A Knitting Pattern Designer's Guide to Test Knitting: What, Why, and How Pattern Testing Works
When you've finished writing your knitting pattern, you've only finished the first step of the process. Often the following steps, where your pattern is reviewed and edited, take even longer. If you're familiar with the design process, you're likely familiar with the term "test knitting," but what what does it mean and where do you even start with running a test knit?
What does a test knitter do with my pattern?
A tech knitter's job is to ensure your pattern creates the project you're promising to your customers. This means your test knitters are checking your knitting pattern from the knitter's perspective. They're making sure the instructions work, make sense, and create the project they were hoping for (this includes design and size).
What is test knitting?
The main thing a test knitter does is test your pattern. They are knitting the pattern just as if they had purchased the pattern and are working through the pattern as a customer.
This is extremely valuable because it gives you perspective to how your customers will use and absorb the information in your pattern. I highly recommend including test knitters of different skill levels and familiarity with your work to replicate the diversity of your customers. Each test knitter will have a different perspective and interpretation of the pattern.
The accuracy and clarity of the pattern are of particular importance in the tester's mind. They want to be sure they can knit the pattern without confusion and without having to rework any of the math.
What doesn't a test knitter do?
While test knitters knit your pattern and check for accuracy and clarity, they aren't reviewing the pattern with the attention to detail that a tech editor uses. Test knitters will often skim over mistakes because they know how it should be fixed and they make assumptions about what you mean. They also don't have the same breadth of pattern writing knowledge to recommend adjustments to the pattern that will work for other knitters as well. This is why it's important to have your pattern tech edited and test knit.
Want to learn more about knitting tech editors? This post talks all about the ins and outs of tech editing from the pattern designer's perspective. Note: You'll want to have your pattern tech edited prior to having your pattern test knit; it makes the whole process a lot smoother!
Who works as a test knitter?
Typically, test knitters are "just" knitters. Meaning, they love to knit and they're happy to help test your pattern in exchange for the knitting experience. They haven't taken a class on "how to test knit," and they don't have a textbook that tells them what to look for when test knitting a pattern. Instead, they're guided by their intuition, their understanding of your pattern, and your direction.
Where do I find test knitters for my knitting patterns?
There are several locations where you can find test knitters, from your Instagram audience to Ravelry and Facebook groups. However, most of the beginner designers that I coach love Yarnpond.
Yarnpond is a platform that was created just for test knitting, test crocheting, and tech editing. However, it is primarily used for test knitting and test crocheting. The platform is set up so that, when you post your request for test knitters, all of the testers on the website can view the request. Additionally, Yarnpond sends an email to each person signed up as a test knitter every day (this may differ based on the knitter's email preferences) AND Yarnpond posts the call on their Instagram. This helps you reach a much larger audience.
Not only that, but the platform is set up to make the test knitting process as simple and straightforward for you as possible. Before the test knit opens, it will prompt you to provide specific pieces of information that test knitters will want to know prior to applying for the test knit; and it makes it easy to link to the pattern so testers receive access immediately after they've been accepted to the test knit.
Additionally, there is a chat area, an area to document changes you've made to the pattern, a feedback form for test knitters, and the ability to review test knitters (you will see reviews for each test knitter, and any comments other designers have left about the test knitter, as soon as they apply for your test knit). While the platform has many features, it does seem to help reduce the overwhelm of "I don't know how to run a test knit!" and keeps things organized in the same platform.
However, it does cost to use the platform. At the time that I'm writing this post, it costs $5 USD to post one test knit, or you can purchase bundles for multiple test knits at a lower price per test knit.
Prior to using Yarnpond, I used Ravelry groups. The group that I most preferred is called The Testing Pool (note: this is a Ravelry link). It is essentially a forum on Ravelry where you can find test knitters. Beyond the feature differences between the platforms, do remember that Ravelry isn't accessible to many knitters, including test knitters.
Lastly, don't forget to share your call for test knitters on your social media platforms and with your email newsletter! And start building an email list of test knitters that want to work with you, so you can easily contact them when you have new test knits open.
How much does it cost to have test knitters work though my knitting pattern?
Most test knitters work for free. They generously donate their time and expertise in exchange for the opportunity to work an "exclusive" pattern before anyone else has access to it, and to help designers create amazing patterns. Although it seems to be the "norm" in our industry, be sure to remember that this is a volunteer position and treat your test knitters with respect. And don't forget to send your test knitters the final version of the PDF!
Additionally, many knitting pattern designers will offer a pattern of the tester's choice from their shop. From the feedback I've received from testers, this is really appreciated, and it doesn't cost anything from your bank account.
Are you a new knitting pattern designer? You may choose to purchase other designers' patterns for your test knitters, or to offer a credit for your future patterns. I started designing in the month of April, and I offered all of my test knitters from April to December the option to choose any of the patterns that I released during that year. In mid-December, I sent a reminder to all of the testers who hadn't claimed their additional free pattern yet.
Other methods of compensation that some knitting pattern designers offer their test knitters include: yarn support, purchasing other patterns of the testers' choice as a gift, and monetary compensation for their time.
How do I run a test knit for my knitting pattern?
Starting your first test knit can feel intimidating. What information do you need to give your test knitters, what questions do you need to ask, how do you capture the information you need, how long should the test knit last?
There are several aspects to running a test knit, and it can differ based on what platform you're using to host your test knit. Here I'll touch on the basics of running a test knit, but if you have any additional questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below this post or book a 1:1 coaching call to get all of your questions answered.
How long should I give test knitters to knit my pattern?
The number one complaint I hear from test knitters is that designers don't give enough time for test knitting. However, I haven't ever heard that complaint from the test knitters I've worked with. So, a few months ago I conducted a survey in my Instagram stories. Most of the test knitters' complaints were around tight deadlines. A couple months later, I posted the timelines that I use and asked if test knitters felt like these timelines are long enough. The majority of the test knitters responded "yes," and those that didn't said they would like more time for fingering weight shawls.
Here are the time frames that I prefer to use:
2 weeks for dishcloths
4 weeks for small accessories such as hats, mittens, headbands, and cowls
6 weeks for shawls* and socks
*Two people shared that they'd like to have 8 weeks for test knitting fingering weight shawls that are large or have a lot of texture.
At the time that I am writing this post, I haven't designed any sweaters, cardigans, pullovers, or vests. I know test knitters like to have more than 8 weeks for knitting sweaters, and it is extremely important to give plenty of time for test knitters to make the larger sizes in your pattern. One designer responded to my Instagram polls sharing that she gives 3 to 4 months for her sweater test knits.
Where should I run the test knit for my knitting pattern?
If you choose to find your test knitters on Ravelry or Yarnpond, it typically makes sense to run your test knit in the same place. The main exception is that, if you are running a test knit for a secret design, you don't want to host the test knit on Ravelry, as the Ravelry forums are available publicly.
If you choose to use a different platform for finding test knitters, it is common for designers to use Facebook groups, Instagram group messages, email, Google Docs, Discord, or Slack for managing their test knits. When considering which platform to use consider what is important to you.
For myself, I want to be able to follow a conversation easily and have test knitters able to connect with one another, so I don't like using email. It starts to feel overwhelming and becomes extra work for me. However, some designers and test knitters love to use email for test knitting.
What information do I need to give test knitters prior to the test knit?
The information your test knitters will need prior to applying for the test knit is likely similar to the information your customers will want to know before they purchase your pattern. They'll want to see photos of the design and know how difficult the pattern is, how much and what kind of yarn they'll need, what needles they'll need, how big the finished object is and/or what the sizes are, and what construction methods are used.
Additionally, you'll need to make expectations for your test knitters clear from the beginning. How long will the test knit run? Are there any discounts on yarn or any yarn support provided? What do they need to complete during the test knit? What will you give them after they've completed the test knit?
If you choose to use Yarnpond as your test knitting platform, you will be prompted to provide each piece of information prior to opening the test, so this part of the test knit isn't nearly as overwhelming or stressful.
What questions do I need to ask my test knitters?
Receiving quality feedback is one of the most important parts about running a test knit. But, often, the quality of the feedback you receive is a reflection of the quality of your questions. You need to be clear on what you want to learn from your test knitters. If you're using Yarnpond as your test knitting platform, they provide a feedback template you can use or adjust, or you can create a new feedback form from scratch.
Typically, the information you want to receive from your test knitters includes:
How much yarn did they use? Does your pattern call for a sufficient amount of yarn when accounting for different knitting styles? (Knowing what kind of yarn they used may help you in identifying any problems, such as fabric density, fit issues due to fiber content, and more.)
What size needles did they use to get gauge? Does that align with your recommendation in the pattern?
What was the finished dimensions of their project? Does that align with the dimensions on your pattern for that size?
Did they make any adjustments to the pattern?
Is your pattern layout easy to follow?
Are there any grammatical errors in your pattern?
Are there any technical errors in your pattern?
Is there sufficient number of images in the pattern?
Are the pattern instructions easy to follow?
You may also want to ask for their overall opinion about the pattern, request a testimonial, and ask if you have permission to share their photos with your audience.