Hi Heather, I have a pattern from way back, and I don’t understand it.
Could help me figure the pattern out? –Tabetha

For everyone out there trying to make sense of a complex, old, degraded, poorly written, or just too difficult pattern, here are a few tips that might give you a little guidance.

First, if it is part of a book, try looking at some of the smallest, simple patterns in the book, to get a feel for the style of how they are written. Then go back and see if that helps with the pattern you want to make.

Second, if you do not have that advantage, here’s a trick that I sometimes use. Draw a picture, by hand, of the piece, even if it means tracing an unclear photo, even if it means redrawing a pattern that was already diagrammed for you. Then blow it up on a copy machine or retrace it to make it much bigger. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look that great, as long as you have the general idea. Trust me, my drawing skills are pretty lousy, but it gets the point across. The attached photo is one of my masterpieces. I hope it makes you feel better.

Here’s the key part. Go back and read through the instructions, adding the numbers and joins as if it is a diagramed pattern. Draw arrows from the starting point so that you will know which direction to go, where to reverse work, where the joints are made, how many stitches are involved, and where any tricky parts might be. Note all this in your diagram in a way that makes sense for you.

When figuring out any complex pattern, the most important things to figure out are which direction to tat and where you will reverse work.

Motifs are usually made in one go, so that you have a single piece of thread continuing throughout, switching from ring to chain, or ring to ring, around the motif.

    • When motifs are connected to each other at chains, each motif is usually made separately, cut off, then the next one is attached to a tiny picot in the chain as it is made.

    • When motifs are attached at rings, they can either be independent as above, or they might be made continuously with split rings. The split rings often look deceptive, appearing to be independent while really being continuous. That’s the nice thing about split rings.

Doilies, on the other hand, are usually made in rounds, starting from the center and working in circles outward. Each round is usually independent, though in complex (and usually very modern patterns), you might climb out of one round to the next using a split chain or other technique. With older patterns you do not need to look for these signs of trickery.

After you have played around with a few patterns like this, you will start to get the hang of figuring them out. In any case, I hope these ideas help give you a start.