The truths and horrors of testing patterns

by Hanna Gough

Whether you are an aspiring knitwear designer looking for testers or you are thinking about testing patterns, I'd like you to consider a few things first. 

Testing, testing 

Test knitting or testing a crochet pattern can be a fulfilling experience. You apply to test, you're approved, given a target, the pattern and you can get to work right away. This couldn't possibly go wrong, right? 

Sadly, this process doesn't always happen. 

When it goes wrong for testers

As a test knitter I have felt the guilt of realising that I can't complete the test. Either the pattern is more complicated than I thought it would be, life has interrupted my flow or I am not quick enough for the deadline. As guilty as I felt, I didn't then have to ruin the designer's day. I communicated. I fed back what I could in order to help them with their design. The test isn't always about the finished object. It is also about how clear the pattern is, how well laid out it is (or isn't), whether there are any errors that have been missed. Any feedback is useful feedback in this case. 

When it goes wrong for designers

My first experience of finding test knitters was in a Facebook group. Yarnpond was unavailable due to VAT issues and I don't use Ravelry so I asked if anybody would be interested in testing a new pattern for me on Facebook. I was inundated with messages containing really promising content. I read many outlandish claims of "I can translate this in three languages for you" or "I have been knitting for 40 years". I contacted about 20 to ask for more information and invite them to the testing pool. Only 12 responded. Deadlines were set. An agonising 4 weeks passed. Only 2 testers had completed the test. No matter how many polite nudges were posted into the testing group chat, only 2 testers had communicated or completed. It is an awkward situation to deal with and hard not to think of it as you giving away your work to 12 people for nothing. 

Other things I learned: 

1. You absolutely have to vet testers. Find out what their work looks like. Ask to see some pictures, look at their social media. It can be really flattering and overwhelming to have 100 people volunteer to test your pattern but some simply want to download a free pattern and run. 

2. Be clear that a test is not a tutorial. It is easy for the test to slip into people asking how to do every little thing. This is why you need to ensure that the people testing your basic knit hat pattern can actually knit a hat. 

3. Limit your tester numbers. If you allow 80 people to test your pattern, that's 80 people you're not selling to. 

4. Get your patterns tech edited if you can. When I was having a tech edited pattern tested, one tester was adamant that the instructions were wrong. Knowing that I had paid an editor to perfect it first gave me the reassurance I needed. Although tech editors can sometimes miss errors (never in my experience) it is highly unlikely that the instructions are wrong if it is tech edited. A test is not a replacement for having a pattern tech edited. Tech editors can give your work that professional look and tweak it to perfection. They also usually have a wealth of (proven) experience and resources that testers may not have. I would advise anybody thinking of designing patterns to consider a tech editor. 

5. Consider only asking people that you trust. After my Facebook fails, I asked a few contacts from my small business connections on Twitter. I knew that I could trust them to complete tests for me because they knit or crochet for a living or as a main hobby. 

6. If you are in a position to, consider paying experienced (vetted!) testers. This will not be an option for many designers but if you are ever in a situation where you need something tested quickly, choose one or two testers and negotiate pay. You will not only end up with a professional looking sample but it will be done by the deadline! 

When considering applying for a test knit

1. Check over all of the requirements for the test before you apply. Some designers only need a certain amount of work completed by the deadline. Some want a proof read. Most want it all done by the deadline. Always check. 

2.Know your limitations. How much free time do you actually have to test knit? Can you offer four weeks of focusing on one project for a deadline? 

3. Be honest with yourself. Although testing is a wonderful way to improve your skills, it doesn't mean that you will have the time to learn new skills whilst working to a deadline. Maybe learn brioche before you sign up for a brioche test knit? 

4. Communicate with the designer. Don't just give up. If you can't work out what the chart wants you to do, tell them! If you don't think you can complete, tell them! They could then offer your place to someone else. Any feedback you do have, please give it. Feedback is feedback. 

5. Don't make outlandish promises. You expressing your ability to translate the pattern into 4 languages (for free?) is not going to increase your chances of being chosen. Just show some examples of your work if you can and sit tight. 

 

I hope none of this has put you off testing or designing! These tips are based purely on my own personal experiences and I'd hate it if others fell into the same holes. I have enjoyed every test knit I have taken part in as they gave me focus and an excuse to use up my stash! It is a wonderful thing to do for a designer if you can. 

 

Need a tech editor? Yarn Database has a great list of tech editors for knitting and crochet designs.  https://www.yarndatabase.com/tech-editors/