Test knitting is a fixture in the online knitting world. It’s is a great way for knitters to try out new patterns before they’re released to the general public, for designers to make sure other knitters can use their patterns well, and for communities of knitters to get to know each other better.
I’ve been working with test knitters for a few years now. In that time, I’ve seen and heard a lot of variations on the standard test knit.
I’ve taken a while to settle into my own groove, after all, and I know other designers have played with some ideas as they refine their practices. You learn from old tests and implement new techniques to improve the next test.
But I’ve also seen some test knits go horribly sideways, and I’d like to help keep that from happening. A bad test can leave a sour taste in both the knitters’ and designer’s mouths. That’s not fun for anybody.
How Not to Use Test Knitting
Test knitting is not—I repeat, NOT—a good substitute for tech editing.
If you are in the very beginning stages of your design journey and truly cannot afford a tech editor, you will probably rely on test knitters to help you catch errors in a pattern. I did this at first, too. The problem is that this strategy will only help you catch the really, really big mistakes.
Test knitters usually have enough experience to spot when a repeat doesn’t line up or when there aren’t enough stitches in a row. They won’t be able to help you fix some of the more complex problems, like structural issues in your design. They also probably can’t help you with stylistic consistency and industry standards for written instructions.
Test knitters aren’t trained to edit, so while they can sometimes help you catch the big mistakes, you’ll likely end up letting a lot of little mistakes slip through.
Bottom line: as soon as you can afford it, start working with a tech editor.
How to Use Test Knitting Effectively
Now, I don’t want this post to seem like it’s full of nay-saying. Test knitters are super important to my design process! It’s just that I use test knits differently. Here are some of the things test knitters can help you do effectively.
1. Test knitters help make sure your instructions are easy to follow.
This is where the importance of a diverse tester pool really shows. I like having a range of experience levels, ages, background, nationalities, and native languages in my tests. That way, I can make sure that my instructions are clear, straightforward, and easy to follow.
My tech editor and I are both native English speakers with professional backgrounds. That means we’re used to seeing things communicated in certain ways, and we have a lot of shared perspectives. That also means we have shared assumptions about what’s clear. As a result, those assumptions might not match up with the experiences and assumptions of other knitters.
My pool of test knitters helps me make sure that my instructions make sense to everybody, not just knitters whose demographics match mine.
2. Test knitters help check yardage estimates.
Yardage estimates are crucial for knitters trying to decide whether to knit a pattern and which yarn to use. They might be stash diving or might be buying new yarn just for the project. Either way, they need to know they’ve got enough yarn.
Mathematical formulas can help reach a pretty accurate yardage estimate for each size, but it really helps to have some test knitters work up a pattern and make sure the estimates are accurate. I sometimes find after a test that my estimates were overly generous or need to be padded a little more. Then I make adjustments accordingly.
3. Test knitters help create a photo gallery that doesn’t rely on Ravelry.
Ever since the Ravelry Accessibility debacle, I’ve been committed to finding other ways to help knitters see what projects look like, ask questions, share tips, etc. That’s part of why each of my designs has a dedicated hashtag for sharing on social media. You can click that hashtag and see what other knitters have done with the same pattern and different yarn.
Take, for example, my upcoming release, the Geniality Sweater. If you search #GenialitySweater on Instagram, you’ll find a gallery of photos including my original sample and several versions by the test knitters who’ve been helping me get the pattern ready for release. You can also see how it looks in fluffy yarn, solid yarn, cotton yarn, speckled yarn, and several other variations.
That’s an important contribution test knitters make to the knitting world and something I wish more people would recognize. Test knitters help other knitters decide whether they want to make a project!
4. Test knitters build relationships.
Here’s where I really show my cards: working with a group of test knitters is a lot of fun. I run my tests via a group chat on Instagram, which means we often end up having conversations, sharing pictures, and building friendships. I love that.
When you run a test knit, you get to know the people who like knitting your designs, and that gives you insights into what they want, what they like, and what matters to them. That’s valuable information that can help you make better designs in the future.
Designing is a delicate balance between creating what you want to make and creating things that you think others might enjoy. When you can find the sweet spot, a design that fits both those criteria, you’ve got a winner. Test knitters can help you get there.
More Information about Test Knitting
Want to learn more about test knitting from multiple perspectives? I’m not the only one talking about it! Here are some of my favorite posts on the topic.
- Brittney Garber, the talented designer behind KnotBadBritt, talks with We Crochet about crochet tests. There’s a ton of crossover between the knitting and crochet world on this topic, so don’t skip this podcast episode!
- Arianna Frasca, a former architect turned knitwear designer and an avid test knitter herself, interviewed Kasey of The Skeiniac about test knitting in general, how to be a good tester, what to look for in a test, and more.
- Over on her own blog, Kasey talks about tips for designers to help them run a smooth test that’s pleasant and helpful for everyone involved.
Test knitting can be a great resource for both designer and knitter alike, but it needs to be done in a way that is respectful of everyone involved. With these resources, you’ll be well set for running a test that strikes that delicate balance.