What do Difficulty Ratings in patterns really mean?

Something has been bugging me for years in the fiber arts world.


When submitting a pattern to a print or online magazine, or even when submitting classes, I’m often required to give a pattern or class a difficulty rating. But how helpful are these ratings, really? What constitutes a “beginner” pattern? I think we can all agree that a knit and purl stitch, casting on and binding off, and knowing how to increase and decrease are beginner concepts. You can’t really make anything other than a scarf without knowing how to increase and decrease. But what about a m1. What about (k1, yo, k1) into the same stitch? It’s AN increase, but it seems to be more in the realm of intermediate. The distinctions between these rankings (even when you use a non-standard system and give it a breakdown like knitty does) are still pretty subjective.


In psychological fields, there’s a phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It basically boils down to people not knowing how much they don’t know. A beginning knitter who feels confident with a few increases and decreases probably doesn’t even realize things like tubular cast-ons, short rows, entrelac, and brioche EXIST to know that they don’t know them. So a beginning knitter might even be able to knit a sweater and count themselves an expert.


But a more accomplished knitter with more experience of what is possible might count themselves as Intermediate since they haven’t tackled a steeked, stranded, handspun opus yet.


Granted, this is not an in-depth exploration of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. That’s not what this is about. But when considering the under-defined difficulty ratings in this light it makes them much less useful. In an attempt to let you make your own decisions I’ve been including Techniques Used in my pattern descriptions.


My hope was that this will allow makers to assess their own skills and comfort levels. If you are looking for an easy going project and not a challenge, and you know how to do all the things in the techniques used section, you should be good. And if you know how to do most of those things, and you’d like to learn a new skill, then you still might go for it.


I’m wondering if this is really enough though. Maybe I need a highlighted area that includes techniques used as well as links to tutorials. What do you think? What information is most relevant to you in regard to difficulty ranking?


Comments 7

  1. Sami wrote:

    I find difficulty ratings generally unhelpful. It basically boils down to, “Well, it’s easy if you know how.”

    I *do* like it when designers include techniques used, as that allows me to judge “if I know how” and if I feel like doing those things for this particular project. I also like a general summary of how something is worked, especially for paid patterns–e.g. “Top down sweater, worked seamlessly, etc, etc….” Thanks to every designer who does that!

    I think what *is* useful is having some idea of how much help is given in the pattern. For example, Tin Can Knits’ Simple Collection–some people might consider socks to be non-beginner territory, but the way TCK basically holds your hand the entire way through, makes it totally beginner-possible.

    Right now I’m knitting Jane Richmond’s Fireside pullover, which I would *not* consider a beginner pattern, even though it’s really not hard. It’s just that you need to understand certain concepts like picking up stitches and continuing ribbing by doing “p1k1” even if the pattern says “k1p1.”

    Posted 04 Jan 2017 at 10:32 AM
  2. Mim wrote:

    That’s a really good point. That has me thinking that maybe a pull box explaining what is explained and what has tutorials, etc… would be helpful.

    Posted 06 Jan 2017 at 10:31 AM
  3. Margo wrote:

    I ignore ratings because it more the style of pattern writing that makes a pattern easy or difficult for me. Knowing what techniques are used is more helpful.

    Posted 05 Jan 2017 at 6:42 AM
  4. Christine wrote:

    I agree so overwhelmingly with Sami that it’s worth commenting to say that I do. I purchased a pattern where the designer explained that she wasn’t going to rate it, because it’s so subjective, but don’t worry, she’d taught people to knit so that they could make this pattern, and they were doing it in a week. But the instructions as written out required a fair bit of knowledge of how knit fabric was constructed (and/or knowledge of how various stitches are conventionally done). Once I figured it out, sure it was easy, but I feel sorry for any beginners who bought that pattern and tried to figure out what to do.

    Posted 06 Jan 2017 at 10:12 AM
  5. Sarah wrote:

    I found out that people way overestimate their abilities when I was hiring contract crocheters. Many rated themselves “experienced” but had never made anything more complicated than a bulky yarn afghan in sc. One proudly told me that she was qualified because she had made the exact same afghan pattern three times in different colors of yarn.

    Posted 06 Jan 2017 at 11:26 AM
  6. Jennifer wrote:

    I do like if an experienced designer rates a pattern – I’ll trust that judgment. The ratings by the users, such as in Ravelry, I’m more suspicious of because it’s from the point of view of the user. A master knitter might think a 4-color stranded hat is a piece of cake, but me, as a new knitter couldn’t hope to accomplish it.

    Linking to sources of assistance in the pattern or info page is very helpful!

    Posted 25 Jan 2017 at 10:15 AM
  7. tully wrote:

    Adding the techniques used in a pattern is a fabulous way to let people judge their own level of comfort with a pattern. I have been knitting for 40+ years but am constantly learning new things (one reason I join MKALs and KALs-I always learn something new).

    Posted 28 Jan 2017 at 9:08 AM

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