Jean Greenhowe Designs

About Jean's Designs - Notes, Tips & History


Why Jean's Knitting Instructions are easy to Follow

The bit of paper below is a cutting from SHE magazine in the late 1960s. It has yellowed with age, been mended with sticky tape, survived through several house moves and is now safely framed in my workroom. Why have I kept it? Because the statement is forever true. Most of us would rather risk catastrophe because instructions are usually boring and even worse, frequently complicated.


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Yet in some cases instructions are vital. Think about traffic lights. If drivers ignored traffic light ‘instructions’ it would be catastrophic. Or when that expensive blue blouse needs washing, you plonk it in the washing machine along with the white sheets and a yellow towel and what happens? The sheets turn a nasty streaky blue, the towel has patches of grassy green and the blouse has shrunk to a size 6. What did the label instructions say? ‘Dry clean only’.

But by far the most intimidating instructions come with modern machines and gadgets. One example, the monster 96 pages of instructions which arrived with my new DVD player. It’s packed with technical terms which I couldn’t understand so I had to ask for help. Finally, understanding the basics I realised that a large number of the 96 pages were for numerous little ‘extras’ which inventors can’t help adding to gadgets just because they can, not because they are necessary or even useful.

However, I think that the main problem is simply this. The majority of instructions are written by people who know everything there is to know about the machine/gadget and all the technicalities.  Yet they never think about the ‘customers’ who have to read the instructions, who haven’t a clue what any of the technical words mean.

Now I don’t know if the skill of writing good instructions comes naturally, or if it can be taught. I only know that my own method is to put myself in the place of the knitter and ask myself questions, Is this clear enough? Does it require more explanation? Will everyone understand it? I am also aware that beginner knitters may not be familiar with certain basic procedures so I provide a ‘Notes’ page with explanations in all our publications.

But what I feel is most important -I don’t include anything in my patterns which might exclude some knitters. Two examples are intarsia and Fair Isle knitting. I can imagine how disappointing it would be for knitters who wanted to make one of my designs but were not familiar with those techniques.

There is another important aspect to knitting instructions - the way in which they are presented, because every publisher has a ‘house-style’. You may have noticed that this varies greatly in the arrangement of the text and the page format. When I established Jean Greenhowe Designs I devised my own house style and made a lot of changes in the way that knitting patterns are generally presented, which included new methods. Here are two examples – my abbreviation B&T (tightly or loosely) which shortens a lot of the text in all of my patterns, and a new technique for starting and fastening off the yarn ends invisibly, when embroidering the stitches on doll’s faces etc.
But the best part was that I was in charge of all departments, not just the design, knitting and writing instructions, I could also choose the particular text type, arrange the layout of the pages, create the sets for photography and check the instructions at each stage of the production.

First my hand-written instructions are typed as a word file then our printer arranges all the text into ‘galleys’ – long narrow columns which I have to  arrange into the three columns which you see on each page of our booklets.

The spacing of the text is important as it has to be easy to read and follow, otherwise knitters may get lost in the instructions. So I arrange all the sections of text from the printers’ galleys and glue them in position on each page where they need to be spaced for clarity, then our printer follows my arrangements.


The headlines are printed in various sizes of bold text which indicate each and every part of all the knitted pieces. There are no full stops for the abbreviations, (they just make the text look ‘busy’).


 All the colours are named in full, instead of the usual lists in knitting patterns, which have to be referred to many times, such as (Y= yellow) and so on. I also include notes and explanations in places where a knitter might wonder, ‘What is this row for?’ Not forgetting the importance of the photographs, which are placed alongside the instructions so that knitters can see what they are knitting.


Now back to the beginning, my SHE magazine cutting and the author - Mignon McLaughlin. I only recently discovered who this lady was through the internet. Born in 1913, died in 1983 she was an American journalist and author, famous for her pithy, (concise, short and full of meaning) one-liners about everything under the sun. Look her up to discover this genius’s works and her talent for knocking nails on the heads.


Obviously my own favourite is on that slip of paper, because just about everything in my career has involved instructions. And the Fan Mail on our website proves that some instructions can actually be very enjoyable as well as useful!

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© Copyright Jean Greenhowe Designs 2006