Monday, April 25, 2011

Why the answer isn't simple and easy.

I answer a lot of knitting questions. I belong to several different knitting groups and there is a variety of skill levels at all of them. To be honest, I like answering questions as I often learn more from the process of figuring it out than the Knitter who asked it in the first place.

When I worked in my LYS, I assisted many Knitters with patterns that were giving them trouble. Once we had a customer who was so unhappy with my answer she ended up talking to all of the three other staff members who were in that day and even though we each gave her several options to solve her problem she still went away unhappy muttering to herself "that there must be a book that would explain how to do this properly". In this situation I think it was a case of the Buddhist quote: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” and our student wasn't yet ready. 

I was very surprised by something that happened often. A customer would come in with a question and be shocked that we could not instantaneously answer. Usually it was with regard to a specific pattern. Often the question was posed in such a way as to mislead us as to the nature of the real problem. Many Knitters were surprised when we would ask to see their work. It was a common experience when assisting Knitters that the customer thought we should resolve their problem without reading the pattern or picking up our needles to test a stitch pattern when they said it was wrong. 

We were frequently questioned as to why we couldn't just look at the knitting and see where their mistake was in the pattern. We would also get phone calls asking us to explain pattern instructions based on what the Knitter said was going wrong without the time to read the pattern or the option to examine the work. We could relate to the frustration the Knitter felt, but felt very limited in our ability to solve the problem. It made me realize than knitting is much more layered and complex that it initially appears to be.

When I read Sally Melville's post from December 23rd, (you can find it here) I was struck by how true this part is.  Sally said "I liken knitting patterns more to mathematical proofs than recipes. So imagine sticking a few lines in the middle of a mathematical proof under someone's nose and asking Can you explain this? It's no wonder that the folk in the yarn shop can't do it!"

I think Sally's analogy is the best one I've seen on this topic. So please when you are asking other Knitters for help; be patient and understand that they need to work through the problem slowly. Once they do they can answer the question and figure out if the pattern is wrong or if the Knitter is making an error in execution.


  1. So true. I found it to be much the same when I did user support in a graduate school computing lab. I also saw over and over again that sometimes what the person asking for help sees as the problem is not actually the problem. We also were frustrated by the folks who "shopped" the staff, asking each of us the same question hoping for an answer they liked.

  2. I like getting emailed with questions only because then I have some time. First to decifer what I think the problem might be and then some time compose an answer. It's true too that some people have a definite leaning towards this type of problem solving. Every yarn store needs one of these people at their shop. It's not everyones forte.