What is a Quilt Pattern Skill Level?
We were talking to a client the other day about her new pattern and one of her questions was "What do you think I should put as the skill level on this?". She had HST, Flying Geese (which we were making 4-at-a-time), and some Stitch and Flip squares. She wasn't sure if it should be a "beginner", "confident beginner", or "intermediate" pattern. As a designer, adding a skill level will help your customer determine if they can successfully make your project. You want your customers to be confident knowing they have the skill set when purchasing your pattern.
But how is that skill level defined? What is the difference between a "confident beginner" and a 2-star rating? Or a "skilled beginner" and an "intermediate" pattern? Determining the difficulty of a quilt pattern depends on factors like the complexity of the design, the number of pieces, and the techniques involved (e.g., appliqué, piecing, quilting). Reading through the instructions and assessing your familiarity with the techniques can help you gauge the pattern's difficulty. Skill levels are named differently between designers and pattern companies because currently there is no industry standard.
We decided to search the internet to see if there was any type of standard guidelines to determine a pattern's difficulty and there really isn't much out there. We came across this post by Carli Marsico at Guilty Quilty Studio. It's got a lot of great information in it and we have referred other designers to it in the past. With Carli's permission, we are sharing her information with you here.
What determines a pattern skill rating?
Carli's blog post has a great analogy comparing pattern skill levels to movie ratings. Carli says we have a general idea of what G, PG, PG-13, R, and X ratings involve but for one movie an R rating can be for language whereas another is for violence or nudity. There is no list of which 4-letter words constitute a PG or R rating, but we already kind of know. "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."
It's the same with quilt patterns. As designers, we want to give the customer an idea of how easy or hard a pattern is but is "beginner" descriptive enough? Should there be a caveat to the level such as "beginner with Flying Geese"? Or should a designer provide skill-level guidelines on their website? On the other hand, all quilters are not created equal and while (as a beginner) I couldn't make a Flying Geese piece to save my soul, I could whip out curved pieces like nobody's business. So with all that said, how does the quilt industry specify what goes into a particular skill level? Unfortunately, they don't.
Suggested skill levels
As ghostwriters and tech editors, we verify a skill level with the pattern contents. We have suggested level changes based on piece and block construction, but ultimately it's up to the pattern designer to decide what level they want to attach to their pattern. Using Carli's table as a reference, the following table is a guideline only and can vary between quilters.
Needless to say, there is really no definitive answer to the skill level question. Levels are always open to interpretation by individual designers and quilters.
This topic is definitely not talked about enough. Each fabric company, designer, and pattern writer has their own guideline for each level. They all notate it in their own way on their patterns. A quilter can generally guess the skills for the main beginner, intermediate, and advanced level but for the "in-between" levels, it's still just a guess. Wouldn't it be nice to have a standardized guideline table? I don't see that happening in the near future, but maybe if we talk about it enough, industry leaders might do just that. We can only hope.
We'd love to hear your thoughts about skill levels and pattern difficulty ratings.
Thank you to Carli Marsico for allowing us to use her post as a reference. You can see Guilty Quilty Studio's blog here for more great content.