Pattern generators. What is a pattern generator? And when should we use one? To answer that, we must first answer the question:
What is a pattern?
A pattern is a set of directions that when followed, allow someone to recreate something more or less exactly like the original. The essentials of a pattern are:
- yarn requirements (weight, fiber, amount, etc…)
- gauge (VERY IMPORTANT! DO NOT IGNORE)
- suggested needle size to get the correct gauge
- step-by-step instructions from beginning to end.
Nearly everything in knitting, at least nearly everything that is worn on a human body, is built on certain fundamental building blocks. For example, there are only four types of sweater patterns:
Yet, when you go to Ravelry and type “Sweater” into the pattern search, you will get 51,330 results.
51,330 sweater patterns!
How is that even possible??? Well, for every building block, there are thousands of ways to modify it. All sweater types can be knit top-down or bottom-up. So, that widens our basics from 4 to 8. Then, every sweater pattern can be created as pullover or a cardigan. Now we are at 16 basic patterns. Then, we can factor all six standard yarn weights into the mix, and we are up to 96. All of them can be knit in the round or worked flat. Then, when we start varying the necklines, sleeve lengths, stitch patterns, and fit, we start to see how the possibilities are endless. Trust me, I tried to create a flow chart, and it all got just so tangled.
So, a pattern is a set of instructions with a specific sweater construction, stitch pattern, range of sizes, fabric characteristics, etc… all worked out for you. In a sense, a pattern is where someone has worked out a design, and done all of the math to create that design for you.
But, what if you just want to make a sweater with the yarn and needles of your choosing, and you’re not a fan of what is already available? That is where a pattern generator comes in handy.
What is a pattern generator?
A pattern generator doesn’t do all the math for you, but it does give you the formulas to figure out the math for your specific yarn, needles, and stitch pattern for one of the four specific sweater types.
What’s the difference?
Remember how in high school, you had a bunch of formulas in your mathematics class that you had to memorize? And remember how you could use the same formula with different numbers to calculate information about the same shape in different sizes? That’s what a pattern formula does.
Let’s say you want to make a raglan sweater, but you’re not a big fan of following patterns exactly because this pattern wants you to knit with that yarn to make these three specific sizes, but you don’t like that yarn, and those sizes aren’t ideal for you. Then, you found the perfect one, but it wants you to knit bottom up, and you want to knit top-down! You have searched high and low for the perfect raglan sweater in the yarn and size you crave, but it’s just not there. Behold! The pattern generator! What are the things you need to know when using a pattern generator?
- your gauge
- your measurements
- the amount of ease you want in your garment
- where your calculator, smartphone, or computer is unless you plan to rock it old school with pencil, paper, and/or abacus.
Now, where to find a pattern generator.
- Ravelry. Type “pattern generator” into the pattern search, and then select the type of thing you want to make from the options in the Category filters.
- A pattern design book. I know that there is a basic formula for each sweater design in Debbie Stoller’s book Stitch and Bitch Superstar Knitting: go beyond the basics. Check out the the universal sock patterns in Vogue Knitting The Ultimate Sock Book: History*Technique*Design by Vogue Knitting Magazine. However, these are not the only books that have them. Check out your local bookstore or library. Browse the resources of Amazon.com.
- Other knitters. For centuries, patterns were not written down. They were passed down from generation to generation simply by teaching the pattern from memory. Someone might have a great recommendation, or you might strike gold and find someone who can teach you how to make the thing you want old school – verbal instructions.
When to Use a Pattern Generator?
This question is partly answered in the description of what one is. Use a pattern generator whenever you want to create something very basic or very specific to what you see in your mind’s eye. Use a pattern generator when think “I’d like to make top-down traditional heel flap sock”, and you don’t want to spend a lot of time looking for the perfect pattern or when you want to create a sock with at stitch pattern you haven’t seen in a sock before. I find that pattern generators are really good when I want to make something in a very classic style without any frills. Just a sweater. Or just a sock. Or just a hat. These are the types of knitted items that people have been knitting for ages from memory.
One pretty cool thing about pattern generators? They will help you learn – literally grow connections in your mind – about how knitting instructions work to create a garment or object. You can go your whole life following pattern directions without errors, but you’ll always be at the mercy of the pattern writer. Once you start learning how and why these instructions create a pattern, you’ll be better able to fix mistakes, how to continue on if you get off track, how to adjust a pattern to work better for you, etc…
Be bold! The world is your oyster! You now have the power to knit beyond the stuffy confines of a pattern! Now you can regard patterns in their proper place: instructions to recreate a specific thing.
But no, really, taking your understanding of pattern making to the next level will literally change your brain, and level up your logical and reasoning abilities. Plus one to knowledge: knitting.