On asking for help and offering help

In both sewing and computers, sooner or later there will come a time when things just aren’t working. It usually happens when you are up against a deadline, such as finishing a quilt to be judged or digitizing a gift. What to do? Usually it means going to the Internet to ask for help. That can lead to some of these common mistakes:

  • Being too vague – When you ask a question, be specific. “Why does my thread keep breaking?” has dozens, maybe hundreds of answers but it’s likely that only one of them applies to you. By providing more information, you’re more likely to get a useful answer, without having to go back and forth supplying the information you left out. “I’m sewing a blind hem on my Janome S9. The fabric is lightweight cotton and the thread is some polyester I got from the dollar bin at Walmart.” This will get you an answer quicker, and it will likely be the right one.
  • Using a shotgun approach – Posting your question to every Facebook group you ever joined, as well as all of your email groups, may seem like a good idea. However most of the people in those groups are in multiple groups and it’s irritating if they answer your question in one group, only to see it again in another two or three. This practice, sometimes called “cross-posting”, just clutters up lists. Rather than get you an answer quickly, it may cause some people who might be able to help to just skip over it entirely.
  • Asking for help prematurely – This happens a lot with computer problems. Someone gets an error message in Windows and sends me a screen shot in an email wanting to know what it means. Though I’ve been using computers for more than 50 years, I do not have every possible error and corresponding fix committed to memory. I’ll have to go to Google and search for the text of the message. Do that yourself before asking for help and you may not even need to ask for help.
  • Be courteous – Yes, you are frustrated, desperate, and maybe angry. Even so, it’s rude to grab the latest post in a thread about how to best bind the edge of a quilt and post a reply with “How do I put a buttonhole in velvet?” This annoys everyone in the thread and is not likely to get you a usable answer.
  • Be responsible – Questioner: “My machine is skipping stitches.” Response: “When was it last serviced?” Questioner: “It was right after Bobby’s third birthday. He’s in college now, so that would be …” Clearly this is not a quick-fix question, and the answer is obvious. In a similar manner, if you are using a software package you bought 4 years ago, and you have never updated, you should check for updates first. Software always has bugs, and all responsible publishers provide updates to fix them.
  • Me too! – A post is made asking a question. The first reply is “I have that problem too! What’s the fix?” This doesn’t help the person who asked the question, and now we have two questions to answer, at least potentially. If you have the same problem there’s no need to post it. Just watch the thread for any potential solution. If it doesn’t work for you, then it would be good to re-post the question and note that the fix did not work for you.

Most folks on the Internet are more than willing to offer help. Sometimes that help is not really helpful. Consider these scenarios:

  • Relevancy – The question “Why is the bobbin thread showing on my embroidery?” may get a response like this. “My brother-in-law’s aunt had the same problem, only it was with thread breaking when sewing a leather vest together. She had to use bear grease on the needle.” Not only is this not helpful, it has wasted the time of everyone who bothered to read it.
  • Jumping the gun – I’m on my computer most of the time, because I use it to create and maintain apps. If an email help request comes in I try to respond when it arrives, but sometimes I don’t read the question fully and supply an answer that is incomplete or outright wrong. I’ve tried to mend my ways by waiting until I have time to consider the response, though often others will have already responded with incomplete or wrong answers. Sometimes folks will continue to respond after I have posted, echoing the same answer. This is not necessary, and it just clutters up the list.
  • Echo – If a question is asked and answered with an answer you agree with, it’s not necessary to post “Yes, that’s right.” If the posted answer is incomplete or flat out wrong, then a follow-up would be appropriate.

Diane and I have been answering sewing and computer questions for a long time, and we plan to continue as long as we’re able. This blog does not permit comments, which is by design. Comments that include questions may get missed. We have two main places to ask questions:

  • Our email discussion list on Groups.io – membership is free and it is dedicated to all models of Janome sewing machines.
  • The Support Page for our apps. While we created it specifically for questions related to our apps, I have attempted to answer every question submitted. The only time this fails is when the supplied email address doesn’t work, and I have no way to reach the questioner.

We do monitor some of the Facebook groups, and will occasionally throw in a comment or suggestion. However the endless stream of ads and vacuuming of our personal information has put us off spending much time there, and we have stopped publishing on Facebook.