As promised in my Cast On – Hearth Hat post, I thought I would share some thoughts on test knitting. It’s probably not for everyone, but it’s something I really enjoy. According to my Ravelry tags, I’ve participated in 12 test knits ! I’ve done 1 shawl, 2 cowls, 3 socks, 2 hats, 2 cowls, and 2 sweaters! Here are a few thoughts on test knitting, maybe I’ll inspire you to try!
So, Why Test?
Testing comes down to a few things for me. The largest reason is because it feels like a double whammy on my driving spirit. Not only am I creating something someone will enjoy, but I’m also contributing to a successful pattern, which will help MORE people create things that can be enjoyed. It’s great to support a designer in a different way and contribute to their success. It’s really exciting being a part of the launch of a pattern and people seeing that your project is one of the first ones to be made or is featured on the pattern page. I don’t knit to be knitting famous, but it sure is nice to have other people see and get excited about what I make.
As I mentioned in my cast on post, sometimes I need to be forced to be inspired. Say I’m thinking I want another on the go project of a hat. I have a bunch of stash that could be used for a hat but nothing that I feel like “oooh I want to work with this right now.” I can spend an hour looking through the more than 20K hat patterns on Ravelry, or I could spend 15 looking to see what the open calls are on some forums and find my next project a lot quicker. I also struggle sometimes with finishing things, and while the deadline part of testing can occasionally be stressful, overall I find it’s motivating to have that deadline. It forces me to really think about what time I have in my life. I’ve also gotten a much better idea of how long it really takes me to do things since testing usually means I’m working on one project at a time.
There is also a value thing for me. You usually get the pattern for free, and in my mind if I save $ on patterns, I can then spend more on yarn. If we consider an average pattern cost of 7$, then my 12 tests have saved me $84! Now, I have totally spent more on that on the yarn to make some of these (I’m looking at you, La Bien Aimee for my Telegramme), which I don’t regret, and I don’t mind paying for a pattern if I really love it. I actually think knitting designs are probably undervalued, but that’s a whole other story. If you’ve got a larger stash, then there probably is some value in knitting down stash and testing.
There are two main ways I find tests – Instagram and Ravelry. There is also a site called Fiberly which has been designed for connecting testers and designers. I haven’t been able to give this site a try yet, since it launched this year when I was SUPER busy with barely enough time to knit, much less search out new tests. For a while, they required you to knit and submit a gauge swatch, which was actually a great idea but prohibitive for me to get started on the site last year. But it looks like they don’t require that anymore, so I’m going to give that a try soon! On Instagram, I try to follow designers I admire, they often will post about test calls. There’s also a great account called Fat Test Knits which specializes in connecting fat/plus size knitters with designers.
On Ravelry, as I mentioned before, there are two main groups for testing – Free Pattern Testers and The Testing Pool. The main difference on each of these is just rules. FPT has a lot of structure and rules around it. Designers have to follow a consistent format for the request, and testers have to check in weekly on the boards. There’s a whole conflict resolution process, and both designers and testers can be kicked out of the group for not following the rules. TTP just… doesn’t have those rules. They’re relatively interchangeable – it’s all about your comfort level. I don’t mind the rules and regulations of FPT, but I’m sure there are some people who that would annoy. It was a bit jarring on the first test I did – one of the things the mods of that group do is post in every thread every week and earburn the testers reminding them to check in. But now I’m used to it. I kind of like the structure around it, there has been at one test in TTP that I didn’t finish because I didn’t have the push to. I also find that TTP’s discussions are less likely to be marked as “Closed” which makes it harder to find tests. I usually look in both and if I find a project that I think will be fun to test, I go for it no matter which group it’s in.
On Raverly groups, the main thing seems to be time – if you respond quickly you’ll likely be selected. Some of the designers I follow on Instagram will have an email form you have to fill out and will select people from that list if they have a lot of interest. Like a lot in this post, it varies by test- some designers ask that you knit the project in the original yarn, some will give precedence to people who have done a lot of tests, some require social media accounts. Often, designers who use the Ravelry boards to post their tests will earburn previous testers to give them “first dibs” on testing again. I do think that having several projects on Ravelry with notes and participating in previous tests has helped me to get selected for tests (especially with designers who have a lot of followers, where it’s not just about the time you respond). If you’re willing and able to spring for the yarn the pattern was designed in, that usually puts you on the top of the list (not sure I agree with the “ethics” of this, but I have found it to be true). For garments, there’s also a less of a pool of potential testers on the less common sizes. If you are on the very small or very large size of patterns, you might have an easier time finding tests. There’s a whole lot I could say about size inclusivity in knitting patterns and how that corresponds to testing, but that will have to wait for another day.
Your goal while testing is to test the pattern for ease, clarity, readability, as well as the actual directions to get the finished object. While testing, it’s really all about communication. I personally like to send a note whenever I find a potential issue or readability item as soon as I identify it. It makes for some more messages, but that way I don’t worry about forgetting something. I do try to view each pattern from more of a beginner’s standpoint to make sure the directions are clear and obvious. The pattern shouldn’t have to teach techniques, but you also shouldn’t have to guess on things like increase types, number of st, etc.
The biggest suggestion I have is this – DON’T CHANGE THE PATTERN WITHOUT ASKING THE DESIGNER FIRST. In my mind, you are “working” for the designer to create something for them to show off their design, and it should show off their design and not yours. Now that being said, yes the design has to work for you, so you may need to make edits, this is especially true for garments. On the test I was on this summer for a sweater, someone had to edit the sleeve size and decreases to make it fit. A lot of people also lengthened it for comfort. And that’s not a problem, but make sure to check in with the designer before you make those changes, especially if you’re going to be editing the yardage significantly. A designer might ask for you to weigh your knit and only keep track of the yardage that the original pattern would have used, since getting accurate yardage is one of the main reasons designers use the test knit process, at least for sweaters. Test knitting isn’t the time to get creative with things like using a larger yarn than called for and knitting a smaller size, deciding you want positive ease when the design calls for negative, going top down instead of bottom up, or changing toe or heel shape. Maybe this is just a too-strict personal opinion, but people who are planning to knit the pattern should see what it was designed to look like, and then they have accurate data to determine if they need to make changes. Again, this gets a little bit funky with garments, because not all bodies are created equal, and you might have to make edits for it to fit, but either way it’s best to keep an open line of communication and ask the designer before making changes. They’ll probably say yes, because they want you to be happy, but as long as you then note that in your pattern page it should be good to go.
I’ve done tests that have happened on both Ravelry and on an outside platform, Slack. I personally prefer the tests I’ve done on Slack, for a few reasons. Slack is an app on my phone (there is a desktop version) so get notifications when someone posts, which makes it easy to keep track of changes that may be added to the pattern. Also, it’s easier to keep track of replies to a single comment than on the Rav forums, which keeps it a little cleaner. There’s also the ability to share files and “pin” them to the board, which makes updates easier to find (and I’m sure for the designer too!). But those have been tests I’ve found through Instagram, FPT I think basically requires you to run the test through their forums. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you’ve just got to check in with Ravelry more frequently, which isn’t necessarily something I do every day if I’m not testing. There are more tests available through Rav, so I’m not so against it!
Finishing The Test
Most designers will require a project page on Ravelry linked to the pattern with a finished (sometimes modeled) photo. Even if it’s not required, I always do this! Ravelry has a great feature where designers can create a test code you can put in your project page so it automatically connects to the pattern once published. This is great if you’re like me and don’t necessarily go on Ravelry every day, you don’t have to remember to link the pattern as soon as it’s released. If your designer doesn’t give you one, let them know about this feature! Designers will often “feature” your photo on the pattern page so they can show off a variety of colors and people wearing the item. I try to get nice photos of all my projects, but especially so with tests, because my project might speak more to someone than the original sample!
Make sure to keep track of things like yardage and needle sizes used. I do try to make my project pages more robust when doing a test, especially if I made any variations to how the pattern was presented. Since it’s one of the first projects, I feel like more people are going to be looking at it! Try to speak only about the finished pattern. I’ve been in a test where a TON of changes were made and it was kind of frustrating but at the end of the day the pattern turned out great so everyone else doesn’t need that background.
I also try to post about tests on social media, both at the end of the test and during. I’ve heard there are secret tests where designs aren’t meant to be shared, but I haven’t been a part of one. Obviously pay attention to any instructions about what to do, and communicate with your designer if you have questions. Like I said, you are supporting the designer and that includes the launch of the pattern as well.
As I mentioned earlier, you get a free pattern when you test. Now, it might not be a perfect pattern yet, so that is the risk. Often times designers will gift you another pattern of theirs as a thank you. Some designers may have also worked with dyers for discounts on yarn if it’s going to be used for the test (especially in garment tests). A few months back, there was some discussion on Instagram around appropriate compensation for testers. It’s a bit of a complex issue, testers often do a lot of work to make the pattern better without really being paid, and traditional tech editors are. I feel the way I’ve been compensated has been appropriate, but I have the ability to buy yarn for tests if I need it and enjoy giving of my time since I also have a full time job. Others may feel differently.
Phew! That ended up being a lot! Overall I find testing to be a symbiotic relationship (though I will say I haven’t been on the other end as a designer, so maybe not as much as I think it is). It’s really fun for me, and as a detail-oriented person I’m motivated by the extra steps of providing feedback. I follow patterns pretty exactly anyway, so I figure if I’m going to do that, why not test?
Any questions you had about testing that I didn’t answer? If you’ve tested before, did I get anything wrong?