It's Saturday afternoon and you've got a lovely pile of fabric, all washed and pressed, sitting on your work table and a few hours of time to yourself. It's time to crack open that new craft book and sew the adorable tote bag on page 33.
As you start cutting and sewing the pieces together you can see that the strap is too short, much shorter than the strap on the bag in photo. You double check your measurements, but you followed the instructions exactly.
This can only mean one thing: there is a mistake in the book.
Has this happened to you? Maybe you've found two errors in that same book, or maybe more? And you start to wonder how did this book get published with so many mistakes?
I began to think more carefully about this question yesterday after reading a blog post by my friend Rashida. Several bloggers got together and organized a very successful sewalong for her second book, Zakka Style. 24 different bloggers participated and they sewed every single project in the book! Ambitious? Yes. And fantastic publicity.
I think we can agree that book reviews have become a dime a dozen on craft blogs. I've reviewed my fair share here, and my own book enjoyed a blog tour, too, like they all do. The best kind of reviews are by people who actually make the projects from the book, so a sewalong of this scope is really amazing.
It is rare (if ever?) that a craft book gets a critical review on a blog. I once asked a publicist what I should do if I didn't like a book she sent me. She told me to hold off on reviewing it and kindly donate it to my public library and I do that all the time now. What it means, though, when we don't share real, critical reviews with one another is that we miss out on hearing from trusted people with expertise their real opinion on the books they see.
On craft blogs in general we share praise, and celebration, and I'm really glad we do. It's a lot of work to write a book, and the print book arm of the publishing industry is struggling. We should promote one another for sure. At the same time, it is undeniably helpful to know an expert's opinion of a book's real strengths and weaknesses before we decide to buy it.
Amazon is a place where more critical reviews live. The anonymity of Amazon allows people the freedom to write a critical review, but the problem there is that we don't know the reviewers. Do they have expertise in that craft or are they just angry and need a place to vent or inexperienced and thought the book would be one thing when it's really another?
A critical review from a trusted person with knowledge and expertise is the most valuable kind of review for readers.
The Zakka Style sewalong organizers put together a Flickr group where everyone could post pictures of what they made. A discussion arose there about the mistakes in the book. Rashida did an excellent job engaging in the discussion, explaining how she tried to prevent any mistakes from occurring and relaying the information to C&T, the publisher of the book.
Zakka Style is a collaborative book. In it, Rashida asked various contributors to create different projects. Each project was written by a different author and her task was to edit their instructions and create a cohesive book. Not easy by any means.
One particular comment in the Flickr group discussion caught my attention. It was made by The Crafters Apprentice and she says:
I know mistakes might creep in, but they
shouldn't. Why haven't the patterns been tested before being printed?
What a great question.
Are patterns in craft books tested before the books go to press?
When I signed the contract to write The Artful Bird I was a brand new author. I spent eight solid months sewing birds and writing patterns for the book and my publisher spent the next five month editing, illustrating, proofreading and designing the book. And then it went to press. Although I had made many birds leading up to the book deal, and then during the creation of the projects for the book, nobody else but me had ever sewn one. This got me crazy nervous so I gave my wren pattern to a good friend who is a terrific seamstress and she sewed it up and gave me some feedback.
But you know what? That was it. A single project of the 16 included in the book was tested by someone other than me, and only because I sought that out. My editor didn't encourage pattern testing, much less demand it. And I don't want you to think that my book is an outlier in this. I'm going to make the radical statement that almost none of the patterns in the majority of craft-based sewing books are tested.
Why is this? The primary reason is money. When a book is acquired by a publisher a budget is set for that book. The budget has to cover everything that book will need to be published: the author's advance, the total number of pages, the fee for a professional photographer or illustrator if needed, the binding, the cover, the pattern templates, technical editing, design. Everything has to be squeezed into this budget in order for the book to be profitable. And the budget, at least for craft books, doesn't cover pattern testing.
Rashida mentions in the Flickr discussion that for her first book, I Love Patchwork, a technical editor sewed every pattern. In my experience that is very unusual. Rashida and I shared the same publisher for our first books. Although my editor said she was going to make an owl she never got around to it and she didn't have to. It wasn't expected of her.
Don't get me wrong, the text in craft books is edited, hopefully very carefully, but if you've ever written a sewing pattern you know that it is very easy to accidentally skip a step or jot down dimensions wrong and these are the sorts of things that can only be caught by someone who tries to make each project following your instructions exactly.
When my second book was acquired one of the first things I asked about was pattern testers. I was told what I expected to hear, that there was no budget to pay anyone to test the patterns, but if I wanted to find some volunteers to do it, I could go ahead and do it on my own. Gosh, yes, I certainly did want to!
So a year ago, via Twitter, I rounded up dozens of awesome sewists who sewed the patterns for each chapter as I finished them. I am so very grateful to them for all of their hard work and detailed feedback, especially since they all did it voluntarily.
In my opinion, craft publishers should at the very least ask their authors to find volunteer pattern testers. I've found that there are many generous, highly skilled people out there who are willing to help you make your book as good as it can possibly be.
So how can you know if the patterns in a book you are considering buying have been tested? Some authors will thank their pattern testers in the acknowledgements. But other than that, there is no way to know. Publishers do post Errata for their books on their websites, and you can check there if you are having difficulty with a pattern and suspect a mistake in a book.
A book full of accurate information and well-tested patterns that work every time builds trust between the reader and the author, and between the reader and the publisher. Pattern testing should become a routine and required step in the publication of craft books.
If you are a craft book author, I'd like to know how you handled this issue when you wrote your book. Did your publisher ask for it? Demand it? Help fund it? Did you insist upon it? Are the patterns in your book tested? And I want to hear how you think publishers should handle pattern testing going forward.
And if you are someone who purchases and uses craft books, do you assume that the patterns were tested before publication? Have you found errors? Do you think pattern testing should be part of the publication process? I'd like to hear your thoughts on this issue.
Jessee Maloney says
Im not an author, but I am an obsessive craft book buyer. I just love sitting at my sewing table on Saturday mornings, pulling out a book from my bookshelf and making something, no real thinking involved. It’s great for someone who has to create for her own business to sew an item someone else thought of!
I always assumed the patterns were tested beforehand, but lately there’s just more crafty books than ever before, and WAY more mistakes. its upsetting, b/c I use to preorder almost everything, now I’m very hesitant. my bank account thanks me, but my Saturday mornings are missing out.
I would say about 75% of the craft books I own have at least five patterns that I just can’t get to work. It’s such a waste.
Ouch. As a sewing book author, it’s so incredibly painful to think about errors! Really, I find it physically painful. Ouch.
For my first book, I had an unpaid intern who sewed and reviewed each pattern and for my latest book, I’ve had a wonderful group of volunteer pattern testers. But there are a few errors in 1, 2, 3 Sew. It’s a reality that when a book is written, tested, revised by tech editors, copy editors and then revised again and again, errors are bound to happen. I now accept this as a reality, painful as it is.
Now, there are some publishers that rush to press and their books seem more likely to have mistakes in them. As you sew, you might learn to trust some publishers more than others. I remember that my editor said to me that my first book would be reviewed so thoroughly by them that if there were errors, it would be their fault. While I love to think that, the onus really is on us as authors. We see the final text and even though it’s tiring to read through the book 10 times, it must be done with attention to detail. And pattern testers are essential. Not sure that we’ll ever change the publishing standard of going to press without pattern testers, but we as authors should strive for the elusive perfect book!
And readers — go easy on us! Rashida made a beautiful book with Zakka Style and I know she worked diligently to ensure accuracy, but stuff happens, you know?
It sounds like these books do not have technical editors? Part of a technical editor’s role is not necessarily to make each project – but to read the pattern/sketch/make notes as if he/she is making it from the author’s instructions (even though he/she knows how to insert a zipper, the authors instructions for the task are reviewed and tested if need be). I’d rather buy one well-edited and inspiring book than a bunch of frustrating books – I do hope editors hear this. I think they have in the knitting world. Some knitting publishers are well-known for careful technical editing – and most do publish errata.
I’m someone who sews alot, I now tend to buy patterns from bloggers whose I work I feel I can trust, e.g. Anna from Noodlehead, or Rae (Made by Rae). They give me the confidence that their patterns will work, have been tested and they have always helped if I’ve had a query. I tend to steer away from books unless they come recommended by someone I know who has used it, unless of course I’m just looking for eye candy!
I pattern tested for Ellen’s next book and was delighted to help in that process.
My publisher (Stash Books) did recommend it. So I rounded up some people to test several of the patterns – not all, but many. My technical editor even tested the main doll pattern (and she had never made a doll before). And I had a more experienced doll maker test that pattern.
I think it’s a little tricky with stuffed toys. When 10 people follow a placemat pattern, they’re going to end up with a similar looking finished product. But when 10 people sew up a toy…there is more variety. Some people stuff more/some less, some people place features differently, etc. There is more variation – and I actually like that. Or maybe that’s just what I notice.
Rachel L. says
Yes, yes, yes. I am more prone to checking out craft books at the library before purchasing them, and boy have I been glad of that several times.
I didn’t know what an errata page was until once I was in the middle of putting together an apron from a craft book, after hours of enlarging and piecing together the pattern from the miniaturized version in the book, and things just weren’t fitting together. I did a google search to see in anyone else had mentioned a problem with the pattern and stumbled across the publisher’s website and the errata page for the book I was working from.
I laughed hysterically when I saw the sheer length of mistakes in that one book, most of them involving the percentage at which the patterns should be enlarged. Not exactly a small detail. How frustrating for people all over the globe buying or checking out this book, and not knowing what they are in for. I always check reviews before buying craft books.
Wow. I’ve always assumed that the patterns are tested before publication. That this isn’t routine is surprising. Academic books are peer reviewed before publication — always. That too is a specialized market that requires an additional and different layer of accuracy than editorial.
Eye opening post!
Stitched Together says
As a craft book buyer, I always assumed that the patterns would always be tested. I think that is coming from a knitting pattern point of view, which are generally tested. Nearly all of my self published knitting patterns are tested. (Only the first couple I did are not.) This is done by volunteers, but I always assumed people who got book deals got a budget for testers. Since having patterns tested, and having glaring errors, that I had just mentally skipped over, pointed out to me, I don’t think I would dare release a pattern without testing.
I think another issue is time! I have 5 months to design and make all of the projects in my new book, plus type the manuscript. In order to get my work to testers (who, in all fairness would need a couple weeks to finish), and integrate their feedback, I’d need to finish *everything* at least a month earlier! Gasp!
It’s quite a pickle!
Time is huge factor here. 5 month to make all original designs and write the entire book is so short and crocheted softies take a long time to make. It certainly is a pickle!
I think it is entirely possible to write a book in which every pattern is tested, but the author has to have the confidence to tell the publisher that this is what they will be doing, and has to take the initiative to get it done. But we first need to talk openly about this as a problem and make one another aware of its existence. When new crafters get book deals they'll know what's needed.
I like the parallel between craft books and academic books. I think another parallel can be drawn between craft books and cookbooks. We have a cookbook in our house that is in shreds because the recipes were clearly not tested and after one particularly dreadful night of cooking a failed dinner it got thrown across the room…Not a pretty site.
I totally agree. The pattern testers for my new book made toys that were uniquely their own, while still following my instructions exactly. That's one of the magical things about dolls and stuffed animals. They come alive and they are all so unique, even when made from the same pattern. Good for you for having your patterns tested, and good for Stash for having a technical editor make the main doll pattern. Your book looks so beautiful! I can't wait to get a copy!
Wow, that apron sounds super frustrating. The sizing of pattern templates is a subject near and dear to my heart. At some point I will write an entire blog post just about pattern templates that need to be enlarged by 139%. Argh. And I'll tell the story of what I went through to get full-sized pattern templates in my new book. It's a good story, if you're interested in pattern templates. Which I am.
Wendi Gratz says
For my first book I wasn’t allowed to review the actual pattern pages. I was assured that several editors had reviewed it and were sure that there were no problems. Guess what? There’s a mistake that would have been caught if just one person had tried to actually trace the pattern. I’ll never make that mistake again and will always insist on seeing EVERY page of the book – not just the ones they can send me digitally.
My new book is teaching kids to sew softies. Not only was every pattern tested – they were tested BY KIDS. This is one of the aspects of the book that makes me the most proud. I can’t wait for it to come out!
Rachel L. says
Can’t wait to read that one, Abby!
Patterns could easily be tested after the initial project writing steps but what about the final edits with all the image steps and corrections in place? really after the final proof (which is what will appear in the book for folk to follow) is signed off there seems to be no time as the book if off to print? it would mean publishers completely changing the way they do things and making room for this in the editing process. Really interesting blog post abby.
As Alice and i co-write we are contantly testing each others patterns but we would welcome independant testers.
Our new book is a sewing project book for children and will be out in march 2012. Many of the projects in this book were tested at our sewing classes by our young friends.
Our adult sewing group have made many of the projects from our first book Sew Fabulous fabric and the only error we have had feedback on is our Silas the dog softie. It says cut 1 when it should say cut 2 of the underside body piece.
The zakka style sew a long is a great idea. i am off to investigate now.
So get this: when I wrote Warm Fuzzies in 2006, I designed and sewed 25 projects in 4 months! None of the patterns were tested (I had no idea such things were done) and there was no tech editor. The up side was that every project was more or less “re-made” on camera for the step by step photos, so that probably helped. To my knowledge there are only 2 tiny mistakes in that book! (errata posted on my Flickr group for the book) A few years later for Sewing Green, I had a kick-ass tech editor. Mostly she kicked MY ass. She didn’t sew any projects but talk about a fine tooth comb. STC hired her and she was worth every penny. There has only been one mistake to my knowledge and that was a pattern piece measurement.
I have all of my sewing patterns that I produce test sewn by at least 2 testers plus proofed by a copy editor. I will definitely be testing projects in any books I do in the future! It has become part of the long labor of love that is pattern designing!
lucykate crafts... says
i have to be honest and say testing the patterns in my book didn’t even come up while i was writing it. i suppose, each pattern was tested by me as i made the prototype, does that count? ; )
as far as i’m aware, there are no mistakes in ‘countryside softies’, and at the technical editing stage, there were also hardly any changes made other than to americanise the wording (american publisher, and i’m british, from liverpool to be exact!). my background most definitely helped though. over the 12 years i worked for coats crafts uk, i must have written instructions for hundreds of designs, so as i’m designing a new softie, i’m constantly thinking of it in terms of ‘how can i explain that simply?’ or ‘will a less experienced stitcher be able to replicate this?’
i suspect in an ideal world, publishers would take time out to pattern test, but time and money mean most don’t.
Alison Schmidt says
While I can’t really speak to your first point that bloggers don’t publish negatively critical (or perhaps you might say honest?) reviews of craft books, but your discussion about pattern testing in craft-based sewing books is a big interest of mine.
I am a technical editor, at C&T Publishing (publishers of Zakka Style). I can tell you that we do truly edit our books technically—in fact, two times. Two different people go through the instructions for each project. The technical editor is a completely different role than a traditional editor—my background is in sewing, not journalism.
With quilts, the flat construction means the majority of technical editing is math. We make sure all the cutting sizes are correct and add up to the required yardage, clarify instructions, and so forth.
With 3-dimensional projects like bags, clothes, and hats, the technical editing and testing is more complex., When we can’t determine a project’s correctness based on the author’s instructions, we mock it up in paper. If necessary, we do it again in material. This is the same process that professional fashion designers and costume designers use to develop their products. You can even see the post I wrote here http://www.stashbooksblog.com/2012/04/we-wear-many-hats/ about my pattern testing of the hats in our book Hat Shop. The post might be humorous but I was completely serious when I mocked up the hats to make sure all the pieces worked.
I have not worked for any other publishers, so I can’t make any blanket statements about the percentage of craft books having patterns tested or not, but I can definitely tell you that we spend a lot of time—and money—to make our books as accurate as possible. We care deeply about the usability of all of our products and the success of our readers. Are we perfect? Definitely not. To that end, we list errata (errors) for all our books on our website and, unlike some other publishers, we keep the errata there even when it’s been corrected on newer printings: http://www.ctpub.com/client/client_pages/corrections.cfm.
Thank you for your time and using your blog to host interesting conversations that may improve our industry (and hobby) as a whole.
yes, they should be tested. If I am paying for a book, I expect that the information is correct. It annoys me to no end to find mistakes within a book and then to waste good fabric because there is a mistake, which has happen to me on a couple of occasions.
There are plenty of people out there who are willing to test out patterns for you, whenever I release a new pattern I ask my readers if someone would like to test it out for me first. The feedback is essential.
Great post, I am glad this issue is being addressed.
Okay, I do know first hand why they often aren’t tested, having worked for a leader in the pattern/craft publishing world. You’re right; the reason for not testing CAN be money (running out of time/up against a deadline/testers too expensive or not available), but it can also be that patterns and books know they are selling INSPIRATION. As the author, you want to sell accurate patterns, but the companies know that 75% of pattern or book sales are customers who HOPE to make the items… someday… but never do. Not only that, many purchasers will never contact the publisher to complain about errors, and when they do, will settle for a gift certificate as compensation. If wildly popular, the publisher has a problem, but that generally doesn’t happen. For this to change, the purchasers have to start contacting the publishers to complain about inaccurate instructions and errors, and request refunds for projects AND wasted materials.
I think it's awesome that you are having patterns for your kids book tested by kids! What could be better! I'm so glad this second book is coming together just as you had envisioned. You deserve the best, Wendi!
Wow, I hadn't thought of that, but you are so right. The real testing needs to be from the book when it is complete and ready to go to press. But of course, at that stage there is no time left at all. I think self-publishing has a real advantage here in that we have complete control of our patterns from start to finish. And because they are digital, if errors are found it is possible to make changes. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective here.
Having the opportunity to work with a truly experienced and professional tech editor is one of the really great things that can come out of writing a craft book. The learning curve as an author is really incredible. Working with someone who goes through your instructions and points out every single inconsistency is so valuable. Also, writing two books is a great thing 🙂 Once you've been through it once you know what you need to ask for and you have the confidence to go out there and get what you need to create a great book.
Thank you for sharing the perspective of an insider here. I really appreciate it. Your job as a technical editor is so important, and I know it isn't easy. A great technical editor can teach a sewing book author so much and can make a book worth owning. I'm really glad that this topic is now on the table and open for discussion and I hope that going forward new authors will be sure to ask about technical editing as well as pattern testers for their books.
I'm glad, too. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective here!
Selling aspiration. I think that's the basis of magazine sales, too. Looking at fashion models, or beautiful interiors, or even luscious photos of food that's too complicated to cook at home – we want these images to look at and to be inspired. We might try a tip or two, or a recipe now and again, but really it's aspirational. When it comes to sewing books, I want more than that. The general public might be okay with aspiration, but I think there is a pretty large population of home sewists who really want quality projects with accurate instructions.
I experienced the same thing you mentioned at the beginning. And more than once in the same book! I googled it and found an errata page. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. I trusted that the patterns were tested. I don’t anymore. And I make sure I read everything first. And look for an errata page on the internet. A little surfing before hand can make a happy experience.
Hey, if you ever need pattern testers again, I would be gad to try for you!
Thank you so much, Amanda! I just may take you up on that!
mimi k says
When I contributed a few patterns for a book, I had the patterns tested before I submitted them. Then, when I was sent copy to review, I was taken aback to see that the pattern instructions were re-written and the pattern pieces redrawn. There were many mistakes and steps were left out- edited so the pattern would fit the “look” and “voice” of the book. I was able to spot many of the errors but it was harder to detect them when I was coming at it from the back end. It was really discouraging.
You point out another important aspect of pattern testing and of contributing to collaborative books. As mentioned in a comment above, the ideal time for pattern testing is really after the book is finished and ready to go to press. Of course there's no time at that stage. I'm sorry you had that experience and I think it does point again to the advantage of self-publishing.
Melissa H says
I actually volunteered as a pattern tester for a publisher. I do it for free other than they send me the needed fabric and notions plus some extra fabric for me. I have only tested one pattern and was flabbergasted at the errors. The directions were extremely confusing and there was at least one measurement error. I sent back a page of comments. It was an interesting experience. I assumed all books were tested like that. I also pattern tested for wee wonderfuls ( one of her self published patterns) and it was near perfect when I tested. In return I got copies of the final printed patterns.
I’m actually in the process of reviewing tech edits on my 2nd book tonight. I really love that my publisher, Andrews McMeel has multiple eyes on a project. Ultimately the pattern testing rests on my shoulders, it’s the part of writing I stress out on the most. Figuring out how much a pattern should be enlarged to go from a set page to the copy machine is a head wrecker and I’m super grateful that the design department calculates this for me. That said, I do check those measurements again off the final proof.
With both my books I’ve invited friends over for craft nights and given everyone a set of instructions and a couple stiff drinks. I’m not allowed to answer any questions and my friends are supposed to make notes where the text is confusing or something doesn’t work out. This has been a super fun way to wrap up the writing process and I really learn what folks are drawn to making.
My latest book has crochet patterns which is a new thing for me, I put a call out for pattern testers on twitter and had a couple folks sign up to make things and send photos. I’m so, so glad they did, turns out I had some big adjustments to make and they had super helpful instructions. Both my testers lived in the UK and they offered me conversion tips as well. They get a huge thank you in the front of my book.
Caroline B says
As an experienced crafter, I am always amazed by some books whose instructions and patterns would be incomprehensible to a newcomer. I bought a certain knitting pattern book of miniature dogs – I found the making-up instructions totally incomprehensible and had to wing it most of the time and then found the finished article did not look as good as the photos in the book – and I make miniature knitted animals for a living, so I am not a total amateur. It is a crying shame for someone to buy the book, buy the materials and then get totally disheartened by an untested pattern. I am surprised to learn that patterns are not tested first.
Someone mentioned recipes – my son’s girlfriend works on a major British cookery magazine and told us that a certain percentage of the recipes printed are untested and pretty much guaranteed to fail, going on the premise that people will not bother trying every recipe in the magazine and if it fails, they will blame themselves rather than the recipe. Seems a very cynical and mercenary way of working.
By the way, I found your Artful Birds book a pleasure to work from, my only difficulty was the slight difference between American & British vernacular and that some products mentioned are unobtainable here, but that was easily dealt with by using alternatives.
I had no idea that book patterns could be published un-tested, I was lucky enough to be working for Nicole Mallalieu when she wrote her You Sew Girl book, and each pattern was tested by multiple sewers of differing skill level. I just assumed that this was the case for all craft books. Thanks for the enlightenment!
Claire - Matching Pegs says
I’ve had this same problem with patterns of mine that have been published in a national magazine here in Oz.
When put into the standard magazine format, and edited, sometimes important details can be cut.
It IS really hard to get your head around the changes, to check how your pattern has been edited (and cut) because it is usually a really tight print deadline, to check the proof for a magazine.
That being said, I write very wordy (but precise) patterns, and I really do need a good editor to help me be more concise!
the Crafter's Apprentice says
It seems you’ve already read my opinion on this! I always thought all patterns would be tested, they usually are if you buy a pdf pattern online so why not in a craft book. The excuse of a budget is rubbish, most authors have blogs and followers and most of us would love to test patterns… for free… to help out and just for the joy of knowing you’ve got a free pattern! Publishers need to get on top of that. Rashida had offers from loads of us to test for her new book, I extend that offer to you, I’m available to test patterns for any craft writer at all (except quilt, that’s too much of an outlay for me!).
Thank you so much for your offer to test patterns! We have such a giving, generous community. It's really wonderful that people like you are willing to lend their time and skills to helping other designers perfect their patterns.
Thank you for your nice words about The Artful Bird, Caroline!
Shawn, Having a craft party night is a great idea! For a book of projects that are meant to be achieved in just a few hours, this is perfect. And getting the perspective of crafters in the UK, or in Australia, is a terrific idea, too.
I like the model that Hillary used. Asking testers to test patterns after the patterns have been edited and polished is a good idea because otherwise you are really asking the pattern tester to become an editor and that's not fair. To get a copy of the print pattern in return is really nice, too. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Melissa.
I thought of cook books too. But I did know that they tended to be “tested” only by the writers because I’ve also had the frustrating cooking experience you’ve described (minus the flung book!)
You know what we need here? A Cooks Illustrated style extensive test lab for patterns.
(Although I suppose that that’s what pattern review sites are for.)
I would actually be more likely to buy a craft/sewing/project book that had “tested by dozens” emblazoned across the front.
Feed Dog says
As a former book editor, a freelance tech editor for craft books and magazines, and an author at work on my first book (with the same publisher as Artful Bird), I can see a lot of the different angles here. And they all agree with the point made above that the right time to test patterns is just before going to press. So many hands are in a book as it comes together–editors, designers, copyeditors, proofreaders, and all their cohorts–and they all (hopefully) share the goal of making a great, accurate book, but each new set of hands can unintentionally introduce errors as easily as they can correct them. Even if an author’s manuscript is technically spotless when submitted, it’s a whole other text by the time it’s edited, illustrated, laid out, and printed. And there are so many ways in which even the errors that somebody does catch in time can still get overlooked before going to press.
I don’t see the already slow publishing industry building preprint testing time into schedules. As others have noted, it’s become the norm for online pattern downloads to be tested. Print publishers are always telling us their quality standards are higher (or at least more uniform) than what’s available online–maybe that isn’t so true anymore?
You’re posts are so insightful, Abby! I find myself here via One Pretty Thing and Craft Gossip; they regularly highlight your posts.
This post is no exception. I’ve knitted for over 10 years and one thing’s for sure: my knitting did not really take off until I tapped into the online knitting community (all thanks to Ravelry!) and found that independent designers – i.e. one-off patterns and e-books – were far superior to pattern books. This is mainly due to the real-time access to the designer and the constant feedback available via other knitters. Perhaps this is due to one less step in getting the patterns to the consumers, thus less opportunities for things to get lost in translation?
But this is not to say that single patterns through independent designers are superior to books. And although there may not be a site like Ravelry for the sewing world, (although Etsy has a robust pattern category and Flickr provides the gallery experience, plus links to blogs and such) the network of blogs is amazing if you think about it, and basically creates the same connectivity (and by extension, it offers designers more opportunity to self-publish patterns via their blogs and also gain exposure.) and feedback. Ok, I sound like I *am* in fact saying that online patterns are superior – I’m not trying to! Plus, I’m rambling off-topic. 🙂 Back to the main point, it appears that designers – such as with the Zakka book, mentioned here – are making themselves more available and open to feedback and clarification, which is so awesome.
An earlier poster made a point about the need for timely feedback to the publishers regarding errors. Any publisher that wants to stay ahead of the curve will pick up on how important testing is to their audience and would find themselves a loyal following over time. I could see myself saying, “Oh! My favorite designer, So-and-so, has a new book and it is published by Such-and-such and they are both fastidious about testing. I can trust their books to be accurate.”
It’s been far to long of a day for coherent blog commenting (I guess I’m guilty of not editing – ha!) so I hope this makes a lick of sense. 🙂
Kathy C says
I have purchased and tried to use a number of independent designers’ sewing patterns for various kinds of garments as well as accessories. Some are very well done with accurate illustrations and step by step directions. Other times I think that some of the directions are written by the creator of the outfit or pocketbook, etc. afterwards but the new creation is not replicated again with the directions. Steps are left out or out of sequence. It is frustrating to pay top dollar for these patterns and find out that there may be multiple mistakes and head scratching instructions. I also would be willing to test patterns.
Hi Abbyjane ~ I was one of the people who made all the patterns from the Zakka book. Great projects, but as you know, many of the patterns were just no good. I mean wrong measurements is inexcusable, I think.
I have also suggested, to have the patterns tested. Always. I don’t understand how people actually want their patterns to be published if they are not ‘perfect’. I would really feel ashamed. Are they that confident?
I am a tester myself for a lady who designs bags and quilts. She always has her patterns tested by two or more and sometimes even then a small mistake can turn up. But, she did do everything to prevent it.
So, I would gladly test a pattern for you. For free. I would feel honored and I think many others would too.
So, good luck and maybe you will contact me …
Lucienne Schroepfer says
Wonderful blog– Thank you. The Zakka sew along I also thought was fantastic– to motivate me to sew– to allow me to share frustrations with some of the patterns (i was respectful– I think.. ) and YES I did think patterns were tested– and when I come across one that doesn’t seem right– I am usually thinking I am doing something wrong. I will recommend and have recommended the Zakka book to many people despite the errors– because of the sew along that went with it– Because there is so much to learn from going through the book now– and looking at the discussions and photos. I wish more publishers and authors would do this same process with new books. I often also wonder if what people need in terms of testers– is NOT to nesc. just pass the instructions to experienced folks– but to pass it to Newbies– to people like myself– (well actually I’m not such a newbie) — When i get stuck–and I call a friend– they come in and show me how they would do it– usually ignoring the instructions… INSTEAD– I would like instructions to be written for people in a way that we don’t have to skip or re-invent– even if we think we know what we are doing. I also very much appreciate the craft and sewing authors who will add notes to their instructions ahead of times showing ways one can possibly alter a pattern. Again thanks for your blog entry I hope publishing companies will read this– and ultimately– think of affordable ways to prevent mistakes and make their books more usable by everyone.
as someone who buys books I would assume the patterns are well tested – better so than pdf patterns and such. I would even gladly volunteer to test! It should be a must.
When I first started sewing I purchased two paper patterns from a very well known and prominent figure in the craft world. I figured I was just an inexperienced sewer because neither pattern worked correctly for me. But years later I’ve gone back and realize that they were printed incorrectly! I was shocked because one of the mistakes was so obviously wrong how could they not catch it?! It’s sad and frustrating. I can’t imagine writing a book is any easy feat, and I feel like if you’re going to put that much time and effort and money into something it might as well be done correctly. I know a few bloggers who ask for pattern testers on Facebook and get more volunteers than they can use! If it’s that easy (and free!) I definitely feel like book authors need to get pattern testers. It’s the least they could do for the people who are paying their salary!!
And I thought it was just me! Last year I sent a note to UK craft magazine editor explaining what was wrong and missing in a dress pattern that I had tried to make… I heard nothing but I know that a sewer with lesser skills would have wasted three metres of fabric. However it is not just sewing, pretty much the same thing happens in knitting too… there is a UK designer who is infamous for her errata slips, my LYS will not sell her books until they arrive! I just do not remember this happening with books and patterns when I was growing up.
I write a weekly tutorial on my blog, I try to write as I go along, it drives home a comment that was made to me many years ago when we were looking at reading ages of various styles of writing… technical writing is not only the most difficult to read, I now know it is the most difficult to write! 🙂 If you could see me on a Sunday morning, cutting, measuring and then re-measuring you would know that writers really do care. If I am doing a knitting pattern, I get my sister to check it out and to critique the patterns… she pulls no punches, perhaps I should rent her out.
Thank you for shining a light on this.
I don’t normally leave comments but after reading this post I was compelled to give my two cents! As a compulsive crafter and a book lover I have forked over more money than I would like to think for tons of different craft books. I really had no idea that a lot of the patterns in these types of books weren’t peer reviewed! It is so frustrating to get into a project only to get totally tied up by following the pattern! I understand that mistakes happen and that’s OK every once in a while, but to have to completely scrap a project multiple times from the same book and/or author should be unacceptable! I buy those types of books for the patterns. If the patterns don’t work you’re looking at a $20 coaster or paper weight.
Thanks for the eye-opening post!
Not an author – but a consumer who got zinged by an error in a pattern. It was online, it was free – but still the dimension error cascaded through the ENTIRE project and none of it was salvageable (it was a quilt top)… at least not for that particular project anyway.
The lesson I learned from that is “make a test block first” but with some craft patterns, that doesn’t work and once you cut, you are committed.
Very good post.
Your argument in favor of pattern testing is certainly valid. I had the patterns tested by three other people when I was writing my book for C&T/ Stash, in addition to the two technical edits done on my manuscript by the publisher. And stil there were mistakes in the first printing and that’s my responsibility. It’s an awful feeling to know there’s an error in your book because you know that work is a reflection of you.
I’m not sure I understand, though, why you felt it necessary to single out Rashida and her book. If you want to talk about the general trend of craft book errors, it’s easy enough to find a sampling to support your argument. Focusing on one author’s book just seems mean. (and I’d say the same about anyone singled out in this fashion — and did when someone singled out Heather Ross — so I’m not just saying ths because I am friends with Rashida.
I'm so sorry you feel this way, Mary. I really don't intend to single out Rashida's book or Rashida herself. She is a friend, too. I tried my best to talk about the process of having a book published overall, and to present my own book as an example of this issue as well. I'm apologize if you felt my words were mean. It certainly is not my intention to be mean to anyone here, or anywhere. Thank you for sharing your honest perspective. I really do appreciate that and I hope only to nudge the publishing industry to make a positive change.