I saw a thread on a not-to-be-named knitting forum yesterday that left me saddened and shaking my head. One knitter (Knitter A) posted that she’d been looking at pictures of another knitter’s (Knitter B) projects. Knitter A had noticed that Knitter B twisted her stitches. Knitter B had also made the comment that, for some reason, she tended to use more yarn than the pattern called for. Well, Knitter A posted that because she was such a better and smarter knitter, she knew that twisted stitches used more thread. Obviously, Knitter B was an idiot, and Knitter A intended to start a thread calling her out by name for being so stupid and advising Knitter B to give up knitting all together.
The responses were fairly evenly divided, although those who advised Knitter A to say nothing were in the minority. What if Knitter B was a beginner? they asked. You might absolutely devastate her by doing this! Some declared that they didn’t care how nicely someone pointed out a mistake in their work, they didn’t want to hear any advice. It would just hurt their feelings so much.
The majority agreed that, ok, you should say something–but for pete’s sake, don’t hurt her feelings! You can only point out mistakes if you are very, very careful with your phrasing. In fact, be apologetic about contacting her in the first place. Tell her all your knitting horror stories about all the mistakes you’ve made first, so she doesn’t think you’re trying to flaunt your superiority. And don’t forget to start and end with a compliment!
Now, here’s the scary part–the above is only half true: the second half. What Knitter A actually posted was that she’d seen twisted stitches in Knitter B’s finished projects and seen her note about using extra yarn, and since she knew that twisted stitches used more yarn, she was thinking of sending Knitter B a personal message to suggest that might be something to look into. But from the responses, you’d think she’d planned to take out an ad in a nationwide newspaper to make fun of Knitter B’s knitting pretentions.
When did we enter a world where offering helpful advice became an offense equated to making fun of a classmate’s glasses or uncool clothing in middle school? A world where we needed to treat each other’s egos like overripe bananas lest we bruise them beyond repair? A world where “if you don’t have anything nice to say…” stopped meaning “don’t be cruel” and started meaning “don’t ever say anything that anyone else might disagree with, even if it’s constructive criticism”?
I guess I’m naive…because, you see, I thought the point of internet forums for knitting (and other crafts) was to share. Share your thoughts, your ideas, your triumphs, and yes, your failures. Share your tips, your experience, your mistakes, and your advice. Possibly one of the saddest comments I read on the thread was from a knitter who said she was actually afraid to post pictures of her own projects for fear that someone might criticize them. Are you kidding me? It is truly depressing that someone’s self-worth is so closely defined by their knitting projects that they would actually be afraid of criticism.
I post my finished projects on that unnamed knitting forum. I’ve posted the Suede Booties I made my niece that I was so proud of. I posted the first socks I ever made, although they were nothing more than tiny, shapeless tubes. I posted Lexie’s Fiesta Jumper, which didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted it to. And I posted Lexie’s Red Shoes, an utter disaster that I had to frog.
Someone actually marked the Fiesta Jumper as a favorite despite its faults. I certainly appreciated the vote of confidence, but I would have been just as appreciative of a personal message–or even a comment on the project that others could see–saying, “Hey, let me offer you some advice…” In fact, I would prefer it on the project page so that others could benefit too. And posting my disasterous shoes was one of the best things I could have done, because I found someone else who’d had the same problem and posted about it. Because we both had our projects on the forum, we were able to compare our experiences, put our heads together, and determine what we’d done wrong.
In the end, I thought that’s what these internet communities were supposed to be all about. Yes, certainly, a main part of it is to encourage each other. But encourage doesn’t mean telling someone “You’re doing great; keep up the good work!” when that person is unknowingly knitting a sleeve for an adult sweater that a toddler couldn’t get his arm through. Encouragement also means sharing our own hard-earned experience so that we all don’t have to make the exact same mistakes as everyone else. For the love of the knitting gods and goddesses, don’t be intimidated and insulted by people who simply have more knowledge and experience than you! Embrace them! And, by the same deities, if you’re one of those lucky people who has that experience and knowledge, please, please share with those of us less well-endowed. I’m jinniver on all the knitting forums–please don’t shy away from giving me unsolicited advice. I’ll be thrilled to get it.
People helping others reach their full potential–that’s what a community is all about. And it can’t happen in a vacuum.