Monday, February 16, 2009

Princess Mitts Fix and some thoughts

Thanks to Angelika for sharing a wonderful post on the Lorna's Laces blog last month. Also thanks to E. J. for sharing yet another wonderful post from the same blog (maybe I should bookmark the blog and read it more often, you say?) This and some happenings on Ravelry have inspired me to say a few things about designing. The five of you who actually read my blog regularly will wonder why I am suddenly becoming so wordy. If you're curious, read the whole post. If you're here for my Princess Mitts fix, scroll down.

If you read the first LL post referenced above about what makes a designer, you'll understand my further comments. I'm one of those hand knitting designers who does everything every step of the way and is trying to make a living doing it. I am no better or worse than all the other designers--from those who design as a hobby to those who have the freedom to conceive fantastic ideas while everyone else does the other work (because thinking IS work--look at how many people don't put forth that particular effort). I come up with the ideas, try them out with needles, yarn, tools, etc., do the swatches, rip, try again (as many times as necessary), write the notes, type up the drafts, do the math, make the charts, draw the schematics, write the line-by-line, edit, edit some more, make the sample, block the sample, photograph the sample, and on and on. Whatever it takes.

Thank goodness I do have help in the form of two technical editors, a photographer, sample knitters and testers, eight reps, and soon a part time assistant (hallelujah!) but I have to arrange all of that myself and pay them all myself out of the modest profits of being a designer with a pattern line and a few freelance design jobs now and then. I keep the books, print the patterns, sleeve the patterns, mail the patterns, do promotion, and I'd better stop here because I know you're tired of this list already.

I also have a wonderful partner in Fred, who does all of our site maintenance and ad layout and so much more--anything I need help with that he has time to help with after his own full time job. Don't misunderstand--I am not complaining, just telling you how life really plays out. I LOVE my job and am thankful every day that people like my designs well enough that I have been able to work at it full time for the past 15 months. I can even pay some of the household bills now, but not the mortgage. Hopefully, that'll happen sometime in the future.

Because I am so involved with every step of every pattern I publish, it really bugs me when I get any negative feedback. Sure, I've learned to weed out the worst and the best and focus on the reality in the middle, but if someone is truly having trouble with any of my patterns, I want to know why. Here are just some of the reasons I've noticed folks having trouble with patterns:

1. Knitter has paid no attention to the skill level of the pattern and is in over her/his head.

2. Knitter did not read through the pattern before beginning, especially in regards to notes and special (perhaps difficult) stitches, techniques, gauge and suggested yarn weight.

Here are some consequences of the above that I have also noticed.

1. Knitter assumes the pattern is "wrong" instead of just maybe different than what they may have encountered before.

2. Knitter assumes he/she is "wrong" just because he/she may not understand a certain technique, is having trouble reading the pattern, or because there is actually an error.

3. Knitter doesn't check for errata before ranting to anyone and everyone who will listen.

4. Knitter rants to anyone who will listen before contacting the designer (if designer has given contact info).

I LOVE hearing from knitters who find errors in my patterns. I want to get that on my errata page ASAP. I don't mind hearing from knitters who need help with any of my patterns, but the best place to get help with basic knitting techniques is your local yarn shop. I cannot give that kind of help in an e-mail or even over the phone. Some things just take good old-fashioned one-on-one personal guidance. I learned to knit from a real person. It's the best way. If you are too far from any yarn shop, find a knitter and befriend him or her. If not even that is at your disposable, there are many fabulous Web sites and videos to help you.

Okay, now that all of that is off the chest, I'll use one of my most popular freelance designs as an example of all I've said so far. My Princess Mitts pattern in Clara Parkes' The Knitter's Book of Yarn has thankfully received a lot of attention, especially on Ravelry. (If you are a knitter or crocheter and you don't know about Ravelry, you're really missing something--go and get in line to join.) I designed the mitts in the spring of 2006, and the book came out in the fall of 2007. That's a big passage of time. I learned a whole heck of a lot during that time. Almost from the minute the book came out, and certainly after Potter Craft, the publisher of the book, offered the mitts pattern as a free instant PDF download, I have heard complaints. The comments range from "hated with every fiber of my being" to "not fun" and thus the weeding and focusing I referred to before.

The fact is, there is nothing wrong with the pattern. The fact also is, the pattern could be a lot better. No, the thumb gussets do not match. That does not make them wrong, but it does make them asymmetrical.

Enough intro. Let's get to my fix.

Princess Mitts Fix
After months and months of watching folks making these mitts and not having enough time to go back and look at the pattern, one day last month I received a really nice e-mail from a knitter named Eileen who wanted to make them for her dear friend. She told me that some of the details seemed off and asked for my help. This was the first time anyone had approached me directly with such respect and so politely, so I was inspired to take some time and make a pair myself to see just what the problem was. Here's what I did to make the pattern better (see Emily modeling these mitts in the previous post).
1. I centered the two sets of stitches on the 2 circulars by starting and ending each set of 2/2 rib stitches with p1. I do not like starting a rnd with a purl stitch, but it works better.
2. I worked the cuff for 20 rounds. I like the longer cuff.
3. I put the decrease necessary at the beginning of the cable into the chart, as well as the increase at the end of the cable. The 2/2 rib is an even-numbered multiple but the cable is worked over an odd number of stitches, so something has to give. This was put in as a note at the very beginning of the pattern in the book, but a lot of people didn't read it, causing confusion (and sometimes agony).
4. I made both thumb gussets identical by working the increases to either side of the "k2" closest to the juncture between circular needles. See how they match in the photo above?
5. I increased only 8 stitches (4 increase rounds) to either side of the "k2" on each thumb gusset and only cast on 4 stitches across the gap after placing the thumb gusset stitches on a holder. This made 16 stitches for the thumb after picking up the 10 stitches on the holder, 1 stitch at each corner to prevent holes there and the 4 stitches from the cast on. This is plenty for this DK weight yarn and makes a more comfortable thumb.
If you have any questions, send me an e-mail at
Please excuse my very light photos. The sun is shining here today, and now I am going to go and open up all the blinds and let it shine!
Happiest of knitting to you all and let me hear from you. I must have the mutest readers in all the world. (Except you, Emily, my lovely chatty one!)
Thanks for reading. :-)


Chris de Longpre said...

Hello, Jennifer. What a lovely, and spot-on post. As a self-publishing designer, I feel your pain (every day, in fact).

As to opening up all the blinds when the sun shines -- if I did that, I would be appalled at all the dust bunnies and have to close the blinds immediately. In all fairness, though, the huge dust bunnies that inhabit our house are partially the result of all the yarn that passes through here and not just the fact that I never seem to have time to clean anymore.

It was great to find a link to your blog. Such good reading!

Best wishes,


JoLene Treace said...

They look lovely. It is the most frustrating thing in the world when we don't see something that is printed in front of us...on both ends. For the designer who is on the receiving end of the knitter who goes off on a rant somewhere, and the knitter who who has it in front of them but doesn't see it.

Our skills as writers grow as we do as pattern writers too, because we are human. I know mine have.

They look smashing. I may have to knit myself a pair!

Donna said...

Jennifer, as a longtime (mute) reader and huge fan of your work (seriously, I think I've faved or queued at least a half-dozen of your patterns), the thoughtfulness and care in this post makes me want to knit your work even more than I already do. Thanks so much for your hard work - I love seeing the payoff in your patterns.

Joanne said...

Jennifer, you've summarized so many valuable things that I think about in designing...Bravo! Most particularly is that no one is perfect, and that we all grow and change. When I get "those" emails from knitters, I take a deep breath and remember that probably 80% or 90% of folk buy the pattern and knit it up without a problem. That helps, but it doesn't make these other frustrations go away! The hardest part about being in the design business is the irrational notion that knitwear designs and designers must be perfect, and hence, all problems encountered are a result of our -completely avoidable- errors!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for going through, reworking this pattern, and making it available. I absolutely loved these mitts, but do prefer the symmetrical thumbs. This pattern is definitely on my 'to do again' list not just for gifts, but a pair for myself as well (can't decide between my charcoal Madeline Tosh or my tealy blue Hazel Knits). I very much appreciate your candor regarding the design process as well as the interaction with your customers. Sometimes a reality check is needed. Wishing you joy and success!