Mistakes in Patterns
Last week, I had the unenviable task of adding the errata for Hook, Stitch & Give to the book page. I tell you what, there is nothing I hate more in my job than finding errors in my patterns. I have been known to shed many a tear about the subject and I know that many of you share my frustrations. One of the questions I get asked a lot is that surely, if the pattern is written, tech edited and tested, why are there still errors found at print (for more information about what a tech editor does, check out Joanne's post on "What is a Tech Editor?")?
I will outline some of the reasons, in my experience, mistakes still creep in, but ultimately it comes down to the fact we are just humans. No matter how many times a pattern is edited, mistakes can sneak through.
Every designer will have a different process, but from inception to printing, mine goes something like this:
- Think of an idea
- Sketch and swatch
- Design the item in a spreadsheet
- Write out the pattern
- Make the sample as a way of testing the pattern (sometimes I use sample makers for this stage)
- Re-edit pattern
- Send pattern to TE for tech editing
- Revise pattern
- Send pattern to testers (I use a Facebook Group for this)
- Revise pattern
- Pattern goes to the publisher for editing and layout. Here is will be edited by:
- My Editor
- A Copy editor
- A translator (the person who translates my patterns from UK to American terms is really good for picking up errors, as was my Finnish translator for Crochet at Play)
- Revise pattern
- Final edits by the TE and I
- Revise pattern
- Pattern goes to print
Even I look at that and think, "How on earth could things still sneak through!?!". I know, but it happens and in my experience the remaining errors are a result of a couple of key factors:
- Not seeing the wood for the trees. Tech editors will check that all the math works and everything lines up. Sometimes all the numbers can work, but its still wrong - a small instruction missed or a mismatch between the pattern and the photo (patterns are often tested and edited before photography is done). For example, in the Waterfall Shrug pattern in Hook, Stitch & Give, there is a mistake in the number of rows needed to complete the length of the shrug...it should have been doubled to fit as I wanted, but all of the numbers - from the length in the table to the row counts in the pattern were for half the length. There is no way one would have known that, unless you were me (and I missed it!)
- Errors sneak into spreadsheets that may make logical sense, but still not be right. Most designers will be working from a spreadsheet to write their pattern. This helps tremendously with getting sums correct, making sure your stitch counts add up and helping to grade across sizes. It is a lot of math and spreadsheets can often be very long and complicated with equations building on one another. It is an easy thing to make a small mistake in one cell and have it carried forward in your sums. I can't tell you the number of times I have picked up a wrong cell, only to discover it at the end of writing a pattern. Sometimes, if you don't know where the mistake has been made, it can be impossible to find because it will look right (maybe be consistent with the same multiple of a number as the other sizes, or be the right step up or down in comparison to previous steps).
- The skill of a designer. Designing is taking an idea, turning into a physical act of making, translating it into words in crochet code, then making sure all of the numbers across multiple sizes are right. Designers will have different strengths across those skills- I am an ideas person good at taking a nebulous idea and turning into a physical object. However, my grading and mathematical skills are definitely the area where I have to be extra careful. I am good, but not perfect and I work closely with my super amazing editors to make sure everything works.
- Not working to the stylesheet. one key element in making sure patterns work is ensuring they are submitted in house style - if a Tech Editor has to spend a lot of time converting the pattern to the style of the magazine or book, then mistakes can be missed in the process.
Why can't every design be tested?
In a book of 30 patterns across an average of 6 sizes per pattern- it's logistically impossible to test every size. Some designers do get every size tested, but they tend to be designers who release 1 design at a time. In HSG, each pattern has been made by either a sample maker or a tester, bar 2, which felt like a decent balance between getting things right and balancing the logistics. Magazine designs will often have similar time constraints and really rely heavily on the designer and tech editor getting everything right, as there often isn't time for testing.
What do I do if I find a mistake?
Most designers offer pattern support. Please know that no one finds errata more frustrating than the designer, but its always better to let them know (nicely) that something doesn't look right. I try to get back to people within a day or two, but it can sometimes be longer.
I hope that understanding some of the reasons why they happen helps people feel less murderous when it comes to spotting errata in patterns.