Pattern Testing 101

“You haven’t made it in the industry until someone develops an irrational hatred for you.”

It’s odd that an observation like that would make me feel a lot better as I sat, sharing a pot of tea with the head of a well known yarn brand. We’d met briefly at an event by chance years and years ago. I was a young designer just starting out, she was a business woman used to seeing her name on billions of ball bands, and she’d asked me how I was finding the day-to-day work of crochet design.

I told her almost everyone has been very supportive and enthusiastic.
Almost everyone?”
“Well,” I replied, nervous and unsure how many beans to spill on this nice lady’s beautiful hand-knit jumper, “there was one customer recently who was anything but.”

I told her about a woman who blasted a hole through Ravelry in her haste to post on my forum where she’d offered up a tract about how what I was doing with crochet was “wrong”, how the terms I used were “made up gobbledegook” (isn’t everything?) and how she’d had to personally help dozens of confused people understand my patterns by rewriting them using the “proper” terminology.

As several brave souls came forward to defend my honour and explain the reasoning behind the new terms in my patterns, she chose to roll her eyes and proclaim my defenders “acolytes of Aoibhe”.
Which, frankly, wow. I wish, right?!

And so, this yarn brand head offered up her wisdom.

I still think her observation has an element of truth to it, but I’ve found a gentler, kinder perspective on success since then.

“You haven’t made it in the industry until your colleagues come to your for advise”.

I like that idea better.
So, I’ve decided to answer the most common question I get from fellow designers.

“Do you use a tech editor and if not, what do you do instead?”

OK, so. Here’s the skinny.
I hired several in my early days, thinking that was the thing to do. And before I go any further, I still think editors are great, if you have the capital and you can develop a relationship with a good one who knows and works with your style, not against it.

But early on, I didn’t have a style, I barely had a business frankly. I certainly didn’t have the extra cash to hire a pro to fix something I could do myself. And then I discovered the glorious, gorgeous, witty, brilliant band of makers called “pattern testers”.
Ah, what wonderful folk! What magical woodland creatures!

Here’s what I’ve learnt about pattern testing and editing from these majestic beings:

1. Don’t ask friends to be testers.
Well, not only friends, anyway.
Strangers will give you a way better impression of your pattern than people who love you. Friends will soft ball you, and that’s no use when your pattern goes out in the world. A combo of veterans who can tell you “You used to write that instruction like this… but you’ve changed it and now it makes less sense”, and new people who can be all like “I don’t understand that shorthand and where am I supposed to put that treble at the end of the row?” is what you’re looking for.

2. Be sure your testers know you can take criticism.
Sometimes, designers screw up with their pattern writing big time. Something you think is as clear as a summer’s day can be as murky as fuck to someone outside your brain. And your testers need to know you won’t be missish about their observations.
I make a BIG point about asking my testing teams to rip the pattern apart. I assure them I’ll thank them for every single slip up they point out to me, and then I do exactly that.
“This is wrong”
“Hell, yea! Thanks for spotting that!”
This encourages makers to engage in the process. It’s worth the dent to the ego, folks, because you are left with a much better pattern afterwards. There is no greater gift than honesty, and I make damn sure I show I appreciate it.

It’s also vital that a tester’s confusion isn’t made to seem like their fault. It has got to be clear their confusion is your doing. You wrote the pattern, if they don’t understand, it’s time for a rewrite.

3. Live and breathe your pattern text.
OK, so while the test is happening, you’re editing the text to fix any mistakes and flaws you’ve written in. This is the gift that keeps on giving. I assure you, three years later, when you get a question about a certain row, or a certain set of stitches you used to solve a stitch count problem, you’ll remember it because you spent time discussing it with a tester.
I’ve the worst memory imaginable (just ask my boyfriend… er, what’shisface), but engaging fully in the testing process has meant I have been able to answer very specific questions at yarn festivals and trunk shows.
“How do you start the first fan on Venus?”
“Ooooh, you know, I had a tester ask me that exact thing, so I did up a video. Hang on, I’ll find it for you.”
Boom. You immediately look like a pro.

4. I usually test on Ravelry, but what do I do if I can’t/don’t want to access it anymore?
Ah, ha. OK. Yes. I’m working on that.
My current test is being conducted totally in Googe Docs and Google Sheets. Bare in mind, I’m only two days in, but so far so good. If it works out, I’ll show you all my set up, explain what I did (and what I’d do differently) in a future post.
Comment below if a post like that would interest you.

5. Be sure your testers know going in what to expect.
There’s nothing worse than arriving at a party only to be told on arrival that it’s BYOB, right? Same thing applies with a pattern test. Be sure when you invite people to volunteer that they know your intentions with the end result.
• Timeframe for the test.
• Do they have to use the same yarn as you?
• Do you need info from them like time the project took, exact yardage, etc?
• Do you allow modifications?
• Are you going to need modelled photos? Will you accept photos modelled by the tester’s Suberian Husky. (The answer is always “Yes”)

All these things can be useful early on.

6. Stay present.
I have slipped up on this a LOT in the past.
My depression was a massive cause of prolonged radio silence. I’d leave questions unanswered for way, way too long, and answer them well after a point my info could have been helpful.
It seems hypocritical to expect you to do this when I have spent years doing the opposite, but truly, it is such an important thing to do.
Answer questions swiftly, folks.
Testers will understand if you can’t (as long as you do explain), but everyone will be much happier if you are in regular contact.

Nowadays I’m much stronger (two years of therapy did wonders), so I try to check in with my testers at least once a day when I’ve an active test on the go.

7. Hashtag your test
Oh yes. People will follow your testers progress on social media.
That gives them some well-deserved notoriety and turns a very solitary process into a bit of a party. It also means that people are more likely to volunteer to test a future pattern, too!
“I saw the test for XYZ pattern, and it looked like a lot of fun!”
It is!

It’s also a great way to see how each tester is getting on. Commenting on progress posts does good things both for the poster and for you. Anyone watching knows where to find you, and it shows your testers that you are as hyped about their work as they are.

…………….

There are many other smaller tips that I could offer, but the more I write the less time I have left to show my testers some love.
If you’ve any questions about pattern testing, I’m happy to answer them in the comments below, so ask away!

In the meantime, happy designing, folks, and happy testing!

Categories: Design & Inspiration

Aoibhe Ni

I'm a crochet shawl designer from Ireland.
Feminist. Trekkie. Dog Lover.

4 Comments

  1. Totally interested in the off-Ravelry process for testing patterns.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and process. You’re a great designer and seem to be a pretty neat person too.

  2. kim doughty

    I totally agree with your approach when testing patterns. I have been following you for the last 6 months and enjoy your beautiful patterns, your wit and your kind approach. Shine on!

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