Tech editing, test knitting, and sample knitting by Kate Atherley
As Kate discussed in the first post of this series, a pattern needs to be proofread and checked over before it’s ready to publish. Read on to find out how…
There are two – actually three – kinds of checking.
The optional one is copy editing. If your pattern has a lot of text – a wordy introduction, tutorials, that sort of thing – then it’s always nice to have a copy-editor to review that text. A copy-editor checks spelling and grammar, and helps you make your prose clear and correct. The average pattern doesn’t have a ton of text, so you probably don’t need a professional editor, but it is a good idea to have someone give it a read-through before you declare it done. We can all make silly typing mistakes: a non-knitter can help you spot them! (I spelled my own name wrong in a pattern once.)
The more important types of editing are performed by Test Knitters and Technical Editors. They do different but related types of checking.
A test knitter attempts to work the project from your written instructions — test knitters are testing the instructions, but also testing the project. Test knitting is not required, but it can be very helpful.
I use test knitters when developing tutorials and beginner-friendly patterns, to make sure that those instructions make sense to the target audience. For example, if I write a lesson for the long tail cast on, I want to make sure that someone who doesn’t know the cast on can learn from it.
Sometimes I want to test the resulting item. I recently designed a baby sock and I wanted to get a sense of whether the cuff was long enough for them to stay on kicky little feet. I also used test knitters when developing a new glove pattern to get feedback on the sizing.
You can often find test knitters in your knit group, or at your local yarn shop: the only qualification is that they have the specific level of knitting skill you need – whether a beginner, or an experienced glove knitter – and they have available time to knit. You can also look on Ravelry: there are groups for test knitters.
Test knitters are often compensated, but not always. It’s nice if the designer can supply the yarn, but that’s not a given. I don’t always need the finished item from the tester – indeed, I don’t even always need the item to be finished. (When I tested a brioche pattern recently I had knitters only work one repeat.) When recruiting testers, I’m clear on whether I will supply yarn and whether there is other compensation.
I always provide a copy of the pattern to the testers, once it’s published. And if I can’t pay, I do try to offer other types of compensation: yarn, free patterns, acknowledgements in the publication, coffee and cake.
Test knitting has limitations: if your pattern offers multiple sizes, you’re probably not going to be able to have all sizes tested. And a test knitter’s input is limited by that knitter’s knowledge and skills. The more experienced your tester is, the less input you might get. I had a sock pattern recently go through a couple of testers who didn’t actually notice that I’d left off the instructions to join the round: since they knew what to do they weren’t really paying attention to the cast on instructions beyond looking for the relevant number.
A technical editor reviews your pattern to ensure that it is complete and clear and accurate. A technical editor takes care of two things: does your pattern work, and can it be worked?
Does it work? Put another way: if a knitter follows the instructions, will they get the thing that’s shown in the picture? Will it come out the size promised, and fit the way it says it does? If it claims to fit a newborn baby’s foot, does it?
And can it be worked? Is there sufficient information provided to be able to knit the thing? Are all the numbers there, and do they work? (If you cast on 100 stitches and then work a series of decreases, a tech editor checks that the listed stitch count after decreases is correct. And if there are 10 sizes, we do it for all ten. And if there are then a set of increases, we check those numbers, too. All the numbers.) Does it provide complete information about required materials – yarn and needles and notions? If it has cables or other special stitches, have definitions been provided? If it uses a chart, is there a legend? If you’ve got both metric and imperial numbers, we’ll even check the conversions.
Although some of this can be very ably covered by a test knitter, a technical editor reviews the entire thing, in full detail: all details, all numbers, all sizes, all instructions.
And a technical editor works more quickly than a test knitter, since we don’t actually knit: it’s all done on paper and spreadsheets, with sketches and formulae and calculations.
Some technical editors can provide other services, too: they might also help with grading – the creation of additional sizes – and graphic design tasks like layout and making schematics.
You can often find good technical editors through referrals, so ask other designers. And there are groups on Ravelry where tech editors post about their services. Technical editing is a paid job, of course, but if you’re just starting out or don’t have the budget, you may well be able to barter. For example, I will cheerfully admit that I’m terrible at layout and photography, and have in the past bartered my services for assistance in that area. And if you’re a newer designer, find yourself a newer technical editor: you can work together to expand each others’ skills.
I feel very strongly that a pattern needs a technical editor, even if you’re giving it away for free. And not just because this is something I do! No matter how much attention you pay to the details, no matter how closely you review your own work, mistakes do happen. I recently wrote a hat pattern that asked you to cast on 19 stitches for one of the sizes, rather than the required 91. This sort of thing happens easily, and is easy to miss in proofreading. I’ve been known to forget to include a cable needle in the notions list, since I prefer to work without a cable needle – but an eagle-eyed technical editor reminded me that not everyone does.
And of course, there are sample knitters. Their role is really quite different: it is simply to make up a sample of the FO for photography or display purposes. The designer (or perhaps a shop or yarn company) supplies the yarn, and the knitter works to their precise specifications, following the pattern exactly as written, working the size/version requested.
Some sort of compensation is expected: not every designer can afford to pay, although needless to say that’s preferred. In other cases, designers will negotiate some sort of barter deal for things like copies of the publication in which the pattern appears, other yarn, and so forth. It’s not uncommon that the sample be returned to the sample knitter, after an agreed-upon length of time, when it’s not longer needed for display.
The publication workflow
Sample knitters typically come late in the process, when the pattern is complete (or very close).
If you’re testing the finished project, the tester should get the pattern before the technical edit – there’s no point in paying to have someone edit a baby sock pattern if the resulting sock doesn’t actually fit! Sending the pattern out to testers can help reduce tech editing costs, by discovering issues in the numbers and the instructions. And if there are really radical changes introduced in the technical editing process, it’s not a bad idea to have a tester do a final review.
No matter what order you do it in, the purpose of testing and editing is simple: to make sure your pattern is correct, so that a knitter can be successful with it. A successful knitter is a happy knitter, and a happy knitter will use and buy more of your patterns – making you a happy designer, too!
Last updated: February 7th, 2017.