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Quilt Pattern Difficulty Ratings

Updated: Jan 14, 2023

Pattern difficulty ratings are a touchy subject. There's no standardized system and SO MANY opinions about it without much explanation or logic. I fully recognize that I am just adding another opinion to the mix, but hopefully, I'll be able to share some logic and reasoning that is missing from the rest of the opinions rooted in my experience as a tech editor and ghostwriter.

Why give a difficulty rating?

Plenty of patterns don't give a difficulty rating. And while that's OK, I recommend you do add a pattern rating and here's why: it allows your customer to make an informed decision. When they know what they're buying, they're much less likely to end up disappointed. Happy customers make for good business.

But, the obvious rebuttal to that argument is that most pattern ratings don't actually tell you what to expect; they just list "advanced beginner" or "2 out of 4 stars" and that's about as clear as mud. So how do you give a pattern difficulty rating that is informative to your customer?

First, an analogy

Have you ever been watching a movie or TV show and the maturity rating pops up in the top left corner?

"Rated R for language, violence, and mature themes"

Why not just list the rating (R) and leave it at that? It's because not everyone finds the same things offensive or problematic.

For instance, I'm liable to drop 4 F-bombs before breakfast most days (courtesy of having worked for the Army) so if the movie is rated "R" for language, it's a non-issue for me. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of nudity though, so if it's "R" for nudity, I'm likely to just avoid the movie altogether. Someone else may feel completely different. Perhaps nudity doesn't bother you, but you don't like foul language or violence.

By listing the reason for the rating, filmmakers put the power into the hands of the viewer so they don't purchase tickets to a movie they aren't going to like and end up with a bad review.

I would recommend giving your quilt patterns the same kind of rating.

Because not all quilters find the same skills difficult.

Some intermediate quilters find curves impossible while other beginning quilters find curves a breeze. Some quilters avoid y-seams like the plague while they're a non-issue for others. By stating the reason for your pattern rating, you allow your customer to make that decision for themself and that is a very good thing.

Here is how a quilt pattern difficulty rating might look using this kind of template:

"Difficulty Rating: Intermediate. Requires template cutting, point matching, and sewing bias edges."

You would put this in the product listing and on the back of your pattern, if you sell paper patterns, so that anyone considering purchasing the pattern knows exactly what they're in for.

How to decide on a rating

So how do you decide on the correct rating? Well, that depends on a lot of things. Hopefully, I've also convinced you that the actual rating isn't as important as listing the reason for the rating.

Here's how I think about quilting skills and how they relate to difficulty. It's important to note that the detail included or not included in the pattern can also drastically change the difficulty rating. For instance, if you are careful to explain how to trim HSTs, then your pattern may easily be considered "beginner".

Any skill required that is designated as "advanced beginner" or harder you may want to consider listing in the pattern rating to alert your customer (depending on the level of instruction detail included in your pattern). If you are ever in doubt, a tech editor can help determine if your rating is appropriate.

Here is the meaning I attach to each of these ratings (again, keep in mind, this is very subjective):

Beginner - This might be your first or second quilt. You need a pattern that assumes very little (beyond knowing how to cut with a quilting ruler). There are no small pieces and only 1-3 simple blocks in the pattern with very little point matching. You rely on the pattern to teach you pretty much everything you need to know.

Advanced beginner/adventurous beginner - You've made a couple of quilts and know generally how basic quilting works. You're ready for some more advanced shapes and point matching but still pretty quick, simple makes.

Intermediate - You have a good basic knowledge of quilting and you know a few tricks to get your points to match reasonably well. You know how to trim and square up your blocks without illustrations. You're ready to start learning some new techniques, but still don't like projects with tons of small pieces or steps.

Advanced - You know a lot about quilting techniques and how to work with fabric. You have mastered all the basic techniques and you're ready to work on complex designs with lots of intricate steps. You have the basic skills to be successful with advanced techniques shortly after learning them, provided sufficient instruction.

So that's it. That is how I think about pattern difficulty ratings. I would love to hear what you think! Do you agree, disagree, have other thoughts? I'd love to hear in the comments!


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