Chatting with Kate Atherley

It's no secret around YITC HQ that we're big fans of Kate Atherley so we're completely thrilled to be able to have her join us for this year's Great London Yarn Crawl and Pop-Up Marketplace. In fact, with the addition of Kate's workshops that we're hosting, it's become a weekend event!

We asked Kate a few questions so that you can all get to know her better too, and learn a little bit more about what she'll be teaching and talking about during her visit. Enjoy!


We're so excited to have you teach your workshops as an accompaniment to the Yarn in the City GLYC and Pop-Up Marketplace weekend - especially as there seems to be a real interest in design as knitters become more experienced in their craft. You also have extensive experience in knitting, designing and teaching about socks. How did you move into teaching about pattern writing and do you have a preference between teaching about socks vs. teaching about pattern writing and design?

KA> Before I became a knitting professional, I worked in the software industry, specializing in communications. I worked on both the documentation and the marketing sides, always on very technical software products, fairly complex stuff. It was my job to make sure that what the technical types were saying made sense to “ordinary people” – the users of the software. It was all about making sure technical concepts and processes are communicated clearly, in a way that anyone can follow. When I started designing my own knits and writing patterns for them, it became clear very quickly that my technical writing experience was entirely relevant. What also became clear was that I have an unusual combination of skills and experience: not many knit designers have worked as technical writers!

Pattern writing came relatively easily to me, but this is not true for most designers in my experience. Add to that my degree in mathematics, and I had inadvertently created the ideal background for technical editing. The more teaching and editing I did, the more it became clear to me that designers often really struggled with pattern writing, and so it seemed like a natural use of my skills to start teaching – and then, eventually, write a book. Although I love teaching socks (and other types of knitting projects), I get the most pleasure from helping designers with their pattern writing. The better written the pattern, the more accessible it is to knitters of all levels, and so in my small way I feel like I’m helping expand the variety of patterns available for knitters!

Leading up to and over the course of writing your book Pattern Writing for Knit Designers, what are the most frequent pitfalls that  you've seen aspiring designers fall into when starting to writing their own patterns?
KA> When writing instructions, it’s challenging to put yourself in the shoes of the knitter, especially if you’re writing a pattern for less experienced knitters. You may know how to work Moss Stitch, but another knitter might not, so to say “work in Moss Stitch for 10cm” might not be enough information for the knitter to be able to successfully work the pattern. You have to ‘forget’ what you know. A classic example is the definition of the “ssk” decrease... So often, it’s defined in a stitch glossary as “slip, slip, knit”. This is great if you already know how to work the decrease, but it’s less than helpful if you don’t – in fact, it’s horribly misleading. A knitter who doesn’t know how to work an ssk will do something that’s not even faintly related to a decrease, if this is all the information they are given!  

What are some of your top tips for aspiring designers looking to start writing their own patterns?
KA> Look at other patterns for similar sorts of items, to see how they are written out. They can provide helpful inspiration and useful templates. For example, when I wrote out my first cowl pattern, I forgot to include the instruction to join the round... I only realized this when looking at a cowl pattern from another design! Use the style sheet of a publication you like, to help guide you as to what information to include and how to express things. Definitely have someone – even just a friend – proofread the pattern. It’s impossible to review your own work. 

You're also going to be joining us at the Indie Designer Spotlight as part of the Pop-Up Marketplace. What will you have to show off to visitors and what are you most looking forward to chatting with them about?
KA> I’m planning to show off my newest book: Custom Socks, from Interweave Press. I’ll be bringing some of the book samples, for a little trunk show. I’m really excited about this book, as it’s doing something entirely new: helping knitters properly understand sock sizing and their own fit needs. I’ll be talking about how to get the proper fit for a sock – including how to measure your foot to diagnose your sock fit needs – how to create your own sock patterns from scratch and how to customize an existing pattern.  I’ll probably also have a few of my shawl samples... I’ve also been working on a mini collection of things to do with sock yarn that doesn’t work for socks: I’ve got patterns for wild hand-painted yarns, for yarns with short yardage, and for yarns too pretty for socks.

What's next for you in the coming year?
KA> Well, a natural follow up to custom fit socks is mittens and gloves... look for news on a book about that!  I’m also working with a couple of crochet experts on a possible crochet version of the Pattern Writing book.

If you'd like to take part in Kate's classes there are still spaces available! Click here for all the details. And in addition to teaching for Yarn in the City, Kate will also be teaching at A Yarn Story in Bath on September 3, and returning to the UK for the Joeli's Kitchen Retreat in February in Manchester. All the details are on Kate's blog here.