I've been hanging out more on twitter lately (twitter.com/knitluck) and meeting some amazing knitting folks. One person I met, Rohn Strong of (@strongandstone) posed this question about knitting pattern design:
Do you think by walking knitters step by step and hand holding in patterns is generating a generation of very dependent knitters?
I had a very strong reaction to this question for a few reasons. After my recent baby sweater debacle based on a poor knitting pattern design that kept me from knitting for a week I have developed some strong opinions on knitting pattern design from the standpoint of a knitter and consumer. I am not a knitting pattern designer. I've dabbled in it, but decided that I'd leave it for the professionals. That said, after knitting many knitting patterns in the last ten years I'd like to think I've learned a thing or two about knitting pattern design as it concerns the end user, the knitter.
The other reason I had such a strong reaction is that I get upset about some attitudes towards beginner knitters. I've witnessed oneupsmanship, snobbery and downright arrogance when dealing with less experienced knitters and it makes me very disappointed in knitting as a hobby. I've seen this in yarn shops by yarn shop owners, I've experienced it in abundance at online knitting forums and it horrifies me that there are many cruel and unempathetic knitters out there who seem practically threatened by the notion that there are other ways to knit things, or that people might need help learning to knit.
I consider the attitude that providing specific instructions in knitting patterns creates "dependent knitters" to be at best arrogant and at worst rude. It suggests that knitters should be able to read a knitting designer's mind when knitting a pattern and already know the right cast on or bind off in any situation. Knitting is a skill that takes years to master. There's a master's program from TKGA that takes years to complete. It is a folly to expect that any knitter beginning or not will know a knitting designer's intentions without explicit instructions.
There's always going to be knitters to need extra hand holding. These knitters sometimes require a lot of patience (especially from local yarn shop owners), but making a knitter guess at technique is not going to magically eliminate these folks from knitting -nor should they be excluded from our hobby. Instead perhaps we need better training for knitting pattern designers to be as specific as possible in their designs and for yarn shop owners in basic interpersonal skills and specific offerings for one-on-one knitting tutoring. I get it, working with needy knitters is time consuming and frustrating for yarn shop owners, especially if said person didn't buy the yarn at the store, but we are all ambassadors to knitting as a hobby and we all need to ask ourselves whether we're doing our best to be inclusive.
One thing that really gets my goat is when knitting pattern designers don't specify which cast-on they used, or bind off. There are many ways to do both and if I had to spend hours researching which one would create the result I see in the photo, then that's time that I'm not knitting and the faster I'm able to knit a knitting pattern, the faster I will be able to purchase another pattern and more yarn. It benefits designers, yarn companies and knitters as a whole to have comprehensive knitting patterns that educate the knitter on different techniques and even offers alternatives to the techniques listed. Maybe these are things that can be added as errata or notes in Ravelry. I understand that knitting pattern design is time-intensive and time sensitive. Sometimes it's hard to get all the things in there and specific technique description is very detail oriented work for endeavors that are already heavy with specifics.
That said, with the proliferation of new knitting pattern designs and designers in the last decade patterns are getting better and better and there's more tech support and contact between knitters and knitting pattern designers. It's not too difficult to contact your knitting pattern designer with a question, but it saves designers the time of having to answer those questions by putting those details in the pattern to begin with. That doesn't account for the goofballs (like myself) who get so excited about a given knitting pattern that they don't read it all the way through before casting on (derp), but that's no fault of the designer anyway.
UPDATE Kate Atherly has written marvelously about this from the knitting pattern designer's perspective and Wooly Thinker has done a great job expanding upon some of the ideas mentioned here in the comments, especially how expanded knitting pattern instructions breeds confident multi-talented knitters.
Happy knitting all! I look forward to reading responses to this article.