Q. When is a picture NOT worth a thousand words?
A. When it is a BFL (Big Fat Lie).
One of my biggest knitting peeves is photography in knitting publications that is a deliberate misrepresentation of the article in question. (A close second is "artsy" photography, at the expense of seeing what the garment actually looks like.)
The most common photography trick I see is when they take a sweater that has no side shaping whatsoever — usually billed as "easy to knit" somewhere in the description (which it is) — and make it look as if it is shaped. This is easily accomplished by wadding up a bunch of the extra material behind the model’s back and simply securing it with a rubber band or a clip. Voila! Curves!
You can see this being done all the time in retail, on the mannequins. But at least when shopping retail, where you can go try on the item, you have a fighting chance. Not so for the knitter, who picks a project based on the pretty picture, and finds herself with a finished garment that isn’t what she thought it would be — or worse, an unfinished garment!
On top of that, I imagine a knitter who knits up one of these garments, tries it on, looks in the mirror, and then, disappointed, sadly figures that the reason it doesn’t look like it did on the model is her own fault, because she herself isn’t built like a model.
But it can get a lot worse than that. A few years ago now, I heard Kristin Spurkland relate this story of a design she had submitted to a magazine. To the best of my recollection:
She designed a fairly plain pullover with a large, face-framing, standaway collar as the focal point. The magazine paid her for the design, and when the issue came out, she flipped through it looking for her sweater. She didn’t recognize it the first time through. She had to go back through the magazine again, page by page, to find it.
First of all, they had embellished the front of the sweater with a big ol’ snowflake made of white buttons. I remember clearly, and repeat verbatim, what Kristin said: "I’m not dissin’ the snowflake, but it wasn’t my design."
Snowflake, whatever, fine, OK. You could always decide to leave that off. But the unforgiveable part was that they photographed it on a woman who was supposed to be baking cookies or something, flanked by two smiling children, and she was looking down at what she was doing, and her hair hung down over her shoulders and entirely covered the large collar. I saw the picture myself. You couldn’t see the collar at all.
Paraphrasing Kristin’s words, she said she always felt sorry for the poor knitters who went to make what they probably thought was a basic crewneck sweater, and then out of nowhere this big ol’ collar pops up. Even worse, thinking about it now — I am not sure that the collar would even show up on the schematic, if it were something that was to be picked up and worked later. In that case, the knitter would pretty much just be screwed.
I tend to think of magazines as being the big offenders, because they have tighter deadlines, and I suspect when you work at a magazine there’s a certain amount of "oh, well — there’s always the next issue". But lately I see more and more books out there with deceptive photos, lousy information, or just plain mistakes.
One of my students came to class with a question about a baby sweater she was knitting. She had bought a book written by a fairly well-known British designer of children’s knits, and was making a cute little wraparound-style sweater for a 6 month old baby.
The directions had her start by knitting a long, ~2" wide strip — and she was mystified as to what part of the sweater she was doing. The front band, perhaps? I read through the pattern — there was no schematic, for which I think there is just NO EXCUSE in a published knitting book in this day and age — and finally, I told her she was knitting the tie. "What tie?" she asked.
"Well, the ties that go from either side of the waist here and tie in a big bow in the back," I told her.
She was horrified. "But this is for a baby who can’t even sit up yet!" she all but wailed, and I truly think she was near tears.
We all looked at the 2 available pictures in the book. Both of them showed an adorable little blond toddler girl, in a cute pink wraparound sweater, photographed directly from the front, with her arms firmly down at her sides. Absolutely no evidence of the ties. One could go so far as to suggest they might have been deliberately hiding the ties. The one tie that my student had already knitted certainly suggested to me that the bow in the back was going to be enormously bulky and unattractive.
I tried to tell her that she could change the knitted ties to ribbons, or replace them with buttons — either of which would, in effect, give her the sweater she THOUGHT she was knitting. (And why they didn’t do that in the book, I’ll never, ever know. Although one extremely negative possibility is that the addition of the knitted ties means they get to sell you another ball or two of yarn…)
But I could tell from her face that no matter what we did to pick up the pieces, the project was now ruined for her. Here she had trusted the name on the book, spent the money, bought the specified, pricey, designer yarn — and spent a lot of time knitting that stupid tie, to boot. Now she felt betrayed, as if she had been lied to — and frankly, I think she had been.
To date, I have only ever written one review on [Amazon ->], which was about a current knitting book. I wrote it because I felt (and obviously still feel) very strongly about this subject. You can read the whole thing here at Amazon, but I will self-plagiarize the gist of it here:
Too many knitting publishers are now trying to take advantage of the popularity of the sport, and are flooding the market with substandard books. No repercussions occur to them – but I imagine the poor knitter who spends hours of work, and cries tears of frustration – and it makes me angry.
I doubt much of the blame falls on the designers, necessarily. Usually the kinds of decisions that end up causing problems for knitters — to skimp on the proofreading, for example, or to not put in schematics or to doctor a photo — are not in the designer’s hands. They are made to cut costs or meet deadlines, and they are business decisions, made by publishers.
Unfortunately for us, though, it is not going to be the publishers who pay the price for the unethical decisions or the shoddy proofreading. They have made their money, off this hot trendy thing called "knitting" that a large demographic (with money in their pockets!) happens to be interested in, and henceforth they will never give it another thought. Instead it is the knitters who will pay the price, and the teachers like me who will end up consoling them, and trying to rescue something unfortunate. And that is what makes me so very angry.
This hot trendy "knitting" thing is something that I love, that I’ve been doing practically my whole life, and undoubtedly I’ve made a looooong list of unfortunate projects myself. I suppose I am lucky to have cut my teeth on Vogue Knitting when it was in what I think of as its heyday — because 20 years ago, I could always trace my disappointment back to some decision of my own: a poor choice of color combination, or a yarn substitution that had (ahem) unexpected repercussions.
Now that’s changed, and for the newer knitters out there, who may not have my wealth of experience in personal knitting disasters to draw on, well — let’s be careful out there.