Finding The Mistake

Mistakes happen.

Every now and then before one of my classes gets going, or during a break, someone will bring up the eternal question, “Why are there mistakes in patterns?”

And the answer is; Because patterns are made, figured, checked and printed by HUMAN BEINGS.  It’s our nature to be imperfect, that’s what makes us human.

Telling a knitter, “it’s not about perfection, but about dealing gracefully with imperfection…” is NOT the most helpful way to get someone past a frustrating point in their pattern, though.  So I try to hold back on the philosophizing when I’m actually in the midsts of getting someone over a pattern misunderstanding or mistake!

At this point I shouldn’t be astounded at how mistakes can creep into a pattern during the editing process, or how many mistakes I, myself, toss into the mix with stupid math errors, but every time it happens I’m a little blown away.

It’s good not to get complacent about mistakes, but it’s also necessary to treat them as what they are: Frustrations, roadblocks, not intentional slights by a designer.  I’d like them to be as few as possible, every designer would like that, but they creep in.

Sometimes mistakes aren’t mistakes at all, they’re just clumsy explanations that can be confusing for a reader/knitter.  These are the easiest to fix, and generally occur when several ‘cooks’ are involved in creating & editing a pattern, making edits and re-edits that might not always make sense.

Other mistakes are based in simple math.  This morning I was contacted by an editor who noticed that my row count on a project didn’t jive with the measurement given the stated gauge.  This was simple to fix – I’d calculated the measurement based on the wrong gauge (stitch vs row) and just had to change my multiplier.

The hardest math problems for me spring from the need to take into consideration the variables of sizing, motif repeat counts and gauge.  Because I don’t want to make your (or my) brain hurt too early in the morning, I won’t go into the deep details of my patterning, but here’s a simple overview of my process.

1. Size
I begin by creating RAW measurement numbers (based on schematics, pattern drafting skills & experience with different size patterns)  I generally like to design for at least 5 sizes (I’d feel like a traitor to the cause if I don’t size something up so that I could make it for me if I chose to)

2. Gauge
I work up a sizeable swatch so I can get a decent gauge.  I like to think of gauge as a tool, not THE tool, for determining fit.  Other tools include a measuring tape and the ability to measure the piece as we work it.

3. Motif
I figure out the best repeating pattern stitch count.  This is very tricky, as a motif count may work BEAUTIFULLY for 4 out of 6 sizes, but just will NOT fit into the other two.  Sometimes the motif counts between different sections of the sweater don’t play well together. Sometimes I just screw up the numbers.

The magic number 12 is the knit designer’s best friend.  It’s a good number, divisible by both even and odd numbers, and plugs into many motifs quite easily.  A good amount of my designing time is spent working motifs into a derivative of 12.

Once I’ve worked through these three elements once, I return to them, finessing the numbers and trying to make one motif fit for all sizes (sometimes this just doesn’t work, which is when you see patterns with 1 chart for sizes ABC and another chart for sizes DEF.)

It’s a lengthy process, taking – I’m not exaggerating – up to 100 hours for a sweater (NOT including the knitting process)

My family is very aware of the body language and facial expressions that announce, “Mom is in MATH HELL…  RUN AWAY!”

This number represents the working through the math so that the design and proportion distribution (one of the hardest parts) create an attractive garment in every size included in the pattern.

And I often fall short of what I hope to accomplish!  But every year I do this pattern writing thing, I get better.

Every time I sit down to create a pattern – even if I’m working off of a skeleton of an older design – I feel as though I’m starting a long journey all over again.

For a while this made me crazy – I kept thinking, “Why can’t I just simplify this process?”  Then I realized it’s because my mind works in a different way than many others (every mind works differently, I’m nothing special!)

I realized that I can no sooner leap over the above mentioned steps 1, 2 & 3 to the final pattern than I could teleport to TNNA in June.

I could fly to TNNA, but whether I drive or go by air I still need to make the journey every time. I can’t just wiggle my nose and arrive in Columbus!

I can use a pre-set worksheet to help with my math, but that doesn’t take the place of the necessary pattern writing process that’s as much art & poetry as it is math.

Right now I’m in a bit of math/pattern hell as I work through tech edits for History on Two Needles.  Our goal is to have something lovely to present at TNNA (a blad that folks can hold and order from) and a finished book in the stores by Fall (just in time for holiday giving!) 

In other news, I’m uploading a bunch of my patterns to Craftsy (and taking time to give them a good once-over) and finally reworking many of my patterns (for which I own rights but were previously published in other venues) by adding extra charts, tips and in some cases extra sizes before offering THEM for sale, too!

For instance, here’s the Luminarie Skirt with extra charts & in my own pattern speak – $7.00

Queen Midas

I’ve been pondering an essay for quite a while, years even, and I’m finally going to write it.  FINALLY.

The rough outline is how accepting money for something you love changes things.  Sometimes for the better (yay, I paid the mortgage!) and sometimes for the worse (oh noes, I have to knit again, dang!)

I have many loves in my life – I have a rich life and I love easily – but high up on the list is my love of knitting.

I don’t say a love of fiber (although I DO love fiber) because there are parts of the fiber world that I’ve held myself separate from.

Spinning, for instance, has escaped me.  Not because I don’t think I’d love it, but because I know that my lungs react very badly to floating fibers (I’m no longer able to knit with mohair or angora – at least, not without a respirator!)

But knitting – that’s a pure love.  Crochet is a love, too, but a separate love.

Crochet is like an aunt I love to visit, and sometimes I feel I love her more than knitting (my own mom) but when push comes to shove, I just feel more comfortable with knitting.  But I like to spend my summer vacations with Crochet and hear stories about Knitting when she was a kid, and sometimes I like to complain about Knitting to Crochet because I know it won’t go any farther…

I’m lucky that I’ve been able to pay the mortgage with my knitting chops for many years, although I’ll admit it’s been a thin ride the past few years.  This is for many reasons, but mostly because I just haven’t put the focused energy and effort into my knitting / design career recently that I did for the first 8 years of this century.

And THAT is due to many things.  At the risk of proving my 5th grade teacher right and falling into my natural ‘excuse maker*’ role, I’ll list some of these reasons…

1. Exhaustion.
It just gets – well – tiring to push, push, push the designs.  I feel as though I’ve taken a year+ off from the pushing, and it’s time to get back to the rock and the uphill path.

2. Health (my own and family heath).
I have allowed things to stand in my way, and I’ve enjoyed it sometimes, too.  But I enjoy creating, designing, more than almost anything.  So it’s time to get back on that horse.

3. Laziness.
This is different than exhaustion, this is just me being not as hard working as I should be.  Sometimes laziness shows itself by a lot of busywork – ironic, but true.

4. Inspiration (or rather, lack of…)
I’ve found it difficult to be as inspired as I used to be.  There may be many reasons for this, but the upshot is that I’ve tried to use my down time to re-ignite the spark that keeps me designing.

This last reason – Inspiration – is the most fragile card that holds up my little design house.

When inspiration hits, it’s a beautiful thing.  Taking that inspiration, converting it into a do-able project and keeping the excitement going until the last word of the pattern is written and the last line of the schematic has been drawn, well – that’s the hard part.

That’s the Queen Midas part.

That’s the point where you go from taking lovely photos on your vacation to trying to SELL those photos to a magazine.  Or making amazing cakes to trying to SELL those cakes to the public.  Or dreaming up great designs and trying to RECREATE those designs so other folks can work them up, too!

And that’s the hardest part.

Sometimes, just for fun, I’ll just knit.  I’ll cast on and just GO.  And even though I’m just making a quick hat, a mitten, a scarf – something for ME only – I still find my mind counting, figuring, resizing.  My brain goes on auto-pilot, determining-without-really-trying what number is most easily divisible and will therefore be the BEST number to use in a pattern (after all, resizing a pattern begins from the moment I begin thinking about the cast on!)

I try to turn this skill off – to cast on a devilishly hard number to multiply so my brain will just give up – but my mind continues to force it.  My brain will snicker to me “Okay, so you insist on casting on a multiple 10 instead of 12 (the magic number)  Well then I’ll just force your hands to work up an 8 stitch pattern with 2 ‘gutter’ stitches that will repeat easily!   Mwa ha ha ha!”

So I’m never entirely able to escape this, “Let’s recreate what I’m doing in 6 sizes!” skill that I’ve developed in my brain.  It’s a gift, but it gets old, too.

Currently I have several pieces I’m working through.  Most are easy enough pieces, but I’ve reached the point in all of them when the pattern must be written down, and that means resized, calculated, edited – all that stuff.

I could tell myself that I’m not good at this part, that it’s getting harder and I can’t do it anymore, but that would be a lie.  The truth is, I am tired of this part, so I’m being lazy about it, but that won’t get the work done.  Bus drivers get tired of getting up at 4:30am to drive that bus to get everyone else to work on time, but they still have to do it.

Recently a gifted tech editor I’d hired to look at some of my HoTN pieces threw her hands up at my insane and bizarre way I write my patterns.  I’m an odd one.  And she was entirely right.  But when I look at her notes on my patterns, I just can’t get my mind to work in that way.

I’m stubbornly intuitive.  Or intuitively stubborn.  A bad combination.

I’ve been through this before with several patterns, most notably with my circular shrug.  The editors at Vogue just couldn’t get what I was going for – and I don’t know if I was as clear as I should have been.  So the pattern was written in 3 sizes and no one was really happy with it.  What I wanted to do was create a universal pattern which could be worked up in ANY size, and eventually I did that, but it took me quite a long time buried under the numbers and worksheets before I could emerge with the pattern.

This is the point I’m at with many of my HoTN patterns, and I need to either steele myself and just dive into the math, or accept that it’s beyond me.

If we’re very lucky we will be able to have a part of what we really love in our daily work-for-bread lives.  But the trade off is that we’ll hit phases when we begin to almost convince ourselves that we don’t love what we DO love.

The knitting I love.  The explaining what and how I’m doing in such a way that other folks can recreate what I’ve done, that’s so hard that my head hurts and sometimes I hate it.

So my task right now is to find a way to LOVE the hard parts, the parts that don’t come naturally, the parts that take a little time.

Loving the effort, the hard effort, that’s my job for today.