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.

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



  1. Samantha says:

    I want to meet this girl.

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  2. Knit-picker. says:

    Others might find her rather crotchety.

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  3. flwrhead says:

    I think Sarah fails to account for the fact that many, many people on Ravelry simply don’t rate patterns. I often forget to, and I honestly don’t even look at a pattern’s difficulty rating when determining whether or not I want to knit it. Part of the reason for my accomplishments as a knitter is that I’ve never had anyone tell me “you can’t do that, it’s too hard for a beginner.” Ignore the ratings! Create what you want!

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  4. Colleen says:

    I’d like to mention another possibility: that the patterns are ranked based on activity on Ravelry, and only those who are extremely active rank patterns. I am mostly not active on Ravelry, though I maintain it as a record of my work. And I have never rated a pattern for either quality or difficulty. Generally, I have no opinion: if I finished it, it wasn’t too difficult, and only in extreme cases would I rate a pattern of poor quality.

    So I suspect your sample is self-selecting in a rather unique way, in that only those that are actively engaged in the *site*, not the craft, are having their opinions seen and quantified.

    I would also venture a guess that most people trend toward ranking high in quality and low in difficulty. Users who are active on Ravelry tend to have a higher number of completed projects (based on personal observation only) or are designers themselves. Those who craft more than the average crafter would tend to rate difficulty lower than others, due to familiarity (after all, there’s a limited number of ways to turn a heel, and after you do it three or four times, you won’t rate any subsequent iterations as “difficult”). Designers, I would suspect (no data to back this one up, except that I’m a designer) tend to rate patterns higher in quality, because they are familiar with the amount of work to bring the pattern to market, and tend to thus be more forgiving of errors.

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  5. DK1 says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  6. Mary says:

    Sarah has stumbled across a key point in understanding user ratings, namely, the experience or skil of the rater. Ravelry could improve the ratings feedback by adding an additional dimension during the rating process: require the user to rate their skill: novice, intermediate, experienced. This data would enable them to parse the data into more discretely defined categories. In this case, three distinct levels of rating scores more reflective of the underlying population, and more helpful to users.

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  7. Ian Kemmish says:

    I broadly agree with comments 3 and 4.

    It seems to me that if you’re unable to complete a pattern, you’re a) unable, and b) unmotivated, to rate it. So the set of people who vote would seem to be self-selecting in a number of interesting ways.

    Then there’s the emotional investment. Nobody likes to be thought a fool, so even though the vote are anonymised, it seems unlikely that anyone would vote for high difficulty and low quality (“I wasted months o this piece of crap.”)

    HOWEVER, people who vote on customer review sites don’t seem to have these qualms. Strip out the spam, and many (most?) of them are negative. The difference between hobby reviews and commercial reviews might also be one worth investigating.

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  8. CKinIL says:

    Sarah Johnson is very bright and curious and self-aware, I hope she brings these qualities to whatever profession she chooses.

    I also think she’s right that the master handicrafters have a skill oligarchy. When they reach a certain skill level, they’re able to more discretely identify the skills needed to complete different patterns and complete them well. Sarah may consider her skills intermediate now, but when she gets better she may decide that her intermediate skills were only about a third of what she’d ultimately like to achieve. The case of seeing how far you want to travel, arriving there and seeing farther.

    Perhaps Ravelry can have their members rate their own abilities (on some specific criteria such as how many projects completed, types of projects, etc.), and then the ratings of patterns can be sorted by raters’ abilities. Ravelry members can review the difficulty scores among the knitters and crocheters who are more likely to be at their own level, say beginner, basic, intermediate and advanced.

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  9. MK says:

    I’m with you Stephen. I’m a professor at a law school and my students don’t write as well or with as much analysis as Sarah did.

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  10. Steve says:

    I wonder how many of the ratings are submitted by the companies that publish the patterns. If there’s a low number of ratings and a company has a few dozen employees with accounts, then “Difficulty = 2/10, quality = 5/5″ could easily be the starting point for that company’s patterns.

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  11. RJ says:

    I only have one real complaint about the analysis, and that is the assumption that a 9 or 10 Difficulty rating means “impossibly hard”, and thus means a negative connotation.

    I would argue that having something be ranked 10 Difficult and yet 4 Quality is not a contradiction. If we assume that the scale is meant to indicate the kind of handicrafter that the pattern is appropriate for (as was originally assumed), then a 10 Difficult would normally mean appropriate for a master handicrafter, who then believed that it was of high quality (and thus 4 Quality).

    My opinion is that, similar to many ranking scales, what is likely happening is as mentioned; many users are already skilled, and are rating based on objective experience. This is a result of the scale being poorly defined, which leads any Difficulty rating to be based on how hard it is to the individual handicrafter, and thus allowing for wildly variable results. If the community was more varied in skill level and participation (equally represented at all levels), you would probably find that average Difficulty would tends towards the middle.

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  12. Ayse says:

    There’s another explanation for why you find patterns ranked 5 impossibly difficult: experience. You are relatively young and new to the craft, and people who have been crocheting or knitting for a couple of decades will naturally find reading the patterns easier than you will. I find that a much simpler and more believable explanation than that there is an uberclass of handcrafters out there ranking up patterns just to make you feel bad about yourself.

    I am a lousy crocheter, for example — I need to have a cheat sheet of stitches in front of me as I work — but I have yet to find a crochet pattern of any difficulty on Ravelry that I could honestly rank as even an 8 in difficulty. Given time and patience (admittedly, two things I never seemed to have enough of when I was 18), I am certain I could make anything there, because I have decades of experience with reading and crafting in various forms, and that makes it easier. So as frustrating as it seems, practise does in fact make a difference.

    Also, I actually enjoy difficult patterns, and seek them out. So a pattern that I ranked as a 10 in difficulty I would also rank highly in quality. A very difficult pattern is not “miserably difficult” but delightfully so, an intricate puzzle to be worked out. If a pattern is so badly written that it is unworkable, I don’t give it a ranking on difficulty, because that’s not what I use the difficulty rating for.

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  13. JenW says:

    @CKinIL makes an excellent suggestion.
    My ability as a knitter slowly evolved and improved based on practice (not necessarily any special skills). Rating my expertise on my page would probably help in understanding why I might consider any particular project “easy” or “difficult.”
    It’s the label of “difficult” that I have trouble with. Perhaps “complex” is better. Or maybe “requires quiet time away from kids and pets”.

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  14. Eleanor (undeadgoat) says:

    I strongly suspect that these ratings have to do with the fact that on Ravelry you cannot rate a pattern unless you’ve at least started to do it, and that if people give up on a project in frustration they’re as likely to just delete it from their notebook or never update the entry again. I suspect that most of the projects that have been rated have also been finished, and a truly terrible pattern, or a very difficult one, is just more likely to be abandoned outright.

    Plus a lot of people don’t actually rate on difficulty, I am a knitter who tries to keep track of her projects on Ravelry and I don’t think I’ve even awarded many stars, let alone thought about a difficulty ranking, because I think that an objective difficulty ranking in knitting is not productive–it’s not that there aren’t patterns that are too difficult for an individual knitter at a given time, but rather that different things are difficult for different people, depending on aptitude and experience. So maybe skill rankings are just mostly given by knitters who only do easy patterns? I know I did a lot more rating when I was a newer knitter. I unfortunately don’t have time right now to go through the pattern search and test this hypothesis myself.

    The other thing about Ravelry being an oligarchy, though, is that all of the Ravelry users I know feel supported and enabled by that community to reach for the stars in a way that people who only buy patterns in booklets put out by the same company as the yarn never quite do. So maybe calling Rav an oligarchy is a little bit like calling the good local public school elitist, i.e., missing the point?

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  15. Kitten says:

    I don’t really believe there’s an oligarchy of knitters (though I do like the sounds of that – we often talk about what we’d do when knitters rule the world). I think the idea of difficulty and pattern quality are subjective, completely. A pattern for a potholder is ridiculously difficult if the instructions are poorly written, and a beautiful lace shawl can be relatively easy if the pattern is written well.
    In any case, knitting and crochet skills get better with practice, so Sarah should keep trying the 10s. I don’t consider myself an expert knitter or crocheter, but I don’t actually think there’s a pattern in existence that I couldn’t do, with enough time and concentration. (It’s just sticks and string, after all.)

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  16. jannabeth says:

    1) I love the fact that there is something about Ravelry here, even more than I love that knitting/crocheting is considered worth mentioning.

    2) Sarah’s insights are great. However, I think that part of the issue is that most knitters and crocheters consider themselves average, or lower, in skills. No one ever says, “I’m a great knitter!” Therefore, when they rank pattern difficulty, they figure that it wasn’t hard for them, and they’re just average in skill, so it’s not a hard pattern. I think this issue would hamper the idea other mentioned about having people rate their skills.

    Also, as others have mentioned, many people don’t rate pattern difficulty. I almost never do – but maybe I will now, and try to remember that, although my crochet skills are pretty basic, I am most like an above-average knitter

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  17. Kate Reay says:

    Back when I started knitting, I considered anything above garter stitch to be run-away-scary. That was about six years ago.

    Today, I consider a Bohus pattern — including that lovely trick of carrying three colors, one of them purled, along a single row — to be a piece of cake. The same with Fair Isle (Knitty’s Fair Isle 2010 Hallowe’en tam took me eight hours. Don’t ask how many colors.), Arans, ganseys, and so on. As a side effect, a fellow knitter, one who specializes in socks, regularly calls me a brat because I do color work she hasn’t yet worked up the nerve to try. (I contend that if she can handle a magic loop sock, she can certainly do color work.)

    My suspicion is that Ravelry members (yes, I am one), and in particular those who post details about their projects (e.g., pictures), being a self-selected crew, are going to rank most projects as easier than the average bear for exactly the reason Colleen has pointed out: if I can do it, it can’t be that hard.

    Although how you account for that self-selection bias is a good question.

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  18. Tracy says:

    I think Sarah needs to apply to grad schools for statistics and/or psychology when the time is right. Impressive thought process–Sarah acknowledges flaws in her analysis but still provides much that is thought-provoking.

    On a personal note–I too rarely rate patterns. I have occasionally seen that a pattern *I* consider difficult has not been rated as such by other users and the process of cognitive dissonance takes place (which is what Sarah hints at). Fascinating!

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  19. Neil says:

    Derailing, I know, but I misread the headline as “A Young Reader Asks: Is There an Elitist Oligarchy in the Underworld of Kittens?” which would have been a very different article.

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  20. Casey says:

    Tiny clarifications related to some of the early comments above: You are only able to rate when you’ve added a project to your notebook (the showcase of your work). The ratings are not anonymous since your choices are displayed along with your photos and other shared information.

    Ratings aren’t a core Ravelry feature but people do use them. About 150K users have given star ratings and/or difficulty ratings to patterns and we have about 1.7 million ratings in total. You could definitely do some interesting things with that data.

    Sarah, if you are out there and more data interests you, I’m Ravelry’s co-founder and I’d be happy to provide what I can. I’m casey on Ravelry and @caseyf on Twitter.

    Nice work :)

    PS – don’t read too much into Quantcast. It does show that 4% of users rack up large numbers of visits but the people who visit the most don’t necessarily utilize the craft-related aspects.

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  21. RLJ says:

    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.

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  22. James says:

    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.

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  23. Dan says:

    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.

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  24. Christy says:

    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!

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  25. Frances says:

    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!

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  26. Tammy says:

    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.

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  27. CindyA says:

    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. :)

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  28. Erica says:

    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.

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  29. Marianela says:

    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.

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  30. Teeser says:

    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.

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  31. A Rainey says:

    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.

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  32. PattyKnits on ravelry says:

    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.

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  33. GA says:

    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.

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  34. Mary says:

    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.

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  35. Moulin Rogue says:

    “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!

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  36. Melissa says:

    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.

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  37. kimu says:

    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.

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  38. Monica says:

    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.

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  39. whirlybird says:

    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.

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  40. James says:

    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?

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  41. RavelJ says:

    Well, now the article has been linked on Ravelry itself, you’ll be bombarded with a ton of opinionated knitters/crocheters!

    I agree with previous comments that skill level has a huge influence on perceived difficulty level of a pattern. I too, have noticed whilst browsing patterns on Rav that usually 50% of people who have completed a project will rate the project. This will also skew results.

    I also think that different crafters take different things into consideration when rating the difficulty and quality of a pattern and a star rating system (where half points are also not possible to bestow as an individual) without actual comments are always going to give very limited information. Personally, I’m grateful to get any info at all- so I do find it helpful but use it in context.

    All users of any rating review system will tend to score in the “middle”, unwilling to use the extreme ends of the scale.

    Thanks for an interesting article!

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  42. Joshua Northey says:

    A) I think there is a tie in here with the strange phenomena surrounding everyone liking everything on the internet. Netlfix users are notoriously generous, as are Itunes users.

    One theory is that the whole system is generally designed to encourage it (the descriptions usually bias people in favor of giving something at least a three (where the higher ranks are label as being about your feelings, and the lower ranks about the objective quality). So 5= I loved it, but 1 = It was horrible. People are reluctant to give things they didn’t like but are well made 2’s and 1’s because of the phrasing. Perhaps another explanation is people’s need to rationalize their decisions.

    But, I think mostly it is due to people seeking out things they already know they will like.

    B) I would be careful with comments like the following.
    “She is interesting, has a gift for writing (and thinking), and will be hugely successful at whatever she does.”

    While I agree that the letter was tremendous, I also had such a gift, and was constantly fawned on by my teachers when I wasn’t driving them crazy or skipping class.

    Up until about 10th grade everyone thought I would be the next _____. Then I spent my teenage rebellion years systematically sabotaging any chance of success and systematically turning away from anything resembling meaningless hoops. A period of disappointment and depression coincided and followed this period.

    Most of this depression teemed from not living up to all these plans other people had for me. “If I had his brain I would be an astronaut, or cure cancer, et cetera.” I mostly I wanted to chase women and play intellectually demanding videogames.

    Being successful requires a lot more than a good intellect. It requires the maturity to work hard now for gratification later. It requires the ambition to want the best things in life when coasting at half speed is still enough to beat all your friends. It also requires the right kinds of acquaintances and social networks particularly the higher you climb. Not to mention an ability and desire to jump through obviously meaningless hoops, an ability to keep your mouth shut when your superiors are wrong, and the luck to have a quality childhood that taught you at least some small portion of these important life lessons.

    It took me almost until I was 30 to climb up to the level I would have been at at age 20 if I had only been born/developed/been raised with a better disposition.

    As was discussed in another thread this month, genius is 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration. It was a long time before I had matured enough to have more than a smattering of the former.

    Now my life is going swimmingly, I’m upper-middle-class, but I am still at a station well below what one would expect. Heck one of the brighter people I know processes claims for a HMO for 24,000/yr because he has no ambition and does not come from a background where that matters and people are going to nag him about it. I think very few people would consider him “hugely successful” but I could see him having produced something just like this at age 18.

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  43. Jeanette says:

    I never rate patterns on Ravelry or pay any attention to others’ ratings. I just knit whatever appeals to me, knowing that if I have trouble with the pattern, I can just post a query on the excellent forums and groups on Ravelry and quickly get a solution.
    Those forums are filled with people of all skill levels–from newbies asking basic questions to the more experienced knitters and crocheters who help them.
    Or I can look at others’ projects for the same pattern and read their helpful notes.
    This discussion reminds me of the saying, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Extrapolating from the data on difficulty to come up with an “oligarchy” of supercrafters is meaningless, especially to anyone who’s had any experience on Ravelry.

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  44. Lindsey says:

    I’ve noticed that when rating a pattern on Ravelry, it’s after I’ve completed a pattern. While a certain part or technique might have been tricky at first, after the constant repition the pattern requires, it’s easy.

    But then again, I don’t think anything in knitting is hard, I just think people work themselves up and talk themselves out of it when it doesn’t go right the first time. Or maybe something isn’t hard, it’s just explained poorly.

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  45. Deirdre says:

    Well, I do hope Sarah goes to med school instead of business school, because her grasp of statistics is rather dubious. And her analogies border on the fallacious (rock climbing and guitar playing are the proverbial apples and oranges when it comes to access, ability to practice, cost of participation, and overall status in general US culture.)

    Some of her statements are overreaching. For example, yarn companies still “aggressively” – if you count one e-mail a week as aggressive – market their yarns by providing free patterns, and Ravelry is not changing this practice. If anything, Ravelry is providing an even more powerful platform, as some yarn companies now include a link to the Ravelry page for the pattern in their e-mails. But the yarn companies also include their Facebook page and Twitter info. Social media as a whole is changing marketing as a whole, and Ravelry is just one merely more tool to reach consumers for this particular industry. But it’s not going to stop point-of-sale distribution of free patterns, direct e-mail marketing, yarn company websites, catalog distribution, and other means of marketing direct to buyers.

    (Also, I taught myself to knit because it looked like fun, not because I was part of a small, insular “familial or local group.” But that’s beside the point.)

    Therefore, her conclusion that there is a knitting “oligarchy” is also somewhat specious. She is basing her conclusion on an anecdotal sample of one: herself. She tried the patterns ranked a “7” (and 7-10 is the range for “difficult” on Ravelry’s scale), decided they were too complex for her, and ipso facto must be too difficult for anyone who isn’t a “master” crocheter. Although I do have an MBA from an aforementioned business school, one doesn’t need formal training in statistics to realize that her sample size is too small (and far too biased) upon which to draw any reasonable inference.

    In addition to all the other comments that offer quite good explanations for the bias in pattern ratings that Ms. Johnson perceives, another might be that people knit and/or crochet for various reasons. While I consider myself an intermediate knitter (and a lace tablecloth or Aran sweater do not daunt me at all), I often seek out “simple” patterns for quick gift knitting such as baby blankets and baby booties. Not because I need to walk before I can run – I’m a knitting half-marathon runner at my worst – or because I get tired of more difficult patterns, but because a simple pattern can truly turn out a thing of beauty.

    By Ms. Johnson’s standards, I am one of those supposed 4% “oligarchy” users, but I quite rightly rate a simple garter stitch blanket as, well, simple. I also looked back through my project page on Ravelry and I’ve maybe rated 1/3 of the patterns I’ve used. So while I do spend far more time than I should on Ravelry, I don’t proportionately contribute to the pattern rankings. And while this is again just one person’s anecdotal evidence, it does suggest that Ms. Johnson’s correlation between Ravelry user time and user contribution does not necessarily exist.

    (Ms. Johnson also seems to draw a rather sad conclusion between difficulty and enjoyment: that a pattern ranked a “10” in difficulty should equal a “10” in frustration & misery. Hopefully, she’ll grow out of this and learn that there can be great joy in attempting difficult things and learning to eventually master them, which is why patterns with a high degree of difficulty can also have a high degree of quality & satisfaction.)

    And all this praise for what would have, at best, earned a B+ at my California public high school! Yes, she can write (although I suggest she look up the word “salacious” in a dictionary, because I do not think that word means what she thinks it means – either that, or she gets really turned on by crocheting), but is it really that surprising that a high school senior can string together a sentence of more than five words using words of more than two syllables? Have academic standards truly slipped so much since the 90s? Remind me not to hire a newly minted lawyer, if what MK has to say is true. That is truly a scary statement.

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  46. WonderMike says:

    As an avid knitter/spinner and frequenter of Ravelry, I can add that even though I personally might think a pattern is crazy hard, I always assume that my skill level is not up to par yet, so it would be silly for me to say a pattern is impossible when I’m new to a particular technique.

    So, perhaps no one ever gives a difficulty rating of 10 because it would seem like no one could do it, which would not possibly be the case (i.e. the designer did it, right).

    And, can I say how IMPRESSED with Sarah Johnson’s writing for this piece. I kept thinking that I wish I could write so effortlessly and fluently about a topic that I care passionately about. That reminds me… I really need to start blogging… again.

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  47. Craig says:

    Wait everyone before we give this girl too much credit. My wife, a Ravelry member, asked me to read this article because I teach statistics. It is very clear that Sarah can write well and do some analytical thinking. But for someone who took statistics she really missed some key concepts. Her statistics instructor would be embarrassed. First of all her chart of ratings of difficulty and quality is poorly done. Looking at the chart it depicts that none of the patterns with difficulty above 5 have any quality at all. Yet in her discussion she mentions a difficulty rating of 7 and a quality of 4 or 5. The chart is also inaccurate. If you look at the actual data on Ravelry’s website she is either using very old data or has changed the numbers to reflect her opinion. The website has has 118 at difficulty of 10 and 298 at a difficulty of 9. ( I tell my students in my statisitcs classes he who contols the numbers wins the argument). She also mentions that this data is a bell shaped distribution when it is clearly a skewed distribution toward the higher difficulty levels. Just because she writes well and throws out some statements about numbers does not mean she knows what she is talking about. I watched my wife knit, crochet and cross-stitch for 16 years. She teaches knitting and has been published in knitting magazines. When she helps her friends and tells them of the difficulty of an item she has been right on or has over estimated the difficulty. So, Sarah maybe you need to re-evaluate your crocheting skills as well as go back and repeat your statistics class.

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  48. Kristi says:

    Yes, the numbers are heavily biased but I appreciate the fact that she tried to analyze them at all.

    I also appreciate that this topic ended up on the Freakonomics blog. I am a knitter and an economics student, and the application of the concepts to each other made my week.

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  49. Sue says:

    I am also a member of Ravelry. Tom me the most important thing I look at when thinking about starting a new project, I am a knitter and have been for 40+ years, is what people have said about the pattern in the description of their project. That is where you really find out what people thought about the pattern, was it well written, were there mistakes, etc. Plus you also find out things that people changed in the pattern, you get some great ideas. You can usually tell my looking at the photo of an item and reading the directions it if it is difficult or not, depending on your skill level, of course. I love Ravelry and have made a few friends there as well. Sara, stick to your crocheting you will make many many things over you life!

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  50. Linda says:

    I agree with the notion that users who doesn’t finish a pattern probably never rates it, the result being ratings that lend towards “easy” rather than “difficult”. However I think there’s another factor to it. Most techniques are out there to find be it on blogs or Youtube. What (in my opinion) distinguishes an excellent knitter from the rest of us is the ability to get everything right. From the material to tension, finishing and colours.
    My point is that even though I might find a pattern easy to understand and follow, I can still have a problem making it work. If I knit a cardigan for example. I might find not have a problem with the pattern but in the end I realise that the yarn I’ve chosen was absolutely wrong, making the cardigan saggy. In this case I would rate the pattern as easy and put the bad result down to my lack of experience

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  51. BlueLoom says:

    Please tell Sarah Johnson that some of us old folks were working at computers long, long before she was born. She may be playing with interesting ideas related to knitters vs. crocheters, but she gives herself away as a thoughtless, spoiled brat when she discusses older people. God help us if she goes to med school & studies to be a gerontologist.

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  52. Diane Simpson says:

    I am the editor–pattern writer, photography director, graphic designer–“chief cook & bottle washer.” I do not put difficulty ratings on patterns for several reasons. One is that like author said, a “master” crocheter will think a pattern is easily a 1 or 2, while a not full master will rate it a 5 and a beginner will rate it an 8. My experience with subscribers to my magazine tells me that some people who have crocheted for “30, 40 or 50 years” think they know everything about crochet. But in reality they know how to make a ch, sc and dc. and sometimes they know what those abbreviations mean. Beyond that they are at a complete loss, and so are all their friends who have also crocheted all their life. What this means to me is, if you like a pattern, try to make it, don’t let someone else’s opinion stop or intimidate you. I think all crochet is easy but not all instructions are easy to follow.

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  53. Casey says:

    @Erica Please come by the For the Love of Ravelry board where we discuss site features.

    I think that you’ll find that your assumptions about negative feedback are very much not the case and that it is definitely not unlikely that your suggestions could be implemented. The Community Guidelines are there to prevent disgruntled people from using the site as a giant megaphone and there is no curtailing of negative reviews or criticism.

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  54. ART says:

    I thought it was a good article overall mostly because I like it when Ravelry is mentioned anywhere. One thing the auther needs to re-look at: In her comment about representation on Quantcast she says California was overrepresented. Honey, CA stands for Canada.

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  55. ART says:

    I also wished she would have used the correct tems that go with the difficulty scale. 1=easy, 4=medium, 7=difficult, 10=impossible. That would have made it sound a bit less like we’re all elitists over there.

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  56. Kelly says:

    I love that Sarah put the time into writing this analysis, even if it is imperfect. There is a major lack of studies on the craft considering its growing popularity.

    As someone who has knit and crocheted for decades, I adore Ravelry. I use it every day (many many times a day).

    I think the biggest flaw in this research is the fact that the world of knitting and crocheting is not a limited one. A person could easily dedicate their life to learning all the skills available and still not learn everything there is to know. That’s why I love it! But trying to quantify all this data might be counter-productive. How do you rate something that is (in essence) infinite?

    As a designer, my customers gravitate towards my easier patterns far more often than the challenging ones. In fact, my most popular hat is also one of the simplest to make (even for a beginner). There are few knitters/crocheters who seek out impossible patterns. And even when they do, after working through it, it almost always turns out to be much easier than it looked.

    If I had a nickel for every time I completed a project and thought, “Well, that wasn’t so bad”…Looking at complex smocking on a sweater yoke can be intimidating, but often, working through a pattern step-by-step breaks it down making it more accessible. The initial belief that you have a really challenging pattern is overcome and all of a sudden the pattern seems generally “easy”.

    I like the idea that users rate their own skill level and that is reflected in their rating of patterns. But obviously there are flaws in this idea if you are looking for perfect data. Just like the entire world of knitting, knitting-research is clearly not an exact science!

    Personally, I never put stock in the difficulty level when choosing a pattern – I make what I want to make and if I discover the pattern doesn’t suit my skill set, then so be it, maybe I’ll revisit it another time in the future, but I would
    never rely on others to make that decision for me.

    After writing that, I realized I don’t think I’ve ever abandoned a project because it was too hard. A challenging project is just an opportunity to learn new skills. This might require extra research into what you are doing or even asking for outside help. Too many people give up after the first try. Don’t be lazy and then complain that what you are attempting is too hard!

    @James The appeal of Ravelry is that you can see from the thumbnail what the pattern looks like. Searching through hundreds of links to find what you want is such a waste of time. Maybe you enjoy spending that much time on the computer (obviously, if you are commenting here when you don’t even knit), but I like to go outside once in awhile.

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  57. nefernika says:

    Like others, I think Sarah has not considered several possibilities:

    * regarding the propensity for rating projects with 4s and 5s for quality: most knitters choose to knit patterns they think are good before they start. Or, to state the reverse, very few knitters look at a pattern, and think, “I’m not sure how that’s put together, it looks like the fit is a disaster, and the whole thing screams home-ec project. Guess I’ll give it a try!” One of the great things about Ravelry is that a knitter or crocheter can often see not only the original pattern and any photos, but photos of the garment or item knit in a variety of yarns and worn by a variety of body types, making it easier to predict how the finished garment will look.

    * In many patterns, “difficulty” – which I agree is in itself a complicated term with unclear usage – is self evident, so there may be an element of rating against the apparent difficulty of a garment. That is, you know when you look at an aran sweater pattern that it’s likely to be “difficult” in certain ways: it will have cabling, which may be fairly complex, and other fancy stitches. The construction and shaping, however, are likely to be pretty straightforward. Mistakes in the stitch pattern will probably be pretty easy to spot early on, and may even be fairly simple to correct with a crochet hook rather than requiring frogging back to the row in which the error was committed. While I can’t really see giving any Aran sweater a 1 or a 2, but I can easily see giving a 3 rating to a sweater with a basic cable pattern and little shaping; to me that rating would mean “this is as simple as an Aran sweater gets; if you’ve ever knit one, this will be a breeze.”

    * as others have said, Sarah’s assumption that quality and enjoyment must be inversely proportionate to difficulty is one I find strange. My mother, who taught me to knit, loves to knit scarves in fancy yarns in straight garter stitch. I have no interest in that activity (and most knitters don’t need a pattern for that sort of thing anyway. The pattern looks like this: “cast on x number of stitches. Knit until you reach the desired length. Bind off.”) I’m only really interested in knitting if I feel like I’m being challenged and learning knew ways to manipulate the yarn or achieve a more professional look.

    *Truly accomplished knitters may not rate patterns because they rarely knit patterns as written anyway. Many of us take one aspect or technique from a pattern and replace a stitch pattern a sleeve shape, change the length, use a different yarn which changes the gauge which in turn changes the shaping, which means a different decrease is better . . . . which means that it’s not really fair to rate the pattern. I don’t actually remember the last time I knit a garment from a pattern exactly as proscribed in the pattern, because that’s not very interesting. Someone already figured out how to do it. This makes me doubt that the advanced knitters have some kind of “oligarchy”.

    * In spite of those who lauded Sarah’s erudition, I’m not sure I even understand her point. Is she saying that Ravelry is unfriendly to new users because it overstates the simplicity of patterns? It seems like it would be more accurate to say that Ravelry relies more on narrative and qualitative information to communicate complexity than it does on simple “rating” systems. Also, unless there’s some reason to believe that the people most likely to rate are the most skilled knitters, and that those people are somehow controlling who else rates and how they rate, that’s not an oligarchy. It’s a lack of useful data.

    * Somebody above said that “most knitters consider themselves average.” I . . . don’t think that’s true. Many competent knitters feel inadequate, and many skilled knitters are perfectly aware that they are skilled.

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  58. Alex says:

    A few points:

    1. I beleive you must add a project to rate a pattern- so I doubt they’re being skewed by designers or yarn companies.

    2. The ratings are not anonymous, so few people are going to rate a pattern poorly without backing it up.

    3. Once you know the basics well, very little seems hard, especially if the pattern is well written. At least in knitting- I’m not sure about crochet.

    4. Having worked in a yarn shop I can tell you that the vast majority of knitters are at (and may never bother to leave) the beginner/advanced beginner level… so if there’s an “oligarchy”, its only on Ravelry (very possible- the hardcore knitters are probably more likely to be members, and active ones at that) and not throughout the world of knitters in general.

    5. Despite disagreeing with her on several points, I am so glad that there are some teenagers left whose writing abilities haven’t been destroyed by txting and lolspeak. Props!

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  59. David says:

    Wow this letter is amazing. I want to meet this girl. I am impressed by her in-depth analysis but even more surprised that a site as tech-savvy as Ravelry exists for a a hobby dominated by tech-naive people. No offense to knitters.

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  60. Susan says:

    By the time Sarah makes it through med school, I hope she’ll have a change of heart about “old” people–she seems to feel that those of us over 50 don’t have a clue. I’d love to call her my doctor, but give me a break. Does she really think because I’m over 50 computers are a foreign language to me? I’ve done everything with a computer, from starting my own blog to installing hard drives and memory. Not rocket science, but certainly proves I’ve moved beyond VCRs. Oh yeah, I’m a damn good knitter and crocheter too! Sarah, you’re a fantastic writer, but please don’t be so quick to dismiss those of us over 50.

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  61. MJ says:

    As someone who’s both a longtime rock climber and knitter, I can attest to the fact that ratings of any sort are subjective.

    A pro climber like Chris Sharma can warm up on a 7b, which might be a weekend climber’s month-long project. Easy for some, hard for others.

    At the same time, an experienced knitter like Wendy Johnson can knit a heavily cabled sweater in the same time that a beginning knitter knits a cable swatch. Easy for some, hard for others.

    Sarah, don’t sweat the ratings, it’s not a big deal unless you make it.

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  62. Erin says:

    Most people don’t notice their skills improving over time. It’s only if they go back years later and lay out a series of early pieces of progressing difficulty that they can objectively say they’ve improved. Since some of my earliest crochet projects were Christmas projects which I pull out for one month every year, I have the opportunity to do that fairly regularly, and I can say with confidence that I’m a fairly expert crocheter; I doubt there’s a pattern I couldn’t tackle, and I’ve made some pretty complicated items (unlike the author of that letter, I HAVE done lace doilies of incredible intricacy.) As for knitting, I’m an experienced but intermediate knitter. I’m sure I could probably figure out any pattern I decided to try, because I’ve got the basics and the specifics would come from reading the pattern. But there are many techniques I’ve never tried – I’ve done almost no colourwork, and my cabling so far has been fairly simple. I rate patterns that are mostly stockinette stitch with a few cables or details as two or three in difficulty, and lace as a four or five because it takes consistent concentration for me. I’ve never rated an intarsia pattern because I’ve never tried one.

    So, people rate things as three or four that were just slightly pushing their skill level, but not enough to make them drop the project as too difficult. The user rating system reflects the gradual improvement of skills over time, far more than the objective difficulty of a pattern. I’m sure if I knit more lace, I’d start rating it as a three, too; once I master intarsia, it will cease to be worthy of a five rating from me.

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  63. Alissa W says:

    Maybe Sarah should start knitting and leave crocheting behind. I do both, but knitting is much easier 😉

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  64. Nicole says:

    While the young author is basking in the glow of the (deserved) compliments on her writing skills, perhaps she could think about the fact that there very many people on Ravelry who are not in “her demographic” (over 50) and these are the ones who have many years of accumulated wisdom and experience that they are very happy to share with the young whippersnappers. :-)

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  65. Jeanette says:

    Where is Sarah getting her figures? I just checked Ravelry’s difficulty ratings, and 4,036 patterns had a difficulty rating of 7-10, while 125,242 had a difficulty rating of 1-6, meaning they were easy to medium difficulty. 77, 439 had an “unknown” rating.
    So the vast majority of the patterns were not rated as difficult. Of course, as long as 77, 439 were not rated, we can’t draw an accurate conclusion from these figures.
    I also wonder how she can think people who have blogs and websites are computer illiterate!
    But I’m glad she’s given Ravelry this publicity–it’s a highly functional, supremely user-friendly site.

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  66. Alex says:

    Also, @James: text isn’t very useful when you’re looking for a garment to make- the names mean pretty much nothing! Pictures are way more useful when perusing patterns- think of a catalog with no photos and only a mildly descriptive item name at best.

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  67. Genevieve says:

    I guess it’s also good to note that as a user the difficulty is a scale bar with the bottom being piece o’ cake and the top being impossible. There are levels between but we don’t see the numbers. We do it by feel (when we remember at all).

    I find that looking at user comments and forum posts related to the patterns can be a good indication of difficulty level (related to my skill level).

    Since it is all user defined (unlike knitty.com which ranks its own patterns) there is going to be user bias.

    Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket has a fairly low difficulty rating. It also has a whole group dedicated to helping people and a wiki. Once you get it (especially with the new line by line version) it feels easy, but getting there can be hard.

    Thanks for the article!
    (Genesneaky on Rav)

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  68. Sarah says:

    The rating system has a painfully obvious selection bias. Only people who attempt the pattern will rate it. I imagine, actually, that most people wait until they finish a pattern before they rate it. (I do this).

    After crafting for some time, we can generally assess at first glance how difficult a pattern is with respect to our given skill set. I imagine most people max out rating their projects at difficulties of 5-6, simply because they actively choose not to knit projects that they would rate higher. It’s a hobby, after all.

    I think those in the know would probably use the Herbert Niebling doilies as a solid example of what a “10” ought to be. And yet a knit designer on Twitter noted that some of the Herbert Niebling doilies are rated at an average of 5– a rating that I can personally attest to as a hilarious understatement.

    I haven’t put in my rating of the fiendishly difficult doily, because I haven’t been able to advance further than row 30, and it is my understanding that I haven’t even gotten to the “hard part” yet. I can’t imagine how many other knitters have glanced through the pattern, only to close the tab with a shell-shocked expression on their faces.

    But if crafters rated the patterns they never used or finished using because they were too hard at first glance, this would give rise to other inaccuracies. Firstly, if it’s not transparently easy, you can’t get to know it properly until you actually execute it. Secondly, it’s not immediately clear whether it’s actually ludicrously hard or you just aren’t looking at it right. I’ve had highly skilled friends confused at the start of easy patterns simply because they didn’t bother to read the directions correctly.

    There is some talk on twitter about changing how the rating system weighs users’ input. But personally, I don’t think that the users of Ravelry take the difficulty rating very seriously. We know that it’s highly subjective, prone to bias, and often simply not utilized by the community at large. If we *really* want to know how hard a pattern is, we either look at it ourselves or ask around. That kind of assessment is formed on the basis of our technical experience as well as previous aesthetic enjoyment of the techniques involved.

    It’s been interesting seeing Ravelry finally pop into the Freakonomics radar. That site is a fantastic data set (and I mean that in the best possible sense, Casey, if you’re reading this).

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  69. Kathy says:

    I think that “difficult” in handicrafting is relative, so I always take these ratings with a grain of salt. Some things that are easy for me are considered difficult by others, while things I feel are so difficult I won’t attempt them are considered easy by others. Our brains and interests are all different.

    That said, I found this article very interesting and appreciate the effort and analysis the author put into it.

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  70. Toni says:

    I must agree with much of what Sarah has said, note that before the evolution of Ravelry, there were Yahoo Groups (and blogs, of course) for all these handicrafters. I have been crocheting since I was six and knitting since my early twenties which gives me decades of experience. I eventually gave up on the yahoo groups and never joined ravelry because the experience became very negative and not supportive in many ways. There did not seem to be room for disparate opinions, and heaven help you if your circumstances kept your yarn shopping in the craft store instead of an exclusive yarn shop. I now use the internet only to browse my craft and keep the social and creative part of it local.

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  71. Jaqi says:

    I’m a Ravelry member [Applesin] and have come to love the website over the last 2 years. It has so many wonderful aspects to it that it’s become a staple to my crafting! I love that I can browse patterns, find uses for yarn that I may have been stumped by, and most importantly find help if I find myself too challenged.

    The rating system is not unlike those you see on other consumer websites. People either live by them or disregard them but it’s all user-based. Knitting and crocheting are wonderful in that if something is challenging you learn something new, it doesn’t mean that the challenge makes it impossible like some feats of strength.

    The forums are excellent for that reason as well because if you do feel overwhelmed there are a number of different ways to find someone who can set you straight! From people who have completed the project before you, to message boards, even some of the designers themselves are members and happily reply to questions!

    All in all I don’t think I’d have come as far as I have in my knitting and crocheting without the site and recommend it to all of my friends who begin either craft.

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  72. kari says:

    I think Sarah should reveal her Ravelry name.

    I for one am grateful to Ravelry. I have met the most amazing women and men from around the world that I am lucky enough to call friend. I have deepened my love for knitting and have even taken up spinning. I find out the latest and greatest on everything from yarn, fiber to knitting needles as a result of the chatter on Ravelry. I will ever be thankful to Casey and Jess and the rest of the Ravelry team for the creation of this sight for taking me out of my comfort zone and helping me to become the outgoing person that I now am.

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  73. Lisa Crozier says:

    This young woman has great potential. I would agree on her analysis of difficulty ratings. I am an experienced knitter and teach knitting to beginners, and I also teach a workshop where students come when they are having difficulty with a pattern. What I rate as easy or intermediate would probably be considered difficult for a relatively new knitter.

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  74. Sammygirl says:

    I am a self taught knitter and use the internet for a resource when I want to learn how to do something I am unfamiliar with. If you know how to knit and purl and not drop or add on stitches, then the world is your oyster. So far, there hasn’t been a pattern that I couldn’t master if I checked the internet for information on certain techniques and if I studied the pattern carefully.

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  75. AmandaLinnea says:

    Anyone else keep looking for the the Agree and Disagree buttons?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
  76. Melissa says:

    I think she forgets that this community is based on just that COMMUNITY. We use and rank patterns with interaction from the designers in most cases. I would never rate a pattern a 10 simply because it didn’t understand something. I might rate it a 10 if it involved a skill that is difficult to figure out and unknown by most knitters.
    Knitting/crochet isn’t HARD. It is about following direction and having access to resources that make new techniques very doable.

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  77. Sonda says:

    Once you’ve tried your hand at the various techniques (lace, cables, color work, etc) you can look at a pattern and gauge its difficulty. You don’t need a rating. Sometimes there is hidden complexity but not very often.

    Also, has anybody mentioned natural ability and talent yet? Most of the people commenting here humbly offer that they worked for many years to acquire their skills but I’ve met people (on Ravelry) who are experts after only a couple of years. As with anything, some people are naturals. I’d say most people with a talent for crochet can master it in a few months.

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  78. Linda Quick says:

    I agree with Frances. I looked up in Ravelry (yes, I am a member) knitted patterns rated 10 and I had no problem understanding the instructions of the free ones. If the NYT wants to pay for the others I will gladly check them out also :-). The old saying goes: how do you get to Carnegie Hall… practice, practice, practice. I’m far from 18, but I believe the makings of a good knitter/crocheter is the ability to read a pattern and be able to picture the process. Unfortunately I can’t remember back to when I was 18. Perhaps everything other than myself was a 10.

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  79. stariel says:

    I think the world of Ravelry is a very skewed sample of knitters. There are plenty of knitters who occasionally knit something. My mother, for example, taught me to knit while making one of the 4 baby sweaters I have ever heard of her knitting, and she’s also done 1 pair of socks – this in approximately 30 years. In the past 8 years I’ve completed at least 263 projects (listed in Ravelry, I think I missed a few small ones).

    So yes, the people who sign up for Ravelry and then actively list / rate their projects are probably better than average knitters – and many of them reaching the level of what Sarah would probably call an “addict”, like myself.

    It also depends on your definition of “difficult” – to earn a 10 rating, I’d say the pattern would have to be challenging for an expert knitter to complete. Frankly, there aren’t many of those out there, as they’d have to be designed by expert knitters as well. There’s a big difference between a pattern that is time consuming or requires attention and one that is difficult.

    There are certainly patterns that are simple, even “easy”, and still well written and fun to complete. In fact, it’s one of my favorite types of pattern! There are also patterns that are more difficult (i.e. require more attention and slightly more skills) but would still probably only rate a 4-6 in my book as they can be completed by most anyone with a bit of patience, after learning a few stitches.

    I found that even in the first few months when I started seriously knitting, my skills and confidence exploded. And the fact that Sarah deems handicrafts “localized, insular and disparate arts, with small, isolated enclaves of familial or local groups” lets me know that she hasn’t yet discovered the joys of fiber festivals, sock knitting conventions, or possibly even the local knitting group.

    Once there her skills will likely (as mine did) increase exponentially – and looking at it from somewhere in the middle, she will probably realize that she is much more a beginner than she previously thought.

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  80. Jeane says:

    Ravelry has many features, not all are used by members. Rating pattern difficulty is one of the areas that most members do not use. Very good knitters and crocheters analyzing the ratings find the skimpy data inaccurate. The writer did too, but pressed on.

    Sorry, but only a brand new crocheter/knitter/researcher would mistake a little used feature w/ skimpy data as a likely subject for a serious research analysis.

    Judging older knitters and computer skills is an age related assumption is off mark too. Assumptions like this make for lousy and erroneous research. No doubt the writer will learn this hard lesson in Psych 101 or Sociology 101 when she starts college.

    Takes more than big words and manipulation of data to make a meaningful study. Age no doubt will bring wisdom to recognize this.

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  81. lilymarlene says:

    Your method is flawed. Only those who have actually knit a pattern will rate it! So the voters are self-selected already. So only skilled knitters will attempt difficult items, and then be eligible to vote on them.
    Also, most of us on Ravelry will only load finished projects, and that cuts down the number of voters even more.

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  82. Jeff S. says:

    After reading briefly through the comments, I was very surprised to not see this hypothesis: namely, that people will use the ratings to (in effect) brag about how good they are at “handicrafts.”

    It’s the internet tough-guy spread to the knitting world – Not only did I breeze through that pattern, but I would be embarassed to call it difficult (literally). In a tight-knit (HA) community like Ravelry, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bias towards rating things “easy” just because people need to maintain an expert persona online.

    For example, if I ran a knit-goods store, and had a business where my products were often rated online, I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one rating things “impossibly difficult” because it would imply I didn’t know what I was doing. Even if the ratings are anonymous, this still applies on internet forums in every cross section of life

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  83. Neal says:

    #40 @James– more than “hipness,” images make finding patterns much easier for a knitter– because with an image, you can tell at a glance what the end project will look like, its level of difficulty, and roughly the type of yarn and quantity needed (whereas without, the knitter will have to go item by item down the list and read every pattern from beginning to end, which as you can imagine would quickly become tedious if you wanted to knit a certain type of hat and were faced with fifty (or more) links to hat patterns unaccompanied by images, even if you’re fluent in “the true language of computers.”

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  84. WarMare says:

    Sarah is actually right. There’s very little hard about knitting. When I began knitting 5 years ago, I would only knit top-down raglan sweaters. No seaming, no purling, no cables, lace or colorwork.

    That lasted one sweater. I got myself some skills and taught myself to knit–cables, colorwork, and lace. I’m working on my first shetland shawl, and 35K stitches in, fixing my errors is miles easier than it was on the first edging points.

    What makes a pattern hard is if it is poorly written—charts are so much easier—or nothing I can do will make it fit on my body like the photos lead me to believe it should.

    In many ways, craftsmanship is little more than the infinite capacity for detail: how colors and textures interact, stitch architecture, the relationship of fabric to the body, the various qualities of different steels or woods. None of this is really difficult for a serious craftswoman to learn–but there is a lot to know. And you learn it by doing and thinking about the doing.

    WarMare on Ravelry

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  85. kea says:

    I think there is actually an over-representation of advanced crafters who are skewing the ratings down. That doesn’t make them an “oligarchy” of hardcore obsessives, rather the skewing is an outgrowth of everyone’s pattern-selection process.

    If you think about it, people are going to select projects that are anywhere from slightly above their own perceived skill level (if they want a challenge) to anywhere below (if they’re feeling like doing something mindless). But people aren’t going to select projects that look vastly more complicated than they’re comfortable with.

    So over time, you will end up with an over-representation of advanced crafters rating easier projects, but a severe under-representation of beginners rating advanced projects. They just aren’t going to try them until they become more confident in their craft.

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  86. Kimothy T. Squirrel says:

    Sarah’s article is almost incredibly well-written for someone who hasn’t yet started college; I think it also shows a good journalistic instinct, as the subject and analysis are thought-provoking, current, and a bit inflammatory.

    I think the reason that we see these rating patterns are because of the nature of knitting itself, not some oligarchy of knitters. Sarah presents the distribution of ratings as sort of binary or thresholded (if the data is accurate as presented), with lots of ratings at the low end. I’d contend that it stems from the same things Moulin Rogue and Monica mentioned, which is that the actual motions of knitting are very, very basic: once you know how to knit and purl, and maybe do yarnovers for lace, you can create some incredibly intricate-looking pieces. Each stitch is based on the basics — they are mostly variations on knit and purl (and from what I know of crochet, the principle is the same). Then, perhaps, at some point, you reach a threshold of human ability by adding to those basics with specialized techniques. People who are stranding three colors at once and finishing multi-colorwork pieces in 8 hours, like Kate Reag (most people take several days to finish such a piece) are using a new and sophisticated level of physical coordination. Anyone armed with only the basics, which may have gotten them through perhaps tens of years of knitting other things, are naturally going to say that such a pattern is extremely difficult, and rate it above their normal 2,3, or 4. And, there are not many such diffcult patterns out there (comparatively), which would contribute to the skew to the low end.

    I have knitted lots of cables and lace, and socks, and short-rows, etc., but have never conscientiously been able to rate things above a 3, for all the reasons above. I know that if you just take it one stitch at a time (as KathyA says), read the instructions carefully, and keep track of where you are, you can make it through almost any pattern out there. Perhaps this is the advantage of the experience level Sarah mentions — the ability to essentialize your efforts. So, again, this attitude toward the craft would naturally make ratings fall out into two classes — stuff I can do with the basics, and stuff I can’t — of course with variations depending on the individual.

    However, I will definitely range in my scoring of quality. I agree (with RJ) that it’s wrong to say that there is some kind of disparity between a well-written pattern and a difficult one. Easy patterns (let’s say with just knits and purls, and no special techniques) can be horribly written — unclearly, or with mistakes. For me, the most beautifully well-written and charted patterns with lots of intricate maneuvers are definitely the most fun to do, and writers of patterns get points for that. And, most patterns are test-knitted; this may strip out a lot of the bottom ratings.

    I will say that I found the comment about older people being unable to use computers pretty distasteful. I work in a scientific computer modeling group, and several of its members are over fifty or sixty. They code rings around me. I would strongly suggest that Sarah more carefully examine her prejudices and assess her writing for unconscious irrational judgments that she may have missed, before publishing.

    The analogy with climbing culture is not particularly clear to me, and I do not see dominance by elitists in either climbing or knitting (though they may attract similar personalities). In fact, if culture were the basis of the inconsistency of ratings in knitting, then one should see a similar disproportion of ratings of climbing routes. This is definitely not the case — I don’t know an exact distribution (I suspect it would be Gaussian/normal/Bell, with a mean of 5.8 or 5.9) — but it’s definitely well-spread-out, with plenty of difficult and easy and not seemingly thresholded, as the Ravelry ratings seem to be.

    James — nice idea about the difficulty algorithm. It would have to be able to interpret some natural language in order to accept techniques within patterns as part of the input, but that might not be too bad. Charts would be much easier to feed into such a thing.

    I also agree with the sense of disappointment Marianela had about some people thinking it would be distasteful to know average project completion times. Her conclusions about that are better stated than mine could possibly be, though I might add that if people decide to take such stats in a competitive vein, it just gives motivation to improve one’s skills and makes the whole craft all the more fun.

    Therefore, from my perspective, for Sarah’s sense of pride, she should be very happy if she can do patterns rated a 2 or a 3, because that means, honestly, that she can do anything. And if she can do cables, she can do an Aran sweater; if she can do openwork and textures, she can do an Irish doily. It’s just different combos of the same small-scale skills. I am glad that she decided to bring Ravelry and knitting to the fore with her article, and thank her for giving we knitters something to chew on, think about and discuss!

    -KT Squirrel, former yarn shop employee, climber, etc.

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  87. Ros says:

    Here’s the thing, Sarah: Crochet (and knitting) are not difficult. Every pattern is just a set of instructions that you can follow, one step at a time. My advice would be to take some of those patterns you think are too hard for you and give them a go. You’ll be amazed at what you are actually able to achieve. Even the most delicate looking lace work is not any more difficult than a granny square. It will require concentration and patience but not any greater technical expertise. That’s why so few patterns are rated as difficult – because they really aren’t.

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  88. Anna says:

    Oh, now I feel very bad about the way I was thinking when I was 18…

    But well, I do think that the way the rating is done skews the results: you rate once you’ve completed something, and at that point you’ve probably happy about your project and even if you were challenged on the way, thet might not seem half as difficult once you overcome the challenges.

    And, to put it even more bluntly, it IS needles, hooks and yarn. It can take time to learn the muscle movements to do it, but it is not difficult per se. Things that are made can be complicated, sure, but at least I have a hard time considering anything difficult – you use your tecnique to repeat a set of instructions. That’s it.

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  89. Leo says:

    We are humans, and quite biased when it comes to judgement calls such as rating something.

    I believe that we tend to rate as “easy” something that we already know, and as “hard” something that we had to labor to master.

    So, it does not surprise me that you could find a shift towards “easy” on the ranking system of this specific site. I’m not so sure how it works on the “quality” ranking, though.

    It would be really fun to see the analysis of other sites, such as cooking recipes or wood-work projects. Would we see a similar pattern?

    Sarah, great post!

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  90. OM says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article even though I disagree with it. I am a Ravelry user and almost always rate patterns i knit as ‘easy’… because I really do find them easy!

    I’m not, as suggested by a previous commenter, being self-deprecating and devaluing my skills, and thinking “Oh, if I could do it, it must be easy.”

    Many things I’ve made have generated oohs and aahs from non knitters, because they look really complex. But knitting really just consists of two stitches – knit and purl – and that’s all you need to know to make the most intricate lace shawls and the twistiest of cables. But I have been knitting continuously for 4 years to build up my skill set, and I suspect with a few more years of experience under her belt, Sarah will be rating most things ‘easy’ too.

    To those who recommended that the time time taken to make a project should be factored into the difficulty rating: that probably wouldn’t work, since many crafters can set projects aside for weeks, months, years even, before taking them up again. So using the project completion time would inaccurately skew the rating towards the difficult end of the range.

    Also, the difficulty rating depends entirely upon the skill set of the user. Some people think nothing of making lace shawls with cobweb weight yarn but are scared at the thought of making socks on 4 needles. Others churn out socks every month but cannot ‘get’ cables… it all depends!

    Sarah, I’d suggest you ignore the difficulty levels (after all, there is no standardized definition of difficulty on Rav; people rate according to their feelings about the techniques involved, whether the pattern is badly written or not, whether it takes great perseverance to finish, etc). Just find something you’d love to make, and forge on ahead – ask for help in the forums if you get stuck.

    Good luck!

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  91. Bro - Lapurplepenguin says:

    I’m a knitter, occasional crocheter, and Ravelry member. I also teach beginners to knit on a regular basis.
    Knitting and crochet are crafts made up with a relatively small number of basic techniques that can take you a long way. Patterns are basically arrangements of those techniques, the difficult comes from the number of techniques required and how often these need to be performed. Lace items could be regarded as higher on the difficulty rating because you need to do a lot in every row – but on the other hand the pattern may be repeated very regularly allowing the knitter to become used to that arrangement of stitches (techniques) which then makes it easier as you go along.
    When rating patterns on Ravelry I try to assess how I found them and how I would recommend them to other knitters and the people I teach. I use the star rating (what Sarah has as the 1-5 quality rating) as a mark of the outcome of the project – did it turn out as advertised (pattern pictures can be flattering) – and the enjoyment factor – knitters do it for pleasure.
    As someone who has been knitting longer than Sarah has been alive (but also able to understand commuters and the web) I will have a different view to her but I try to be fair in my difficulty rating and I have yet to rate anything 9 or 10 as far as I can see. That’s because I would regard that as something that I as a v experienced – and yes, a good -knitter would struggle with, find progress difficult on and have to learn new techniques for. On the other hand I will rate a current project as a 7 or 8 – not because it is impossible or even take that long to knit but it does require concentration a lot of different stitches in every row and has a complex shaping chart. Therefore I wouldn’t recommend it to a less experienced person.
    As for Sarah, with my social affairs magazine editor’s hat on (that’s the day job) I wish all my contributors and columnist wrote so well but I think she does require more experience of people and craft. Keep at it Sarah – you do have talent as a writer.

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  92. Amanda says:

    I’m in total agreement with CKinIL. I urge Sarah to work a little harder at the patterns that she considers “difficult” to improve her skills. Many times a consult with a fellow crocheter/knitter will help you flesh out problems you are having with the pattern. You might find that you just happened to mis-read or mis-understand what the pattern is saying(this happens to me on EVERY Debbie Bliss pattern). Once you get that fleshed out, you might find that the pattern is easier than you once thought and might rate it differently than you would have without the clarification(I tend to rate Bliss patterns harder do to the concentration involved for me…but many people rate them easy). Many pattern writers are very available to help you with problems you might have with their patterns.

    Sarah makes some very interesting points. This point has been brought up a few times as well, if you see a pattern that is rated differently than you would rate it, check the skill level of the rater. It’s not hard to do, look at their FOs. That can help you determine the sliding rating scale. I do a lot of research on a pattern before I try it….but I tend to be a little harder on myself skillwise. I still consider myself to be a beginner, but many of my co-crafters consider me advanced.

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  93. Jen says:

    Call me elitist, but I think the reason that most patterns are rated “easy” is because knitting is made up of variations of 2 skills – the knit and the purl. Once you know a stitch (and there are all sorts of websites to find them) there just isn’t a lot of difficulty to knitting. How many times have you thought “oh, that looks so hard!” (like the first time you did a cable) and then did it and thought – “haha! It’s easy! What a trick!”

    Plus, if you pick out a fair isle sweater, wouldn’t you judge that difficulty against other sweaters of the same construction? Not compared to a scarf? Otherwise ratings would just be by type – scarf = 1, hat = 2, mitten = 3, baby sweater = 4, etc… TThen the lace shawl knitters could duke it out with the fair isle sweater steeking knitters at 10. hehe!

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  94. Bonne Marie Burns (chicknits) says:

    What an interesting breakdown of the way we look at the big picture of our work!

    As a designer, I get lots of feedback about my patterns and it is not uncommon to get emails from knitters that offer polar points of view on the same pattern. For instance, in a short period of time, I received two completely opposite ratings via email on a design. (The style is marked by me as requiring advanced beginner skills on the website at POP in the catalog description.)

    One knitter, who was a self-described beginner, knit it as her first sweater pattern and said she loved pattern and that it was easy. She gave it the max star rating and a low difficulty one. Another knitter, who described herself as a knitter with decades of experience, wrote a frustrated message that the pattern was the most difficult thing she’d worked on in all her years of stitching.

    What the two reviews have in common is that the knitters self-ranked their skill level in offering their perspective, with the beginner expecting more difficulty and the advanced expecting more ease. So, the way rankings are perceived, pre-posting, is going to be remarkably dependent on that factor as well.

    Thanks, Sarah, for your article and to all the commenters for their insight, as well. :)

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  95. Colleen says:

    While the analysis is long and considers many factors, I am not sure it is terribly thoughtful. I say this because she overlooks the more core processes at work in terms of the rating of knitting patterns and understanding what might be meant by difficulty (her areas of interest.)

    Rating patterns is done voluntarily, which means there is a huge self-selection bias (actual, several–first, that a knitter is on Ravelry, second, that the knitter selects patterns–many knitters don’t attempt things they think are difficult in the first place, and third, as others have mentioned, the likelihood is that those projects considered difficult don’t get finished, and therefore, are not going to be rated at all).

    The other problem is that knitting and crochet skills are like a good buffet you can take what you want without having to learn everything. My sister has spent her entire knitting life making garter stitch afghans. She knows how to cast on (with help), knit and cast off (with help). She doesn’t want to know more. She doesn’t need to know more to enjoy knitting. Other knitters might be great at color work but not know anything about cables. Knitting skill is also voluntary.

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  96. Shannon says:

    I think Sarah has a very bright future ahead of her. She is an excellent writer and thinker, as others have mentioned in previous posts.

    As an “over 50″ I believe that I still have a young outlook on life and apparel. However, I agree with Sarah in that, as a newly returned to knitting member of Ravelry I do look closely at the pattern level ratings. I don’t want to get in over my head and become frustrated, again with a project that I can’t finish or complete.

    Perhaps this is an opportunity to take on the challenge of creating a spot on Ravelry to rate patterns more realistically. I would love that. It would make it so much easier to just go there instead of looking through hundreds of patterns to find something that I can actually create at my level of competence.

    I would love to see Sarah create her own knitting/crochet website for the younger set. Perhaps Ravelry might be able to create a forum for the under 30 set. I’m sure that if Sarah took it on she would be fabulous at it.

    And James, regarding your post about Sarah not understanding the complexities of crochet patterns because of her inexperience, sorry not happening. I would stick with computers if I were you. Some knitting and crochet patterns are QUITE complex and require a degree in physics just to understand the pattern! I have a feeling that Sarah is quite competent and well versed in pattern reading.

    In her article I think she hits the nail on the head for many of us and she will never experience ANY embarrassment from the writing of this article.

    Good for you Sarah!

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  97. Mike says:

    Encourage Beginners to go through and rate all patterns they have not done as a 10…

    or better yet… add those by default when a user joins… as long as they stay active on the site 1time per month.. then their rating stands

    Once they have completed the pattern, they can adjust it to their real feeling of difficulty… Also I imagine some patterns have skills developed from earlier patterns.. When someone completes them they would automatically rate the prior patterns down a lvl.

    I know that is a lot of work to program, but it is more a problem of bad input = bad ouput

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  98. Kelly P. says:


    As someone who could write ALMOST as well as you when I was 18, I have only one bit of advice: whatever you want to do, go fo it!

    At 41, I wonder what I could have done with my life if I had been more bold and courageous. Don’t let those who would “knit-pick” your analysis make you doubt yourself! You express yourself so well, and your critical thinking skills are far beyond average. Who cares if they don’t stand up to the analysis of a statistics professor yet? Was this for credit? And what kind of people give such unkind “advice?” People who know you’re going to go way further than they ever will, that’s who! I don’t even know you and I am so proud of you! Good luck in whatever field you choose.

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  99. Kate says:

    Over and over again, I hear that knitting is only a combination of knit and purl stitches. The implication is that, if you think a certain pattern is difficult, you’re an idiot who can’t master the simple knit and purl stitches.

    I’ve been knitting for nine years, and mastered the knit and purl stitches as a beginner, but I often find patterns challenging and rate them as such on Ravelry (I’m an active user). There are always going to be knitters (and crocheters) out there who turn up their noses at those of us who express frustration over complex techniques, and pride themselves on their ability to tackle any project, no matter how complex. So yes, I think there is an elitist element, as there is in any area of interest.

    I don’t pay much attention to the difficulty ratings–I just look at the patterns themselves and decide for myself whether or not a pattern is worth the effort. I love Ravelry, and have expanded my skills as a knitter as a result of using its many helpful and supportive features.

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  100. A says:

    I find that I only rate projects that I love and that I have enjoyed working on. If there are a lot of others out there like me the ratings will definitely be off!

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  101. Nancy says:

    I have 60 years experience in knitting (crocheting, weaving, etc) and 50 years in computing. Still it was months before I even noticed the ‘like’ and ‘degree of difficulty’ scales on the Ravelry pattern page. (I am frustrated by the ‘modern’ tendency not to distinguish links from other text so you have to mouse around to find the links. (On Firefox, anyway.))

    As a perfect example of the imperfect scales, I assumed that a ‘difficult’ pattern is one that is difficult to _use_ – that is, certain steps are not clearly written out, the graph has multiple symbols not well differentiated, and so on. If the instructions were clear but I had trouble executing them, well, turn off the audio book and pay attention! (But this may be the result of being an Old F–t. I am puzzled by the common statements on Web sites of how many people like [whatever] or have clicked on it or what they bought after viewing this. (Ravelry shows how many people have called this individual work a Favorite.) Since I am not a lemming, why should I care?

    For valid opinions of a pattern I will look at the projects that have used it. This page shows the first few words of the knitter’s comments which will often have something like ‘I loved this pattern, going to make another one’, or ‘I had to widen the shoulders’, and then I have real data.

    Sarah is right that the World Wide Web has changed communication drastically, but she doesn’t know enough history to know what came before in knitting. The local yarn stores when I was a child matched the pattern to the knitter, and was there for Customer Support before the term, as would be the other customers around, not to mention all the neighbors. Not that I would go back to that, but in some ways each woman at her keyboard is more isolated in her knitting than my grandmother was.

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  102. Sidney says:

    I’ve been knitting for more than half a century. Nothing in knitting or crochet is hard for me. But that was true forty years ago too.

    The thing is, all knitting and crochet are is pulling loops of string through other loops of string. There is nothing difficult about it. Fiddly, sometimes, sure, but once your hands can tension the yarn so you make a nice even fabric, there’s nothing difficult about actually making anything. Not even a purl seven together nupp. It’s kind of like chess – none of the moves are hard. It’s how you put them together that makes a master.

    I am bothered a lot by Sarah’s acceptance of the purported enmity between knitters and crocheters. I’ve found it’s a lot more talked about than seen. It used to be true crochet was looked down on, but in talking with older crafters born before the turn of the twentieth century, that’s because crochet wasn’t called crochet, it was called Irish Crochet. And anything Irish at that time was looked at much the way anything Latino is looked at now.

    I’d love to see someone as bright as Sarah look into how prejudices that are no longer generally held can still be found tucked away in our oral traditions and attitudes in our hobbies and skill-sets. Maybe she can help us locate some of these little pockets of poison and drain them instead of passing them along to yet another generation.

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  103. Kaitlyn says:

    She needs to stop thinking and start crocheting, otherwise she’ll never be as good as the rest of us. 😛

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  104. Lesley says:

    Rating the difficulty of a pattern is very subjective. What I think is difficult, others would probably breeze through and my easy knits are probably seen as difficult. Point in fact, my second project I ever knit was a pair of socks. I didn’t realize socks were “hard”, therefore, they weren’t. Ever since then, I learned that I do better if I DON’T pay attention to difficulty ratings. After all, it’s just a knit or a purl.

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  105. SocksNGreys says:

    A couple of comments for Sarah: Please understand, Sarah, that you have done some unique things with this article. 1) You’re 18 and have published writing in the New York Times. 2) You’ve drawn attention to a site that, despite its 1 million users (of which I’m an active participant), is somehow obscure to the rest of the population. 3)You’ve written with enough clarity and passion to allow for detailed critique. Don’t be discouraged at the comments you read. To have drawn the alternate explanations that are reflected in the comments here is a good thing.

    For some of the other commenters: please remember that there is a real 18-year-old who wrote this and is very likely reading your comments. She is not a professional author, with a professional author’s skin. She has no opportunity to respond to what you say. Treat her with the same amount of respect and care that you would an 18-year-old standing in front of you; keep your comments civil. That doesn’t mean no critique– she’ll benefit from that– just don’t snark.

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  106. mapgirl says:

    I’m mapgirl on Ravelry. (Big surprise on that right?)

    Frankly, I find ALL crochet patterns to be mysterious. I come from the school of grab your yarn and needle and make whatever you want. I learned crochet in a foreign language from my grandmother at the age of about 6 and calling something a ‘half-double crochet’ does not compute. Give me a knitting pattern any day.

    Sarah does not account for the fact that there are many knitters such as myself who do not knit from any patterns at all and rarely rate other people’s patterns simply because we don’t use them. That does not make me a superstar knitter or elitist in any way. That’s a false conclusion on the data. It makes me a knitter that does not enjoy reading poorly written patterns that contribute to perceived difficulty. It means I’m a knitter that likes doing my own thing, grabbing whatever I’ve got and funneling my enthusiasm for knitting into doing, rather than pattern reading.

    Example: I was working on an Estonian lace pattern in translation and the edging part was really annoying. I am still not sure after knitting two 1000+ stitch pieces if I did them right because I haven’t yet finished the center panel and sewn it up. A knitter may perceive a pattern to be difficult in the beginning till somewhere in the middle they hit their stride with the pattern writer’s language and then it all comes together. Then when they are finished, do they rate it overall as an average difficulty pattern, or do they rate it as difficult because it was intractable for the first 20 rows?

    Personally there are German lace patterns I won’t touch because they come with elaborate charts. I perceive them to be difficult, but my friends tell me they are quite easy because of the symbolic charts that do not require German or English. I don’t believe them because I hate charts. That defeats the purpose of my personal knitting style of “tuck in your pocket and go.”

    Classic example of the ‘difficult pattern’ which is actually very simple is the Baby Surprise Jacket by Elizabeth Zimmermann. Every knitter has probably made this at least once in their lives because all you do is cast on 160 sts in almost any lightweight yarn and then knit with a set of decreases which do all the shaping. It’s a weird little piece of fabric with a little geometric magic turns into a baby sweater. It takes about 2 weeks or less of dedicated knitting to make it. It was really hard for me to visualize the end piece but when all was said and done, it was a very easy pattern suitable for a beginner with minimal finishing (2 seams to sew up).

    A difficult pattern is not very appealing to knitters and usually that’s a sign of a poorly written or edited pattern. It could probably be re-written and made easier to understand. I’ve definitely done that for beginner friends that couldn’t adjust to the coded language in a published pattern. Perhaps that’s the real conculsion to be drawn.

    No pattern/schematic/instruction set should ever be badly written and most writers could use a good editor. (I recommend my friend and fellow knitter on Ravelry, Amy Ripton, her patterns rock. (Hedgerow Mitts))

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  107. Sandra says:

    I am a member of Ravelry. I think one explanation of this trend is that yarn enthusiasts tend to select patterns that they know they can complete with ease.

    Success in creating a finished object will partially depend on how much a yarnist enjoys the project. If a pattern is particularly challenging for the yarnist, then he or she is less likely to complete it. In the future they may self weed out the patterns that are rated most difficult in order to stick with something they know they can make easily.

    A lot of knitters and crocheters work with yarn as a tension release. A difficult challenge is not what they are looking for, but rather something mindless that in the end produces a satisfaction in completing a project.

    I know that I specifically choose patterns that are in my comfort zone of skills. Therefore, would rarely have need to rank a pattern “difficult” to knit or crochet.

    All knitting and crocheting patterns have value, whether or not a pattern is difficult or easy. I knit and crochet because I get pleasure from it and if something is difficult for me, then I wouldn’t be enjoying the process.

    Also, consider that perhaps a yarnist has made a pattern numerous times. Over time that pattern will become easier through repetition of the process. They may return to the pattern and re-rank it to a lower level of difficulty and that can skew results.

    I know for me the happier I am knitting or crocheting a certain item, the less difficult I would tend to rank it.

    Remember that the rankings are not scientific at all. It depends on skill and experience and is highly subjective. 10 years ago I might have ranked a basic sock pattern as difficult, but now having completed dozens of them, I would rank it as easy.

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  108. TLG says:

    I think the author of this article writes well, and maybe even thinks well, but she stops short and betrays her youth and inexperience by claiming authority in an area where she has none. As a knitting instructor, I can assure Sarah that that the point she has failed to consider is that, by the time a knitter or crocheter joins Ravelry, this person has decided that yes, this is a hobby worth pursuing. They are no longer “just getting started”, rather they consider themselves a knitter or crocheter. By the time this happens, it has been my experience that the average handicrafter does indeed have a fairly proficient skill set in their chosen hobby, enabling them to feel confident in the completion of many patterns found on Ravelry. This does not mean there is an oligarchy at Ravelry. Rather I think that it means that the average Ravelry user knows what they are doing.

    Granted, no one author can examine all possibilities in the space of one article, and such perfection is not called for here. Rather, for this particular author to raise claims of “Oligarchy!”, along with all the negative connotations that accompany such a claim, without having sufficient facts to back up this statement, smacks of the pompous self-serving attitude prevalent in the youth of today (the same youth who think anyone over 50 just doesn’t “get” computers).

    So, Sarah, if you think the hard patterns on Ravelry are too hard, maybe, just maybe, the fault lies with you and your crocheting skills. To spend so much time and effort to create a reason why other handicrafters make you feel insecure about your abilities seems immature at best. Accept responsibility for your abilities or lack thereof and quit whining. It’s what someone over 50 would do.

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  109. Yma says:

    I disagree with Sarah’s conclusion and assumptions; otherwise this article is great. In my not inconsiderable knitting experience, the knitter reads the pattern before attempting it (and, to gather her materials). If a pattern is incomprehensible for some reason, you won’t attempt it. So you can’t tell from Sarah’s study whether a pattern is badly written or truly difficult. When I finish a pattern, I usually do rate it as easy because if I can do it, any idiot can! It’s probably a combination of my skill and the pattern’s clarity. Knitting is a solitary hobby and there is not always a grandmother standing by to interpret the pattern.

    So, Sarah’s conclusions are somewhat like the unemployment figures: did the truly difficult patterns just give up, stop applying for unemployment, and retire early? Who knows? I too am thrilled to see Ravelry in the NYT.

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  110. Whatladder says:

    I broadly agree with a number of the suggestions brought up about skill level and ratings, and I would like to add my own observations as a ravelry user and frequent pattern rater – in that I rate most of the patterns I knit.

    I am probably in the “master” category, having been knitting for a couple of decades, but there are occasionally patterns that are new skills for me.

    In one case, when I had my first stab at lace, I found it really hard, and I was hating the yarn and the pattern, but I pretty much decided it was ME, not the pattern. I didn’t rate the pattern because, yes it would have been a 9 or 10 for me, but I knew a ton of other people who were knitting it at the same time (one of the fabulous glories of ravelry as social media as well as crafting site). So I quit trying the pattern, but I didn’t rate the pattern because I felt I couldn’t do it fairly. Maybe, in the light of this discussion, that was the “wrong” thing to do.

    Another pattern I tried which had really bad instructions, I posted a comment about and the designer got in touch with me and we had an exchange of messages which resulted in my problem being resolved. So something I might have rated as bad or difficult I ended up giving a better than average rating to because my experience had ended up positive. Another example of how the social aspects of the site might affect ratings.

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  111. Stiney says:

    I found your analysis interesting. I’d love to see more data about knitting, crocheting, and Ravelry!

    I agree with the commenters saying there are more than two possible explanations. I’m Stiney on Rav–you can go see my 33 knitting or crochet projects.

    I have two frogged projects (one is also an ugh)–I rated neither of these on difficulty or quality. The ugh was I didn’t like the yarn, the other was a poorly written pattern.

    I have 7 WIPs–I have rated only one of these on difficulty, so far, and I marked it as easy.

    Of the remaining projects, I have rated 10 of the patterns (one of the patterns is two projects, so 11 of the completed projects have ratings). 6 are “personal patterns” so I can’t rate them. But that still leaves 7 projects completely unaccounted for.

    Honestly, I often forget to rate the projects (and almost always the yarn. The notes section is where I would be able to explain the trouble i had–this yarn was splitty, this part of the pattern was unclear, I tried to watch Love Actually and knit lace at the same time to the detriment of the hat, etc.

    Assuming there is a skill oligarchy assumes that every knitter or crocheter to make a given pattern rated it (or even entered it into Ravelry!), and that they did so whether or not they completed the project, which I think has been shown repeatedly is not the case.

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  112. Kathy says:

    I’m a crocheter on Ravelry and I rate the patterns that I have used to make my projects. If I’m able to finish a pattern without major problems, then by the time I’m finished with it I usually feel that I’ve mastered the techniques involved.

    After finishing a project it almost always seems “easy” in retrospect. I sometimes debate on how to rate a pattern. Should I rate it easy if it seemed easy to me, or if I think it would be easy for a beginner? The whole thing is too subjective.

    I think the main reason to rate patterns is for the quality of the directions. If a pattern is poorly written, contains mistakes or non-standard terminology then that information is VERY useful to another crafter. I might not want to spend hours trying to figure out what someone is trying to explain in a poorly written pattern.

    To me the difficulty rating is kinda useless. However, I do want to see the pattern rating and know that the pattern is well written and the finished project is worth the time spent making it.

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  113. Robyn says:

    When I interviewed for a job at a yarn store 6 years ago, the shop owner asked me what my knitting skill level was. I was self-taught, had made only three or four items, and had never interacted with another knitter in any way. By most people’s standards I figured I would be classified as a beginner. Because I needed a job, I stretched the point and said I was an “advanced beginner” and that I picked things up quickly from written instructions.

    Within a week of starting work I discovered that I was advanced intermediate, not a beginner at all. Any pattern handed to me I could figure out, I could fix my own mistakes, and I could instruct or help customers who came in with questions or problems. That experience showed me that I can only truly judge my skill level when I’ve advanced beyond it and am remembering back from a place of increased ability.

    In some ways it’s actually like rating physical pain. The person who breaks her foot may think she’s in nearly the worst pain possible, and rate it an 8 on a 0-10 pain scale. A few years later when that same person goes through childbirth she may decide that broken foot was truly a 5, and labor is a 9. Meanwhile, if someone else were able to experience the exact same labor pains, they might rate them as a 7 or they might rate them a 10. It’s all very subjective.

    I rate all of my Ravelry projects by quality, but I rarely rate by difficulty, for a reason that I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned in the comments already posted. Everyone gets to use Ravelry in whatever way works best for them (thus many people use the forums much more than the pattern directory but others never go to the forums at all). I use the ratings not to try to be helpful to other users, but for my own reference. If I made and listed a hat in 2007, and tomorrow I’m trying to decide between making another of that pattern or a totally new pattern, it’s my project notes and ratings that will help me decide. Because I know that my skill level changes over time, my own difficulty rating isn’t terribly useful to me, so I don’t generally bother with it. I care more about whether the pattern is written well, uses the standard abbreviations, is easily re-sized, etc., all of which are details I include in my notes but none of which can I find in a basic 1-10 difficulty rating.

    With that said, I’ve only been knitting since 2002, am entirely self-taught, and have no knitters amongst my family or offline friends…but I’ve never knit anything I would rate higher than a 5 on difficulty. Intricate lace? Not difficult, just needs a little more focus than a garter stitch scarf. Fair Isle? Not difficult, just fiddly. Garment construction? Not difficult, just requires more forethought in the sizing. A pattern may appear overwhelming before beginning, but it’s followed one stitch at a time, which generally reduces the difficulty to nearly nil.

    I also have to agree with Deirdre. Fawning over basic writing skills and conclusions drawn from inaccurate data (I can search the Ravelry database tonight and get wildly different results on how many patterns have been rated difficult 9 or 10, and another commenter mentioned that they had already done so) doesn’t do Sarah any good in preparing to go to college where significantly more will be asked of her. Also, saying that you would like to be her patient based on what she wrote? Personally, I’m fairly young but I wouldn’t want a doctor who is that dismissive toward persons over 50, or that negative toward persons who are more skilled at a crafts than she is at a given moment. Those are not the signs of a good bedside manner, and I hope that if she chooses to go to the patient-interaction side of either psychiatry or medicine–as opposed to the research side–that the next few years teach her that humility, accuracy, and asking for help are worth much more than assuming cliques or exclusivity in the people that surround her. I’d want a doctor or a psychiatrist who works with accurate and current data, who doesn’t base her conclusions on her own pride, and who looks for the most positive, not the most negative.

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  114. EG says:

    The explanation for this supposed dilemma is quite simple. Neither knitting nor crocheting are particularly difficult. In days gone by, little children knit socks and mittens and gloves for the family, and they didn’t have patterns to follow. They simply learned how to knit a tube and turn a heel. Crocheters and knitters could look at a piece of clothing or decorative item and duplicate it.It is not rocket science.

    Patterns are not difficult. Pattern stitches, though might be.There are some very, very complex lace patterns, which are difficult because they require intense attention. But those are not the patterns one finds on Ravelry, or for that matter in pattern books and magazines.

    The quality of a knitted or crocheted object depends on a skill that is not rated in terms of pattern difficulty: the neatness and uniformity of stitches, and the neatness of finishing, as well as the fit of a garment determines good quality. None of that is reflected int he rating of a pattern.

    In short, most patterns are not particularly difficult. An experienced knitter or crocheter may follow patterns for convenience, but actually does not really even need them.

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  115. LotsofYarn says:

    A thought provoking article. But, it could be that it’s a bit simpler than it seems. A project can be quite difficult or very easy, as well as either well or poorly written, correct or full of errors, plus fun or tedious to knit. The level of difficulty rating, and how many stars one might give it are entirely separate issues for me when rating projects. That said, I do rate based on my own experience level, which is reasonably advanced. So, I guess difficult doesn’t equal miserable for me. Sometimes you want complex cables, colorwork, and lace, sometimes you want easy TV projects. Working at a LYS, I met folks who specifically sought projects that were “hard” just for the sake of learning and accomplishing new skills, and others who were delighted to keep knitting garter stitch scarves.

    I also take exception to the notion of “localized, insular and disparate arts, with small, isolated enclaves of familial or local groups..” Years ago maybe. Perhaps our writer needs to join a guild, or IRL knitting/crochet group, or stop by open house night at her LYS, or go to a fiber festival, or take a class, or simply crochet in public.

    Lastly, my weekly knit/crochet group ranges in age from 12 to nearly 80, many of us are on Ravelry, and several are or have retired as programmers, so the over 50 remark was gratuitous. Some of us began understanding computer language before she was born, and are still embracing useful new tools it brings us, like Ravelry.

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  116. Katie says:

    I too am a knitter, who rushed to see what difficulty level I’d assigned to my own projects on Ravelry, and found that most of the (few) ratings I’d assigned were at the low end of the scale. However, I have a slightly different perspective on the reason I chose to assign those ratings.

    I knit from patterns because they are inherently “easy”. Someone else has done all of the thinking and experimenting and careful calculation to produce a pattern.

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  117. Kourtney (mrsrobinson on rav) says:

    Hmm… Lots of interesting comments, but what I find funny is that there are about 111 comments on ravelry about this, and of the 47 comments that I can see, 32 of them are from handicrafters or people on Ravelry.

    So if a crafter crafts in the forest, does anyone other than other crafters care?

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  118. Jennifer Stover says:

    Wow! This was a great article and quite profound for an 18-year old. I personally have never looked for patterns primarily with the rating system, but have used it as more of a guideline to see if others have liked the project or not. I think there is a lot of truth to the fact that the more experienced a handi-crafter is, the easier more basic elements become and then the difficulty is dedicated more towards the intricate shaping or the time involved in a project. As I cannot speak for crocheting, knitting only has two stitches so once those two are mastered, it’s really only how you place the stitches and increases/decreases on your needles that give the pattern more life to the work. I rate all the projects I do in Ravelry and agree that it certainly is biased because I rate at the level I am in; after all it’s based on my personal project of the pattern and how well I did overall with the use of the yarn, the pattern, any alternations made and my time. If I really want to know the pains associated with a pattern I will look in a user’s notes and see what the further comments were.

    If you do search based on ratings, you can generally deduct from a user’s rating based on their projects posted as to what level they are at in their handi-craft skill and skew appropriately.

    Ravelry: PhDaisy1

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  119. Lori says:

    It’s Canada that produces high traffic on Ravelry, not California.

    I think I rated a pattern on Ravelry only once. It was a challenging project , but because I was able to complete it and probably because I didn’t want to appear amateurish in my rating, I gave it a rating that was closer to the easy end of the scale.

    I recommend that Sarah ignore the difficulty ratings and narrow her search to the project descriptions that are deemed helpful by other crafters. This is denoted by a life preserver icon, and Ravelry allows one to sort by this category.

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  120. Trey says:

    Sara concludes that the summary scores are a reflection of the projects being rated. But, as Inigo Montoya said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    I think that the scores are a reflection of the rating method rather than the thing being rated. They may measure something, but maybe not one single thing that we could use to draw conclusions because different people probably have a different idea in their mind when they make a rating.

    I wish Sara had thought more about the meaning of the rating scales before she tried to draw conclusions. What does it MEAN for someone to give a ranking of 1 or a 5? Why is it a 5 point scale? Why not a 3 point or a 10 point? Are there really 5 discernible levels of difficulty in knitting projects? The only way we can know what a rating means is to define the scale with measurable anchors and to test the anchors with people to ensure that they are interpreted consistently.

    Some suggestions for improving the reliability and validity of the ratings:

    1) Consult with experts about the characteristics needed to assess the difficulty of a project. Have the experts define examples of a 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 level project. Construct anchors to describe each level. You may discover that a 1-5 ranking doesn’t make sense. Maybe you need a 1-10 scale or maybe a 1-3 scale.

    2) Example anchors, 1 = Easy, a good first project, takes less than 3 hours to complete. uses less than 10 yards of yarn, a single color. 5 = Very Difficult, takes at least 50 hours to complete, uses at least 4 different colors and 70 yards of yarn. You could also provide visual descriptors. Show a picture of an easy project, medium, etc. Of course, it would be ideal to balance the complexity of the anchors with ease of use.

    3) Run a trial to check the quality of your measurement. Check the ratings that you get from your sample against the ratings provided by your experts. Are they consistent across raters [inter-rater reliability]? Do people rate projects the same way each time they see them [test-retest reliability]? Do they rate similar projects similarly during the same rating session [internal reliability]? The anchors can be adjusted to ensure a better match to your standard [criterion validity] and a better distribution of scores that represent what you are trying to measure [construct validity].

    4) I agree with the idea of adding a scale to measure the experience of the rater, but again, I would suggest more specific ratings: 1 = Beginner, less than 3 months, has completed no more than 1 project to 5 = Master, more than 10 years, teaches classes

    5) There is also a sampling question. Sara hints at this when she points out that few people rate the extremes. I would be interested in knowing what percentage of users submit rankings.

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  121. gemstoneanna says:

    It is really interesting to read this, but I was wondering about how the statistics were done?

    Each difficulty rating for a pattern is actually an average from a distribution. So for each pattern (if it’s a popular one) there is a distribution (albeit a skewed one) of individual ratings.

    Thus the analysis done biases 10 ratings to ones with only one rating as this is the maximum. Having people with a range of abilities ranking them means that only if the majority of people ranking a pattern find it impossibly difficult can it get a 10 – this is much easier if the pattern is rated by only one or two people rather than hundreds – it’s an issue of sample size.

    Further interesting results may be had if you look at the distribution of scores of patterns rated only once. However I think that this may also be biased because it is likely that the first person to rate a pattern may be the author of it so is unlikely to think it difficult.

    I think Casey’s offer of more data is the next step. The rawer the data the better!

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  122. KathyInGeorgia (on Rav) says:

    Sarah, when a pattern is difficult for you, what’s the difficulty? Is the problem one of being able to execute a particular stitch? Or is the problem one of being able to make sense of the instructions? If instructions are (a) awkwardly worded, (b) ambiguous, (c) misleading, or (d) flat-out wrong, I down-rate the pattern’s quality rather than its difficulty. “Difficulty” for me is not in interpreting the instructions; it’s in executing them: some killer stitch that I can’t execute well consistently because of bad tension, persistently dropped loops, etc. A crochet pattern with a boatload of bullion stitches or a trailerful of treble-trebles is a pattern I’ll rate higher on difficulty, regardless of how well the instructions are written. And just because I have problems with certain stitch combinations and rate a pattern as “difficult” doesn’t mean someone else will have the same problems or post the same rating. Where quality and difficulty intersect, for me, is on a project where the placement of stitches is hard to decipher. In that case, a charted pattern will rate higher in quality and lower in difficulty than an all-verbal one, even though the stitches are exactly the same.

    But not everyone will follow the same logic I do, and ratings will never be an exact science, even on Ravelry. I can easily picture a pattern with difficulty ratings out the roof but an equally high quality rating because while the stitchwork is a beast, the instructions are clear, complete, detailed, and absolutely correct, and the crafter issuing the rating was delighted by the challenge of making a masterpiece.

    P.S. I’m 58. I knit and crochet. And I have more years of computer experience than craft experience under my belt. :)

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  123. Roz (kittibean on Rav) says:

    This is a very thought-provoking article with many intriguing comments. Thank you Sarah for sparking this discussion! Also – surprise surprise everybody – knitting and crocheting are about using math to specify the dimensions of a 3-D object, sometimes more complex math and modeling than one would expect. Are you surprised that scientists, engineers, architects, and bankers love handicrafts when not only do you have a creative problem to solve, but you also get to play with soft things and pretty colors, and get a handsome finished product, to boot?

    For the article in general, I noticed that she quotes 205,000+ patterns, but the charts above only add up to ~61,000. Otherwise, I would agree that there is clearly selection and sampling bias for the difficulty and quality ratings… but I don’t know that it indicates an elitist hierarchy. There are darling designers and coveted yarns, who are lauded beyond what would seem realistic. I would say that there is just as much ego and politics in the yarncraft world as there is anywhere else – and how it impacts you is solely determined by how much importance you place on it. Because the community is so connected (thanks to Casey and the other Ravellers) I think there is a reluctance to disparage another’s work in a non-anonymous setting – and of course the detractors sting much more than the fans.

    Here are a few observations from my personal experience:

    1) When looking for patterns on Ravelry, I look for the design elements and construction techniques I either know I like or want to learn. The biggest hurdle for me is often understanding how the garment is constructed. With top-down, bottom-up, in-the-round, seamed or seamless, or sideways construction (never mind lace, cables; Fair Isle, Bohus or intarsia colorwork; entrelac, knit one below, brioche, double/shadow knitting, as well as variations on hook placement for crochet stitches, oh and also tunisian and broomstick crochet) there are infinite possible combinations of skills and complexities to choose from.

    2) I find user comments and noted errata FAR more important than the ranking system. In fact, in my experience a pretty fair amount of published patterns have significant errata. If the pattern isn’t brand new and only a few people have made it, there’s a better-than-average chance that the pattern is poorly written or poorly designed, and that can be sussed out pretty quickly by reviewing the amount of linked projects (finished or not) and the comments of your fellows.

    My own handcrafting journey started out about 8 years ago. I crocheted for 5 years, then switched to knitting 3 years ago. I am neither a master crocheter or knitter, but I keep myself busy and entertained. If it is any consolation, there are some things about crocheting that make it very unique compared to knitting:

    – there is not a standard terminology for crochet; in fact there are different, and overlapping terms for the same stitch in British crochet patterns vs. American crochet patterns. Woe betide the crocheter who assumes it is American crochet and finds out when she is halfway through her pattern that it is British crochet and trying to figure out why her work doesn’t look like the double crochet pictured! (This actually happened to a dear friend of mine – we were having a slumber party and staying up all night so we could be at a really big yarn sale at our LYS at 5 am, and we discovered this at, oh, about 3:30 am.)

    – while all knitting can be done by a machine, almost no crochet can be done by a machine. (I say “almost” because I did turn up a few “crochet machines” on Google, but can’t determine if they only produce yarn, edgings, or full garments.)

    Good luck Sarah in all your future endeavors – you’re very talented, and just by the fact that you have the patience, perseverance, and problem-solving to crochet, you’ve already proven that you have the skills to go far!

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  124. Elizabeth says:

    Sarah Johnson is an amazing writer for an 18 year old. I would die to have her as my student!

    She’s missing one important cultural element that skews ratings on Ravelry, though: the fact that almost everyone there is female. In Euro-American culture, women are taught to be self-deprecating (where men are taught to be self-promoting). Most women assume that if they can do it, it must be easy, because they could not be good enough to do something difficult.

    So gendered self deprecation is what skews ratings.

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  125. -L @ iKnitty.com says:

    As a reformed high school English teacher, I am very impressed with Sarah’s writing chops. Once she gets into some fundamentals of academic research modules in her writing/research courses college, she’ll become a little more adept at seeking out reliable data sources as well as analyzing/reporting them. She’s got a great base to work with for sure!

    As someone who has been knitting for nearly a decade but it still pretty crap at it, I’m not sure if the word “oligarchy” should be used to describe the members on Ravelry. There are certainly knitting superstars, and those are usually hot-shot designers or ones who have been published or ones that have a cult-like following on their weblogs. Sarah’s theories on pattern rating lend themselves to a bit of nefarious handwork elitism, like there are a select few beyond-excellent knitters/crocheters who set the ratings bar for the rest of us fibre-handling neophytes.

    I don’t find this the case. The Ravelry bunch as a whole are fantastically supportive individuals who are quick to jump in with helpful hints, tips, and encouragement. I’m not saying that was the intent of Sarah’s fact-finding, but I don’t want non-Rav individuals to think that there is a “Ravelry Elite” cruising the site, which brings to mind those mean girls in high school who walked together and looked down their noses at you. No one pooh-poohs your yarn or pattern choices, or tells you condescendingly, “Well, sweetie, you may just want to try something EASIER [pats hand].”

    Quite the opposite, actually. My money is on having Rav members talk you INTO a difficult project you’re balking at rather than suggesting an easier route. It’s like having your own personal group of Vygotskys pushing you out of your comfort zone and into your “i +1″ to help improve your skills.

    And while Crochet & Knitting Pattern Central may have hit a design lull back in 2003, who’s to say that the creator (Rachel, who does the sites ALL BY HERSELF) is actually “over 50″? I remember being 17-18, and “over 50″ seemed ancient. Regardless of Rachel’s age, it would’ve been a bit more tactful to comment on the age of the website’s design rather than the hard-working webmistress.

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  126. Kate Y. says:

    Yes, there are some interesting biases in the ranking system in Ravelry. Johnson makes no case for this being in any way “government”, however–perhaps because it isn’t.

    The rankings compel no one’s actions, impose no consequences, have no power. If you want to look for a “definition of oligarchy”, you need to look elsewhere.

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  127. Alison says:

    I thought this was so interesting!

    I’m an avid Ravelry user, and I always rate my completed projects.

    After reading this, I thought I’d check out the average difficulty ratings on my completed projects and those in my queue.

    I would consider myself to be an novice-leaning intermediate knitter, so I only pick projects that are around that skill level. I rarely look at the rating – you can generally tell by looking at photos or quickly glancing at a pattern whether it’s something you’ll be able to do.

    Anyway, I haven’t found the difficulty ratings to be distorted at all, and I’m most definitely NOT one of those “master craftsmen”. All of the ratings in my list seem to be right where I would expect them (less that five), but I suppose my queue is a pretty small sample.

    Neat article. I’m mostly impressed that so many Freakonomics nerds are also Ravelry nerds.

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  128. Wordsmith says:

    If there is a conspiracy by an elitist oligarchy in knitting, it’s probably not “salacious” unless the oligarchs are knitting lewd patterns.

    Regarding “older users to whom the language of computers will always be a foreign tongue,” the “language” that people use to interact with the web or a website is not the language of computers. Both the young user and the old website administrators are interacting with the application layer. Come to think of it, the OSI 7 layer network model might offer some metaphoric insight into the Ravelry data.

    Here’s hoping people, old or young, don’t all start speaking binary to each other.

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  129. Elizabeth says:

    Spoiled and entitled, and just isn’t as good at something as she thinks she is…Instead of listening to other people tell you how wonderful you are, put the effort in and do the work instead of criticizing something some “old” person created and gave you for free.

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  130. Nathan Kennard says:

    I am grateful to those who have taken time to take pictures of various projects. I agree that the rating is of lower importance than a picture. Also, I know some knitters or crocheters with engineering or law backgrounds. These people understand technical information and have often spent years practicing their professions. When they have time (often after their careers are underway), they also have disposable income to pursue other interests. What a wonderful gift for those of us who merely tinker as crafters. I may never rate what I make for difficulty and will probably love everything I take time to make.

    I agree that another dimension, that of a rater’s skill or experience, would be valuable. Ravelry users are extremely networked and NYTimes will be well served by bringing attention to fiber arts.

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  131. Ann Konzen says:

    I am doing Irish lace doilies and Aran sweaters, neither of which entail anything other than a progression of knit and purl stitches. Admittedly, I work in the industry and I rate patterns. Ravelry’s rating system means nothing to me except as a way to remember my own assessment of a pattern. I think a statistical analysis of the Rav numbers is something fun but not particularly telling in terms of skill. Neither would ranking projects by the numbers of folks who finish them — too many factors influence both to be teased out.

    I do like that this article has sparked this discussion, though, and that it’s given Ravelry some increased notoriety. Knit on!

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  132. JS says:

    The answer is that knitting and crocheting are not hard. Illiterate peasants could develop intricate stitches, patterns, solutions to shaping problems, etc., before the Internet existed.

    Today’s “educated” young people are basically way more helpless and lacking in problem-solving skills compared to their ancestors (and before you ask, I am 31, not 60). I have to deal with this in areas other than hobbies all the time, and I find it frustrating.

    Patterns aren’t rated as impossibly difficult because *they are not impossible difficult.* They are just patterns. If they’re badly written or of poor quality, that is a different issue than being “too difficult.” Sarah seems like a very smart girl with an analytical mind, so there is no excuse for her to think these patterns are “miserably difficult.” Take the training wheels off your bike already!

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  133. James says:

    Re #96: “And James, regarding your post about Sarah not understanding the complexities of crochet patterns because of her inexperience, sorry not happening. I would stick with computers if I were you. Some knitting and crochet patterns are QUITE complex and require a degree in physics just to understand the pattern!”

    I think it takes more than that, ’cause I HAVE a degree in physics (and math & computer engineering too), and I STILL don’t understand knitting :-)

    But there were times when I, in my inexperience, thought certain things in physics, math, and computers (and much else) were impossibly complicated. But then I practiced more, and discovered that somehow they weren’t really that complicated at all.

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  134. Caroline says:

    Sarah is a most intelligent and thoughtful young woman, who writes more coherently than a lot of people with many more years of writing experience. She will go far.

    However, she needs to realize that people her parents’ age are not people who make fire with two sticks and write letters on sheets of paper (OMG!) and mail them. I am in my 50s and COBOL was invented before I was born. I work in IT, managing internet projects. People under 50 are clearly capable of deploying unfriendly websites. We knitters are very lucky that Ravelry is so good, and this is because its creators are smart and talented, not because they were born after a certain year.

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  135. GsCraftsNthings says:

    I’m on rav and I do both crafts. I don’t rate things based on how physically hard they are. I will rate things on the lower end if they can be followed as written.

    I will give patterns a “hard” rating based on if I have to figure it out on my own, if the pattern leaves a lot for the crafter to figure out and doesn’t explain stuff well. Some patterns are written very poorly which makes them hard to follow which = a higher difficulty rating.

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  136. Annie says:

    This is an excellent piece of work for an 18 year old. She has hit the nail on the head as I see it. The over 50’s (of which I am one) do have some trouble with technology, although this is a generalisation, of course. Regarding the Ravelry statistics she has again got it right. The more experienced of us knitters and crocheters do tend to rate patterns in a different way to how a beginner would.
    Congratulations Sarah Johnson, if you keep this magnitude of work up you really won’t have any problems in you career.

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  137. Natalie says:

    I can think of another explanation (possibly already mentioned int he comments, which I haven’t perused). As a Ravelry user, I tend to rate patterns as a last step after I have completed them. As with any task, once you have mastered it it seems far less difficult than it does when you are first learning it. If I rated the patterns while I was actually working on them, I’m sure my difficulty ratings would be consistently a few points more higher.

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  138. Tonya says:

    I think it’s that most of the people on Ravelry have been knitting or such for a fairly long time. Honestly I have been knitting obsessivly for 10 years or so and have found few of the patterns on the site difficult. There are still a few techniques that I haven’t tried, but that doesn’t daunt me.
    Lastly I think that this stuff realy isn’t that hard, it’s peoples perceptions and fears that make them think it’s hard, thusly keeping them from trying new things.
    So is it skewed? Possibly, or it realy just isn’t that hard!

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  139. H says:

    I read this whilst attempting to get an updated figure on Ravelry’s current (as of July 2012) membership and usage figures. I’m not even going to pretend that I understand even half of Sarahs analysis, but as an avid (and I flatter myself, advanced) crocheter it came off as a little alarming!

    I think on the surface of things 2 points may skew the numbers and therefore show a false representation.

    1. I myself and several other crafters I know tend to rate everything on the ‘easy’ side in an effort not to put others off, unless theres something particularly awful about the pattern whereupon it gets a high difficulty rating and/or a low quality rating depending on the fault. Often the slating of the pattern is compounded by the ‘ugh’ or frogged status in the projects section – giving up on a project and unraveling to use the materials for another item (frogging) is often the only prompt to rate negatively. Its also important to remember that difficulty and pattern quality are two different things – a very well written pattern can be given for a ‘tv watching’ stitch or item and a difficult stitch repeat or tricky shaping can be made breezy or utterly obtuse by the quality of the designers description.

    2. Most of the time crafters dont bother to rate at all – not certain of the reasons but they could include – laziness, viewing ratings as unimportant or not essential to their hobby (some use the site purely as a visual record), or not trusting their own opinion.

    I think the not trusting your own opinion is the crux of the matter. I know myself (through interacting with others) something I did and found very simple and straight forward proves confusing, difficult or nigh on unfathomable to another crafter, regardles of their abilities or experience (and I know many crafters far more experienced and technically able than me) and vice versa.
    Many, I am sure, have experienced this from both perspectives, and so i think there is a natural hesitency to pronounce a particular pattern either difficult or easy to any extreme.

    I feel that without knowing another crafters experience, area of interest, technical inclinations and aesthetic taste, a rating system of this unsophisticated nature is always going to give false reflections.

    Its alwaysworth remembering as well that crafting is highly emotive and at the time of rating a maker may be influenced to rate more extremely than they would after calmer reflection.

    Or at least, i’m hoping that this is the case as if Sarah is correct, i fear (as one who finds little issue with most techniques and rates most things as easy) i’m lumped in with the Oligarchs and I dont like that idea one little bit.

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  140. EM says:

    This enthusiastic young woman seems to overrate her own crochet abilities, possibly because she is so demonstrably excellent in other areas. As a long-time Ravelry member and crocheter, her skills sound like those of an intermediate to advanced beginner. She does not mention being able to read charts, which really separates those who dabble from those who are expert. Making a few things in crochet is admirable, but there are many skills to learn, which can keep one engaged for a lifetime. At her young age, just as I myself was once, she has much to learn. So glad she’s on Ravelry, where there’s community, help and encouragement for all!

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  141. IsobelA says:

    I’m a Ravelry member, and I rate patterns relatively. I mostly knit lace shawls, and I rate them on a lace-shawl continuum. So, I’ll rate what (for a lace knitter) is a simple lace shawl as easy, but it won’t be something that’s suitable for a complete beginner knitter. I could rate it is as difficult, I suppose, but then that’s not actually going to be true for an experienced knitter…

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  142. Casapinka says:

    Or, perhaps the designers know that a design will sell well if it’s simple, rather than difficult. I love detailed intarsia and designing with it but most people much prefer a simple shawl to knit while watching Netflix. therefore, I give the customer what she wants.

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