Step 5: Tech editing and testing

So your sample’s at least mostly done, the pattern is all written up and you’re excited to get it out into the world! But don’t rush now – it needs to be carefully checked first. Ideally in two separate, both very valuable processes.

Previous posts: 
The preamble: So you wanna be a designer…
Step 1: From idea to pitch
Step 2: Charting and Ravelry
Step 3: Planning, grading and starting the sample
Step 4: Style sheet and layout

What exactly is tech editing?

Technical editing of a knitting pattern means carefully, methodically checking the pattern for errors, inconsistencies and areas of confusion. It should uncover any problems with the maths (do that many stitches at that gauge give the intended measurements? do the stitch and row counts work out after every bit of shaping?) as well as with more general logic (can you actually DO what is being described, and will it work the way it’s supposed to?). A TE should ensure that you’ve consistently applied your style sheet, that your instructions are clear and grammatical; they may also suggest alternative ways of writing or structuring the pattern, for the sake of clarity and conformity with industry standards.

Working with a TE is enormously helpful. Of course designers rely on them to catch our mistakes and protect our reputations – for that reason we very strongly encourage any designer to bite the bullet and hire one, even if you aren’t sure your pattern sales will recoup the cost. (More on that later.) You may be a very careful and accurate worker, but people don’t spot their own mistakes; that’s just the nature of the human brain. That’s why on newspapers, for instance, every text gets passed through at least three rounds of editing and proofreading – even editors themselves need their work checked. Your reputation as a newbie is extremely vulnerable; don’t give customers any reason to avoid your patterns in future.

But the other aspect is that working with an experienced TE can be a great education in pattern writing. They have the knowledge of how to express things; they also often have the right kind of mind to tease apart tricky areas and simplify them. This doesn’t just make your pattern infinitely better, it makes your life easier in terms of future pattern writing, and possible customer support time saved. (Ask Emily about how hard it’s been to teach me, Robynn, to reach out to her as my TE for advice on problem areas early in the process. And ask me about how incredibly useful her advice has been when I finally do reach out!)

It can take a while to find the right TE for you. As with any working relationship, it has to be the right fit. You may want a heavier or lighter touch (it’s a good idea to be clear on that from the start, if possible); you may just struggle to communicate. It’s fine to try out different people for your first few patterns. 

But isn’t it expensive?

Bluntly, it can be. Since editors charge by the hour, the more work your pattern needs in the first place, the more you’ll have to pay. Rates vary (we’ve seen a range of around $25-45/hr), but remember that more experienced (and expensive) editors may take less time and ultimately cost less. Some new TEs offer low rates or even work for free/barter in an effort to build a client base. Nothing wrong with that, and it’s obviously appealing when as a newbie yourself, you can’t guarantee selling enough patterns to cover the cost. (Robynn has quite a few early patterns that never did earn out. They needed a lot of work and just weren’t that good.) But consider whether you’re missing out on the education aspect of working with a seasoned expert – it might be worth paying more and treating that as an investment in your own training. There’s no right way, just the way that makes sense to you. 

To help keep costs down, it’s worth putting in some extra time to check your own work before you hand it over for editing. Accept that you won’t get it to a perfect state, but you can certainly weed out some errors.

  • Compare the pattern to your style sheet, checking each point separately. Have you included stitch counts after each shaping section, and have you given them in the same format each time? Have you been consistent in presenting metric and/or imperial information? Are your abbreviations consistently used, and are there any not included in the abbreviations table (or listed but not used in the pattern)? And so on.

  • Create a spreadsheet and enter the cast-on numbers for each size. Then, row by row, enter the numbers for every single instruction as they appear, and check that the stitch counts work out.

  • Use the numbers in this spreadsheet (not your original grading calculations) to check the final measurements and yarn quantities.

Making this effort (essentially tech editing your own work) will probably pay off in billed TE hours, and could also be a good exercise in recognizing the kind of mistakes you personally tend to make.

Tips from a tech editor

TE Steph Boardman has the following advice for getting the most out of your tech editing relationship:

  • Always send a style sheet, and if possible, also a previous pattern.

  • Don’t be scared of emails and corrections – your editor isn’t judging you.

  • Mention any particular weaknesses you’re prone to, like getting left/right confused or forgetting marker placements.

  • Don’t stress about always sending a completed pattern. Sometimes half an hour with the TE can save a designer hours of work over a knotty problem that just needs another pair of eyes. 

Resources:

  • Budding Designers has TE listings; it’s not entirely up to date but worth looking at. Asking friends for recommendations is a better starting point, if that’s an option.

  • Indy Pattern Designers’ Resources is an entire group dedicated to collecting service providers – TE and other. Also a good place for tech editing discussion, although it’s not a super active group.

  • Allison O’Mahony publishes an extremely useful and interesting newsletter for designers, offering a tech editor’s perspective – she’s taking a maternity break right now but you can browse the archives.

  • Katherine Vaughn has a post on the typical time needed to edit different kinds of items. Allison, above, offers similar guidelines.

And what about test knitters?

Test knitters are brilliant but, we can’t stress this enough, not a replacement for tech editors. That’s for at least two reasons. First, they’re not trained professionals. (TE qualifications vary considerably and are usually informal, it’s true, but there’s still a level of specific skill that testers don’t have.) Second, it’s completely unfair to expect testers, at the usual level of tester compensation (typically no cash fee), to identify errors, never mind to suggest fixes.

What they can do for you is give feedback on their experience of actually knitting the pattern. Sometimes things look fine on paper but become confusing in practice. Sometimes people just have different preferences (and while you don’t have to accommodate them, it’s good to know). Sometimes yardage used varies more than expected. And of course, it’s really helpful to have real-world examples of the design worked up in different sizes and worn on real bodies.  

Which leads to the second great benefit of using testers – having linked projects on Ravelry. Customers often want to see the pattern worked up in different sizes, versions or yarns, or – and this applies especially to new designers, without established reputations – just to see that it has been knit successfully by people other than the designer. It’s a huge marketing advantage.  

Expectations

There’s some controversy around the question of fair compensation. Emily doesn’t use testers at all, because women’s work should be properly paid for, but there’s no room in her design budget for extra costs. Robynn is one of the designers who addresses this problem by running tests in a relaxed manner with low expectations, and rewarding testers with pattern vouchers.  

The “relaxed expectations” model (sometimes described as an early-access knitalong) is pretty common and relies on shared understanding of what the test is about: it should be a fun process, with benefits on both sides. Typically, testers join in because, like any other customer, they simply like the design and want to make it. They may also be a fan of the designer and enjoy feeling that they are part of the creation process.  

Unlike sample knitters (who are typically paid $0.15-0.20 per metre of yarn used, as well as of course having yarn supplied), they provide their own yarn, and obviously keep the FO; they get to choose which size and version they make. There is usually a deadline (providing motivation and structure) but designers should be flexible and realistic: for testers, this isn’t a job, and life will sometimes get in the way.

We’ve seen some designers issuing a long list of requirements: testers must use the exact recommended yarn, they must comply with tight deadlines, must take high-quality photos and share them on social media... honestly, if those are the expectations, testers definitely should be paid. Don’t go there, unless you’re ready to pay sample knitter rates.

Where and how?

You have plenty of options – from Ravelry (in your own group, or a testing group), to Slack, email or Yarnpond (see below). You can also recruit testers via Instagram or Facebook.

In recruiting, be clear on your expectations and what you’re offering. Aim for a specific number of testers (ideally at least one per size or option); you may not get that many, but know what you want, and be ready to close the call when the limit is reached. I don’t recommend being too picky (again, they’re doing you a favour!) but it’s okay to gently say that they’re not a great fit if, for instance, they have no Ravelry projects posted. That said, don’t worry too much about people who plan to take the pattern and run. It happens, but not that often, and they wouldn’t have bought the pattern anyway.  

Provide your testers with a list of questions to consider as they knit: for instance, is the layout clear and easy to navigate? Did the size and yarn usage work out as expected? Tell them how to stay in touch (do you expect regular updates?) and how to raise questions. I always ask them to post issues in the shared channel, whatever that is, rather than by private email, as it may well be relevant to others.  

Make sure you’re very available for the duration of the test – any problems should be dealt with asap! A bit of cheerleading is also welcome as they post their updates.  

And keep private notes on your testers. Anyone who has been particularly helpful (or shared really good photos) could be invited to join your mailing list for future tests. Anyone who has been difficult or flaked out without communication should probably be blacklisted.  

Designers often ask whether it’s better to have your pattern edited or tested first. We strongly argue for editing first. Having your testers knit an incorrect pattern is disrespectful of their time (again, they are not being paid!), and possibly a waste of yours, since you want to know how customers will experience the final pattern. Also, remember that unlike editing, testing is optional. If you run out of time you can absolutely publish before testing is complete. Don’t ever publish an unedited pattern!

Resources:

  • The Testing Pool is a very active group where you can recruit testers and run tests. There is a specific formula to follow in your post, but it’s not as rigid as the Free Pattern Testers group, which has very strict rules and no appeals process. (TTP tests are also usually unpaid.)

  • Yarnpond is a platform for designers or publications to recruit and run tests. It’s free for testers; designers pay a flat fee of $5 per test. Personally I find Ravelry far more user-friendly, but Yarnpond is useful for reaching beyond your normal audience, and for running totally private tests for releases that must stay under wraps.

Exercise #5: Get your pattern revised

  • Book a TE. For the PIF mentees editing will be done by Emily and Steph, but if you need to make contact with an editor, ask around or search the resources above. Email them to check availability, with details of your pattern (knit or crochet; type of item and level of complexity) and your timeline, if relevant. Also let them know that you’re a new designer and establish whether you’d prefer a light or heavy touch – for instance, would you appreciate feedback on your writing style, or do you just want actual errors to be flagged up? Check what document format they prefer to work in (Word is usually easier but you may prefer to send a pdf, in which case, how should they make their corrections and notes?).

  • Do a final check before sending your pattern (see above). Email it along with clear photographs and your style sheet. Agree on a due date, and on turnaround time after they send their corrections.

  • Recruit testers (if you’re using them). You can do this before editing is complete, but don’t actually start the test until editing is done (including post-editing revisions and possibly a final check) – let them know when you expect to have the pattern ready.

Next posts:

Step 6. Photography & editing
Step 7. Pattern release & marketing
Step 8. Project & business management, final questions