Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Small Rant

I've been following the discussion on Donna's blog (part 1 and part 2), and was going to post a comment but then got a little wordy. So I'm going to write here instead. To sum up, she wrote about how stressful she finds tech editing knitting patterns, because there are so many places errors can be introduced, and because she worries about the errors lurking in her patterns that no one's noticed yet.

I'm the queen of worrying about the moment when what I've done (which has seemed fine up till that point) will suddenly be revealed as inadequate, so of course I worry about this too.

So you can imagine how much I dread opening emails about my patterns. The vast majority (of the tiny percentage of the tiny number of knitters who knit my patterns and then decide to write me) are just saying they like their FOs, and maybe sending me pictures, and once I peek at the email through the cracks between my fingers and can see that, it's fine. I love those emails after I open them. (Especially pictures, and links to blog posts! Send more!)

Of course I've gotten a few emails pointing out mistakes and/or things I've explained weirdly. I've fixed the mistakes, and have changed the way I explain things for the future. While these emails confirm my worries, I'm happy to be able to correct things and spare the next knitter.

But sometimes the knitter thinks there's a mistake in the pattern where there isn't one, and for some reason those emails are always rude.

Dear Rebecca,

You idiot! Your pattern is stupid, your math abilities are non-existent, and your stitch counts don't add up. I had 12 stitches and I decreased 2 and I have 9 left, not 10 like your pattern says! Every knitter I know has read the directions and they agree that there should be 9 stitches after the decreases. Fix it before I waste any more time on your pattern, which is ugly anyway!

A Knitter

So I recheck my math, then write back explaining how first you have 12 and you decrease 1 and have 11, then decrease 1 a second time and have 10, as many different ways as I can. I'm polite, in case it turns out that I've checked my math incorrectly, and the pattern really does have a mistake.

No one has ever written back to say thanks for my time, apologize for having called me an idiot, or even acknowledge that they got my email. Argh! Couldn't they have been polite, just in case?

My other least favorite email is only least favorite in retrospect. Every so often I'll get am email from someone who doesn't understand a step in my directions. I review the directions, then write back explaining the step in another way, and pointing out blogs and websites with other explanations or instructions with pictures, then send it off to the knitter, feeling helpful.

Mostly, they just write back thanks, but couple of times they've emailed back, "Thanks! I'm sure this will help when I get to that step!" I understand that it's important to read through and understand directions before you begin, but it's also important to have some faith in your abilities and in the pattern, and believe that once you reach the step that seemed confusing and can do the directions as you read them, it may make sense. If it doesn't, that's the time to ask for help.

In this case, I guess it's not actually the knitters I'm bothered by, but the writers of learn to knit books who tell you to understand the pattern before you begin. You do need to understand some things (the abbreviations, whether there are any "and at the same time..." directions, and which parts of the pattern apply to you, etc), but I don't think you necessarily need to understand how the directions turn into the knitted item. Maybe it works for some people, but my brain isn't quite spatial enough that I could visualize how heels worked the first time I read sock directions, or that I could see how an amoeba folded into a baby surprise jacket. But it still worked when I did it--and now that I've made a socks and turned an amoeba into a jacket, I get it. I don't think the learn to knit authors meant "be able to visualize" by " understand," but who knows!

So, how much do you try to understand before you start knitting?


Qutecowgirl said...


I do read through directions first, well really kinda. I look for at the same time, where to place markers, and where in general do I increase or decrease. Then I jump in. When I get to something that is not working I always look at what I did first to make sure I didn't do anything wrong first then I try again.99.9% this works. Then I search around to see how someone else did it. I have not yeat had to email the designer about a pattern.

I do believe that some people learn one way (like those books) and that is it. They do not try another way or think outside the box sorta speak. Or maybe there are some people who want it handed to them in baby sized bites.

I have people with other patterns and they were like wow how did you get it and often I just say "well it is written right there"

Well basically I agree you have a totally valid rant.

= )

Baby Beth said...

I made the Multi-directional scarf when I didn't really understand how the scarf just flips the triangle and it all fits into a rectangle...but I did okay with it and I think it was one of my quickest projects. (And because of the whole turning your work thing, I'm confident I can make socks and not have too many problems with the heel.) The quickie cowl was the same thing. Lace scared me and even though I don't think of it as lace because I used really fat yarn, it was and I did okay with that too. I also just jumped into Foliage one night when I was bored and I only panicked once when I couldn't figure out why the chart had spaces in it...and I've never read a chart before, or knit a hat--especially top down! It was awesome and because of those project I'm going to be a fearless knitter in 2008 but had I stopped to read through the directions and understand every bit of them, I would have done nothing.

The end. :)

Elizabeth said...

Oh, this rant is right up my alley. Especially the ones who are doing it wrong and remain convinced that I wrote it wrong. I had a big one of those recently.

Anonymous said...

Rebecca -

first and foremost, DON'T respond to yucky people. They don't deserve it and you don't need the grief.

as a fairly novice knitter, 7 years (next to my sister annie, who has fifty million plus), i do read through patterns and if i have a question that seems to me it may be troublesome when i get to that point, i call annie - who now answers her telephone between 6-7 p.m. (because she knows its me) as "knitting central!" I'm fortunate to have that helpline - very fortunate.

the best advice i ever got (next to annie's advice, of course) is from melanie gibbon's "leda's dream" - which says, right in the directions, don't look ahead. that was a huge intricate project (for me), came out beautifully, and i swear if i had looked ahead, it would not be completed. but its gorgeous.

finally, i so think newbies (or not so newbies) need a mentor. for those that don't have that luxury (thanks, annie!), learn-to-knit books are the next best thing.

in any event, don't subject yourself by responding to the all-out rudeness of those so fortunate to be able to be knitting your patterns.

my thoughts.

CinderOla said...

Honestly, most of the time I don't even finish reading the pattern because I'm so excited about the project that I tend to just jump right in. And when I do read the pattern my reaction is "huh?!?!" until I actually start knitting it and then my reaction is "ooooooh I get it!" I'm more of a visual person. And of course when I do get stuck I have you girls at S'nB to bail me out. :)
As for the rude knitters that email you (and by the way, I really hope the example you wrote is a gross exaggeration because that's just way too damn rude of someone to write!) I'm pretty sure they don't write back because they probably feel too stupid after you've explained it as they probably read through it too quickly and missed a step somewhere. :)

gale (she shoots sheep shots) said...

I belong firmly to the Leap of Faith School of knitting. Some directions will never make sense until you're in the middle of doing them. Some folks will always be inexcusably rude. But that's about them, not you or your patterns.

I will admit that when I was helping to edit the patterns for our book, deciding what level of explanation was needed for each pattern, or technique, was torturous. Overexplaining can be as bad as not saying enough!

bookwoman said...

I'll read a pattern through if it looks like it has a new-to-me technique. But I learned a long time ago to just go with it. The first time I did a multi-directional scarf, which was also my first experience with short-rows, I read through the pattern and thought, "What the?" But, it was published, so I figured it had to work, and just started knitting and stopped over-thinking. And it worked wonderfully. So, now, I figure if it doesn't make sense, I'm just gonna jump in and try it.

And, by the way, you can add me to your fan club. BPT was the first thing I made for myself (aside from scarves) that was suitable for public wearing. I wear that sweater all the time and get lots of compliments on it.