Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sample and Test Knitting: What They're All About

I'm often asked how and why I test and sample knit for other folks, so I thought I'd do a little post about it. To many knitters, sample and test knitting seem pretty glamorous. You get to rub elbows with favorite designers or yarn companies, see new designs before they're published, maybe get free patterns or free yarn or some pocket money, or your sample may even appear in print! But as with most things that appear glamorous on the surface, the reality is a little different. So before you sign up for your first test or sample, you may want to keep the following in mind.
"Peacock Splendor" test knit
You may be knitting from a rough pattern. Most test knits are for patterns that haven't yet been published. Some designers will send the pattern to a tech editor before starting a test, but many don't. So the pattern may have mistakes or typos or even missing instructions or charts. It also may not have many (or any) photos to reference. If these things make you uncomfortable, you may want to reconsider testing, or test only those patterns that are more complete. Know what you are and aren't willing to put up with in a pattern, and be sure to ask the designer the appropriate questions to assess your comfort level with the proposed test or sample before you say yes.

You will have a deadline to meet. Some designers are flexible about their deadlines, but many are not because they have to meet a deadline for a publication. If you don't meet your deadline, the designer won't either, and this could cost the designer a job, or at least a few sleepless knits while they curse your name. So make sure you can meet the deadline before you commit. If it normally takes you 2 months to knit a hat, don't sign up to test a sweater with a 2-week deadline. Life does happen and many designers are understanding of this, but don't make a habit of asking for extensions if you want to keep testing for that designer.
"Sunbleached" test knit
You may not be able to make changes. Love the designer's new sweater, but with a different collar instead? Adore that new sock design but want to try it toe-up instead of cuff-down? Thinking of using sport weight instead of fingering? Then you may want to wait until the pattern is published to try it out. Some designers will let testers make some small changes with prior approval, such as adding length to fit the tester's own body. Other designers (especially for sample knits) will control everything, from the size you make to the yarn you can knit with.

You absolutely must get gauge with the required yarn weight. I know, I know. Gauge swatches are boring, but they're imperative for tests and samples! And it doesn't matter what needle size the designer used; if you get gauge on size 4 needles instead of size 6, then this is what you should use. If you are knitting at a different gauge than everyone else, the final measurements of the garment will not be accurate. If you have to do math to make the gauge work, it's not an accurate test of the pattern as written. Plus, the designer needs to know average number of yards used and potential yarn substitutions. Some designers will require photograph evidence that you met gauge for tests, and some will even require you to return the swatch with your sample.
"Roads End" test knit
You have to be good at keeping secrets. Many designers, especially if the pattern is for publication, need to keep their project a secret. This means you can't let your best friend feel the yarn XYZ company is coming out with next fall, you can't share the lacework charts with your mom, you can't work on your piece at your local Stitch n' Bitch, you can't ask your favorite LYS owner for pattern help, and you certainly can't post teaser photos on Ravelry or Facebook. Most designers will tell you up front if the test or sample is top-secret or not. But if they don't say either way, it's always a good idea to ask before you share anything.
You should be familiar and comfortable with the pattern techniques. This is more true for samples than it is for tests, as many designers like to know their patterns are accessible to beginners. But in many cases, you should know what techniques are required before you say yes to a sample or test. We all like to stretch ourselves and try new things, but you'll only stress yourself out if you suddenly realize you really hate knitting with lace weight yarn, or that you can't maintain even tension while doing stranded colorwork. Save the new techniques for when you're not on a tight deadline and can give the skills more attention, unless the designer says they're specifically looking for people who are a bit green. You don't want to spend half your available knitting time watching YouTube videos for the cable cast-on or Googling how to make a Latvian braid.
"Ethan Handwarmers" test knit
You need to be an awesome communicator. The designer is counting on you to provide solid feedback about the pattern and catch mistakes before publication. No question is too small or too silly to bother with. When knitting for yourself from a published pattern, you can just fudge the numbers or soldier on when something is tricky and hope it turns out okay. But if anything at all seems off about the pattern you are testing from, you need to speak up. Don't just assume you know how to fix it, either. If the math of stitch counts doesn't add up, it could be just an error of addition. Or maybe the math is actually correct, but the designer put in the wrong number of decreases/increases. Even if you're 98 percent sure which it is, you shouldn't continue knitting until you have an answer from the designer.

You might have to prove yourself. Some designers will let anyone who asks test for them. But others are a bit more choosy. They may only want to work with people who have experience with tests. Or maybe their pattern has a tricky technique, and they only want to work with people who are (or aren't!) already familiar with this technique. Still other designers assign tests on a lottery system. Don't be discouraged if you answer an open call and get turned down. If you continually get turned down, take a look at your projects page on Ravelry. Do you have clear, modeled shots of all of your projects, taken in natural light? Do your projects include examples of past work using similar techniques to the test you're trying to get? If you don't use Ravelry, do you have another place that showcases your work, such as a blog or Etsy shop?
"Bloom Dress" test knit
You need to be very detail-oriented. If you want to make an awesome impression on your designer, you need to follow all directions to a T. This is beyond being able to follow the pattern and point out errors. You also need to follow any other instructions the designer gave you. If the designer only wants to be notified of mistakes through email, don't post them in the test thread. If you're required to set up a project page and link to the pattern, don't forgot to post really nice modeled photos of your item. If you were asked to fill out and turn in a survey after the test is complete, don't neglect to do so. Even if the designer is super happy with your knitting, they will not appreciate having to nag you to do the other things they asked, and you could get passed over for future tests.

"Namaste Pullover" sample knit
While I think both test and sample knitting are very fun and rewarding, it probably isn't everyone's cup of tea. Even though you may be doing it for fun, you still need to treat it like a job. Be professional, follow through on everything asked of you, and don't be afraid to ask questions. If you're looking to dip your toe into the testing waters, try finding your favorite designer's group on Ravelry and watching the forums for test calls. You can also join the Free Pattern Testers and The Testing Pool forums, which are devoted solely to test calls.

Do you test or sample knit? Anything you would add to this list?


  1. Thanks for all the great tips Jessica. You have given me lots to think about while I do my first test knit!

    1. You're going to do great! Let me know how it goes and if there's any important tips/tricks I missed!