Monday, June 20, 2011

A rant, a question, and a yarn giveaway

Quick Note: My efforts to work through my yarn stash haven't been nearly as successful as I'd hoped (it's amazing how much less knitting one can do when parenting a small person all day long). So it's time for a change of plan. This will be the first of several posts where if you leave a comment, you get entered into a drawing to receive some yarn from my stash. I'll be opening up comments to everyone, not just those with google/livejournal/etc. accounts. I hope we can get a great discussion going (and work down my stash!).

Today I want to talk about something that I've been thinking about a lot lately: pattern support.

Back in November I published my first pattern and since then I've been really flattered by the support, praise, and encouragement I've received both here on the blog but also on ravelry. I truly enjoyed coming up with the design. Knitting it a couple of times and having friends jump on the scarflet bandwagon was a blast. And then I got to have the fun of turning my thoughts and ideas into a printable document that anyone could use.

I put this pattern out for free. I didn't (and still don't) think that what I had done was different enough from what was already available to warrant charging someone money for it. I also didn't want to deal with the hassle of setting up a system of payment, figuring out about taxes, and dealing with the other business aspects of knitwear design. This is something I do for fun; it's not my job. And I wanted to contribute something to the knitting community that has been very good to me and has helped me grow.

However, publishing that pattern came with something that I really haven't enjoyed and didn't expect. I have received a number of requests from knitters asking for help with the pattern. For the most part, these requests have pinpointed a specific section of the pattern causing difficulty. But some of them were general cries for help where I couldn't even tell what the problem was, never mind begin to think of how to fix it.

I like to think that I am a nice person. I genuinely like to help people when I can. And I really like to encourage people in a craft that I enjoy quite a bit. For all of these reasons, I answer each and every request for pattern support that I receive.

But here's the problem: all of these request for pattern support could have been answered succinctly in one of two ways.

  1. Read the pattern (again).
  2. Count your stitches (again).
While I've been tempted to say this, I haven't. And instead I prepared a thoughtful response that usually involved just repeating what I had written in the pattern. I might rephrase something slightly but that's it.

All of this involves time, quite a bit of time. And time is not something that I have a lot of these days. I am the mother of a three-and-a-half month old daughter. This is a 24/7 job. In a few months, I go back to my "real" job where I will be working 60-hour weeks if not more. And I will still be the mother of an infant daughter. All of this means that I want to spend as much time with her (and my husband) as I can while also recognizing that I am an adult who uses real words in full sentences and has interests other than all things baby.

If someone genuinely thinks that there is a mistake in the pattern, I want to know about it so that I can fix the problem and issue a correction that everyone can use. But I don't want to spend what little bit of free time that I have gently urging someone to reread the pattern because I have already answered her question halfway down page three.

I accept that the knitting community has come to expect, and paid designers have come to provide, a fair amount of pattern support. But I can't do this. 

There are plenty of resources out there if you have difficulty understanding a pattern. You could call a knitter friend for help. You could look on ravelry forums to see if someone else had encountered a similar problem or could help you better understand the directions. And if that didn't work, you could go to a help session at a LYS, pay the money for an hour with the on-site expert, and seek advice there. 

I am working on a baby sweater design at the moment and I would love to share it with you. I think it's going to be a really great solution to the problem of figuring out how to make a sweater to fit a baby you haven't met yet (and to make that sweater last longer than two weeks). But for all of the reasons I've laid out above I can't keep answering questions asking for help with the pattern.

So here's my question: How can I contribute patterns to the knitting community while making clear that I can't and won't provide the sort of pattern support that many knitters have come to expect?

How would you feel if a free pattern came with a disclaimer telling you that the designer would not answer questions asking for help understanding the pattern?

Would you still want to use the pattern or would this put you off? More importantly, would you think to yourself "if I ask really nicely, perhaps she'll make an exception just for me"?

Would it help if I had an FAQ page on the blog where I answered common questions or provided clarification if people had questions?

Would it be better if I skipped the disclaimer on the pattern and instead went with a generic response to requests for help, saying that I don't provide pattern support?

Thanks for reading. I know this is quite a bit longer than my usual posts and not the rosy picture of knitting motherhood that you normally get here. But this issue is very important to me and I wanted to take a break from the usual content and talk about it. And I am really looking forward to hearing your thoughts and responses. 

As an extra thank you to everyone who participates in the discussion, I'm giving away three skeins of Woolen Rabbit Essence in the oakmoss colorway.

How does this work? Just leave a comment letting me know what you think and I'll enter you into a drawing (random number generator) to receive one of the three skeins. Any comment whenever? No. Leave the comment by noon central time on Monday, June 27. I'll post the three winners on Tuesday, June 28, and ask them to tell me their mailing addresses so I can send off the skeins.

Next time: the best skein I have ever spun. Seriously.


Linda M said...

you raise some very important points here. Personally I don't expect any support for a free pattern. I do like your idea of putting up an FAQ page and gently directing users there. It gives you a way not to say no I won't help you, but still not help the questioner individually.

I'll be curious as to what others have to say.

Gale said...

I think Linda is right. However, you'll still get those that think they can ask you anyway. You will absolutely need to assert yourself and say that you will not be providing pattern support.
May I volunteer to test your pattern out for you prior to publishing? There's always a baby to knit for.

Sel and Poivre said...

I would absolutely add the disclaimer and steadfastly stick to it. I would not even reply to requests for support once the disclaimer is visible on the pattern.

Managing the limitless demands of motherhood while maintaining enough of a healthy life of your own to be the best mother you can demands a woman balance selfishness with selflessness. Its no easy feat! Don't let those too lazy to really work at sorting things out for themselves add to your load in the exciting months ahead!

A free pattern is a generous gift of time and creativity not an obligation to support the lucky recipients of that generosity!

Jodi said...

Hmm... I think you can add a disclaimer to the Ravelry design page, too!

Once you have a few designs on Ravelry, you could set up a group/forum for your designs where people can support one another. Have you seen Ysolda's group? Every once in a while Ysolda chimes in if there's a major problem.

A FAQ is a good idea. Also, sometimes people are just reaching out with questions to be friendly and to develop a relationship with a designer.

JoannaCos (Rav) said...

I think a disclaimer is a good idea. At least you'd be up front about your availability. Motherhood is far more important! You're not alone with this problem. So many designers have blogged about this very same issue. It's a shame more knitters don't assume they're making the mistake first instead of accusing the designer, especially one who makes the pattern available for free.

I honestly feel that if a pattern is free, it's like a gift - would you bug the gift giver about flaws you perceive in a gift they were kind enough to give you for free? No way! If I can't figure out the problem on my own I'd move on to a different project, no hard feelings. (Case in point the Lace Ribbon Scarf from Knitty - after 5 failures I put that lovely scarf in my rear view mirror!)

It's a different story for paid patterns though, I expect top quality from a pattern I paid for. I've had a couple of minor issues in the past but was able to find solutions pretty quickly on Raverly w/o bugging the designer. Such a great resource!

Jacey said...

I think using a free pattern should not permit you to expect any kind of support. A paid pattern is different, but really, you put the pattern together out of the goodness of your heart, and put it out there for the world to enjoy. Yes, if there was a serious error, that would be one thing, but it is not your responsibility to help people knit your design.

I think you bring up a very good point. I'm working on a scarf that I "designed" (it's just a stitch pattern I found, really). It's so simple that I doubt writing it up would be necessary, but I have thought that I might post the basics.

I like your destashing technique! I may have to copy you on that, as I have some lovelies in the stash that I just can't seem to get to!

Taloferia said...

It's more than fair that because the patterns are free, pattern support wouldn't be provided.
I think that a combination of your ideas here would probably be best. If you are intending that all of your patterns in the future will also be free, I think it would be totally appropriate to put a disclaimer in your designer 'bio' on Ravelry, mentioning that because the patterns are free, pattern support can't be expected. A FAQ would also be helpful to people, I'm sure.
I don't think you need to put the disclaimer on the pattern, but a generic response to people who do request help sounds good. It could include directions to the FAQ page.
The colours of that yarn are gorgeous!

Estella said...

wow, that's some serious thinking and questions going on. I don't often ask for support for a pattern - I think I've only done it once and I did it on a Ravelry board for the designer. I think if you pay for a pattern and that person is accessible via Ravelry then it is okay to ask (AFTER you've reread your pattern and counted again and again).

I think a disclaimer would be okay.

Dee said...

I think that it's well within your right to send a generic "help" e-mail if someone asks for help beyond what is reasonable.

Cheryl said...

Blogger keeps eating my comments, but I absolutely agree with the previous commentators. You should not feel obligated to provide pattern support. Include a disclaimed stating that as a busy working mother you do not have time to respond, and feel free to ignore any requests. There will always be people who feel entitled and/or angry, but please don't let it discourage you from posting your patterns.

Sandra said...

I always appreciate designers that make free patterns available, even though I am more than willing to buy a great pattern as well. But, where I do expect some sort of support for a pattern I've purchased, I don't from a free one.
Now, I'm experienced enough to work through small typos and such, and when I find a free pattern that rife with erros, and I can't figure it out,(not yours!!) I will abandon and find something else. I don't expect full support for something that is being freely shared.
An FAQ page would be well above the kind of service I'd expect from a freebie, and honestly, it would really be appreciated. It's something that would make me think of that designer, when it came to paid patterns. If they offer basic support for a freebie, then I'd assume great support for a paid.

Kathy said...

You asked me this some time ago and, as I've dropped out of the blog scene for awhile, didn't answer. I think a disclaimer is a great way to handle it. Expectations are set up front and you don't have to answer questions that could be done through a little self sufficiency.

Mean Old Library Teacher said...

I think an FAQ is really the best idea, if you're going to do anything at all. But, like someone else said, I don't expect help when I find a free pattern. But, then I tend to just try it out and make adjustments for myself as I go.

I think the best idea is for you to do what best fits into YOUR time. The rest of us will muddle along just fine.

Anna said...

On a free pattern I'd not expect pattern support. However, if I pay for a pattern I would expect that if I really needed help, or if something was really wrong with the pattern (which I've found a couple of times, the pattern was just plain wrong) I could email the designer and tell them the problem and ask what they actually meant. I make sure that I read, re-read, check on Ravelry for any forum posts and look on the designers blog before asking though, I don't just shoot off an email immediately.

I don't think any pattern is 100% perfect from the get go, which is why there are so many versions of patterns and errata, not allowing errata to be reported or helping should there be any seems kind of srange, surely you would want the pattern to be correct? Sometimes what a designer means can be lost in the pattern writing and some explanation is needed.

If I saw a paid for pattern with a disclaimer saying that there would absolutely not be any pattern support I'd probably not buy it and to be blunt I would find it kind of rude.

I totally understand your reasoning, I'm a single mother to 2 young boys, this is just my 1.5 cents and looking at the other comments everyone else thinks you should do it so maybe I'm odd, but it's just my honest opinion and is in no way meant to cause offense!

Tracey said...

blame the spinning for slowing down the stash busting! that's super generous of you to offer up some woolen rabbit. she's my favorite indie dyer. i've already knit socks in this colorway (which i loved!) so i'll disqualified myself from the drawing. :)

a FAQ on the blog is an excellent idea. i think that a disclaimer with a suggestion on how to get help elsewhere would be totally reasonable and not deter me from using a free pattern (after all, it's free!).

alltheshinythings said...

I haven't read all the answers so hopefully I'm not saying what everyone else says!

Personally, I don't expect support for free patterns. And having a disclaimer on it would be perfect! But if it were me making the pattern, I'd probably put an FAQ on my site with all the most common questions and point people there, too....

it's hard! You want people to be happy and still have time to do what you need to! I"m sure you'll find the right mix.

Beautiful yarn!!!

Kristine Hipps said...

After reading your post I scrolled down to express my thoughts and the very first comment (from Leslie M) succinctly took the words right out of my fingers.
I have been guilty of thinking that a pattern was flawed only to find I'd made the exact mistakes you outlined. I love the idea of a FAQ page.
I also think I'm capable of researching out a question or technique on my own. I've resolved my problem after reading others' Ravelry comments (I've never thought to contact the designer).

If I paid for a pattern, I would be turned off if the designer refused to provide help, but a free pattern is not the same thing.
I SO appreciate all the free patterns out there! Thanks and keep 'em coming.

SDQuilter said...

I believe all of your ideas are solid. The FAQ is a fantastic idea. I think a disclaimer is a good way to go and then formulate a generic response to those people that think it would not hurt just to ask anyway. Instead of stating you don't have time to respond, maybe it would be better to state the pattern has been tested many times by different knitters to make sure to the best of your ability that it is error-free. Ask your testers if they would mind leaving a comment on it on Ravelry.

Thank you for sharing your scarflet pattern. I have downloaded it and it is in my pile of "to be knitted". It is very lovely.

beardedknitter said...

While the disclaimer does put me off a tiny bit, I think it's the best solution if it's properly and politely worded. Waiting until you are contacted to send a "sorry, no helping" generic e-mail, though, would feel like the most impersonal of the options you listed.

I think if you do a disclaimer, you should utilize ravelry in it. Say something like "sorry, I'm too busy to help. Ask your fellow ravelers who are working/have worked on this pattern to see how they handled your problem". The problem could still get solved in a personalized way, but with less time and responsibility on your end.

But... I've yet to put out a pattern, so this is all conjecture.

Brendaknits said...

I have heard the same issues form other designers. It seems it is too easy to email a quick question instead of re-counting or re-reading. Years ago when it required a written letter, it was easier to try to figure it out. I would definitely insert the disclaimer and as Sel&Poivre says, not even respond to the queries once the disclaimer is posted. A FAQ page would be a nice touch but not necessary.

Melissa said...

I don't expect support from pattern designers. I generally just assume that if it's not working, I'm doing something wrong and try again. I think it might be helpful to include a disclaimer stating that you probably won't reply to support questions... but if you get the same question several times, to put in an FAQ section.

Christina said...

I think a disclaimer in the pattern pointing towards an FAQ page would be helpful. That way if you do find an error you have an avenue to post it. You are 100% right though, your family and job came first!

Amanda Fernandez said...

I think that a kindly worded disclaimer is a good idea; I can't imagine anyone would have a problem with this for a free pattern.

The FAQ feature sounds helpful, too. I'm guessing you'd post this in the to-be-created Tinks and Frogs Ravelry group, rather than update the pattern, no? I was thinking that you could also direct people to people's Rav project pages for your pattern--the life ring symbol denotes that a knitter's write-up of her/his project helped another knitter--either by discussing a problem overcome or describing alterations made.

ikkinlala said...

I pretty much agree with what everyone else said - I don't expect pattern support for a free pattern (although I do to some extent for a paid pattern, especially if it's been knit only a few times so there may still be pattern errors). Having a disclaimer on its own would be fine; having a FAQ page would be going above and beyond.

I would probably go with the disclaimer and a generic response to anyone who ignored it.

Carrie said...

I agree with most of the others too. I wouldn't expect support from a designer of a free pattern. But the disclaimer idea is good- make it very obvious - a sort of knit at your own risk? (-; And, as others have said, once on Ravelry, a discussion group could handle any problems, probably.

Kate said...

I've never actually emailed a pattern designer for support; when I get stuck I tend to either ask a friend or post to an online community and it nearly always turns out to be just something I've overlooked. That's why I don't contact the designer, because I know it's more likely than not to be my own mistake. So no, I certainly wouldn't be put off by such a disclaimer! I think an FAQ on the blog would be a good idea too.

As they're free patterns, I don't think anybody should object to you not offering support. You probably will get a few people objecting anyway, because people can be like that, but I don't think you need to feel bad about not helping them!

Even in a paid pattern, of course I'd expect it to be error-free or the designer to fix reported errors quickly, but I wouldn't expect them to talk me through the pattern and help me figure out where I had made a mistake.

Beverly said...

Sharing a pattern at no cost is incredibly generous. I think a short, polite disclaimer should be more than adequate. As you pointed out, there are so many avenues for finding help, you shouldn't feel any obligation to answer individual questions.

Angela said...

Being a mum of a little one, I've been put off enough by this issue not to publish at all for the moment. I think a disclaimer on a free pattern is completely reasonable. I also think, in the age of Ravelry, an FAQ page would still be very (perhaps still overly?) generous and well-regarded.

Before I start knitting, I read all the project notes marked as helpful on Rav and read the designer's forum. Not everyone is aware that such resources exist and some direction to seek help there in the first instance might contribute to improving the situation generally.

(Rav: stringkittystudio)

Tara said...

I don't expect pattern support for free patterns either. Especially with a pattern that has already been made by other people with no problems. I always check the helpful notes on rav before even starting a pattern just to preemptively avoid any common misunderstandings or mistakes. A FAQ is a good idea if it seems to be the same questions over and over. Anyway, your pattern is awesome and I hope that some silly people don't discourage you!

Anonymous said...

I think a generic response or a FAQ is the way to go. I certainly don't expect support on free patterns from the authors, and I think it is perfectly appropriate for authors to set firm boundaries about what they will and won't supply.

urchiken at gmail dot com

Ilana H said...

Before publishing a pattern try to state which technics the knitters need to master. Refer them if possible to youtube help videos and such. If the pattern proves popular start a thread in ravelry in which the more expert knitters can help the novices (it is done a lot). and to be blunt you can always add a comment on the pattern that you are happy to provide the knitting community with a pattern but due to busy life , (unless there is a mistake, then you ought really to respond)you are unable to provide pattern support. take care, Ilana

elizabeth said...

You absolutely do not need to provide pattern support for a free pattern. I would do both one and two of your options - put a disclaimer on the pattern and on the pattern's Rav page, AND create a page of FAQs.

I've only contacted designers twice about (purchased) pattern errors. One designer was fabulous and explained that although the instructions for the shawl edging were knit in the book, the actual shawl edging in the photo was crochet, and she told me how she did it. The other designer basically told me to keep knitting and decreasing, that "it would all work out" in the end. Of course, it didn't work out and I've frogged the sweater.

NMjewel said...

My first thought (reading your blog for the first time) is: Ignore the help questions, and answer only the legitimate ones. I, myself, have written to someone about a problem in a pattern, and have felt hugely STOOPid when I find the answer while awaiting a reply... Yes, I left out a line while reading the pattern for the 100th time.
I think a disclaimer would NOT put me off the pattern. And especially a quick mention of living with a toddler should do the trick.
Good luck!
btw: PLEASE don't pick me as a random winner in your giveaway--I've got too much much stash, myself. Looking forward to reading more!

Lizzie said...

I would put the disclaimer in your patterns and I like the idea of putting it on the ravelry pattern page as well. I might also set up a generic email that you can copy and paste for those that are a little dense and email you expecting support.

Personally if I didn't pay for the pattern I don't expect support as you are not getting compensated. If you were to charge on the other hand I would expect there to be some level of support.

I do think it is wrong that just because someone is not getting it that they think it is the designers fault. Most of the time when I'm having issues it is me and not the pattern (if I can't figure it out after attempt 3 then I might be likely to question the designer).

Kitten With a Whiplash said...

First, Thanks the Heavens for designers offereing free patterns! I think the addition of thousands of new creative influences is the greatest contribution the net has offered knitters (and other crafters).

Support is one thing, hand holding is another. If the pattern is correct as written, and clearly written, there is no reason for the designer to fret over the skill level of every knitter who attmepts to knit it. You are offering a pattern, not a class.

Your post doesn't indicate if the conufused knitters are having problems throughout the whole pattern or only in specific sections. I don't know the ins and outs of publishing on Ravelry, but if it is the latter case, would it be possible to update your pattern with notations that state something like "This is an area where some knitters lose track of the stitch count. Please pay extra attention at this point."? That might slow down questions from future downloaders.

affiknity said...

I am sorry you have to go through this. Expecting pattern support for a free pattern is unfair, in my opinion.

To answer your questions:

1. I would be put off if I saw a disclaimer on a free or a paid pattern. I have never contacted a designer regarding pattern support, but I still would be put off that the designer puts this disclaimer for all to see.

2. To handle this diplomatically, keep a reply ready, which says something like,
"Thanks for contacting me. I am very busy taking care of the newest addition to my family and will not be able to offer any help with your questions. Post your questions on the 'Techniques' group on Ravelry and I am sure you will find a lot of help."

A point I want to make: if you are thinking of releasing patterns for sale later on, then it is very important not to annoy your potential customers. A bad word about designers spreads faster than you think.

Anonymous said...

i think we are all in agreement: use a disclaimer for free patterns and make an FAQ section on your blog. Personally, i've turned to Ravelry for help when i couldn't figure something out (and it's my fault, not the pattern) or a friend who is a better knitter than i am.

Rachel said...

wow--hot topic!

I'm not sure I have an answer since I've never asked a designer a question outside of when I felt there may be errata. I tend to ask friends or search online for answers. But I've heard others talk about this topic and I think in general, even for paid patterns, some don't feel they need to hand hold folks through the pattern. If there are unclear spots or errata, that's one thing but people push their limits in my opinion. So I think a disclaimer at the very least and maybe a FAQ sheet on the blog or ravelry would be the best way to handle it. Then you can respond very simply with a caged response directing folks to those two areas.

Krystal said...

I have never contacted a designer with questions - I always assume first that any problems I am having are related to my own incompetence. I think most knitters have a friend or a group they could turn to if they want some help, and if not, an FAQ page is a very generous alternative for you to present. Definitely use the disclaimer - as it is a free pattern, I doubt many would think you have any obligation to respond to questions.

Anonymous said...

I think would be helpful if you had an FAQ page on the blog where you answered common questions or provided clarification but I can imagine that would be time consuming!

c.pardon said...

Hi there,

Even when I pay for a pattern, contacting the designer with questions is something I have never done, and never felt that I needed to do. With Ravelry being the awesome resource that it is, any of my problems have usually been cleared up by other knitters. However, I am able to work through most difficulties by doing what you mentioned and reading the pattern again, or counting the stitches again. I would not find it rude if a designer (politely stated) that they would not be available to answer questions. I am just appreciative of free patterns!

principeta said...

Everyone is different and so are the expectations.For me,when I was starting and didn't understand patterns it take time to learn and see it right.I read,search,watch you tubes so I think FAQ page is wonderful idea as some blogs don't have this,just patterns but when you are a beginner you need faqs.

Lovely giveaway,by the way,count me in,please.Yarn never enough =o)

Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

I would think a large "Caveat" written at the top of the pattern along the lines of "I have made every effort to ensure no errors exist but provide no guarantees. This is a free pattern, and regretfully with work and personal life commitments I can not provide personal replies to individual questions. Please feel free to visit my group on Ravelry to discuss any issues. I hope you enjoy the pattern." I would think that would put everyone on notice and then I simply would ignore emails on that topic. Good luck!