How (not) to ask for help

I must preface this by saying that the vast majority of the knitters I talk to are absolute delights.  They are clever and interesting and just generally nifty people who will go out of their way to be as nice as can be.

When I hear from people with questions or comments about my patterns, I’m almost universally amazed by how gracious and good spirited they are.  To those folks, I say thank you.  But lately, I’ve had a little run of comments and questions that weren’t quite like that.  Let’s just say they were the sort of communication where you feel bad for the person writing because there must be something else going wrong with their day for them to say what they did.

And while the positive comments and nice questions are delightful, some of the other sort do get a bit wearing.  So with that in mind, I want to provide some suggestions for how to ask for help, how not to ask for help, and what might be reasonable to expect in the way of help with a knitting pattern.  I’m writing these for me, but I have a suspicion they may apply to other designers as well.

How to ask for help

  • Be specific: ‘I’m having trouble with row 2 of the heel flap on sock XYZ, it doesn’t seem like I have enough stitches on my needles to follow the whole chart’ is a great thing to say and exactly the sort of issue I can happily help you with.  ‘Mine looks funny’ or ‘what do I do next’ is not.  At a minimum, please tell me which pattern you’re working on, which part of that pattern you’re on, and what sort of problem you’re having.
  • Communicate with me directly: Send me an email (there’s an address on every pattern and on my webpage), send me a ravelry private message, or post in my group.  Those are the places I’m likely to check most work days.  If you ask a question on some random thread on ravelry or on your blog, I probably won’t see it and so won’t be able to help.
  • Assume goodwill on everyone’s part: ‘I seem to be stuck on the thumb gusset, do you have a suggestion’ is much better than ‘you’ve wasted all my time, how dare you be so stupid.’

How not to ask for help

  • Do not insult me: Please do not preface your request for help with a lecture on how all patterns should be free, how writing patterns takes no skill, or how you never have and never will pay for patterns because they’re inherently worthless.  That’s just distasteful.
  • Do not threaten me:  If you threaten to file a paypal claim over a free pattern, I’m just going to laugh.  If you threaten to ‘say bad things’ about me on ravelry, well, I can’t stop you.  I’ll just have to count on my actions over the last five years and on all the other folks out there who know me to offer an alternative perspective on me and my work.  I’m ok with that.  Threatening me really won’t make me any more eager to help you.
  • Do not demand instant action: I will answer you, but I’m not a 24-7 operation.  I am one person.  I get to be done with my job at the end of the day and go to sleep at night just like you do.

General expectations

  • I am human, and so are you: That means that I’ll try hard, but I’m not perfect.  There will sometimes be errors or unclear bits in my patterns.  I will do my very best to minimize them, and to help with them when they come up, but I can’t quite manage to be flawless.  Luckily, I don’t expect you to be perfect either. I totally get that you may have accidentally overlooked something in the pattern or flipped two numbers around in your head or skipped a step in the directions.  And if I think that may be the problem, I will point it out gently and give you the same benefit of the doubt I’d like from you.
  • My time is valuable, and so is yours: I know it’s no fun to wait for an answer, so I will try and answer you as soon as I reasonably can.  In return, I expect you to realize I am not always at my computer and can’t always answer right away.  In the meantime, my ravelry group is a great place to look for help.  There are folks there who’ve knit the patterns (often much more recently than I have) and may well be able help you even more quickly than I can.
  • I can’t teach you to knit: Just because I have put out a free pattern does not mean I have incurred an obligation to teach you to knit so you can make it.  If you’ve never used one of the basic techniques in my pattern (working in the round or working from a chart or purling or whatever it may be) but you really want to make it, that’s lovely.  Many of us have learned new skills because we really wanted to make a particular pattern.  You can totally do that too, assuming you are willing to learn those skills.  But you have to be responsible for learning them, I can’t teach them to you (and I won’t rewrite a pattern to be worked flat or write out a chart or redesign something so it doesn’t use any purls).  If you ask, I can probably find a link to someone else explaining a technique.  But I’m just going to be sending you a link I found on google…you’ll get the same information (and much faster) if you google it yourself.