3 changes to make for more inclusive test knits

I’ve talked previously about designer pay, and how designers need to be paid more for there to be a chance for marginalized folks to enter and stay in the industry. This remains true in 2022, and I still believe that designer pay is too low across the board no matter who the designer is. 

However, the devaluing of the labor associated with the knitting craft doesn’t just exist in designer pay. It’s in every part of the production process for pattern creation. I think it’s really important that we hold this in tension with what I’m about to say, meaning that we can multitask and think about test knits while at the same time acknowledging that designers are underpaid.

Today I want to talk a little more about what I’d like to see from my fellow designers to make the test knitting process less exploitative and more inclusive. 

When we run test knits, the knitters who sign up are working for us as volunteers, putting in many, many hours in exchange for maybe a couple of free patterns, in most cases. We are asking for a huge amount of time input, for very little in return.

Before I was a designer, I was a frequent test knitter for a year. And now that I’ve been a designer for a little more than a year and have made it my full time job, relying on it for my income and everything, I feel ready to talk about the things I’ve learned by having been on both sides of this table.

When I was a test knitter, I loved being part of the experience, being able to share FO’s with everyone else. It felt like a little knit-along, and that remains true. There are a lot of positive things about test knitting.

However, there are still things that we can do to improve the experience for our knitters and make sure everyone can participate if they want to.

Here are three changes I’ve made to my testing more inclusive that’s possible within my budget:

Longer Test Period 

This one is the one that immediately comes to mind when someone asks me how they can run tests more equitably. 5-6 weeks is not enough for a garment with sleeves. I know, I know, they’re the industry norm, but it’s just not good enough. 

There are a lot of good reasons for having a longer test period. It’s more size inclusive, since shorter test timelines are amplified in larger sizes (more yards required per week compared to smaller sizes). The testing timeline should be based on the largest sizes, not the smaller sample sizes typically used in the pattern design process. I don’t think I can call myself a size-inclusive designer if I’m not running size-inclusive tests because the test periods are too short.

There’s also disability inclusion, because people with repetitive stress injuries, mobility issues, and mental health conditions might need that extra buffer time to finish. 

And finally, a longer test period is more class-inclusive because people who work long hours or multiple jobs are more likely to be able participate if the test period is much longer. 

I typically give 10 weeks on all my DK or heavier weight garments, more if I can afford to, and 12 weeks for any smaller gauge garments. 

I’m an extraordinarily slow knitter myself due to chronic pain and ADHD, and I would not be able to finish my own patterns in the largest sizes if I was given any less time than that, so I’m truly speaking from experience here!

Yarn support, where possible 

I would like to see yarn companies and designers work together to provide yarn support, whether full or partial, to test knitters. I try my best to have a few spots of financial aid available, especially in the largest sizes (since larger sized testers have more of a yarn cost burden), for every single test. I’ve successfully worked with many yarn companies to provide a discount, and then along with the discount I provide a small stipend to cover at least 50% of the yarn’s retail cost for knitters who have applied for financial aid. 

This makes test knitting more financially accessible to all. I’ve had so many really lovely, super helpful test knitters who have told me they couldn’t have afforded to test without the financial aid. Everybody wins if we can make this happen. 

While test knitting is a volunteering role, I really believe that we need to move towards some form of compensation. To me, the ideal would be full yarn support to all those who want to knit it with purchased yarn and not something they already own, and I’m actively working to move my business in that direction as my business grows. 

Financial aid for yarn for tests is now a permanent part of my business budget for every pattern’s product development. 

This one is probably the hardest one for designers to consider, since many of us (including myself) are working on shoestring budgets and do not sell enough copies to recoup our costs. However, I’m still going to put this down here because I really think that our industry is long overdue for better compensation for testers. 

I know that not every designer will be able to do this, and I don’t judge anyone (especially those with marginalized identities) for not being able to do this. However, I would like to see yarn companies step up to fill the gap since the cost is so much lower for them to produce the yarn support needed. I’ve worked with a few yarn companies that have been willing to provide full yarn support for my upper size testers, and I’m grateful for that and hope to see other companies follow suit. 

(You can provide yarn support by donating to my Ko-fi fund here. Just add a note that it’s for yarn support and I can add that to my budget.)

Are we testing or are we marketing? 

This is a sticky one, because we all need to be able to demonstrate our proficiency in the grade and show that it works in all sizes, but I’m starting to think that photo requirements to participate in a test are kinda shitty. 

Here’s the thing. Are we running a test knit or a preview knit? Because those are very different things. 

I’ve participated in ‘tests’ that were really more of a marketing preview knit, and the designer didn’t respond to feedback in any meaningful way. Sometimes this works out because the pattern was basically flawless, and sometimes it’s a hot mess. 

When the difference between test knitting for quality control vs marketing is unclear, testers also don’t know if they are safe to submit feedback or if they’re just expected to churn out FOs, take beautiful pictures, and fudge any unclear parts in the pattern. 

To be clear, I want my tests to be places where we make the pattern as good as it can be prior to launch. Any photos given are just a bonus, and not at all required. 

When we are requiring photos to share on our own platforms for marketing, we are excluding a lot of knitters who might not feel comfortable sharing their bodies or faces shown on our accounts.

I don’t think there’s a ‘right’ way to do this part, but after thinking long and hard about it I’ve decided stop requiring public-facing photos. As long as I can see a fit photo in Slack, it’s all good. And of course, plenty of test knitters are still happy to share their photos with me for marketing purposes which is a kind and lovely bonus.

Look… testing is just one step of many that designers have to manage.

It can be a lot to add all these items to our list of considerations when we are running a test. But on the other side of the table, testers are increasingly being asked to do far too much. Yes, there are non-compensatory things that they receive in return, such as direct pattern support, often a super fun group chat to participate in, and the chance to be the first to knit what might be the next hot pattern.

Still, as the standard size range expands to be more inclusive (a great thing!), and testers are being asked to knit increasingly complex and larger projects in short periods, I think it’s time that our industry starts to think more critically about how we can create a better environment for testers and even provide financial support for the yarn at minimum. 

What do you think? If you are a pattern tester, please feel free to drop in the comments what you’d like to see change in our industry. I want to hear from you! 

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12 Replies to “3 changes to make for more inclusive test knits”

  1. These are all good points and I’ve really enjoyed participating in your test knits! I would also add that it’s very important to give your testers what you think is a final, edited pattern. I’ve participated in a few where what we got felt like a first draft and there was a LOT of re-knitting, which is very frustrating. (Not a problem you ever have!)

  2. Thank you for writing about this Aimee. I’m pretty new to test knitting, so I wasn’t sure what practices were common.
    I participated in a test knit over the summer, and AFTER I completed it, was given instructions to put the project on ravelry with photos and notes, as well as sharing photos on Instagram with specific hashtags. I just ignored that email, but it has bothered me since.
    I knew ahead of time that I wasn’t going to receive any compensation, but didn’t get any advance notice that I was expected to participate in marketing.
    I’m happy to see you challenging these expectations!

  3. The testing versus marketing question really hit home. I have definitely been part of pattern tests where I felt that my valid criticism (A 4-inch neck hole is too small for a head!) was met with irritation or a reluctant change. I am happy to produce pretty pictures and also happy to take a critical eye to a pattern, but I would prefer to know which I’m being asked to do.

  4. Thank you SO much for this! I have test knit for a few designers, and there is only one who I’m willing to repeat the experience with (I’m currently on my third test knit for her). One of them demanded that I use a specific (expensive) yarn and got annoyed when I said she either provided the yarn, or I would use stash. Another wanted a plus-sized adult garment in less than 4 weeks, and a third told me “I must be knitting it wrong” when I told her that the garment I had got gauge for would not fit over my child’s wrists.

    I am more than happy to provide my own yarn for a test, as I only test things that I or a member of my family would wear. I love to knit… but I also have to work, do deadlines need to be reasonable. And I want the designer to be responsive when I ask a question

  5. I have not started test knitting, though I would consider myself experienced enough. One reason is that while size inclusivity starts being a thing, gender is not (not talking about shawls, but things with arm holes). And I don’t mean “wear what matches your gender best”, but in order to knit something I as a 6ft trans man with a faible for feminine clothing, or my girlfriend with wide shoulders and narrow waist, or my transmasc friends without top surgery will wear, I have to adapt every single pattern I use to the individual specifications of the body and the dysphoria the person experiences. I like doing this and it is very satisfactory to watch my favorite people be happy in my garments. But so far, I don’t see patterns that want to tackle these issues at all, and I don’t see calls for test knitting that address modifications (and that is not only a trans issue — upsizing is not simply upscaling), and that means I can’t do test knitting, because I wouldn’t know who would wear the finished garment.
    That is what would make test knitting accessible for me, apart from the issues you raise (thank you, especially the photo and the time frame hit home!)

    1. It literally brings me to tears to read this, ’cause it’s just SO discouraging to deal with this! Plus I have yet to see any designers speaking about wanting to even approach transgender inclusivity in the pattern designing process. And I mean beyond the commentary “clothes have no gender”.

      I don’t have any experience with test knitting, though I want to if I can ever get in before “my size” fills up. I want to test knit so that designers will hear from at least two trans people (myself and possibly my girlfriend) what it’s like to engage with their patterns.

      I want to see test calls that outright say they will reserve a space in some sizes for trans folks.

      I wouldn’t expect everyone to do this, but the fact I haven’t seen it feels… well like I have to make a space for myself and hope to find others too if I ever want to feel like I have a relatable knitting community. (Also you knitting things for your trans loved ones just squeezes my heart! I want to be skilled enough to do that reliably one day.)

  6. Oh my goodness! This is so on target! I have tested for several different designers and you are by far my favorite. The requirement to produce nice photos is actually making me consider if I want to test knit anymore. I have purchased cheap photography equipment just to make the photos look a little better, but I just want to knit the garment and test the pattern. Yarn support is so wonderful of you! I’m glad to contribute to your ko-fi to help with that idea! The amount of time given to test a pattern is why I love testing for you the most! I have a full-time+ job and I can’t do a fingering weight sweater in a month. I just turn those down now. I have dealt with one designer that just threw the pattern at us and then disappeared. No feedback at all! It was really awful! I ended up finishing the garment, but several months after the deadline. It was the only time I didn’t finish a test knit. Thank you for being the voice of the test knitter!

  7. I love this article having done test knits myself which I have taken a break from recently
    if more consideration was given as mentioned in your article you would feel
    More appreciated for your time ,
    yes I only do test knits that I would like or someone I know would , and I’m happy to supply my own wool , I know the designer has many many things to juggle and I love being part of the process and the deadlines etc I think the whole process definitely needs your very worthy input @aimeeshermakes

  8. I agree with all of your points! I know personally I cannot sign up for tests because I can’t knit a sweater in 5 weeks and often small items are only given a couple. I don’t want to stress out about the deadlines. If I don’t have yarn on hand I try not to sign up so I can avoid spending more money on the test.

  9. I have been test knitting since late 2019 but really dove into multiple test knits starting in 2020 when the pandemic made connecting with other knitters/crocheters even harder. Learning new techniques and garment construction is a bonus to meeting other test knitters.

    Test knitting has been a way for me to knit through my stash and really appreciate the value of swatching. Sometimes the test knit requests for a very specific yarn or only 1 type of yarn and it is either too expensive or it takes too long for the specific yarn to reach my hands to start an already tight deadline.
    So I agree that designers with a longer and more generous testing period should be the standard. Or that the designer consider a more flexible testing period. I find that when I ask for a longer testing period when 4-5 weeks was given, I usually don’t get selected.

    Testing a pattern really should be just testing the pattern for ease of following the pattern, clarity of the instructions and tracking yardage consumption. I have had to rip out whole lace sections of test knits due to incorrect chart and incorrect written chart instructions. I have also felt more pressure to take more pretty wips of the test knit to bring more attention to the “soon to be released” pattern, to FO photos on release day.

    It’s also really important that designers respond to questions or errors/discrepancies of written instructions in a timely fashion..within the same day should be the longest that they should take to respond especially when the testing period is just over 4 weeks. I have had designers not respond to errors/clarifications for 3 days!

    But the hardest thing about test knitting is the lack of standard for compensation for test knitters. I have had the tested pattern be the compensation or a small discount off another of the designer’s pattern. Often, it’s the tested pattern plus 1 free pattern compensation that is the most attractive at the moment. Yarn compensation or partial yarn compensation should be the goal we’re working towards for test knitters in addition to the extra free pattern. Modelling the FO and completing the pattern before the release date is quite stressful. I even saw one well established designers state in her test knitters application that if you don’t complete the pattern by the stated deadline, you’ll be billed the price of the pattern upon the release and be banned from ever test knitting for her again.
    Needless to say, I didn’t apply to test knit for this designer.

    Crediting test knitters when the pattern is released is another small way of recognizing the valuable time and effort put in by test knitters. Or perhaps a thank you note, whether electronic or handwritten, to show appreciation to the test knitters.

    Not really an easy solution but really appreciate you giving this topic a spotlight.

  10. I love this article, nearly every point you made about why you extended your testing timelines applies to me. I truly appreciate the depth of thought you’ve put into this!

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