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?


Thea said...

Yes, contact them. Explain the problems. Mention, kindly, that this is the kind of customer relations "incident" that can, repeated often enough, put a shop out of business.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Thea, I think you need to contact them. You can only educate the uneducated one at a time. While maybe not appreciated, in good conscience can you really ignore it either?? They don't know what they don't know and so hopefully once they know better, they will do better.

MJ said...

Yes, let them know. A new knitter is a potential lifelong customer but if they aren't helped at the initial stages they can stop knitting. Personally, I think most patterns should be written with the lowest common denominator in mind. Even more advanced patterns should probably assume that there will be a number of knitters new to the technique who need some instruction. Perhaps, the instruction should tell the knitter to seek out out a tutorial. That kind of info tells the knitter that they need more help and should read a bit more before proceeding. If you don't have the right information you don't even know what question to ask.
It'll be tricky to phrase this diplomatically but I think you should share this story.

Renee Anne said...

I'm late to the party, but yes, you should contact them. It reflects badly on them and that's the last thing a new shop wants to deal with.

Sylvie Gagne said...

Ah ah ah ah ah! LOL! ROFLMAO... I could hear you typing/saying this in my head. And I can remember ME so many years ago, in one of your classes, saying "I'm never going to rib again" because of my frustration with poorly written patterns. One thing I learned however from someone else is that sometimes patterns are translated from another language and publishers often (read, Vogue Knitting for example) require the absolute minimum of instructions but even they provide a summary of abbreviations. Well done.

Anonymous said...

for the love of all knitters who could possibly knit that hat pattern that they are CHARGING for, please, please! contact them. In a nice way. Express your concerns with the clarity of the pattern in terms of un-creating new knitters :( Offer up a shop copy of your awesome new book, or maybe just a wee discount so they can create quality patterns for ALL knitters!

Anonymous said...

Thought of you and your book yesterday while helping someone through knitting on a collar. The pattern said "Pick up and knit 73 stitches. Work back and forth, being sure to knit the button placket in st st. Bind off". Seriously. For real. No mention as to how many rows to knit and in which stitch. Good grief.