Seven Ways to be a Great Test Knitter
I thought I'd write up a How To post about test knitting because I was asked about the topic so frequently at TNNA this weekend. I am passionate about my work and want to publish the best possible patterns. In order to do that I have every pattern professionally tech edited and test knit. What this process does is allow me to refine my patterns to eliminate errors and confusion for knitters when they come home with a Fickle Knitter Design pattern. Below I've written about things you should consider before volunteering for test knitting.
Seven questions Test Knitters should ask themselves before volunteering:
1. Are you able to use the preferred method of communication for questions and comments?
This is a big issue for me. When I email out PDFs to knitters who are testing I always request to be contacted via email or private message on Ravelry. When a tester doesn't use that form of communication it shows that they haven't bothered to read my email and it takes more time for me to read their questions and comments and incorporate any necessary changes. I often have many projects being tested at the same time so it's best to let the designer know which pattern it is you are working on when contacting them. You'll make the best first impression by following designer's requests on communication.
2. Are you able to accept the fact that there may be mistakes in the pattern?
Test knitters are typically given the pattern that is undergoing testing for free with the implicit understanding that there will be changes and tweaks throughout the process. If you prefer to knit a pattern free from errors it is best not to volunteer for testing as you will be working on something that is evolving and changing. A second comment relating to this is please do not redistribute the PDF via swaps or as gifts. Not only are you potentially giving an unsuspecting knitter an older version of the pattern you most likely don't have the permission of the designer.
3. Do you have time and resources to meet the deadline?
It's not a crime to run out of time before the test knitting deadline. I usually offer 2-4 weeks to complete one skein projects. However I understand that sometimes life gets in the way. If this happens to you the best action to take is to email or contact the designer and let them know that you aren't able to meet the deadline. Sometimes this means that you have to drop out of the test knit and sometimes this means you will finish late. This is up to the designer. Bear in mind that going this route will stick in the designer's mind the next time you volunteer and so consideration should be taken before making the initial commitment.
4. Do you have experience in the type of knitting being offered up for testing?
Everyone loves a beautiful photo and an attractive pattern. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and ask to knit a design before you consider if you have experience with this type of knitting. Because time is short it is best to have experience in the particular style of knitting being offered up in the pattern. For example if there's colorwork hat that you love but you've never knit colorwork before it's really best for everyone if you wait to purchase the pattern rather than volunteering for a situation where you haven't mastered the technique.
5. Are you able to use a yarn that is the same weight as the design?
There are really only three things required for knitting a design. You need needles, the pattern, and the yarn. Please ensure that you use the same weight yarn with fiber content as the pattern for best results. If you don't have access to the same weight of yarn and content it is best to skip the test knit because those two factors almost guarantee a result that doesn't fit within the confines of the original pattern and can cause frustration for the designer and the tester.
6. Are you able to knit the design without adjusting the pattern or making suggestions for major design overhauls?
A lot of time and resources go into pattern photography, putting it into the proper layout and having a professional tech edit the design. Test knitting serves as a test of the pattern to ensure there are no mistakes. When a pattern is adjusted outside the realm of the pattern you are no longer testing the validity of the written words and charts. Another point that needs to be made is making suggestions for major structural changes to the patterns. After all the above work is done and the pattern is ready to go it is not wise to change the instructions. Why? Because the finished item will no longer match the photography. I would be very disappointed to end up with a finished object that has no resemblance to the pattern sample photo because there were major changes made. I guard against this calamity by maintaining the original concept of the finished item throughout the editing and testing process. If I decide to make some major changes at that point the design becomes a NEW pattern independent of the original.
7. Are you able to meet gauge?
I wish that wordpress offered me an option for super duper sparkly bolded text because I would use it for the next sentence.
Gauge is independent from suggested needle size.
That is so monumental that I'm going to type it again, but this time in all capital letters. GAUGE IS INDEPENDENT FROM SUGGESTED NEEDLE SIZE. So that means you should swatch. You may start with the suggested needle size but it doesn't mean that you will end up with it. Knitting from a pattern without checking gauge could result in yarn shortages, an item that doesn't end up with similar finished measurements, and very frustrated knitters and designers. To measure gauge you should swatch. I typically list gauges in "main body pattern." Using a lace shawl with a knit-on border as an example "main body pattern" means swatch using the shawl body instructions and not the knit-on edging. But you're not done there. My finished measurements and gauges are calculated using blocked items. So that means once you've swatched the main body you should also block it as you would the finished shawl. For me this means soaking the swatch in tepid water with a dash of woolwash for about 20 minutes, and then pinning out the swatch just as I would a finished shawl. After the shawl swatch has dried you must then measure it and compare it to the listed gauge in the pattern. If your swatch does not match the pattern gauge then you must repeat the process again with a different size needle. This one seems obvious but use the same type of needles and yarn in the swatch and the actual test knit. Any number of things can throw off your gauge so take the extra steps for better results. Another suggestion is to switch either your yarn or your needles in between test swatches but not both at the same time. If you absolutely can't meet gauge you need to contact your designer and let them know so you can decide on the next step together.
How to Impress Your Designer
If you want to impress your designer while test knitting listen to their requests and carefully read their correspondence, act professionally at all times, be prepared with appropriate needles, yarn, and gauge and finish in a timely fashion. If you aren't able to complete the test for any reason communicate with the designer honestly and most of the time he or she will be understanding. If the designer asks for email or private message communication it is not appropriate to post your suggested changes in your ravelry project as doing so will likely confuse those folks who purchase the pattern. If you are not sure if you are allowed to post a project because the test knit is for a book or magazine contact the designer first to ask if that is acceptable or not. Be courteous, flexible and understanding if you aren't able to post photos or if the designer doesn't agree with your suggestions.
In closing I've been receiving such an overwhelming response to my test knitting calls that I've had to start limiting the amount of testers I'm able to use. The Testing Pool and my ravelry group have introduced me to some amazing knitters and many have become friends. Lately my test knits have become more like knit alongs (which I am happy to offer as a separate but unrelated service) and I'm concerned that the conversations about the pattern will be confusing to pattern purchasers who have a revised final version. So in a way I've outgrown what has been a wonderful method of finding wonderful test knitters and I've switched to a private board for future tests. I'm so happy and thankful for my experiences and find testing to be a vital part of producing patterns that I'm proud of. I'd like to thank every one who has test knit for me and found me on ravelry over the years. Please bear with me as I continue to grow and change. Thank you and stay tuned for my recap of TNNA!
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