Difficulties with knitting difficulty

I’d already been thinking about knitting difficulty classifications when the LoveKnitting blog post went up highlighting 10 challenging patterns. They included my Gingham Style scarf (on LoveKnitting and Ravelry) because it is a double knit intarsia pattern.

Gingham Style by Natalie Servant

The blog post and other comments about knitting difficulty have had me thinking about what a difficult knitting pattern is. I think the perception of difficulty depends on the knitter and their experience. Here are just some of the reasons that I’ve heard people call a knitting pattern difficult:

  • it only has charts
  • it only has written instructions
  • it includes a technique they’ve never tried
  • it includes a technique they find tedious (purling, cabling, intarsia, darning in tons of ends)
  • it calls for a yarn weight they don’t like to use
  • it’s time-consuming

In my description for Gingham Style I called it challenging because it can be. If you’re familiar with both double knitting and intarsia and willing to put up with handling multiple balls of yarn, it’s fine. I enjoyed working on it when I knew I had uninterrupted time and my setup of the balls in order beside me wouldn’t be disrupted.

These days when I’m writing pattern proposals I tend to list the techniques needed instead of giving some kind of difficulty rating. I’m trying to do that in my patterns on Ravelry too.

When I’m writing patterns, my goal is to make them knittable. If I don’t think something is a generic enough knitting technique that people will figure it out with Google, I include either a tutorial or a link to one.

Frequently, difficulty is temporary. Something is difficult until you’ve done it enough times that it is just another skill in your repertoire. It may take a bit of pain to break through that barrier, but it’s often worth it. Sometimes it takes the right desired end goal (your dream project) to get you to persist.

Here are some projects that I found difficult as I was making them. I know I could make them again now with more happiness and confidence:

A christening dress – the seaming was painful for me because it wasn’t something I had done properly before.

Zoe's Christening dress

A double knit scarf: started, but never finished.

my first double knit project

Anemoi Mittens by Eunny Jang – my first stranded colourwork knitting. It was also the first pattern I ever bought online! I did bail on the tubular cast on…

Anemoi mittens by Eunny Jang

La Traviata stole – this was reasonably logical, but I needed to closely follow the charts. It was also just acres of knitting (or so it seemed at the time).

La Traviata pattern by Marianne Kinzel

What do you find difficult in knitting? Has your idea of what is difficult changed?

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3 Responses to Difficulties with knitting difficulty

  1. NancyMac says:

    I can’t say I find anything ‘difficult’, as I do like to challenge myself when knitting. I have learned many things over my years of knitting and gratefully still learn new things.
    There was only ever one pattern for a baby afghan, that was the bane of my existence and I threw the pattern out; as I wouldn’t have wanted to inflict it on another living sole. I had to count ‘every’ single row of the pattern, all the way up the afghan; after much ripping/knitting/re-ripping/re-knitting. I also consulted with other knitters who couldn’t figure it out either. It wasn’t a pattern that would stick in your head, as it changed so radically throughout.
    I love to learn something new when I can, with the patterns I purchase. You never know when you might learn something easier/better than the first way you’ve learned a skill, so it is worth trying something ‘scary’ because once you’ve learned it, it leaves the scary realm and becomes a new skill. :)

  2. CTine says:

    I recently read a Freakonomics blog post about pattern ratings that had me thinking about difficulty ratings too. I’m certainly not one to shy away from doing things that are “difficult”, and I definitely make them more difficult on my self (shall we do beads and lace on a moving bus? Why not!!). I have struggled with things that are physically hard on my hands (a particularly twisted stitch sock comes to mind) and I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I actually struggle more when the knitting is “boring” now. Miles of stockinette? No thank you, I’m happier with my colourwork today.

    Difficulty is a perceived notion, and I think for sure it changes as you evolve as a knitter. Right now, I would consider something with entrelac or brioche difficult because I haven’t done those…but give me some time and those could become second nature like cabling and twisted stitching I’m sure. What I want in terms of difficulty also changes depending on mood or whim. I like to push myself, but occasionally, I just want to knit and succeed. I could talk/write/think about this all day.

  3. mary lou says:

    I like your idea of listing techniques. Drop Dead Easy Knits wasn’t written specifically for beginners, just patterns that allowed you to not pay attention in lots of sections, and not need to consult a chart constantly. I was entertained by some of the complaints about what wasn’t easy – double pointed needles – kitchener stitch – color work- yarnovers, you get the idea. Those patterns above take work, but the ten most challenging projects you’ve seen? Not at all. BTW, I would never accept the challenge of your scarf because I don’t enjoy intarsia or double knitting. I’m way too lazy!