Tuesday, December 30, 2014

VATMOSS and VATMESS and January 1st 2015

In response to the VATMOSS changes to taxation for purchases for EU customers, I'm making two (small) changes to how I go about doing things.

I will offer my patterns, as always, through Ravelry and Patternfish. Purchasers in the EU will see no major changes in their Patternfish experience, other than they will have VAT applied based on their location. Ravelry purchasers in the EU will be directed to LoveKnitting to complete their purchases.

Pattern Writing Book
I'll be shutting down my own mini online store that I've been using to sell my Pattern Writing book. If you wish to purchase that after December 31st, your options are Patternfish and WEBS. The price will be the same at both sites, and the experience exactly the same. (Although I'm sure what WEBS is doing for EU purchases... ) (There is no support for e-books currently with LoveKnitting, but as soon as that becomes available I will make sure the book is available there, too.)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Design Along Contest

You've all heard of knit-alongs, where knitters support each other as they work on the same project. There are often contests for knitter who participate.

I'm very happy to announce that along with Kate of A Playful Day, and Jeni of Fyberspates yarns, we're doing something a little different: a design-along contest, coming up in the new year.

We're encouraging new designers to come up with ideas for a knit accessory. Designers will need to submit swatches/sketches/description OR a finished photo of something they’ve made already that they want to write a pattern for.

Kate, Jeni and I will judge the entries, coming up with 5 finalists, and the final winner will be decided upon by an open vote from your fellow knitters.

The winner will receive yarn support from Fyberspates, a 2-hour technical consult from me, and a one-hour consult from other Kate on publishing. Deadline is February 1, 2015.

More info here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

On Air Drying & Mildew

I wrote about sheep's wool and water a couple of weeks ago. In short: wool improves with washing. Wash it carefully, but do wash it.

I talk about this a fair bit, in my Blocking class, in my Finishing classes, and whenever given the opportunity.

There's a follow-up question I've heard a number of times recently... I thought it was worth addressing.

(Forgive some lazy sociology and history on my part, please.)

In the Western World, the last few generations have had the luxury of automatic clothes washing and drying machines. They have made a huge change in the lives of so many. And we've enjoyed them so very much that it's changed now only how we do our laundry, but how we think about laundry and fabrics and fibers.

To the point where I think we're not aware that it's possible to clean your clothes without them.

I'm a big fan of air-drying my clothes: it saves power, it saves wear-and-tear on my clothes, and in the winter it humidifies the apartment. I take the items out of the washer, hang them on the rack, leave them overnight. The next day, everything goes for a quick ten or fifteen-minute spin in the dryer to soften it all up. Done.

If it's a delicate/hand wash item, I will hand-wash it, roll it in a towel to squeeze most of the moisture out, and then I'll hang it.

If it's a heavy item - like, oh, I don't know, a sweater - I might choose to lay it flat on top of a towel on the flat portion of the rack.

But yeah, everything gets air-dried.

More than once, recently, when discussing methods for handwashing sweaters, I've been asked if the pieces will mildew if you don't put them in the clothes dryer.

I was a little puzzled at first, I'll be honest.

But then I realized... the younger knitters I was talking to had likely never hand-washed anything. They'd likely never air-dried anything.

At the risk of going all 'hippy', air-drying is better for your clothes,  better for the environment, and better for your wallet.

If you don't have a laundry rack, lie a towel on the floor or bed or mattress.  And as long as there's air circulation around the pieces, they will dry very nicely, with no risk of mildew at all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New Pattern: Wavedeck

In all the fuss about the book, I sort of lost track of the fact that I had a new design coming out.

I actually told someone the other day that I hadn't been doing much designing of late. She laughed at me.

Introducing Wavedeck.

I've been playing with the Pi shawl concept for a while, and I published the Rosetta Tharpe Pi shawl this summer. I adore Ms. Rosetta a lot, and I wear her often.

A friend of mine said that she thought it was great, but reckoned that half the knitting was wasted. I asked her to explain. Her reply was simple: you're always folding it in half, aren't you?

She's entirely right. I tend to fold Ms. Rosetta over to wear her. So why not save myself half the time and half the yarn?

Like the Sick Day Shawl, this is a semi-circle, based on the same principle as the Pi Shawl. They're tons of fun to design! But also faster to knit and easier to wear! I've also made it faster by using a heavier than usual yarn: who says lace has to be worked in laceweight?

The lace looks complicated but it's really not. I've used one of my favourite stitch patterns for the edging: the classic Shetland Razor Shell.

The response has been wonderful so far, for which I'm very grateful.

Amy did the photography, and I'm utterly thrilled with how she made the piece (and me) look.

The location choice was a stroke of genius on her part: the Wavedeck at the foot of Simcoe Street, right in Downtown Toronto.

I used to work near here, and it was lovely to enjoy the sights I used to have to ignore while I was suffering through a corporate gig.

It's also not at all obvious that I was freezing cold and my arms were shaking from holding it up for so long. As any knit designer's model knows, it's remarkably difficult to stand still with your arms in the air for any length of time.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Awful photos.

One of the things I talk about in the book is the importance of good photography for your patterns: not just to make the thing seem sexy and attractive, but also as a tool for your knitters to be able to really see and understand the piece.

Back in September I gave one of my favourite photographers, Gillian Martin, a ridiculous assignment. I told her I wanted bad sweater photos.

"What d'ya mean, bad?"

"Something like the photos I take", I said. I'm terrible at photography.

Gillian enlisted her hubby and the lovely Sue Frost, and they had what was clearly a very fun afternoon taking some terrifically bad photographs.

Some of them are too bad to not share, if you see what I mean.

This one's ok, but it is a  little crooked.... 

Is this selling the sweater or the shawl? Neither very well...

Sue is adorable but I can't see much of the sweater... 

Pippin is even more adorable, but ditto.

Speaking of Pippin the cat... 

And because Sue loves her dogs as much as she loves her cats. In the moody darkness.

Nice hedge. Is that a sweater he's wearing?

Ok, I don't think we needed to get in *that* close.

Hi Gillian! I can see you!

I'm grateful to all three - plus Sue's pets - for being good sports about it all. I doubt Gillian will be putting this particular assignment in her portfolio, but I'm a very happy client.

Sunday, December 07, 2014


UPDATE: With encouragement from commenters and the Twitter-verse, I contacted the shop in question. They were responsive and appreciative of the help. Their response: "We want people to keep knitting and not get frustrated." I love this response and they should be commended for that.

Warning: Rant.

The longer I've been teaching knitting, the less patient I've become with bad pattern writing.

Heck, it's why I wrote the book.

Good pattern writing matters because I want knitters to be successful. A bad pattern decreases the knitter's chance of success. And that makes an unhappy knitters. An unhappy knitter is less likely to keep knitting. A knitter who stops knitting won't buy my patterns. Or anyone else's. Or yarn. Or needles. Or books.

I want to keep doing this for a living, so I want knitters to be successful and happy.

So when I see bad patterns I get grumpy.

And I saw a doozy this week.

(Some details have been changed to protect the guilty.)

It was for a hat. Apparently, an adult hat, but it didn't actually say that on the pattern. It was just called "Heidi's Hat".

It didn't have sizing information - either the size of the person to wear the hat, or the size of the hat itself.

It didn't have gauge information, so I couldn't even have worked out what size it was.

And the for the yarn info, it just named a yarn. Didn't tell me the put-up (size of ball/skein) or the yardage or the fiber content, or anything. Some yarns come in different sizes balls, you know... Paton's Canadiana, for example, comes in a few different sizes - 100gm and 85gm balls, depending on whether it's the tweed, solid or variegated variants); some sock yarns come in both 50gm and 100gm balls - Regia and Fortissima, for example. So to tell me that you need 1 ball of Yarn Co's Bulky Weight isn't enough. What if I can find that yarn and I need to substitute? Even if it was sold at a store selling both the yarn the pattern, what if I wanted to make it again, next year?

And without gauge info, how on earth am I to substitute accurately? Or even figure out the right needle size.

Oh yeah, needles. It tells me I need a 16 inch circular, but neglects to mention that I'll need other needes to handle the decrease (even though it mentions that in the instructions themselves).

And then the instructions. Hoo boy.

The CO was ok, and it did remember to tell me to join to work in the round so that was nice.

So you CO 56 sts, and work some ribbing... given as
Twisted Rib: K1 through back loop, P1.  
Continue for 2".

Not brilliantly described, but you could probably muddle through.

But then if offered the following:
Knit 7 stitches, kfb across the row. 

My poor knitting student, who wasn't much more than a beginner, had taken it at face value, and worked as follows: k7, and then kfb across every single stitch of the round.

And then, as she was told, she worked for 5 inches, and tried to do the decreases. Leaving aside that the decrease instructions we just as messy, we figured out that what the instruction should have been was:
(K7, kfb) across the round.

It's only brackets, right? How important could they be? Turns out they are VITAL.

K7, kfb to the end on 56 sts gets you a very funny looking round with 105 stitches, instead of the required 63.

(Oh yeah, and the row/round thing? That's not cool either. But again, you could probably have muddled through.)

And the decrease instructions were equally confusing... Lots of stuff like
K5, k2tog across the row

which again, is absolutely NOT correct. And because there was no stitch count given after any of the decrease instructions, my student had no way of knowing if she was on track or not.

Now, an experienced knitter would probably have done ok with this pattern. But my student wasn't an experienced knitter. She'd said that the woman who sold her this pattern said it was easy to knit. Oh yeah, it's a stockinette hat in the round. It's not difficult to knit that kind of hat if the instructions are good and/or you've made a hat before. But neither of these things were true, in this case.

And yes, you read that right. My poor student had paid money for this pattern.

This is not the way to keep knitters happy.

My poor student couldn't make it work and she was unhappy and just about ready to dump the project. When something goes wrong in pattern we're inclined to blame ourselves. She couldn't make it work, so she assumed she was a bad knitter. She was just about ready to give up knitting entirely.

Now, it is true that many weak patterns are weak because the designers writing the instructions don't have the knowledge or understanding or skills to write a good pattern. I didn't, at first. My early patterns were pretty poor. Knit designers are often born with good design skills, but no-one is born with good pattern writing skills. They're two very different skill sets.

I don't expect that designers are all interested/positioned for/inclined towards learning how to write patterns. That's ok. What would make me happy is just an appreciation that the quality of the instructions matters enormously - heck, our livelihoods depend on it - and an understanding that if you're not sure about it, you should get some help.

The good news (she says pompously), is that I can help. Buy the book.

Seriously, though. I love seeing new designers build their careers. I love all the great stuff that knitters are inventing. I just hate seeing new knitters being scared off the craft because of poor instructions.

For those who are asking, it's an in-store pattern from a newish yarn shop in a Canadian city. Not Toronto. Seems to me that it was written by one of the shop staff. Part of me wants to contact them and offer help, but I don't know if that would be appreciated or not. What do you think? Should I?

Thursday, December 04, 2014

In Which I Am Grateful

I've dedicated the new book to any knitter who has ever knitted from a pattern.

But actually, it's dedicated to me, 10 years ago. Me, when I was just publishing my first designs. This is the book I needed when I was trying to write up those first patterns, to save some myself some serious embarrassments and mistakes... (And to those poor knitters who tried to knit from my early patterns.)

I hope that it will help the next generation of knit designers as they publish their first designs.

There are lots of people to thank for supporting me on the project.

Kim Werker - editor extraordinaire. I'll be honest: I was worried when, after her first editing pass, she said it was in fantastic shape. I thought she hadn't read it closely enough.
Zabet Groznaya - not only is she a great person and a really good graphic designer, but she gets me. With barely any direction she produced a layout concept I adored.
Allison Thistlewood - marketing support. She asked the sensible questions and helped me figure out how to tell the world about it, and how to get it into people's hands.
Krystal London and Anne Blayney - for responding to desperate calls on Twitter for fast-turnaround design support. (The fact that they both regularly post adorable dog pictures on Twitter may or may not be connected.)
Avalon Sandoval for a bit of knitting which is being seen more broadly than I think she expected...
Gillian Martin and Sue Frost for some hilariously terrible photography.

And there are those who helped me with the content itself...

All the knitters who replied to my "tell me what you do and don't like in patterns" survey.

All the designers and experts who endured my questions and let me quote them:
Ruth Garcia-Alcantud, Kara Gott Warner, Elizabeth Green-Musselman, Zabet Groznaya, Nadia Majid, Kim McBrien-Evans, Amy Palmer, Emily Ringelman, Caro Sheridan, Lynne Sosnowski, Jenna Wilson, and Woolly Wormhead; Lorilee Beltman, Anne Berk, Donna Druchunas, Fiona Ellis, Katya Frankel, Deb Gemmell, Julia Grunau, Kate Heppell, Hunter Hammersen, Melissa Leapman, Lucy Neatby, Laura Nelkin, and Lindsay Stephens.

Those who suffered through early drafts:
Cari Angold, Rayna Curtis Fegan, Beth Graham, Janelle Martin, Kim McBrien-Evans, Lynne Sosnowski, Karie Westermann, Keri Williams, and Edna Zuber.

My former and current colleagues at Knitty:
Liz Ashdowne, Ruth Garcia-Alcantud, Ashley
Knowlton, Mandy Moore, Jillian Moreno, and Amy Singer.

Some key contributors deserve special mention: Lynne Sosnowski, for her most excellent contribution to the Selling Online chapter, and Jenna Wilson for setting me right on Copyright.

And then there's the home team: Norman for letting me shrug off housework, meal-making and dog walking duties. Anna at Cafe Unwind for Friday afternoon coffee breaks. And for Dexter, who didn't try to eat or destroy this one.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

New book: Pattern Writing for Knit Designers

I’ve written another book. Yeah, I know! Another one.

This is a bit different. This isn’t a book for knitters – it’s a book for designers.

Announcing “Pattern Writing for Knit Designers” available for purchase as an e-book now , for $25. Buy Now (Paypal link - supports credits cards and PayPal.)

You can also buy through Patternfish here.

Printed copies will be available in the new year; if you buy the digital version first and wish to order a hard copy, I’ll give you a generous credit towards the price.

What’s it all about?

I’ve written the book that I wish existed before I became a knitter. I’ve created the resource that I wish existed before I became a designer. I’ve built the guide that I wish existed every day of my teaching career. I’ve delivered the manual that the designers I edit wish existed.

The goal of Pattern Writing for Knit Designers is to help designers write good knitting patterns.

When I was first learning to knit, I had some really terrible experiences because I was working with poor instructions; I very nearly gave up the craft. When I was first learning to design, I wrote some pretty terrible patterns; I’m sure that some knitters gave up working from my patterns. When I’m teaching, I see knitters struggle with weak instructions all the time. I find myself coaxing knitters off the “I can’t do this, I’m going to give it up” ledge.

Good pattern writing matters because we want knitters to keep knitting.

It’s easy to say that patterns should be good. But how to make that happen?

Designing and pattern writing are very different skills; being good at one doesn’t make you good at the other. Indeed, the skills needed for both rarely go together. The most skilled and creative designers have immensely imaginative minds and are gifted at spatial and free-form thinking; pattern writing requires order and logic and a detail orientation that doesn’t always come naturally to the creative mind. (Me, I definitely tend towards the order, logic and detail orientation. I’ve got a degree in math and spent many years working in documentations and communications in the software industry.)

This book is a guide to make pattern writing easier for all levels and types of designers.

It includes lots of concrete examples and a full downloadable template that you can use as a basis for your patterns. I discuss the big picture and the minutiae, e.g. the proper use of * to indicate repeats, the whys and wherefores of charts, and the full gory details on garment sizing, grading and measurements.

And don’t just take it from me! I’ve surveyed knitters of all levels on what they like to see in knitting patterns, and they are quoted throughout. I’ve spoken to professional photographers and layout experts on how to make your design and pattern look its best. And I’ve interviewed magazine editors to get tips on how to make your submissions and design proposals their best.

Cool stuff in the book!
  • Pattern Structure – what elements should a good pattern have
  • Pattern Elements – a detailed look at each element identified
  • The Actual Knitting Instructions – using knitting conventions and straightforward presentation to make a widely-understood pattern
  • Charts – when and how to make them
  • Grading & garment sizing – resources and guidelines 
  • Formatting and Layout – making a pattern visually user-friendly
  • The Process – how to go from test knitting to a final publication
  • Selling Online – platforms, processes, and good business practices
  • On Copyright – an introduction to these important laws