The first time I ever test knit a pattern I had so much fun. I got a free pattern, got to chat with fellow knitters who were all working on the same thing, and I got to be a grammar nerd. Since my day job is in journalism, being a grammar nerd is my default state, and proofreading stuff is one of my favorite parts of the job.
When I first started test knitting for designers and one of the questions they asked was if we found any typos, I would give them a long list of all the grammatical errors and formatting issues I found. For a while I thought that’s what test knitting was. Then I discovered tech editing and realized what I had been doing was encroaching more into tech editing than test knitting. Of course, I learned there’s a whole lot more to tech editing than just correcting grammar, but I still felt like I had been blurring the lines between the two without even realizing.
Now that I’m also a tech editor, I think the difference is a bit more clear. I will attempt to lay out the differences here.
What does a test knitter do?
Test knitters go through a pattern and actually knit the piece up. By knitting through the pattern, they can point out any issues you might not have thought of, as well as provide useful information like how much yarn they used, their finished measurements, etc.
What does a tech editor do?
Tech editors go through your pattern and look at a number of different things. Perhaps most importantly is they will double check all your math. For example when I edit a pattern I’ll plug the row instructions into Excel and make sure the number of stitches that row produces matches what’s in the pattern. They will also go through and check that the gauge you specified combined with your stitch/row counts would produce an item of the size you specified.
In addition to making sure all the technical elements of a pattern are correct, tech editors also go through a pattern and edit it for clarity, make sure things are consistent throughout, make sure the pattern includes all the information needed to actually knit the pattern, and point out any grammatical errors.
Differences between tech editing and test knitting
Tech editors charge for their services, while test knitters are often doing it for free (i.e. in exchange for a free pattern).
Typical tech editing rates range from $25-$40 USD.
Test knitters are often compensated with free patterns.
When do they each occur in the design process?
You might think that tech editing would come after test knitting because often a lot of changes are made to a pattern document during the testing process. But I’d recommend tech editing your pattern before sending it off to test knitters.
Your test knitters are volunteering their time so I think it’s just respectful of their time to give them a pattern that you’re confident is correct. You don’t want to send them a pattern with a mistake in row 33 after they’ve already spent an hour or two knitting.
Your tech editor might also make suggestions on re-wording things that might cause confusion before a test knitter even gets it. This allows your test knitters to focus on providing the best feedback because simple things might already have been addressed.
Do I need both?
As a tech editor I should say YES you should always have a tech editor look over your pattern. However, as I mentioned above tech editors aren’t cheap and I can understand that new designers might not be able to justify the cost of a tech editor for the number of sales they might get for each pattern.
I don’t think not getting your pattern tech edited means your pattern is bad or that you’re a bad designer. I’d say that for accessories like hats and scarves you can probably get away with not tech editing as long as you’ve had it test knit.
For a garment with multiple sizes I’d say it’s probably a very, very good idea. Imagine you release a sweater pattern with an error halfway through it. Your knitters are probably going to be pretty upset that they just spent so much time working on this sweater that now has to be frogged back. Or imagine your size calculations are off and your knitters are making sweaters too small for them! They probably won’t buy your next pattern.
I would also say you should get patterns test knitted. Having someone actually knit up your pattern can provide you with valuable feedback. If your test knitters are struggling with a certain part of the pattern, chances are the people buying your pattern will too. It’s best to know that stuff up front so you can improve the pattern before publishing.
So yes, both are valuable.
With test knitting you have the benefit of someone actually knitting up your pattern. This means you can ask what their finished measurements are and how much yarn they used. You can then use that information to come up with an average among knitters, which can be compared to what you wrote on the pattern.
Designers making garment patterns should ideally get at least one tester per size so that they can confirm that the finished item closely matches what they intended.
Tech editors also check this kind of information, but it’s done with a calculator, not by actually knitting the item. Tech editors will use the gauge provided to check the finished measurements.
Overlap between the two
Despite their differences, there are a few places in which I feel tech editing and test knitting overlap. One element of tech editing is editing for clarity. In other words, ensuring that a designer’s intent is clear to the knitter. When editing if I see an instruction that could be cleaned up to make it less likely to confuse someone, I’ll make that suggestion.
This kind of feedback is also gathered when test knitting. As a tester is knitting up a project they can point of the areas they struggled with, which the designer can then use to update the pattern.
I also think pointing out typos is fine in test knitting. I think some would say it’s not the tester’s responsibility, and while that’s mostly true, if you happen to see an error I think it’s helpful to point it out. When I’m testing I’m not going to go through the pattern document end-to-end against my tech editing checklist like I would if I was editing the pattern, but if I happen to see a word spelled incorrectly I’m not going to not point it out.
What you get from each process
To sum things up, here’s what you can expect to receive from the test knitting and tech editing processes:
- Find the parts of your pattern where knitters might struggle.
- Help with pattern promotion by sharing photos of their WIPs/finished objects.
- Can provide information on actual finished measurements, yardage, etc.
- Ensure that math is correct.
- Make suggestions on improving clarity.
- Make sure all necessary information is on the pattern (all abbreviations used are actually defined, gauge is listed, materials are all there, etc).
- Correct grammatical errors.
- Ensure pattern information adheres to industry standards.
Hopefully this clears up some of the confusion you might have had between these two steps in the pattern design process!