Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Some people read the instructions and some people don't

Vintage sari silk from my grandmother's wardrobe
I'm a lone* instruction reader in a family of people who think the little booklet that came with their new camera was just recyclable box-padding. We have a lot of conversations like this:
Relation: "How did you know how to do that?"
Me: "I read the instructions."
Relation: "I'm trying to do this but it's coming out all wrong."
Me: "Maybe you should read the instructions."
Relation: "My [gadget] doesn't do that."
Me: "Did you read the instructions?"
and sometimes
Dad: "I was just trying to do [something almost certainly warned against in the instructions] and this [probably essential] piece broke off so I joined it back on with Blu-tack/Sellotape/a clothes peg. Cool, huh?"
Me: "Yep."
But occasionally instructions let me down. One of my birthday presents last week was a narrow hemmer foot for my Brother sewing machine. It came with instructions in seven languages, given in eight steps plus tips and diagrams. I read them. Then I tried to sew a narrow hem. It involved pulling the thread ends through the fiddly little curl in the foot, as per the diagram that really doesn't show you how to do that. I gave up and went to bed just before sewing machine abuse became necessary.
The next day, I turned to Youtube (WHAT did we do before the internet?), where Erica from a sewing machine shop in Ontario, Canada and Niler Taylor in Georgia, USA (who has cut herself on a pin) showed me exactly how to use a narrow hemmer foot. Brother have their own video with muzak and an extra step that's not in my instructions, but the method shown in the other videos is much better.
Brother instructions vs Youtube
The foot does all the work and makes a truly tiny hem - it's about 3mm wide. I plan to use it to make scarves from some of the old saris that my grandmother's handed down to me; they all have weak spots in the silk so I wouldn't dare use them for garments (one sudden movement could cause an underwear revelation) although the colours and prints are still lovely.
Thread tension not quite right, I know
While I'm talking about instructions I must mention (as ever!) Florence, whose Practical Guide to Machine Appliqué came in handy a few weeks ago when Boyfriend asked me to add some numbers to the back of a retro football shirt. I find that a lot of instructions have important information missing, presumably to keep them short, but Florence is not the sort to confuse clarity with brevity. She tells you everything you need to know; the instructions aren't waffly or long-winded, they're just complete. Florence very sweetly sent me a free copy of her e-book when she published it (it was meant for my mum, actually, but we all know what she's like with instructions...), but had I paid £3 for it I'd feel that I'd got an excellent bargain.
The white fabric was cut from an old t-shirt
This was only my second attempt at machine appliqué, and it was jersey-on-jersey with lots of curves, so a bit of a challenge, but it turned out OK. Having just read Sarai's thoughtful post about perfectionist sewing I compared my work to another shirt Boyfriend has with a number that was sewn on when he bought it (you can pay extra to have them do this), and that made me feel better  - the professionals apparently don't even bother to zig-zag their appliqué, it's just sewn on with a straight stitch and the edges left to get scruffy.
Sorry about lighting - very gloomy here today
Lastly, more bad instructions. After seeing some lovely versions of the Wiksten Tulip skirt on Flickr, and having enjoyed the Tova pattern so much, I decided to buy the pattern from Interweave (if you're shopping there, do search for a discount code - I found one that worked). I already knew that there were errors, because Jenny Gordy has corrections on her blog. But the instructions are still pretty unclear and there are no diagrams at all! I don't think any of this is the designer's fault, it looks more like a desperate editing failure. (In fact, Jenny sent a very helpful reply to my email about the placket pieces - in case anyone else is still confused, they should be attached just like the placket pieces on the Tova shirt, showing on the outside and with all raw edges enclosed, and the buttonholes should be in the right hand placket as you're wearing the skirt.)
On top of that, my printed pieces won't line up at all. Each page is smaller at the left hand margin than the right. Has anyone else had that problem, or is it just my printer? I complained to Interweave and they gave me a refund but no advice, so the pattern hasn't cost me anything but it's still crooked and I still want to make a skirt. I've got my babycord washed and ironed but I don't trust my wonky taped pattern enough to take the scissors to it...

*: In fact I have found another instruction reader to pair up with and he reads instruction manuals cover to cover. For fun, I think. I'm an instructions lightweight by comparison.