Poncho Pattern Problems

Subject: Students of Woodside High wearing hippy fashion like ponchos, boots, and sandals. California October 1969 photographer- Arthur Schatz Time Inc Owned Merlin- 1201958

Subject: Students of Woodside High wearing hippy fashion like ponchos, boots, and sandals. California October 1969
photographer- Arthur Schatz
Time Inc Owned
Merlin- 1201958

Thinking of the ponchos so in vogue in the late ’60s and early ’70s (what my parents called “hippie garb”), I wasn’t particularly excited to learn that ponchos were again “in.”  (This picture [source] may bring back memories for some of you; it certainly did for me!)

Knit and crochet patterns for shawlettes and ponchos kept appearing, and I see ponchos in clothing stores all the time.  So, succumbing to peer pressure, I thought maybe I would knit one.

BackBayPoncho1 (2)This pattern – the Back Bay Poncho by Leslie Scanlon – caught my attention.   I have no intention of wearing it as a fashionable or trendy piece of clothing.  Between my age, my long white hair and my penchant for wearing Birkenstocks through three seasons, I’d completely miss looking fashionable in any and every sense!

However, I thought, if I knit it densely, it would be the perfect cold weather clothing item to pull over my head as I wheel my bike out to go riding.  I paid for and downloaded the pattern.

The pattern calls for extra bulky wool.  I immediately thought of Bulky Lopi (I love Lopi), but in addition to the fact that I already have a Bulky Lopi pullover I knit 20 years aBurlySpunTormentedTealgo, I decided instead to go with a U.S. grown and spun wool:  Burly Spun (226g/8oz, 132y/121m), by Brown Sheep Company in Mitchell, Nebraska.  I chose the colorway “Tormented Teal.”

The pattern as written, leaves a lot to be desired.  I immediate emailed the authors of the pattern.  I also scanned through comments on Ravelry.  Other knitters have some of the same – dare I say it?! – gripes as I.  Now, a couple of weeks later, I have yet to hear from the pattern’s authors, I will discuss the problems (some of which were noted by Ravelry folks a couple of years ago), with this pattern and offer suggestions on how to address the problems.

First:  The instructions are printed in all capital letters.  When writing pattern instructions, always use standard English writing forms:  Capitalize the first letter of each sentence and each proper noun.

Why?  Writing in all caps makes it difficult for readers who are (a) forced to search for periods or semicolons marking the end of sentences or phrases, and (b) pained (or pissed) because there is no shape contrast between words.  (Click here to read more about this problem.)

Resolution:  Pulling up Excel, I quickly rewrote the pattern into my Neo-Norsk style.  (Click here for explanation of rewriting narrative instructions into this format.)  If you prefer narrative form of instructions, retype the instructions using standard English writing rules.   (Next week’s post will look at narrative form pattern instructions.)

Second:  Many Ravelry knitters noted that following the instructions as written left them with a poncho that was too short, no matter size (given in XS-L).   Knitters could have known this in advance if there had been a schematic on the pattern.

Why should there be a schematic?  Because not every knitter is the same height or width, nor are they proportioned the same (e.g., I am very tall with a very long torso, long arms and a very low waist).  Many knitters (such as I), will revise a pattern for a better fit.  It is far easier (and less frustrating) to make necessary pattern revisions before starting to knit.  (Several Ravelry folks noted they ripped out or added many inches to make the pattern fit better.)

Resolution:  I first sketched out a schematic based on the pattern instructions.  Using the author’s row gauge and as written for a size large, I then calculated the distance between where the collar meets the body to the end of the increase rounds (and thus the beginning of the shaping of the front and back parts).  It came to 11 inches – far too short for my arms and, given Ravelry comments, far too short for many other knitters’ arms.  I adjusted the increases and penciled notes onto my Neo-Norsk rewrite.

Third:  The pattern calls for short row shaping to give the poncho the curve so that the poncho is shorter over the arms and longer in the front and back.  I needed to ensure the front and backs would be long enough for me, but there there was no schematic.

Resolution:  Using the pattern’s stated row gauge, I calculated the lengths if instructions were followed.  As I suspected, it was too short for me.   So adjusted the spread of short rows and penciled notes onto my rewrite.

Fourth:  The short row shaping as instructed is sloppy.  Following the instructions as they are, you may find those dreaded short row holes.  (Given comments from Ravelry folks, many knitters had problems with the short rows.)

Resolution:  I suggest you try the German short row method.  Here’s a link to a video tutorial.  If you prefer written narrative and photographs, click here.

In conclusion: It is one thing to come up with a knit or crochet pattern and another to write it for purchase (!) by others.  Some advice:

  1. Firstly, don’t fall victim to hubris and assume you can do both.
  2. Second, when you learn about the shortcomings of your pattern instructions, respond, revise and update the pattern.

About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Brown Sheep Company, Bulky Lopi, Burly Spun, Crocheting, Knitting, Pattern Construction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Poncho Pattern Problems

  1. I’m glad if my comments have helped you! Yes, I have to always adjust patterns for my torso. On top of a long torso, I have a very low waist, so adjusting fitted patterns is of critical importance. The disastrous sizing of this simple poncho ON TOP of no schematic has strengthened my resolve to NEVER again pay for a pattern that lacks a schematic.


  2. Thank you!!!! I’ve been working on this exact pattern (Back Bay poncho) and am at the short row point. I followed the pattern exactly as written… and ended up with large holes. Tried again. Same thing.
    Decided to google the pattern and see what came up, and I am SO glad to have found this post! I will be checking out the German short row method you mentioned! Also, thanks for the tip about the length! I am tall (5’9) with a long torso, so I tend to have issues with length of projects as well!


  3. Let the force guide you to knitting projects! 🙂 Seriously, though, I see them in all the clothing stores!


  4. I have been itching to knit a poncho. And I didn’t even know they were back in. It’s a sign!


  5. thehookstook says:

    Yes, understood. Wasn’t expecting anything else. That’s where the pattern testers on Ravelry come in..


  6. salpal1 says:

    🙂 As someone said, what you have is your pattern now – write ‘er up and sell ‘er, my dear. You have the documentation to prove it is yours. 🙂


  7. I just tried it on for a fitting. I am ready to start the (revised) shaping for the front and back pieces, so it should go quickly from here. Re the author, I emailed her once already. If she doesn’t care about knitters’ concerns with her pattern, … well, I’ve already waste enough time fixing the problems with her pattern and instructions. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. salpal1 says:

    I do hope you sent the designer a link to this post. These errors are pretty severe, and the fact that some were told YEARS ago is just awful.

    As for the project itself – as soon as you said you would knit it fairly densely and throw it on when running outside, I wanted one. The first time I have ever wanted a poncho! And I do remember the type in the photo you posted. 🙂 I was given one like that with lots of fringe – it dragged into everything. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I understand what you mean, though I’m a “make to match” person. I prefer brevity – but then I don’t sell my designs. My notation method in my notebook would probably make you cringe. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I am happy to review your pattern instructions but not test knit your design. Yes, I agree the Neo-Norsk method is every so practical. I developed it but it’s not copyrighted, so feel free to try writing a pattern like that!


  11. thehookstook says:

    Thanks! That’s a really kind offer and I may well take you up on that! I’ve noticed there is a pattern testing group on Ravelry, which I intend to make use of. I’m on to Part 2 of the International Diploma in Crochet, which is about the design process, so all of the above should hopefully mean that any patterns I try to sell will be correct and user-friendly. If only UK mags used that neo-Norsk chart you’re keen on. It seems so logical..


  12. Oh you hit everything right on the head with this article, I am a pattern designer and it drives me crazy having to compete with folk who think the process is an easy one. All my patterns are written stitch by stitch, as that is my preferred format, can’t abide ‘lazy designers’ who write ‘make right front to match left front reversing all shaping’, If someone has parted with their money, they should at least expect full instructions and not have to do an hour of maths. I could go on but don’t want to get accused of self promoting…lol. Thank you for the great read.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Happy to hear that! Yes, writing patterns is not an easy task, nor one to be tackled without great forethought and planning.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. belinda o says:

    You touched on one of my biggest concerns. I’ve posted a few patterns on Ravelry and I’ve made sure to have them tested beforehand for readability and ease of understanding. I even bought software to make a chart (something I don’t regret doing, but it was a bit of an indulgence given the cost vs. return for my patterns). It’s not something I’m trained in, unless you count the years I’ve spent reading patterns. I’ve actually put a couple of patterns out there for free because I figure the more who read it, the more feedback I’ll get. Fortunately (dare I say it?) I’ve gotten good feedback.


  15. Thank you! Good luck with your sock knitting!


  16. I love your posts. I read them often and I am so pleased that you included the link to the German Short Row post. I feel this will make my future sock knitting much improved. Thank you.


  17. You may be right … Though it would take a little time to translate my scribbled notes and comments into something I could share with other knitters. (I would want the instructions perfect!)


  18. Pattern writing is an art and skill that can be learned. I’m happy to review your instructions for a pattern if you’d like some feedback.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. For young people, I guess ponchos appear exciting and novel. For those of us whole them in the 60s and 70s, maybe not so much. 🙂 I sympathize re closing LYS. So sad. Most knitters could really benefit by the knowledge of skilled knitters – that is as long as they’re the ones owning and working at these stores! The internet is great but simply can’t replace face-to-face learning, encouragement and mentoring for most knitters or crocheters.


  20. I’m think I’m at (or maybe passed!) the point where I distrust patterns from people with whose work I am not already familiar. (I haven’t used a Rowan pattern in years.)


  21. I find my chart form so much easier to read than wading through narratives.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. slippedstitches says:

    I agree with all you said. I love the Neo-Norsk chart.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. liwella says:

    Oh crikey. You bought what you thought was a pattern, but you’ve had to do all the technical design work yourself. :-/

    The things you’ve identified are some of my big bugbears too. Particularly schematics with insufficient information on them. And indie designers aren’t the only culprits here. (I’m looking at you, Rowan.)


  24. Great advice. I agree about the poncho look- not sure why they’re back in style. Makes me really worry now about all the people writing and selling patterns online. But 3 yarn stores have closed near me — what to do? I’m sure your finished project will look great regardless. Post a pic!


  25. thehookstook says:

    I’m beginning my journey into pattern writing, but I would never write a pattern purely in capitals. It’s like that author has never read a pattern before! I didn’t realise there was a science behind capitalisation, though – just instinctively feel it’s hard on the eyes and brain…


  26. ETA: Just a thought……


  27. I agree totally with your posting! Such a pattern should be tested first. They usually are sent out and tweaked but every once in a while someone thinks they can make money on others buy just posting a random pattern. Obviously, by this being in CAPS the person responsible does not know the first thing about pattern writing. I feel, just my opinion of course, that with all the changes you have made, with a lovely schematic that this is now your pattern! You can claim this as yours pattern and have a few testers and offer it to us knitters! Just a though……

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s