This is a post for all you self-taught beginners out there. Just want to let you in on a little secret that some of us that have been around a bit longer understand, in the hope that it might save you some time and worry.
In the comments the other week a newish knitter was trying very hard to get her short rows to work. She was ripping and ripping her swatch and trying to do it with some joy in her heart. But the joy was fading and frustration was setting in. She couldn’t get those pesky short rows to look good and not have holes. I answered her comment with a mix of encouragement (I hope) and a suggestion that she try Sunday short rows (which are totally awesome). She did and came back saying that she now had a perfect swatch and was off to start knitting. Yeah. Win for both of us.
A lovely friend who is a full-on get-sh#t-done kinda crafter was teaching herself to make a garment for herself. She was trying a fantastic intermediate pattern – the Washi dress and she did a sterling job. Her first efforts were getting compliment after compliment. And she looked tip top (partly cause she is naturally stunning – Hi JM x!). The thing was her facing was rolling. And didn’t sit right. All that work, all that get-sh#t-done-ness and she had a rolling facing. Which is fine. She still looks totally great. But there is a very simple technique called understitching, and while it is included as a suggestion in the pattern, it is suggested as (optional). So she didn’t do it and didn't understand that that was why her facing was rolling.
In the same week I got an email from another frustrated knitter that asked me to help decipher what this meant….
Now as I’m not local to this person, and I’m currently on the other side of the world with super limited wifi, and don’t know the pattern, there was little I could do for the poor woman but suggest she get on the Ravelry forums and ask someone who had made the pattern what the hell it all meant. Which she did and they did help and all was good.
In each one of my examples above the person was asking themselves whether it was them. "Why don't my short-rows work?", "Why is my facing rolling?" and "Why don't I understand the pattern?" and in each case it was a lack of background knowledge and sometimes a lack precise directions within the pattern.
So here is what I want to say about all these examples – I want to say that sometimes when you find that you just can’t get something to work it isn’t you. It could be the instructions, or the pattern and sometimes the pattern makers. Some patterns are badly written. Some patterns are incomplete and some patterns were written for people who already know what they are doing.
Now this obviously isn’t true every time and obviously not every pattern can explain every single thing but hear me out.
I wrote recently about believing you can make stuff, and how important that was to the process of starting to craft. But the other big thing that I mention in the post is that once upon a time we would have learnt the techniques we would need to put the pattern together independently from the pattern instructions. We would have learnt our craft when we were young maybe from school, or family. And we would have known people who had the knowledge we needed to perfect our craft.
In the ye-olden-days pattern makers didn’t have to provide detail on which precise technique to use or even how to perform techniques, as crafters already had that knowledge. And this was especially true of knitting patterns. They often just gave you the numbers. The pattern would say CO 180 stitches. But they wouldn’t say which cast-on to use. The decision on whether to do a cable cast on or long tail or tubular was up to you*. The pattern makers didn’t need to explain which to use. They assumed (possibly rightly) that the person doing the knitting would know which to use. For sewing patterns it was very similar. The pattern really only had to outline the order in which to construct the garment. They could use descriptions like "finish your seams" and the seamstress would use the finishing technique of her choice.
I believe that the world has changed. Many makers now are making without an old-school knowledge base. They are often self taught and many don’t know many other people that really craft. Now I love self taught – I am majority self taught myself. But self taught means that you learn as you go and you don’t necessarily get exposed to a range of techniques when you are learning. So you might have some holes in your knowledge base.
And while there are some amazing, thoughtful pattern makers out there, many pattern makers haven’t changed with the times. They are still making patterns for people that know their craft.
It takes a lot to get started when you are trying to self teach yourself a new craft without support. It can seem a little overwhelming - that you have so much to learn in order to do it to a level where you can make beautiful stuff. And then when all that guts and effort gets rewarded by frustration when you get stuck, or you achieve a slightly less than terrific product, self-doubt can sometimes creeps in. People sometimes start thinking that it is them. That they just.can’t.do.it. OR that they are just.no.good.at.it.
Maybe that’s true - maybe you did get it wrong. But often, I truly don’t believe it is. Maybe the instructions are badly written, or poorly explained or missing bits or just plain rubbish or even just old school.
I don't want you to do self-doubt in your crafting as the default when you have a problem. It takes up time. Time that you could be spending doing something else - like fixing your problem.
In the first two of my examples above it was the little things that would have made a difference to the crafters in question. In number one – having the pattern suggest the type of short rows would have helped. In the second example – the instructions are amazing** except for this one part that says you should optionally understitch the neckline but doesn’t say why you would want to do this. So my friend ignored it. In the third example the instructions are just crappy.
Things to remember when you hit a problem
- Consider that it might not be you!
- Many pattern makers are old school and are writing for old school crafters. This is especially true of the old school sewing pattern brands. Their instructions are often pithy.
- Some new pattern makers are just some person in their house in some suburb somewhere who has an idea for a project and writes a pattern. This is fantastic as everyone has to start somewhere but they may not be good at writing patterns. Obviously some new pattern makers are amazing naturals.
- Some patterns are amazingly written but they can’t explain every detail of every technique so if you find something you aren’t sure about google away.
- Avoid old-school vintage knitting and sewing patterns until you get your confidence and knowledge base up.
- Remember that sometimes it will be you and that is OK too!
Some ideas to get you out of trouble
- Make patterns from people that are known for writing good ones! Some new pattern makers are amazing and have thoughtfully constructed patterns which understand that their audience is coming to them with different backgrounds and different levels of knowledge. They include thoughtful descriptions and diagrams of how-to do XYZ that mean that you learn as you make. Win!! A good pattern can and will teach you things as you make it. Research the pattern maker online before you commit to one of their patterns.
- The internet and especially youtube is your friend. The other place that is often really good is the blogs of the different new independent knitting and sewing companies.
- If you are making a pattern and run into trouble google your problem and the pattern name. There are often many others that are having the same issue as you.
So for all of you frustrated beginner crafters out there I just want you to now also consider this as one of your options when you make a mistake. “It’s not me! – it’s them!”
I love a bit of a complete abdication of responsibility. Not sure this post is a life lesson ;). Or maybe it is?
* There is a vast difference between the three types in terms of their elasticity and their appropriateness for a given project.