Step 4: Style sheet and layout

Having completed the grading and thought through the logical construction flow, it’s time to convert those raw numbers into an actual pattern. Whether you’re writing it up before, during or (oh dear) after the actual knitting, one thing is for sure: you definitely want to write it from the start according to your style sheet.  

Don’t have one? Well, this is where you start.  

Previous posts: 
The preamble: So you wanna be a designer…
Step 1: From idea to pitch
Step 2: Charting and Ravelry
Step 3: Planning, grading and starting the sample

How to create a style sheet

Your  style sheet is a live document, whose main purpose is to provide your pattern writing with consistency, and allow your editor to know how you mean to write a pattern. It will grow to include all sorts of information as you progress as pattern writers, and it is a brilliant place to store standard phrases and examples of things that you have already written for use again. It is also the place where you outline your style to your tech editor – do you want your patterns to be chatty and friendly and encouraging to a beginner, or do you prefer brevity, directness and concise instructions? Personally I (Emily) see repetition as a source of potential errors and inconsistency and I try to only put an instruction in once, rather than repeating it over and over again throughout the pattern.

But some things you really must be sure to include, and some things we recommend considering as you write your first pattern.

Name of the pattern: be sure to check Ravelry to see whether your brilliant idea has been used 30 times. It’s very hard (and not really necessary) to find a completely unique name, but you do want to be sure customers won’t be lost in a sea of similar sounding patterns. (Emily picks all hers from maps of the local area, which has the bonus of creating a very consistent naming “brand”.)

Introduction or romance text: a couple of sentences about the inspiration, construction and use of the pattern are important for selling the design. What makes it extra fun to knit, or great to wear? Does it solve a problem for the knitter? How is it constructed?

Yarn requirements: it’s important to provide clear information to allow for knitters to substitute yarn if they need to. As well as giving the information on the sample yarn, also give the exact yardage required for each size as well as an indication of what yarns would work as a substitute. (Not specific brands, but what qualities to look for, e.g. drape or stitch definition.)

Tension or gauge: give the exact row and stitch count per 4 in / 10 cm.

Size information: give as much information as possible, or refer to a full schematic. We also give information on what size is modelled and how much ease is shown.

Level of difficulty/skills required: this is entirely subjective, but I have a list of skills that I assume people will be able to use for each pattern.

Contact information for the designer: provide at least one way to get hold of you; you’ll probably also want to direct customers to your social media accounts, so you can hope to convert them into fans and future customers.

Dates, version number and copyright statement: always!

Pattern Directions

Here we get to the nitty gritty. Consistent punctuation and grammar throughout the pattern is really, really important as an indicator of a well-edited, well-written pattern. Messy text will lead customers to assume, should they run into trouble at any point, that the problem lies with your pattern not their interpretation (leading directly to more customer support work for you). Consider your formatting carefully: are any parts going to be in bold or all in capitals? Are you going to write the instructions in sentence case with a full stop at the end? How and where are you going to include stitch counts? How are you going to delineate repeats within a row of instructions?  

For example, here are a few ways that you could write the first row of a pattern in 2x2 ribbing:

Row 1: [K2, P2] to end. 24sts
Row 1: *K2, p2; rep from * to end of row. (24 stitches)
R1 – Work in k2, p2 ribbing across. (24 sts)
Row 1(RS): *K2, p2; repeat from * to end. 24 sts. 

None of these are wrong; but your chosen format must be applied consistently throughout. At this point there is no need to cover every single eventuality – just enough for this pattern. You can add to and modify this document to include other techniques as you need them.

Some other points to consider:

  • Are you going to write the pattern in British (tension, stocking stitch etc) or US English (gauge, stockinette)? 

  • How are you going to convert between cm and in? You can either calculate both sets of measurements directly from the stitch count and gauge, or calculate one set (metric or imperial) from gauge and then convert. This may sound like a finicky distinction but you’d be surprised at how different the results can be, owing to rounding. Arguably, calculating directly from gauge will give more accurate end results no matter which set of measurements are being followed.

Resources:

Pattern layout

A polished, well-considered layout does a lot to make your patterns look professional (which again adds, consciously or not, to the trust a customer feels in your pattern). It also improves actual usability. Don’t stress too much over this – most designers aren’t layout professionals, and paying someone to do your layout adds a fair bit of unnecessary expense to your upfront costs. You don’t need to invest any cash at all, but spending a little time on creating a good template is well worth it. 

Software

Word, OpenOffice or Pages for Mac will get the job done – they won’t allow for super-complicated page design, and Word in particular can be a real pain when it comes to multi-column layouts with tables and pictures, but it’s workable. If you want to try a more powerful layout tool, you don’t have to fork out for a monthly Adobe InDesign subscription (although if you do have access, it’s great!). Scribus is free open-source software that can do most of what Adobe does, it just has a slightly steeper learning curve. It’s even possible to create pattern layouts in Canva (free online tool), though I am not sure how user-friendly that would be. A new affordable option is Affinity Publisher – now in beta release, it’s designed to be a fully featured, professional-level alternative to InDesign but at a much lower price point (expect to pay around $50 on release, or download the beta for free). You’ll find masses of online tutorials to help you find your way around any of these packages.

More important than what tool to use is the raft of creative decisions you have to make, considering the practical implications of each aspect, not just the aesthetics. Don’t over-engineer it; minimalism is your friend. A super-fancy layout won’t make the pattern any easier to use, or really, any better looking. 

Questions, questions!

  • What font(s)? Font choice (and size) has a major impact on readability and of course the space used. You’d be surprised how quickly changing the font, even at the same point size, can change the final page count.

  • DON’T go overboard with fonts – either too many, or too fancy. You can indulge yourself with a fancy headline font but make sure the body text is easy to read (and then choose a headline font to complement it). Pay particular attention to crucial (for patterns) details such as a clear difference between 1 and l. I recommend trying out fonts with a short section of pattern text using various typographic elements, eg. “Sl1, *k3 [4, 5, 6], p2, repeat from * three times”. Don’t forget to check bold and italics, if you’ll be using those formats.

  • Is your pattern going to be printed (either by users or for sale)? Assuming that you want customers to be able to print it easily (not everyone works from iPad), go easy on the photos and colours. A lot of people prefer to print in black and white, so try to avoid using colour coding for any crucial information. Avoid using patterned or coloured backgrounds. If you’re planning to wholesale printed patterns, keeping to a multiple of 4 pages is necessary for professional leaflets. 

  • One, two or three columns? Using newspaper-style columns saves a surprising amount of space, and arguably makes it easier to read (but preferences do vary, and columns are not suitable for users with low vision). Three columns can allow some great page designs if you’re using good software, but will be a pain in a word processor, and more than three is definitely too many.

  •  What will you put on the front page? Two popular approaches are to include all the key pattern information (photo, yarn requirements, sizing, needles, gauge etc), OR only the hero photo, pattern and designer name – this allows the customer the option of not printing it, to save ink on that big splashy photo, and looks great for retailed patterns.

  • How will you place charts and written instructions? Will all charts go together (benefits: you can arrange them in the correct knitting order, as they will appear; customers who don’t use charts don’t have to print this page) or will each chart appear above the written instructions for that stitch pattern (benefit: easy cross-referencing in case of confusion)?

  • Is there any supplementary information (such as tutorials or references) you can skim off into an appendix – maybe even a second pdf? Again, customers will appreciate not having to print (or accidentally printing) anything they don’t need.

  • What about accessibility? Layout for screen readers or low vision has pretty much the opposite requirements of otherwise “good”, or at least efficient, layout: large fonts and no columns, for a start. You might create two different pdfs to suit different needs (I’m planning on working on this myself).

  • Do you need a schematic? I don’t consider this always necessary (eg for a rectangular scarf, or standard socks, as long as all relevant measurements are included in the sizing section), but it’s often appreciated, and certainly needed for anything other than the most basic shapes. It is not compulsory to use software to draw your schematic; if you have the sketching skills then a neatly drawn picture is a beautiful thing.

Resources

  • Again, Kate’s book covers a lot of ground on layout and formatting, including input from customers on what they do or don’t like.

  • Typography in 10 minutes is a nifty little thing but I do strongly recommend reading more of the book.

  • These guidelines on combining fonts include pointers on creating hierarchy through styles.

  • Wordmark.it is absolutely brilliant for testing your text (be it pattern copy or headings) in one step on all your installed fonts. Ultrazone does the same thing for all Google fonts (all of which are free for commercial use).

  • Joeli’s Inkscape tutorial will guide you through making basic schematics, and Marnie has tuts for doing so in both Illustrator and (!) Word.

  • Ravelry’s Accessible patterns group has tons of help on creating layouts that are friendly to screen readers and low-vision users.

EXERCISE #4: Create your pattern template and style sheet

  • Read through the style sheets linked above. Save one as a document to use as the starting point for your own. (Also see our layout templates, which include style rules; Emily’s is a thing of beauty. Robynn’s is a bit out of date and has less detail than her full style sheet.)

  • Consider how you want to handle each style point, and edit accordingly.

  • Answer the questions above to define your layout template specifications.

  • Choose your layout software (Word is fine) and format your style sheet as a full template, reflecting every element of your pattern.

  • Create a full schematic, if needed, and place in the template. You can draw it by hand or use any software you like (Inkscape is free and powerful).  

That’s a lot to be getting on with. The next step is to write your actual pattern and pop it into this layout; no small task, but between the previous exercise (grading) and this one, you should have all you need. So we’re not making it a topic in itself. But we will give you an extra two weeks to complete that, and the sample knitting – meaning the next topic will appear on Monday 10 June. Have fun!

Next posts:

Step 5. Tech editing & testing
Step 6. Photography & editing
Step 7. Pattern release & marketing
Step 8. Project & business management, final questions