation, not in a pattern that I’ve paid for. I’d rather the designer did that work for me — it’s part of what I’m paying for.

  • I love the brain exercise in a complicated knit (I find garter stitch boring, not relaxing!), but I want the directions to be precise! I don’t want to guess, but I think the bigger issue is that pithy patterns tend to assume that everyone does everything the same way. As a new, self-taught knitter, I spent a lot of time on Google and YouTube trying to figure out things the pattern-writer assumed I knew, like if the pattern doesn’t specify how to slip a stitch, the default is to slip purl-wise. I would have preferred a few extra words in the pattern vs. time spent figuring those things out! I’m confident in my ability to figure things out (including when there are mistakes in the pattern), but I appreciate the skill involved in writing a clear pattern.

  • Loving the comments both for & against. If I have to follow a pattern I like a well written one w/a schematic. I learned to knit using patterns, a good skill to know. Later a workshop on how to knit w/o a pattern, felt like I was set free. Then I designed & produced a book (a long time ago), How To Design Your Own Sweater For Machine Knitters by Leslie Solomon, but the info applied to hand knit sweaters too. So now I could figure out how to make anything. All these things to me are easier than writing a pattern, also a skill & something I don’t do. Knitting is both delightfully easy & frustratingly difficult at times w/a world of wonderful people doing it & sharing it in all kinds of ways (my favorite part).

    • Leslye (not Leslie)

  • Olive no!
    When I was A new knitter I jumped in the deep end and never thought I couldn’t do that! Now I’m timid and make many carefully done mistakes! I want to jump right into “pithy” again!

    • I love that: “carefully done mistakes.” Sometimes I work so hard on my mistakes that I’m kind of proud of them!

  • We’ll almost never have yarn called for in a sweater pattern. I have learned to do things and figure stitch counts by myself even so sometimes a yarn doesn’t cooperate with gravity…some pity is ok but measurements and drawings help a lot. Be brave

  • Oh, I definitely like a puzzlier pattern – reading and deciphering a pattern is half the fun (the rest is just knitting loops!).

    Similarly – I always like recipes that say things like “add some butter and bake in the oven for a bit” and then never tell me a single measurement, temperature or time.

    And I also always think the harder Saturday crossword is more fun than the big Sunday one; the clues are written more obtusely and I love the moment where the light bulb goes off. Same with patterns. I mean, I’m not in THAT big of a hurry for that scarf; I have others. I can take the time to think about it.

    • You, sir, are a treasure!

  • What smart commenters, what a wealth of experience! I’m an intermediate-level knitter and pithy patterns frustrate and depress me. Right now I’m trying to start (for about the fifth time) a sweater with a, for me, complex neckline. Thank heaven for knitting class this morning, where technical guidance and psychotherapy are on offer!

  • Most knitting patterns are not designed for someone short and stout like me, so for most of my knitting life I’ve had to resign myself to re-calculating everything about a sweater anyway. (Why I don’t knit many sweaters.) So except for instruction on construction and stitch patterns it doesn’t much matter to me whether the pattern is well-written or not. That said, it’s nice when it’s clear the writer/designer has tried to be helpful.

  • Such a passionate discourse!

  • I enjoy pithy patterns. And I LOVE your yarn choices for this sweater. The knitted fabric is gorgeous!

  • While traveling in Norway, I saw a yoke sweater in a knit shop that was absolutely perfect for me. I told the saleswoman I wanted that yarn in those colors and that pattern, exactly. She collected yarn, checked dye lots and printed out the pattern, started to wring it up, then looked doubtfully at me and asked, “Madam, you speak Norwegian?”

    Ummm, no. But it was a typical pithy Norwegian pattern, written in the style I call
    “You’ve been knitting since you were 5 years old, so just do it!” The entire pattern was one page of directions and one chart. at the time I was working on a cowl pattern which wrote out every single short row needed to shape a bandana type cowl……7 pages of instruction!

    That’s when I realized pithy was for me……guess I must have been Norwegian in a former incarnation!

    • Haha I’m going through the same thing knitting from a book of Norwegian mitten/hat/glove/sock/stocking patterns. It pretty much has just charts for every size and a very brief set of instructions. Sometimes it’s fun to challenge myself.

  • Those “pithy” pattern directions are a leftover from days when patterns had to fit on a single 8×10 on the rack in a knit shop, or a few column inches in a magazine. They also assume someone is there to help a new knitter. I’m perfectly willing to pay for design expertise but I’ve got to be able to understand it. Kudos to designers like Helen Stewart, Kate Oates, and Natasja Hornsby for writing elegant designs with clear, precise directions that anyone can make with perseverance.

  • I require everything be written in precise order before I purchase a pattern. I have too many distractions, including dealing with Covid brain-fog that never improved. I can’t remember to increase every 4th row except on Sundays. And charts are out of the question. I can’t remember to do this on odd rows, but that on even. I’m learning how to deal & I won’t torture myself. And I know other folks have truly serious issues to handle.

  • I find “pithy” patterns frustrating, head-scratching, even angering in the process, and oh-so-satisfying once I’m done.

  • Give me pithy and the brain to use it. When I began to knit I was anxious about more complex patterns. My knitter mother said, there are really only two stitches, knit and can figure out the rest with a little math. If you want to do something, you will figure it out. It may be the only piece of advice I ever took, but it stands me in good stead to date. ( Maybe I should have listened to a few more pieces as well). Cheers to all of you who puzzle…and frog… with me. She also told me, if you can’t rip out, out aren’t a knitter. Midwest ingenuity, perhaps.

    • I have found ripping it out has made me a better knitter. I “see” things now.

  • I appreciate having everything spelled out. I like cable charts, but I like to have the instructions all written out, too. I don’t like doing math!!

  • I like regular stitch counts that I can use as signposts so I can determine if I’ve fallen off the path. But I have opinions on increases & decreases & symmetry and will go rogue if the pattern doesn’t align with my thoughts. For example, I will use mirrored increases/decreases on opposite sides of a piece, regardless of the pattern instructions.

  • Most European pattterns are just like that. Instructions for sweaters and cardigans from Bergère de France, Rico, Katia or Phildar usually fit on one page, sometimes even half a page. They assume that as a knitter, you know all the basics and don’t need to be told how to increase/decrease, cast on or off, etc. It is refreshing albeit sometimes a bit scary. Compared to some 13-page patterns where you constantly have to check where you are. To note that often, the range of sizes is limited. On half a page you can’t have 16 variations. But then again, European women are smaller en general, so 3-4 size ranges are usually enough.

  • I think a lot of people have already said this, but paid patterns should NOT be pithy! If a knitter of your experience had to scratch her head, I think of a legion of newbies who might experience such frustration that they would abandon sweater knitting altogether… what a calamity.

    I don’t think it’s a lot to ask that the designer specify how the increases should be distributed, or what to do with stitch count to get perfect side ribbing. That’s what you’re charging $8 or $10, or lately I’m seeing $12 and up, which is, let’s be frank, not a small amount of money for many. Free patterns have every right to be pithy, let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. But paid? Nope nope nopity nope.

    Experienced knitters will monkey around with a pattern anyway. I almost always do. But a paid pattern should cater to the lowest common denominator.

  • I can’t believe you are still printing patterns instead of using an amazing app like Knit Companion! I didn’t know anyone who is a serious knitter still did that! LOL! Sounds like lovely yarn.

    • I write my revisions on the pattern and often leave my phone elsewhere. Probably a generational thing – knitting for over 60 years.

    • It ain’t broke so I’m not fixing it….I love a paper pattern. Totally admire Knit Companion and know that it is the future!

    • Really? How interesting. I print every pattern. I don’t see the advantage to on-line. My lit-up device is an intrusion and truly offensive to others in many places where I knit. I don’t always have wifi on the road where I almost always knit. It’s an irritant when I have the device on, have checked a pattern detail, but when I look back down, inevitably it’s timed out and turned itself off.

      • Amen!

      • Amen to a print pattern!! I also like written directions. I can knit using a chart, but prefer written. I guess I’m old fashioned.

      • I can relate to that! I get so frustrated when my electronic device goes to sleep mode, or the battery runs down (when I try to bypass sleep mode). I’m a paper-girl, too, and pencil-mark as I go.

      • Definitely agree! Plus, I tend to scribble lots of notes on the paper, especially if it’s a pattern for socks.

        • I do exactly this, too! Every pattern has notes scribbled on it! It’s helpful if I re-knit the pattern. I can’t image ever not using a paper pattern.

  • No! I’m really frustrated when told to increase or decrease evenly across a row. I have to draw the stitches on paper and play with them to figure it out and then tink back a couple of times to get it close-to-right. What a waste of my time! That’s the designer not doing her job. Terse might be using phrases like “continue in pattern” or referring to a kind of buttonhole rather than giving the how-to details. Assuming every knitters knows is a recipe for abandoned projects.

    Yes, I think you are going to get quite a reaction to this!

    • Here’s help on increasing and decreasing evenly. Just plug in your numbers and it will do the math for you!

      • Thanks for this!!!

      • Been enjoying the back & forth so much I keep checking back for more comments & so glad I have because thank you, Michele, for this link!! It will come in handy.

  • I would like to be able to tell a pithy pattern from a thoroughly-described pattern before I buy! “It’s not me, it’s you.”. I haven’t yet attained the knitting experience, judgement, or instinct to know myself. I was really struggling with a pattern, ripped out once, but took it to my village – the knitting shoulders on which I stand – and they got me back on track.

    • There’s an easy and pretty reliable way to know that a pattern is well written. Have a lot of people knitted it successfully? Are the reviews/comments good? I also think that a pattern that has been translated to your language from another language is probably going to have a few things in it that you need to think about. This pattern, for example, has been translated to English from Danish.

      • You know, Kay, I think good international designers have testers give feedback about how clear the pattern is in English. I have no data but I am going to guess that the US has enough English speaking knitters that can steer a pattern to profitability.

        I have done a couple of tests for Japanese designer Ayano Tanaka (she has a wonderful aesthetic and deserves to be more widely known) and she’s always grateful for my suggestions as a native English speaker. I am so impressed that she has patterns in a language that she is not proficient in. And they are not pithy!

        I always read notes and comments on Ravelry. I am a bit dismayed that people put stuff on Instagram but not on Ravelry. It’s no substitute! I have benefited so much from people’s notes on Ravelry, and in turn received so much gratitude for my own fairly detailed notes.

  • I do love an explicit, but concise pattern. But I admit, being forced to think is good for me, and I never regret learning stuff and building self confidence.

  • I love EZ for her brain, which was awesome. And her books make plain old wonderful reading, as well as providing pattern ideas. But, really experienced knitter that I am, I just wanted to cry trying to figure out her pithy pattern for making a simple dickey for my husband. As a writer and editor, I know that when a writer knows exactly what they’re talking about, they can easily and unintentionally say it in a way that leaves the reader (and the editor! and the knitter!) baffled. That’s why patterns that are clearly written out are a joy to follow.

    Nevertheless, for those times when we’re ready for a challenge and want to flex our knitting brain, but get stuck on a pattern that’s just a little too terse, an online support group would be in order. We could call it #PithyPatternParty.

    • Right on. I once read EZ’s reply to a query in Knitter’s Magazine where she did just that. If you knew what she was talking about you could puzzle out her answer (but, of course, you didn’t need it). However if you really wanted the answer, what she wrote was so unclear, because of multiple meanings of several words, that it was unlikely you would ever figure it out.

    • New Instagram tag! #PithyPatternParty here we come!

  • It depends – I can figure something out, usually. But I at least need to be told about the problems I’ll be solving.

    And a well-written pattern with no errors is a pleasure.

  • “Pithy” is a great euphemism for “terrible pattern.”

    • I generally avoid euphemisms, and the conflation of pithy and terrible would not be fair in the case of this pattern. It’s a good pattern! Just a different mindset to the style of pattern writing that I’m more used to.

  • Olive the supermodel is back in New York! It must mean Fashion Week is coming!

    As for patterns, I prefer spelled out, but pithy. They should provide the instructions I need but they’d better be quick about it. If a pattern is more than two pages long, I don’t have time for it.

  • I love well-written, hand-holding pattern instructions as well as the next knitter.

    But I love the feeling of confidence a pithy pattern gives me, too. The feeling that I know what I am doing and I can figure this out when the pattern leaves you out there. Yeah, I know how to knit a sock! I know how a bottom-up or top-down sweater is constructed! I can do this! Nothing beats that feeling … except wearing the FO that you made with your own brain and two hands.

    • That’s exactly how I feel. It seems kind of miraculous that this sweater, with its distinctive details, came from so few words of instruction. Makes me proud of myself.

  • I like both. My work life always had to be precise (doing recipe development for food companies) so at that time, loosey goosey was my preferred projects. Now that I’m retired, I generally have at least one project very precise (I love love love lace and color work) and one or more projects that are easier going for when I don’t want or have good concentration.

    • Me too! I’m on the scientific field so precision is everything at work. It also takes a lot of brain space.

      So when I’m at home, I quite like a non complicated knit like a garter stitch blanket. Ditto for socks – I’ve knit quite a few pairs so it’s a nice, meditative knit.

      What I don’t like in patterns are ones where you are frequently asked to measure this or that body part and then adjust a lot. Great to customise but it drives me nuts as sometimes I just want to get on and knit the item.

  • I enjoy a pithy pattern if I expect it to be pithy. Forewarned, etc. I love EZ’s books. And the aha moments are a joy. But I also love charts and explanations. I know a lot of designers are very careful and specific and they are the ones steer my little craft by.

  • I do a little design so have tried writing patterns and it’s tough! Finding a balance between enough information but not too much is a challenge. European patterns often assume you know a lot so are shorter. American patterns spell out everything and I can get lost in the verbiage. In my experience certain designers’ patterns just resonate with me more than others, Kate Davies is my favorite. Her patterns all follow the same format and hit that sweet spot for me between not enough/too much info. When I switch to another designer, it takes me a bit to get on their wave length. Being an experienced knitter I make mistakes because I assume I know how to do it, then find out I was wrong. Duh, read the pattern!

    • I think Kate Davies’ patterns are *excellent* – totally agree with you here!

  • I need very clear instructions. The second sweater I knitted left out simple things like cut the yarn and place stitches on hold and start the other sleeve. Silly now but at the time I had no clue what needed to be done. I’m still not experienced with sweaters but I keep trying.

  • I’m more of a line by line knitter. And when there are kinks to videos which show techniques, all the better (eg buttonholes, double knitting).

    • Links not kinks! Kinks might be way too much fun!

  • I agree, but it is nice when the designer gives you hints at the beginning of the pattern that you may take your own “license” or methods when needed.

  • I’m working on Bawi now, using some yarn from Ireland that a friend got me. I’m an experienced knitter and have enough “knitting instincts” to figure things out. I’m not much of a rule follower anyway. But I do think that designers should be very specific in their pattern writing to make their designs accessible to everyone. But knitters, let’s not strive for perfection. It’s extremely overrated.

  • Kay, I think it depends upon the pattern. I like pithy for projects I understand (socks, hats, scarves) and not so pithy for things I’m still learning (sweaters). Good for you for trying and succeeding with this sweater!

  • I wonder if it can be challenging for a really experienced knitter – like Elizabeth Zimmerman – to remember all the tiny little details when writing a pattern. I know when I have written step-by-step instructions for a work task that I can do automatically, I often have to go back several times and fill in sub steps that I have omitted.

    • Interesting point!

  • Oh I dearly love every one of Silbia Ro’s bases and colors! That sounds like hyperbole but assuredly is not! She has a base for all seasons and climates – from awesome warm wintery and fluffy to her flax base with linen for our sweltering summers.

    Love to see Olive again! I’ve missed her. I think she is pre-approving a matching sweater of her own!

  • Loved this article. I could relate to this experience having met several pithy patterns. This is an elegant way of protecting the pattern designer. One never really knows a pattern , even if well read and prepared , until one is into the knitting. I don’t mind problem solving but ideally enjoy a well written pattern.

  • I absolutely love patterns that don’t dictate stitch-by-stitch. Gives me a chance to spread my wings, get creative, have a challenge!

  • I was very spoiled at the start of my sweater knitting journey because I found CustomFit so had patterns only for my measurements and gauges. If I buy a pithy pattern, I almost always go to CustomFit and create a companion pattern to use with it and that reduces the frustration. I use the CF pattern for the basics (increases/decreases for shaping) and the pithy pattern for the design features. I know it’s more expensive but I find it much less frustrating and that’s my choice. I’m often responsible for my own crazy. My current project started with a raglan pattern (I like the texture of the fabric) and converted it to a sweater with set-in sleeves with no pattern on the sleeves and back. CF to the rescue where I created two patterns to use with the original. I still had to do more math to make everything work and there were a couple of “phone a friend” moments, but I was able to keep moving and figure it all out.

  • Until today I had not heard of “pithy patterns.” But I have watched The Great British Baking Show and I have seen the bit when the contestants receive their instructions for a complex construction made of several different types of cake and the first instruction is “Make a Victoria sponge” and all but two of them are wondering why they thought it would be a good idea to sign up for this. It just seems like good will to give all the expected directions and let the knitter decide if she can happily skip over some of them. It would be nice to be the sort of knitter who can just infer what to do at the tricky pass. Sometimes I have figured it out, but by trials and errors, which is not the same thing as understanding. Intriguing as it is to think about, I think my limited time available for knitting, plus any body-joint issues of the day, call for full directions.

  • Pithy patterns potentially perplex people pondering (a) purchase.

    • Potential purchasers probably won’t perceive a pattern’s pithiness pre-purchase!

  • I can go either way with a pattern. I like to learn new things so it doesn’t bother me when a pattern doesn’t hold my hand through the whole thing. However, I wish that Ravelry would base their difficulty rating on something solid and not just the ratings that people who have made the pattern gave it. I just took a look at the difficulty rating for Tomomi Yoshimoto’s beautiful Drawing Sweater. It’s rated as a medium but I’ve seen it take very skilled and experienced knitters to their knees. It doesn’t take into account that a. just looking at it you can tell that it is a complex sweater and b. it’s often in the nature of knitters to under report how difficult a pattern can be or that he or she is a very skilled knitter. It’s not fair to someone who is actually relying on that rating to decide if they will try it. And in some situations, it’s setting them up for failure.

  • So good to see an Olive photo!
    I love a pithy pattern since I probably won’t follow it exactly – except when I’m tired out by life or just lack of sleep, then I want to be a Blind Follower and just be spoon fed.

  • PITHY, that word belongs to Elizabeth Zimmerman 🙂
    I have read and re-read her books since I discovered her work in 1987 and I don’t know how many copies of KNITTING WITHOUT TEARS I have given as gifts.
    I had knit the basics as a bored 12 y/o staying in Iowa, in the Summer with my grandmother, but the project was so boring that it is in sweater heaven.
    It wasn’t until I started taking classes from an EZ follower that I was hooked for life.
    Of course, I have a difficult time seaming anything but I was given such a gift.
    Knitting got me through my second pregnancy because every Thursday night, I could escape to knitting help and a swamp cooler. It helped me meet new friends and the 25 months of chemo. that my then 8 y/o daughter was enduring. And in August, I’m going on a 10 day cruise to Scandinavia to learn even more. So, PITHY it is !

  • I’m a handspinner and generally don’t buy commercial yarn (except good acrylic for grandson sweaters). I do usually appreciate pithy instructions and thank E. Zimmermann for making me a better knitter. I’m nearly finished with a top-down cardigan using Ann Budd’s Top Down Sweaters guidance. I have often cursed her for not being a BIT clearer in the directions, but like you, I carried on. I mean, I’ve been knitting for 60 years and have designed a few sweaters myself. How hard can this be? Congratulations on your perseverance and success!

  • I think it’s different strokes. Selling to the international community involves thinking differently. Inclusivity is the name of the game. If we are selling to people who don’t fit a particular cohort then, include all the details so any knitter can truly achieve the desired result. Start with the instructions needed for the least knowledgeable, the experienced knitter can choose the relevant parts and ignore the bits which are already known and look after themselves.

  • I find Brooklyn Tweed patterns to be wonderful – always well written and edited. I just trust and do and it always turns out.

    • Those BT patterns should come with a warning though: “install all new, extra large ink cartridges right now, honey, because this hat pattern is fourteen pages long.”

  • I think pithy gives room sometimes to make something your own. Pithy also gives space for lightbulb aha moments. It makes my interpretation of a pattern different from everybody else. I don’t want that kind of pattern for every knit though.
    What I want to know is how many Krystal’s did y’all eat?

  • i love the pithy for the most part. Sometime patterns have too many words!

  • I rather like pithy patterns as long as they don’t cross the line into flat out erroneous or confusing. It is a pet peeve that even some rather well known designers publish ( and get paid for) patterns with errors that mean you have to be a knowledgeable knitter to say, “that’s just not right”.

  • Pithy is good! I rarely knit a pattern exactly as instructed – I adjust to fit my shape! I don’t need telling what type of increase to use – horses for courses! Charts and no written instructions please…

  • I’m happy with Pithy (unless in Brioche. Then I want it to hold my hand AND stroke my hair whilst saying There There) mainly because I like to adjust patterns to suit anyway.
    That said I think there is a big difference between ‘Pithy’ and ‘Poorly’ written patterns.

    • I also don’t care for “pithy”. If I want difficult knitting, I purchase a difficult pattern. If I want to make something more complicated, I work it out myself, but I want the pattern to be very explicit about the original plan.

      Before buying a pattern, I check on the comments on Ravelry. Too many negative comments, especially about the pattern being poorly written, I move on.

      Stephen West writes the best, clearest and most detailed patterns I’ve seen – making no assumptions about a knitter’s skills. He also provides excellent and detailed tutorial videos. I have knitted many of Stephen’s patterns and I also don’t think I’ve come upon one single errata. Meticulous effort clearly goes into his patterns.

  • Pithiness knitting = brain exercise!
    An Olive pic is always a bonus in one of your articles, a pic of Olive appreciating a handknit❤️.

  • So that’s what a fuzzy yak looks like!?

  • I have been knitting forever and have come to realize that life is way too short to waste time deciphering poorly written patterns. And to me, that includes skimpy instructions. I don’t want hand holding, I want a professionally written pattern for the money I’m paying. And no, that doesn’t mean that all patterns above moderate difficulty need to include how-tos for knit and purl stitches, but all patterns of any level of difficulty should be explanations for all abbreviations and terms used in the pattern, a schematic, charts if applicable and all math should have been done by the designer. Also included should be spelling out the instructions for increasing/decreasing evenly, recommendations for picking up of stitches (e.g. “approximately 2 stitches per 3 rows”), explanations of (or video links for) techniques used such as short-rows, specialized cast-ons, sloped bind-offs, etc. There are so many designers who provide expertly written patterns (Brooklyn Tweed, Shannon Cook, Andrea Rangel, Jane Richmond and countless others) that there is absolutely no excuse for not providing comprehensive instructions in a knitting pattern. Frankly, anything less is just laziness to me.

  • I love pithy instructions for a couple of reasons. I cut my knitterly teeth on EZ’s patterns, and while the first few projects challenged me, they paved the way for my growth as a knitter. No pattern “as written” ever fits me, being petite, and the pithy patterns (and percentage system) saved me from scores of failures. My friends who blindly knit their exacting pattern’s instructions are routinely disappointed with their results.

    • This resonates for me. When I came across EZ I was in college and circling back to knitting for the third time in my life. It was (knitting-) life changing. Helped me understand what was being done on the needles and *why*, and from that take charge of things. Nowadays I mostly do what I think of as template knitting (eg-socks apply stitch pattern X to the basic sock, calculated according to gauge and foot size) but even when I use a pattern it increases my ability to look at a set of instructions and understand the Why.

  • Wonderful article! I’m not alone.

    As a true left handed knitter, every pattern for me is pithy, and often “hurts my brain.”

    I frogged the entire yoke of a sweater recently (lots of 2cables) and ended up knitting according to understanding the pattern rather than figuring out whether to follow or reverse directions.

    It was a new step for me in my skills. So glad to read your description of this process.

    • I know what you mean, as I’m left handed too. I have found that the only problems are the cast on which I have to make sure I’m on the right side to begin, and the bobbles. Just can’t do them the way they instruct. No matter, we have license to create our own style and process! Good luck down the road!

  • If I’m knitting a sweater I don’t want to guess/calculate/estimate stitch counts or shaping so I’m in the camp of detailed instructions. Sometimes my day can be challenging so I would rather not have my knitting also be a challenge. As others have mentioned I have found some designers (BT, Kate Davies, etc) who provide enough direction. I’m working on my 4th Calliope sweater because the pattern is well written and the sweater is fabulous. On the other hand, if I’m knitting a basic scarf yeah I can do pithy.

  • I have wondered where all the “pithy” patterns have gone. I just was commenting to a friend that patterns today are all about “hand holding”. It’s no wonder that print magazines are either struggling or gone, when you look at magazines patterns from old a whole sweater might take up two columns.

  • I just finished a dress made in Lopi yarn (Klukka)by Vedis Jonsdottir. It was a 1 page pattern and it turned out to fit perfectly. Yes, lots of knowledge before you set out on a pattern like this. I enjoyed the results so much that I’m seriously thinking of doing another one!

  • I hate pithy patterns – especially if I pay for them. i am working on one now that is a bit pithy and I am glad I bought the extra skein of yarn to test on.

  • I learned to knit from pithy directions, in Estonian handwork magazine they can still write a sweater pattern on a quarter page.

    For me it is hard to follow something that is written row by row. A good chart is worth several hundred words!

    I recalculate the numbers for most things I knit, because I want to knit the kind of fabric (drape, stretchiness) that appeals to me in yarn that appeals to me.

    That said, I don’t like poorly written patterns. And even decently written patterns can leave one flummoxed. I restarted the shift cowl seven times because the instructions didn’t click. And then I decided to knit it how I thought it should be rather than how I understood the directions, lol.

  • I love it when a pattern has detailed instructions, then trsnlates that section to the pith: knit 2 together every sixth stitch (decrease by x stitches evenly across).

    This gives me the details AND the why!

  • I prefer a well written and detailed pattern – maybe with photos or links to video? Michele Bernstein released a book on brioche a few years ago. Never having knit brioche, I test knit several patterns. Between what was written and the video links (which are in the book!) I made several brioche items without confusion.
    I’m eyeballing sweater patterns by One Wild Design (@jp_knits_things on IG) she’s very open about sweater schematic, encourages alterations even as one test knits for her, and talks about how to get the garment you want. This would be my second sweater ever, hence the eyeballing!

  • I’m all about a pithy pattern (and this sweater is so good!) Now I want one too.

  • I love to have my cake and eat it too, so I like a pattern that is succinct and then, maybe at the end where I don’t have to print everything out, there are instructions for the fiddly bits. This is especially true for socks, since I have knit so many. I don’t want to print 10 pages with photos in order to get the bits I need when they could go on one page, maybe two if there is an extensive chart. But if there’s something unusual, it’s nice to be able to go back to the pattern and look at photos or directions to see if I misunderstood the pithy bit.

  • I DO enjoy a pithy pattern, but not for EVERY pattern, thank you very much! I also enjoy a brainless autopilot pattern (palette cleansers anybody?) and stretching myself with something challenging too (accurately charted single sided lace, yes please… bc I’m not yet brave enough to dive into full on dbl sided lace, not yet anyways). So yes Kay, I DO like a pithy pattern now & then!

    RE: Knit Stars Workshop-
    I do very much enjoy your workshop! It is a highlight.
    In your KS Workshop, you 2 introduced me to that accursed/beloved discontinued Rowan Original Denim which sent me out scavenging for any skeins I could find lingering in any store inventories before it disappeared. I located sweater quantities of all 3 colours! I used some on what I intended to be an heirloom quality 1st gift to be given by my sister-in-law to her very 1st grandbaby. “Intended” means we never really know how our works will be treated when they’re gifted, but we can hope.

    That sweater became my “Most KS Project” because I used tips &/or knowledge gained from so many other workshops. It even ended up making a guest appearance on Felix Ford’s blog when she was putting up her 1st KS alumni blogs and links!

    Thank you Ann & Kay for that info scoop.
    Everybody else, if you can, do go get that workshop (even if you’re highly unlikely to locate much, if any discontinued Rowan Original Denim at this point).

  • I go back and forth. Yes, I do enjoy having a pattern especially for new techniques to me. However, I find I often change things around if I feel it works out better for me. Sometimes I research other ways of accomplishing techniques and I work with the one I like best. I will visually look at a stranded pattern and try it out on a hat. So I guess I am using my brain. It can be like assembling a puzzle.

  • I want a pattern that is well-considered; carefully honed to be clear, accurate and consistent; informed by the experiences of a number of test knitters and skillfully tech edited. It should also be effectively laid out and easy to read. That is a tall order (with steep a learning curve)–and a pretty costly one in terms of time invested and payment for quality editing.

    I am a fledgling designer and that is the ideal I strive for in my pattern writing, page layout and desktop publishing. Writing a pattern is very much a tight-rope walk between being too brief and too verbose. I opt to include detail that will be helpful to less-experienced knitters as I trust experienced knitters will disregard any information that they don’t need.

  • Well usually I prefer a pattern to lay it all out for me so that I can sit back and enjoy the journey. However, I really want this sweater, and I think it would be worth it to give it a try. I like different experiences with knitting, some that are mindless, some that are challenging, so it depends on what kind of experience I’m looking for.

  • For my own knitting I love a pithy pattern, as long as there are enough clues as to what the end product looks like- schematic, key to odd stitch code, etc. Good pictures, not styled in photos by pulling in areas in the back to give shaping that isn’t there.
    For teaching I need patterns where things are spelled out. Otherwise the student goes away with only my words in their head and a sometimes not clear memory of what I said. This leads to huge frustration on their part.
    So my answer is: it depends.

  • I like a challenge, bring on the pithy patterns. I think that sometimes we are so hand-held, people forgot to think on their own. Conquering a pattern that is not written for a beginner (which are completely valid for a beginner!!!) gives me confidence, not just in knitting but in life. Please do have an accurate pattern though! I’ve been to many get-togethers or classes over the years in many different forms of needlework and sewing. There are a good number of people who don’t try to figure it out – they just want the teacher to tell them every minute step – and I think that is a bit sad. For them because they will not enjoy the thrill of figuring it out and for others in the class because then it is dumbed down. Don’t miss out on the thrill of the adventure of trying, failing, trying again and then succeeding :).

  • Very late to this post, catching up on blog-reading – and you’re probably already wearing this lovely sweater! – but must leave a comment on your description of the yarn color as “a dark, grayish blue with soul; it’s a shade that has Seen Some Things.” This sounds like my beloved Payne’s Grey shade of watercolor. I have such strong feelings for this color, I often use it exclusively for my Daily Markmaking, sometimes for days or even weeks. I put a tube or a pan of a stick of Payne’s Grey watercolor in my pocket, along with a waterbrush, and head out with a sketchbook. What a color!

  • So many Marys commenting today!
    I like pithy, but I must have a schematic drawing and I like a chart for lace and colour. I cut my teeth on patterns that said, “for the left side, reverse the shaping.” I’m sure my first sweaters were a tad lopsided as I tried to do things on the purl side instead of the knit or whatever, but when I finally figured out how to do that I was pretty happy!

  • I’m okay with a pattern being pithy for one very specific reason. It reminds me of patterns years ago when it may have said “cast on for your waist size and knit ribbing” or simply “turn the heel” or “pick up and knit thumb to length” We’re in a unique situation in our more modern times when we can just google a YouTube video for what we don’t know when our ancestors learned from lessons and doing – they internalized methods of knitting that meant step by step details for some sections just weren’t necessary. For me, approaching a vague reference or a “pithy pattern” is an opportunity to think more like my ancestor knitters and I’m usually up for it!

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