A Young Reader Asks: Is There an Elitist Oligarchy in the Underworld of Knitters?

A reader named Sarah Johnson, who is passionate about crocheting, noticed something curious about the demographics of a user-rated knitting-and-crocheting website called Ravelry. Sarah is graduating from high school in June, and plans to major in psychology and pre-med. She writes:

I joined a free site for knitters and crocheters called Ravelry. As far as a little Internet research goes, it’s one of the biggest knitting and crochet sites out there, with over 1 million members. CrochetMe, another big site with comparable features, has 224,000 users. Crochetville, a large crochet forum, has only 46,000 members as of today. 414,974 people like “knitting” on Facebook. By comparison, only 5,560 people like “crochet.” There are a number of personal knitting and crochet blogs and personal websites, but many are administered by older users to whom the language of computers will always be a foreign tongue. A young person, like myself, can just sort of tell that a site like Crochet Pattern Central was made by someone over 50, and that’s a turn-off (according to Quantcast, however, Crochet Pattern Central has more viewers). Ravelry has a fresh and engaging interface that appeals to my demographic. As far as I can tell, Ravelry is a giant walking among dwarfs in the world of online yarncraft. It’s a robust site that provides patterns; tutorials; social networking features; and news about knitting, crocheting, and related crafts. It allows users to rank yarns, needles, hooks, and other products; buy, sell, and trade yarn and supplies online; and form groups. It allows users to search for patterns, add them to a notebook, and then rate the pattern for difficulty (1-10) and quality (1-5) and upload pictures and notes on the project when they’re finished, all for free.

(For the sake of clarity, I’ll call the collected demographic of knitters and crocheters “handicrafters,” although this is like calling both Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton “Founding Fathers” – they may work together sometimes, and some of their fans may overlap, but there’s still that element of rivalry.)

Crocheting and knitting are by nature localized, insular and disparate arts, with small, isolated enclaves of familial or local groups passing down their methods from parent to child, or mentor to apprentice. (Personal experience suggests that an overwhelming percentage of handicrafters are female, but I couldn’t find even the barest statistics to back up this claim.) The yarn store and the knitting magazine was the only connection the handicrafter had to the larger world of their fiber art. Yarn brands aggressively distributed free patterns, knowing (rightly) that their sales depended on their primary consumers (handicrafters) staying engaged with their craft. However, the Internet is changing all of this with sites like Ravelry. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that sites like Ravelry, and Ravelry in particular, are shaping the future of all handicraft.

So, why, then, on a site that contains 205,069 patterns, are less than 100 patterns user-rated as ‘difficult’?

Before I started trying out Ravelry patterns, I added a bunch to my notebook. I added one that was difficulty-rated at 7. I’m not the best crocheter in the world, but I figured I could handle a 7. I’m competent, and 7 is right on the tricky side of competent, right? Wrong. After doing several patterns, I realized that patterns that I considered devilishly tricky were user-rated as 3’s or 4’s. There were two possible explanations — one, I suck at crocheting. Entirely possible. Two, I’m a good crocheter — but almost everyone else is much, much better.

I took a look at the difficulty ratings of the site at large, and this is what I found:

Only 68 patterns in all of Ravelry were rated as a 9 or a 10! In what is essentially all of the handicraft world, less than 100 items are difficult to make. Sixty-eight is a statistical blip out of 205,000 patterns. Apparently, statistically speaking, nothing in the handicraft world is extremely difficult. As you can see, the bell curve of difficulty bulges hugely at 2, is greater at 3 than at 1, and decreases exponentially as the difficulty rating goes up.

What’s more, in the 9 patterns that were rated as a 10 in difficulty, all were given the 10 by a single user. If those nine users had never rated that pattern, no pattern would have been given the maximum difficulty rating at all. Maximum difficulty was not agreed upon by group consensus, but by the lone analysis of a single user. The 8 of the 9 crochet patterns rated at 9 were rated by one user. The one crochet pattern in the upper echelon of difficulty that was rated by two users was given an 8 by one user and a 10 by the other, which averaged to a rating of 9.

Even more interesting is how few patterns were rated poor in quality. The vast, vast majority of patterns on Ravelry that received any rating (41,861) received a rating of four or five stars (37,817). 90.3 percent of the patterns rated for quality on Ravelry are considered by users to be very good or excellent. (Crazily, 2 crochet patterns and 7 knitting patterns that had a 10 for difficulty still got 4 or 5 quality stars, presumably by the person who originally condemned it as impossibly difficult. I can’t imagine why the crafters were thinking ‘well, it was a miserably difficult pattern, but it was still pretty good.’)

I’m not sure what this data all means, but I’m quite sure that it means something. My admittedly junior analysis has unearthed two possible solutions. One, the vast majority of Ravelry patterns are, in fact, good and easy. You learn to walk before you learn to run, of course. Most handicrafters — and therefore, most pattern-writers — are at a lower level of difficulty. Even pattern-writers who could follow a difficult — difficult defined as 6 or greater — pattern feel more comfortable writing easier patterns. And a handicrafter who is capable of a 6< pattern might still do mostly 3-4 pattern work, just because they don’t like doing difficult work all the time.

The second theory is more salacious: that a large percentage — say, 65 percent or more — of Ravelry users are advanced or master handicrafters, and what they consider easy — in the 1 to 3 difficulty range — are, objectively, quite difficult. These master craftsmen and their subjective considerations of relative ease and difficulty are artificially skewing the ratings on Ravelry to make patterns that are objectively more difficult appear much less so. The master craftsmen — those who rate the most patterns, are most skilled and write the most patterns — have a skill oligarchy over the majority of beginner and intermediate handicrafters, who, because they do fewer projects and rate fewer patterns, are seeing their majority say in the ranking system diluted by a small group of hardcore crafters. (As possible confirmation, 4 percent of the users — addicts — are responsible for half the site activity, according to Quantcast. If that’s not the definition of oligarchy, what is? (The same report said that Californians are vastly overrepresented, but I digress.)

Part of my interest is pride. I would like to think that my level of skill is somewhere in the middle. I’m not doing Irish lace doilies or Aran sweaters, but I’m not making potholders, either. I’ve made a couple of afghans. I make hats and scarves of every variety. I can do cables, edging, openwork, granny square motifs and various textures. I’d like to think that my skill level is intermediate. However, patterns rated 5 for difficulty are completely untenable for me. A skill oligarchy — what other explanation can there be?

Maybe this is representative of a dilution or skewing of any user-rated product. Or maybe there’s a vast and shadowy underworld of niche markets like handicrafting, computer programming, rock climbing and marathoning, where a large percentage of those involved are highly advanced in their skill set. Compare, for instance, rock climbing with guitar playing. A high percentage of rock climbers are hardcore — serious hobbyists who dedicate overnights, weekends, long trips and thousands of dollars to their sport. Climbing magazines are written in such a specialized vernacular that they are nearly incomprehensible to the layman. Most guitar players, by contrast, are extremely amateur, know only a few chords, and play rarely (so good guitarists shine, and expert guitarists glow in a sea of mediocrity). Both are fun, but one fosters an obsession that burns brightly in a large chunk of the community, and one inspires only a mild interest. I don’t know what you’d call these activities that foster obsession and advanced skill in a wide percentage of their adherents — high-percentage hardcore pursuits, maybe? — but it’ll take an economist to unravel their mentality and the incentives that drive them.

Knowing next to nothing about crocheting or knitting, I have only two things to say:

  • I wish I had written and thought this well when I was 18.
  • I hope Sarah does become a doctor, because I think I’d like to be her patient.


Nice article - it stands as one of the few longer pieces posted that I've read all the way through without skimming. Of course that just might mean that I'm a knitter and a member of Ravelry so I'm interested reader.

I do have to comment on how hobbyist rate their skill level. One caveat, while I'm a knitter, my main interest is in needlework (embroidery). When discussing if a piece is too hard for someone at a certain skill level it is very subjective. I've seen a lot of people tackle a "simpler" project and have them give up on it since it bored them. However, the same level of beginner can tackle a harder project and have success, mostly because they are attracted to the final product and are more motivated to succeed.

But then again, what do I know - my first canvas work piece was rated intermediate to difficult and I chose every option to make it more difficult for myself. And I love it - every moment of working on it and looking at the progress made.



Though I know nothing of knitting (beyond occasionally wondering how on Earth anyone could have ever invented the art), I do know a great deal about computers, and so I think Ms. Johnson betrays herself when she writes "...but many are administered by older users to whom the language of computers will always be a foreign tongue."

Now I hate to tell her this, but what (most) young folks think of as the language of computers is in fact a complex of layers purposely invented to help inexperienced people cope with something they're not yet able to handle. I suspect much the same is true of those crochet patterns, and when she gains more experience she'll look back at this piece (thoughtful as it is) with a degree of embarassment for her youthful inexperience.


I know nothing about knitting or crocheting, but I loved the clarity, intelligence, curiosity, and style of this letter. I hope you encourage Sarah to periodically check in at Freakonomics. She is interesting, has a gift for writing (and thinking), and will be hugely successful at whatever she does.


Great analysis, Sarah.

One of the most challenging things I've ever made was also done from an excellent pattern. Even though making this sweater was difficult and stretched my knitting skills, the pattern gave me the necessary tools to make a sweater that is often mistaken for being store bought. I do notice now though that I've noted neither the difficulty or the rating of that pattern in my Ravelry notebook.

Sarah is bright and has a great academic future ahead of her. I hope she keeps crafting as well!


Contrary to Jannabeth's claim, I would call myself a great knitter. I found this article interesting, and did my own research on pattern rating. I had to laugh at many of the ones given a 10, as they were really beginner level. The 9 rating was a tad more accurate. When I looked at the ratings that I gave my elaborate Fair Isle projects, I gave them a 6-7. It really is all a matter of perspective. The patterns I would see getting a 10 are the elaborate Insarsia sweater's by Kaffe Fasset, or a Gossamer lace shawl, none of which I noticed in the 10 category.

So glad that Ravelry and knitting has made the NYT!


I hope that when Sarah gains a bit more maturity and sense, she can learn that denigrating a site because she thinks someone 50 or over created it is really quite childish and stupid. Clearly she thinks that 50 is one foot in the grave.


Interesting article and take on Ravelry and its rating system.

The thing is, rating difficulty is a very subjective thing. Some knitters/crocheters find any pattern that uses a chart as opposed to written instructions is extremely difficult. Others find charts easier to navigate than written instructions.

Likewise, as others have mentioned, the ratings are skewed by a number of other factors, not the least of which is how much time is spent on Ravelry.

As a shop owner, I frequently get asked if a pattern is difficult. I always respond that difficulty is a subjective thing and that as long as you take it one stitch at a time and follow the instructions (assuming the pattern is well-written and mistake-free), it's all easy. Really, it just takes practice and patience to learn even the most difficult pattern.

Ravelry is an indispensable tool, but as with any tool, the user must make judgments about its utility. In the case of judging difficulty of a pattern, the best tool is a user's own experience, not the subjective rankings of others.

The best way to push through something that seems difficult is one step at a time. This is true for all of life, not just knitting and crocheting. Patience, persistence, and practice are what is needed when tackling something new, not guidance from a ratings system.

Kudos to Sarah for combining her education with her hobby! Keep going, Sarah, you're going to rock the world. :)



There are a couple of things going on here beyond what Sarah suggested, some of which have been acknowledged by the other commenters, some of which have not.


* The word "difficult" is loaded with meanings that may be considered negative.
* The word "difficult" may not accurately reflect the knitter's feelings about the project. I agree that 'complex' or 'requires concentration' is a much better axis - few techniques or stitches are in and of themselves hard to execute, but many patterns have significantly long repeats requiring looking back at the pattern frequently, or employ techniques where a few stitches slipping off the needles means ripping back several rows, or use yarns that aren't as easy on the hands, or are too fuzzy to easily correct mistakes, or... you get the idea. Some also require use of multiple tools and techniques that are not easily used in a simple rhythm - one of the first glove patterns I attempted had both cables (requiring use of a cable needle, one more tool) and beads placed via a needle-and-thread method (another tool); on this project, I spent more time reading the pattern and preparing the stitches to execute the cables and bead placements than I did actually making the stitches. Does that make it difficult, or simply complex, demanding in terms of time and attention?
* Experience bias. (Addressed below somewhat.)

The things I haven't seen mentioned:

* Ravelry does not appear to have any sort of algorithm for normalizing difficulty and quality ratings. Sites like Hot or Not use such algorithms to control for any given individual's propensity toward only rating (for example) between 5 and 10. It would be interesting to see both star ratings and difficulty ratings normalized either on a per-rater basis (like the above-described Hot or Not system) or on a site-wide pattern basis. For example, if all patterns with fewer than 20 difficulty ratings (arbitrary number) were pulled as not having statistically significant rating patterns, I suspect you'd wind up with the most difficult remaining patterns in the 5-6 range, and so forth. If all patterns were then distributed evenly along the 1-10 scale (or distributed along a curve that maintained scoring density), that could lead to some interesting results. Ditto the quality ratings: if you pull out those patterns with few ratings, I bet you wind up with mostly 4 and 5 averages. Distributing them from 1-5 would be enlightening.

* An alternate normalization method could take basic profile information (years knitting or years crocheting), the number of finished objects, and the speed with which a rater finishes objects, and use that information to skew that crafter's ratings (on the theory that someone who's been knitting for 20 years and churns out three patterns with multiple specialized techniques using 1000 yards or more of yarn per project in one month is likely to find few projects 'difficult' while a newbie might find all but the simplest patterns infuriatingly hard). Or instead of normalizing the scores, allow you (the person looking for a good pattern for your skill level) to only view ratings from people who have a similar crafter profile (years in craft, finished objects, project finishing rate).

* Pattern ratings (both difficulty and quality) are a single measurement for the entire pattern, which causes some difficulty in providing meaningful feedback. One popular pattern I looked at recently is highly rated for quality - and indeed, the finished product looks great, is totally functional, and is well-loved by those who make it. But an overwhelming number of the comments on the pattern complain of vague or incomplete instructions for some steps. My husband similarly has been working on a sweater that is certainly complex; I doubt he'd say, skill-wise, that it's difficult, and the design is compelling - it'd be a hard sell to say it's low-quality. He might have a few words about vagueness and readability issues in the pattern, though. It might be more useful to provide a number of metrics for quality and difficulty ratings - pattern readability, pattern completeness, finished design, yarn recommendation suitability, and so forth. On the other hand, with the number of people above who say they don't rate patterns at all, I wonder if a more complex rating system would ever be used.

* The big one. Community standards. Ravelry is sort of the internet set to 'ultra polite' - especially when it comes to pattern designers, local yarn stores, and yarn manufacturers. In fact, the community guidelines specifically state:

"If you have negative comments about someone's personal projects, handspun, designs, yarns, etc., keep them to yourself."


"When posting reviews that contain negative feedback, remember that you are talking about somebody's livelihood."

When the culture discourages negative comments and feedback... you're not going to get negative comments and feedback, or even ratings that could be construed as such. If you put designers, local yarn shops, and so forth up on the 'livelihood' pedestal, you're going to get people who won't rate low quality (even if a pattern IS low-quality in nearly every sense of the word), and won't rate high difficulty (because then it's likely that fewer people will buy the pattern, thus undermining the livelihood of the designer).

The community standards lead me to believe that Ravelry is VERY unlikely to implement any of the above normalization or filtering strategies. Even if it is useful to those learning the crafts and deriving enjoyment from them to be able to find patterns that suit their skill level (or that are high-quality in general), appearances of 'negative' (high difficulty/low quality) ratings would not appear to support designer livelihoods. (Never mind that in the long run, frustrating experiences finding suitable patterns or materials when you're first learning can turn you off from the crafts entirely, removing you and your dollars from the marketplace.)

An idea that might actually work: pattern tagging with "good for beginning knitters" and so forth. (Knitty.com does something like this, providing a four-level scale of difficulty that comes with text explanation of each level. The first level is good for beginners, and the second is considered fun and knittable by most everyone with the basic knitting skills learned. Much more useful than the unexplained rating system at Ravelry... but they're also a single publisher with well-defined standards for designers to follow.)

Another option might be to allow pattern designers to designate their difficulty rating, which would show above the user ratings.

Your mileage may vary.



I would agree with comments on this post that our ratings have to do with insecurities related to our skill level as crafters. I do however think that this post makes a brilliant point about the lack of data in the knitting world.

A few weeks ago I needed to make a shrug fast. There were several free patterns that fit my necessity and I decided I would choose the one that I could make the fastest. I realized that, although users can enter the start and end date of a project, the pattern site does not have an average time to completion, so I had to go to the trouble of clicking in several projects of a given pattern to average out in my head a time for that pattern. I quickly proceeded to visit Ravely?s suggestion page to post my idea. Sure enough, this idea was not new and many people had supported it, while Revelry developers are looking into it. My disbelief came when I read the comments of people who did not support it; I found comments of people saying that having an average completion time would make the crafter feel unsecure about their own skills if their time was longer. I think attitudes like that make the craft world be an underworld, hidden and jealous. Where a crafter, instead of being proud of their skill and achievement, whatever dedication, effort or time it might need, reserves this skill to himself without realizing that sharing is what makes art, love and every other good thing grow.

I religiously rate patterns and yarns on Ravelry not only because I like statistics and data, but also because I believe creating this kind of data is crucial to make the world of knitting more accessible and welcoming to new crafters. Also I believe in this case data is most valuable? more information (average time, quality ratings, etc) leads the crafter to, for example, choose better patterns. If better patterns are chosen pattern quality will improve over time and therefore our craft will also grow.

I am happy to see that the knitting world has evolved so much from our parent?s time. When I started knitting I felt alone going into it, mostly because I realized that this whole crafts world was fairly branded by most of the people I know with words like hippie, quirky & gandma. I was surprised to find that the average age of attendants to my local yarn store stitch & bitch session was no more than 32 and even more surprised to find that like me, most of the people attending were in the science world (architects, biologist and engineers). I don?t feel alone in this world anymore and it has a lot to do with the people I discovered and sites like Ravelry.

I absolutely loved this post because it mixes three of my favorite subjects: numbers, internet and knitting. I think Sarah is brilliant young lady. I am in awe.



I never use the ratings for difficulty on Ravelry. It's of no relevance to me whether other people found the pattern tough to make since I have no idea of their skill sets.

As for the star-rating system, the range is from 1 (didn't like it) to 5 (loved it). I've never associated this with how well a pattern is written, but rather if I enjoyed knitting it. I don't use this feature very often, but it's entirely possible for me to have rated a poorly-written pattern at the higher end simply because I had fun with the project. Likewise, I may not have enjoyed knitting from a very well-written pattern.

A Rainey

Disclaimer: I own a yarn store. I knit a lot. I ttry to be honest in my ratings on Ravelry, but most knitting really isn't that difficult! I only rate patterns when I've completed a project, which leads me to wonder if people who give up simply don't rate abandoned patterns/projects, hence the low number of "difficult" ratings.

@James; What Sarah is referring to are pages that aren't graphic at all. They simply list hyperlinked names of patterns, which is not very enticing. Or hip!

When I refer people to Ravelry, I tell them it's like "Facebook for knitters". They grok that.

PattyKnits on ravelry

I hope that Sarah attends a knitting convention (yes, they do exist) at some point in her knit / crochet career. I am still amazed after many years that a) someone puts on a knitting convention and b) that I get to attend.


Sarah shows the arrogance of inexperience. Instead of using words like "elitist," "obsession," and "addict," she might consider that the only way to get good at something is to practice it a lot.

I spent ten years concentrating on knitting and knitwear design. When she has put in enough time to be good at something, I hope she blushes to recall her presumption. Young puppy know-it-all.


Sarah's analysis and insights are, to say the least, refreshing. As she expands her experience and knowledge base, she will learn that handicrafting is an art that will always sit just outside the realm of rock-solid analysis (consider the cast-on for the moebius taught by Cat Bordhi)

I would like to adopt Sarah.

If she doesn't become a doctor, she should become an actuary.

Failing that, I will be the first acolyte to whatever cult she forms.

Moulin Rogue

"Apparently, statistically speaking, nothing in the handicraft world is extremely difficult."

Actually, I would largely agree with this. A well-written pattern should give you all the information you need in order to complete the finished item. Crochet is basically just pulling loops of yarn through other loops; complex stitches are just different combinations of this basic action. As long as the pattern explains how to form the different stitches required, and in what order, what's difficult about that? A complex pattern may be *intimidating,* but once you follow the instructions step by step it shouldn't actually be *difficult.* I would be very interested to know how Sarah defines "difficult," and/or what she found difficult about the "devilish" patterns she cites...

I rate all the patterns I work (knit & crochet) for both difficulty & quality, and I've actually thought about this issue often because I rarely find myself rating anything above more than medium difficulty. I've only been knitting seriously for ~2 years. If a pattern is poorly written, like if it's vague about how to do something (so that you have to guess, or waste time through trial & error), that would make it difficult to crochet, but I would consider that an aspect of the "quality" rating rather than the "difficulty" rating. As handicrafters often say, it's all just sticks and string... even the most complex pattern is just a combination of a few basic stitches and techniques, and as long as you do them in the order the pattern says, you should be all good.

Finally, I *totally* agree with Eleanor's final paragraph. Sarah should reach out to the Ravelry community -- everyone I've met there is incredibly supportive and I'm sure there are many who would love to help her figure out these devilish patterns!



Wonderful article and discussion, including the intelligent and insightful comments. Here's my take as an active knitter and Ravelry user:

-I first assess the project myself (I ignore the ratings) and don't tend to take on many that I feel are difficult. So most of the projects I finish I then rate as "easy."

-It's also true that if I give up on a project in frustration, I wouldn't rate it as I tend to rate them when finished.

-As a few commenters said, if I knit it and finish it, it's a priori not difficult.

-And, yes, there's an oligarchy in the Ravelry community. Most (myself included) are committed handicrafters who've devoted a lot of time to our craft, and feel that most projects, if the pattern is well-written are easily do-able.

The rating I look at is the pattern quality. This tells me if I want to tackle it or not, as it reflects how well the pattern is written.

Love talking about Ravelry and knitting on Freakonomics! It's a convergence of my most passionate interests.



Like others have noted, I frequently don't put in difficulty or star ratings for patterns. I have 152 projects documented in ravelry, but have put in ratings for <20% of those patterns. There's also a great deal of variation in how individual users interpret the meaning of those ratings. I've never rated a pattern a 9 or a 10, as to me that means "incredibly difficult to the point where I probably ruled out even starting a project just based on how the pattern looks". Specific subtypes of patterns (colorwork, lace) might be perceived by some knitters as having higher degrees of difficulty or by other knitters as being quite simple for multiple reasons: overall experience, experience with that specific type of project, how the pattern itself is written, to name a few. There truly is no objective scale of difficulty in knitting (and presumably crochet).

Side note to Sarah: there are some truly fantastic and quite complex potholder patterns out there. Also, I'd encourage you to look beyond the numbers to get the full story. The qualitative data contained in ravelry project notes is pretty amazing, and tells a far more nuanced story than the ratings do.



I learned to knit a few years ago at age 30. At the time, I was reading a book by the Yarn Harlot who basically said that there are only 2 stitches to learn... the knit stitch and the purl stitch. Everything else is a variation of those two stitches, and with just those 2 stitches, you could make anything. It made sense to me at the time, and it still does. Therefore, nothing is truly difficult since I know how to knit and how to purl. Some projects require a bit more focus than others, but it doesn't mean that they are more difficult. I love knitting lace. I don't find it difficult, I just have to pay attention to what I'm doing, and it doesn't make good TV knitting.


I rarely remember to rate patterns - I pledge to go through my projects and rate the patterns! One of the problems here is that "difficulty" of the pattern is hard to separate from difficulty of the skill required. A pattern with a huge chart may seem difficult, but if it requires only k2togs and yarn overs, the skill is fairly minimal. Another pattern with a much smaller chart might seem less complex, but if it requires skills like shadow knitting or double knitting, I would consider it more difficult.

And then we get into the skill of the user. If you've done lots of double knitting, you might think it's easy peasy and anyone can do it. After all, all knitting is just knits and purls! So that knitter who has done the skill over and over might rate it lower in difficultly than someone who has only done garter stitch squares.

Maybe what we need is some way to tell the experts from the beginners. If we had some way to sort the patterns to find what "knitters like me" think of a pattern, that might be useful. If I self-identify as a beginner, I might want to see how hard other beginners think this pattern is. Or if I aspire to be an expert, I might want to look at patterns that beginners think are hard but experts think are easy. Then I can focus my efforts on stretching towards those patterns.



Re #31: "@James; What Sarah is referring to are pages that aren?t graphic at all. They simply list hyperlinked names of patterns, which is not very enticing. Or hip!"

Yes, I know. And for people like me who really do grok the true language of computers, those un-hip text names are far easier to understand & work with. Graphics are often nothing more than aids for the inexperienced. After all, why do children's books have lots of pictures and few words, if not to make things easy for the beginning reader?

But another thought: knitting is basically a series of repetitive motions, isn't it? So why couldn't some interested person write a knitting parser/compiler that could (among other things) generate a fairly objective measure of difficulty?