Errata – the bane of my life (part 1)

I wish that I could sit here and tell you that there will never be an error in any of the patterns we publish. We strive for our patterns and tutorials to be errata-free, every day. But the reality is that we are human, and knitting patterns are surprisingly complex.

I thought it would be interesting to tell you a bit about our process for avoiding mistakes in our patterns, and then I’ll do another post which tells you what we do when we do find an error. I don’t know about you, but I’m generally more interested in how people and businesses deal with their mistakes than I am in expecting zero mistakes in the first place. That’s not to say we don’t strive for perfection. We absolutely do! But we also recognise that dealing with them honestly and promptly is vital.

How we avoid mistakes…

What follows is not an exhaustive list, but it aims to give you a flavour of the care we take.

Firstly, we work with established designers. As a really tiny business that provides the only income for our family, we have to be risk-averse. It’s not to say that we never work with newer designers, but in order to keep our workload manageable, we prefer to mostly work with designers who have a proven track record of reliable pattern writing. The better the first pattern text is, the lower the chance of a mistake making it through to publication.

When the pattern files arrive in the office, I work through to edit them to our house style, and I redraw any charts and schematics. This is a vital step in creating a good pattern-reading experience for the customer, but there is always a chance that an error gets introduced at this stage. I also run a thorough check on the numbers in the pattern to ensure that everything adds up and will create knitted fabric in the correct dimensions. I check for clarity in the written instructions, and all of the details within the code of the pattern. Are the RS/WS labels correct? Will the pattern components line up correctly? And many other similar checks. At this stage I often add written instructions to complement the charts, since we know that many knitters appreciate having both options. Although I work meticulously through this process, it is absolutely possible that I transcribe something incorrectly.

Once the initial editing process is complete, the edited (but not yet laid out) files are returned to the designer for their approval. They check through the changes, and ensure that they are happy with our chart files and the new pattern instructions.

The pattern then has a second full technical editing process, with a different technical editor. They run a second check on all of the numbers, check the written instructions against any charts, check that the charts are correct, and they work through all of the pattern details with a fresh pair of eyes.

Simultaneously, I commence knitting a sample from the edited pattern instructions, and when possible, we have a preview knitter who also works from the edited pattern. I knit my sample in order to have a sample to use for our tutorials. Whilst I can catch almost every type of error at my computer by doing maths and thought experiments, I find that knitting at least some of the design helps me to get an extra level of confidence in the instructions. Having a preview knitter work from the edited pattern can also help to catch the finer points of the instructions.

The pattern files are then passed over to our lovely graphic designer, Nic, who lays out the pattern pdf files. She is also a knitter and understands how to place things on page to make them easier to work from. She combines the document with the written instructions, the photographs and any chart and schematic files into one InDesign file from which a pdf is created.

I then do a second full check on the pdf file. It’s interesting what details jump out when I look at the file in a different format. Having it set out with photos and all the nicely presented details sometimes helps me to spot different things that need adjusting. It is though possible for errors to creep in at the layout stage. A line can be omitted off the bottom of a set of instructions, or a chart can be missed out. It’s important at this point to be checking that everything that should be there is there! It is also possible that at this stage an error is introduced. For example, in the past I have found a mistake on a chart at this point, and corrected it. But in correcting the chart, the written instructions no longer match, and so an error can slip through the net. It’s vital at this point that if changes are made, any knock-on implications are recognised and addressed.

Once I’ve marked up any changes on the pdf, it goes back to Nic for the changes to be made. I then check that the changes have been applied correctly. For bigger books there can be a few rounds to this process.

Once I am happy that the pdf file is pretty close to finished, I send each designer a copy of the laid out pattern for a second check from their end. At this stage our copy editor also runs a full check on the text.

I then mark up any final changes from everyone, and send them back to Nic to make adjustments. I then check again that all changes have been correctly applied.

Image © Jesse Wild

Image © Jesse Wild

For even a simple pattern, there are a lot of possible points at which errors can either be missed or introduced. One of the biggest difficulties is that human brains are exquisitely good at correcting for what they expect to see. So until you spot a mistake, it is almost invisible, but once you’ve seen it, it’s all you can see. And this is exactly what has happened with this month’s lovely Heartgyle Socks. In a good example of an introduced error, stitch 23 of chart row 24 should be pink, but it is currently pale blue. I’ve looked at that chart so many times, and didn’t see the mistake until just a day too late to avoid the embarrassment, and inconvenience to everyone knitting from the pattern. I’m so sorry!

Errata are without doubt the thing that I find hardest about my job. They affect me far more than I am actually prepared to admit. They are the bane of my editing life, and I’ll never stop working to improve our systems and eliminate as many of the possibilities for introducing errors as possible. If I could wave a magic wand and make mistakes in knitting patterns disappear, I would!

I’ll be back tomorrow to talk a bit about our systems for dealing with mistakes when they happen. Until then, I hope that your knitting is frustration-free.