Friday, August 10, 2012

A Small Gripe


ETA: photo changed to a delightful Mackie photo - I don't want to complain about a particular pattern or designer, as I feel this is unfair and counter to my intent, which is to have a discussion!  Thanks again for all your input.

There's a constant conversation in the knitting community about the "correct" ways to do things.  And I definitely think that there are many correct ways to get to the same results - it doesn't really matter how you knit, as long as you like how you knit!  I sometimes get people telling me that I should switch to continental-style knitting because it's faster, but to be honest, I like my pokey English style.  And I think that's a totally legit reason to do what you do: "because I want to," full stop.  Knitting is for fun, and it should be fun for everybody who does it!  (Unless they don't want it to be fun, in which case, that's deeply weird but probably scratches some itch that I don't have.)

I do, however, get a little more opinionated when it comes to knitting patterns, and that is because they are one person's way of thinking that needs to be accessible by many knitters of varying skill levels and learning styles.  I get a little frustrated when I encounter patterns where the online errata has vanished or the charts are done in a non-standard charting system.  I do understand, though, that things can be complicated: copyright can change hands and chart software is expensive, for example.  I will still be cranky about it, but at the end of the day, shit happens and sometimes I have to just take a breath and deal with it.

The thing the bugs me the most, though, that's totally preventable: complex stitch patterns that are written only, without charts.

I'm the kind of learner who doesn't do abstract concepts.  You could verbally tell me how to change a tire a thousand times, and I wouldn't get it until you physically put me in front of a car and explained it while pointing at things.  And it's especially true in knitting.  I get lost in written stitch patterns: I skip things, and I read the wrong line, and I feel fuzzy and lost without a picture of what it should look like.  The second you put a chart in front of me, though?  Blammo!  I'm the best knitter in Ze World!  Of COURSE it's a shell pattern with yarnovers on every row and nupps in the center of the leaves on the border motif!  It's right there in the chart!

So it bugs me a lot when I pay for a pattern - a complicated pattern with varying stitch counts on every row - and then when I take a closer look, there isn't a chart to be found.  I don't really want to spend an hour and a half muddling through charting that stitch pattern, when the designer already knows what it looks like and how it changes.  It makes me a sad, frustrated panda, and I'm not sure know how to deal with it in a way that's respectful of the work of the designer while still acknowledging my needs and frustration.

And I think the opposite must be true for folks who are abstract, conceptual thinkers.  I have a few knitting friends who only work from written instructions, and have a hell of a time finding lace shawl patterns that have written instructions.  Bottom line is that it seems to be a common problem among knitters of both flavors.

So this prompts some questions for me: what is (and isn't) the responsibility of the knitwear designer, and what is the best way to make patterns accessible for the largest number of knitters?  Does it make sense to have multiple versions of a pattern available, so that knitters who love charts can work from a charts-only pattern, and knitters who love written instructions can use those?  Is it even fair to ask the designer to essentially write two different versions of the same pattern, which can take twice as much time and energy?

I'm also curious what the ratio of chart-knitters to instruction-knitters is.  Is it 1:1, or 10:1, or 1:10?

What do you guys think?


daywoods2 said...

Chart. Pleasepleaseplease give me a chart! I never mind when designers include both; I'll print what I want to. Oh, and I really enjoy Continental style knitting, but that's just me. I couldn't I couldn't find anyone local to teach me, so it was YouTube to the rescue! ;-)

Melissa @ Miso Crafty Knits said...

I completely and totally agree with you on absolutely everything you just mentioned! I get irritated when other knitters tsk tsk my throwing ways and pester me about switching to continental. I'm much more comfortable with the English style and that's what makes me a faster knitter.

I get irked when you pay money for a pattern and it doesn't include a chart. Yes, pattern chart programs are pricey, but there are a bunch of websites that offer it for free...mind you they do ask for a donation since it's somebody else's hard work here too! If the pattern is a freebie, then I don't mind just written instructions. But if I'm dishing out $5+ for a pattern? It better include a chart!

cleancup said...

I'm a recent chart convert, but I still appreciate an accompanying description-- and for simple patterns I'm ok with no chart.

However, if I'm paying upwards of $5 for a pattern, I expect both. When it's a cheaper pattern, and the designer is really upfront-- something like, "I'm offering this because a lot of people asked for it, but I didn't have a lot of time to make it fancy, so y'all are getting it for $1.99" I feel more forgiving if there's only one or the other.

I do find myself writing out whichever one is missing, even if it's only in short hand, though.

And, I'm a slow thrower and relatively happy that way. I've recently taken a strong interest in Fair Isle, so I imagine I'll be figuring out Continental soon, but right now, I'm completely content as an English knitter :)

Ondrea said...

chart! And sometimes I even have to abandon the chart and look at pictures of the object (or snag an FO of somebody who has knit the same thing) in order to figure out what I should be doing.

I have only run across 1 written lace pattern that I tried and failed to convert into chart form, but upon reflection I suspect it was my poor chart writing skills at the time. Rows with different stitch counts whaaaaaat.

Perhaps you could offer your services for a small fee to make a designer a chart to go in their pattern? I dunno. But at least you'd get a bit more return on your chart than just an FO.

ZanneQ said...

1000000000% agree with every statement in your post. There are a million ways to knit a cat and let's all have fun and be fine with that.

Christine P. said...

Chart! If the pattern doesn't have a chart, I'm not paying for it. I only use the written instructions for references when I feel the chart is not "quite right". I haven't had anyone tell me to knit continental - I knit a funny English, but I'm quick and I like how I knit! I have picked up Continental just for doing colorwork - which is not a lot!

kate said...

I can work from a chart or written instructions equally as well, but if it's a complex pattern I prefer both - I like to double check the written instructions with the chart to make sure I'm understanding everything correctly.

This all sort of adds into a greater issue - chart software isn't cheap, and a complicated pattern makes technical editing more expensive for the designer. I've heard many knitters complain about the cost of patterns, and this is a case of getting what you pay for. If we want well-edited, graphically-pleasing charted patterns, we should expect to pay more.

Cory Ellen Boberg said...

Thanks, everybody, for your contributions! Sounds like there are quite a few chart readers in our midst, although I also agree that written instructions can clear up ambiguities in a chart!

I will admit that this is a sticky issue for me. As a consumer, I have a certain expectation of what my money pays for - but on the other hand, as a creative person, I understand that there's a huge amount of work, time, and money that goes into finished products and that consumers often misunderstand or overlook these efforts.

Kate, I think you bring up a great point about the logistical costs of designing & pattern writing, and that knitters should perhaps expect to pay more for their patterns.

And just to make an unnecessarily nerdy fashion parallel: knitters complaining about the cost of well-written patterns is akin to a customer complaining that a custom-tailored shirt costs more than one from Target. If we knitters want quality, we have to understand that it has a certain price - but by the same token, if we designers want to charge for quality, we should also be willing to provide it. The ultimate goal is that everybody can walk away happy.

Lastly, currently it seems that the pattern market is flooded with independently produced material, and although it provides a wonderful diversity of patterns to choose from, it also causes greater levels of variance in price and format. I think the best answer as to how to deal with these variances is that I should start paying more attention to what I'm buying! No chart, no go - and no cranky me. :)

In any case, thank you guys for taking the time to share your input - I have some complex feelings about the situation, so I really appreciate hearing your perspectives!

Cat said...

I know it's a bit late, but I just wanted to toss in my wish for written instructions. I seem to have the opposite problem; most patterns I like are chart-only. This would be all fine and well except that I am dyscalculiac, which may not even be a word. I have dyscalculia, which is a symbolic variant on dyslexia.

I can, given time, interpret patterns. A very very long time. Long enough that real-time knitting is impossible until I convert it.

Even when I convert it, though, it is wrought with danger because the symbols are so tricky. Among the symptoms of dyscalculia, for instance, is the inability to tell left from right. (In fact, I cannot identify north-south on maps; in MMOs if a directions say "Go north" I am as likely to try going down as up). With charts, even if I see it leaning left, about half the time in my brain I'm thinking of the opposite direction. To make it even more complex, if I have the chart key next to the chart, I still will about half of the time look at two exact opposite symbols and knit the wrong one.

I originally found this site by searching on Google "Spruce Forest," "Nancy Bush," and "Written Instructions" -- thank goodness all three were mentioned on the same page! I waa hoping someone had converted the charts to text; even though I paid for the pattern I would be happy to pay more since it's my brain which is miswired.

The killing factor for me on Bush's Sptuce Forest is that the pattern charts all the rows, and for half of them I will need to read left-to-right while the other half will be right-to-left, and I'll need to keep in my head the same time that some instructions are reversed for the odd-versus-even rows (Eg, knit on the wrong side, purl on the right).

So, I leave this with a question: Does any of the software out there convert charts to writing and, if so, can they do so from a chart which charts every row? As I noted before, I know that this learning disability is not anyone's fault but mine, and I am willing to pay for a program if I can figure out beforehand if it will do charts for lace knitting as well as knitted lace, and will be smart enough to convert symbols which do different things for different rows into the proper row.

Thank you for any help you or your readers might be able to provide. I will probably be posting this plea in my blog as well, quite possibly a copy-and-pasted version of this one.