I Break Patterns

Here are published errors I have found in the past several months: o          a stitch pattern in an Interweave book that says "rep from * across" even though there is no asterisk anywhere in the instructions for that row;

o          a stitch pattern in a different Interweave book that, when it says which rows to repeat, omits one of the rows that should be repeated, and perpetuates the error in the project that uses that stitch pattern;

o          very confusing instructions for a technique in Crochet! magazine;

o          in Interweave Crochet magazine, instructions that say the front of a sweater should be made the same as the back until it measures 5.5 (6.25, 7, 7.75, 8.5, 9.25) inches and then the neckline shaping should begin—which, unless you are built like Humpty-Dumpty, would put the neckline at your navel;

o          a project in a book from Stackpole Books in which the instructions go seriously wrong starting on Row 2.

Before I go on, let me address the question, "Haven't YOU ever made a mistake in a pattern?" Yes. I have made mistakes. Occasionally one has been published. For me, it is the worst feeling in the world. The sickening realization that I missed something, and that my mistake could make it difficult for a crocheter to succeed with my pattern, is horrible. My objective is for every crocheter to have a positive experience with my patterns. I want them to rely on me for correct, clear instructions 100% of the time. At the bottom of this post you will see my written re-dedication to this goal.

I also want to mention that there are some wonderful designers out there doing exquisite design with error-free patterns. My heartfelt thanks to them.

Let's get back to the errors above. A couple of them came to light when I was going through books to review; the rest surfaced when I was making projects just for fun and had trouble with the instructions. Believe me, I don't go looking for these things! Perhaps my background as a technical writer and writing instructor predisposes me to finding them. I also think that the fact I am not the world's best crocheter makes me less able to interpret what the designer means. I need to do what she says.

When I find what I think is a mistake, I always contact the designer to ask, "Am I reading this right?" In all of the above cases, the designers graciously acknowledged that there was an error.

What happened after that is very interesting. (These are not in any particular order. I'm not trying to call anyone out here; I just want to share my experience and start a discussion.) The authors' emotional reactions ranged from mortification to barely more than a shrug. Their practical responses also varied widely. One person put a correction on the Ravelry pattern link immediately. Another person wrote me a lengthy, helpful response to clear up confusing instructions, but those corrections have not been published anywhere that I can find (and the designer blamed the tech editor for the problems). When I checked with a third designer about whether the correction had been posted, she replied cheerfully, "I'm afraid not!" but she did want to make sure I understood how to do it correctly. As of today, the other errata have not been posted. I do not know whether the designers have contacted their publishers.

Is "Good Enough" Good Enough?

I have been turning this over in my mind. I'm bewildered and upset by the storm of errors and the seeming lack of accountability, but perhaps I am overreacting. I'm willing to consider that. Maybe the rest of you are thinking, "Get over it, Sharon! Mistakes happen, people figure them out, we publish a correction when it's cheap and easy...c'est la vie!" It would be nice to know how others feel. Am I on my own little island here? One possible explanation for my discomfort may simply be that my expectations are too high.

Something I learned from the excellent book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most is that we all see ourselves a certain way. This identity colors our actions and interactions. For example, I see myself as "a meticulous pattern-writer who cares deeply about the people who make my projects." For me, a published mistake is embarrassing and totally inconsistent with that identity. Another designer may see herself as "a creative person who needs to crank out lots of patterns to support my children." That person may consider taking the time to check every row in every size excessive and ridiculous, since it is contrary to her mission and self-perception. Considering the time investment designers make compared to the amount we get paid, it would be hard for me to argue.

I would like to hear from publishers, whether it's book publishers, magazine publishers, or yarn companies that issue their own patterns. Is it possible that you have made a business decision to tolerate a certain percentage of errors since it would cost you more time and money to get perfect patterns? (I do understand how narrow profit margins are; anything that adds expense without increasing revenue isn't likely to be put in place, even it it improves quality. Perhaps the publishers' cost/quality equation is one we'll just have to live with.) What are the implications for future work when a designer makes an error? Are there designers you won't work with anymore because their work was too sloppy? Are there others you reward with frequent assignments because their patterns are done so well? And what if you, the publisher, have accidentally inserted an error during the editing process? Do you issue a correction and make sure people know it was not the designer's fault? Another question: Do knitting publications have a similar error rate?

Please understand that I get no joy from finding pattern mistakes. Anything that turns crocheters off is detrimental to the industry. Crocheters, please weigh in! Do you accept mistakes as par for the course and no big deal? Or do they drive you crazy? What do you do when you find one? Do you feel differently about errors if they appear in a pattern you paid for versus a free pattern?

Testing One, Two, Three

In the computer industry, a skilled code tester is highly valued. It is crucial that a program is put through its paces before it gets to the customer. Word spreads quickly about developers who provide smooth-running software and developers who create programs that are full of bugs. My husband is an awesome code breaker! Many times a colleague will send him a piece of code, swearing up and down that it is perfect and has been thoroughly tested. Five minutes later, Alan sends it back with a list of a dozen mistakes.

I wonder if there is a similar niche for me, maybe as a professional pattern tester for designers and publishers. I could combine my affinity for finding errors with the ability to do something about it in a way that increases pattern quality without ticking anyone off. All pattern testers are not created equal; super crocheters may, in fact, be the worst testers. They know what a pattern should look like, and they may compensate for any errors without even being aware they have done so. Perhaps the literal way I approach a pattern would make me uniquely suited for a "pattern-breaker" job. (Whether anyone would pay for the "Sharon Silverman Seal of Approval" remains to be seen.)

What I promise you now is that my own patterns will be thoroughly tested and edited. I will use tools like spreadsheets and schematics during the design process to help me write precise instructions, and will publish symbol charts and/or graphs when they are helpful. I will take advantage of all of the resources available (classes, books, conversations with other designers) to help me become a better designer and pattern-writer. If an error ever does get published—hey, I'm human—I will apologize, offer whatever pattern support is needed, issue a prompt correction, and make sure subsequent versions of the pattern have the update.

And if the time comes when my focus on quality makes it impossible for me to create patterns cost-effectively, I'll find something else to do.

Thank you for listening.