This is a post I wrote for the November 2012 Craftsy Designer Newsletter.
Sewing a project from a poorly written pattern is such a frustrating experience. Instructions that are error ridden and hard to follow can make you throw your hands up in frustration, leaving you with a pile of wasted materials and hours of wasted time. As a designer building a business by selling sewing patterns you want to earn a reputation for writing clear, accurate and complete pattern instructions that help your customers create great projects. Use these five tips when you write your next pattern and make a name for yourself as a source of sure-bet patterns that are easy to use and work every time.
1. Start each sentence with a verb. Verbs make us feel active and enthusiastic. Some good sentence starting verbs include: stitch, pinch, zip, thread, cut, secure, pin, press, and turn. Sometimes it’s as simple as reordering the parts of a sentence to put the action word first or simplifying a sentence by eliminating extraneous words.
When you could say, “Now you will attach the eyes to the teddy bear’s face using a whipstitch.” Instead say, “Whipstitch the eyes to the teddy bear’s face.” You get the same point across using fewer words and you start with an action.
2. Write with a warm and friendly tone. Just because these are sewing pattern instructions doesn’t mean they need to be dry. Use contractions (like “don’t” and “can’t”) when appropriate to make your sentences sound more conversational. Include articles (like “the” and “a”) so that you don’t sound like a robot.
Instead of saying, “Cut fabric in strips”, say, “Cut the fabric into strips.”
4. Break the process down into logical sections, then into steps. Give each section a heading such as “Arms and Legs” so that by scanning the headings readers can easily see how all the parts will come together.
5. Check the pattern for accuracy, completeness, and specificity. Be sure you’ve included every step, put the steps in the correct order, and referred correctly to the markings on the templates. Check for spelling errors. Then find an experienced sewing friend and a beginner who are willing to try out your pattern. Incorporate their feedback to refine your pattern to make it perfect.
Writing sewing patterns is a kind of technical writing that can take some getting used to. It's good to get into the habit of clearly explaining how you've made something. You can take those instructions and teach with them or sell them or just remind yourself how exactly you made something. I hope these suggestions make it a bit more straightforward for you!
If you sew from patterns and have particular elements you love (or don't love) about them please share any further tips in the comments.