Designing: Testers vs Tech Editors

editing paper with red ink
editing paper with red ink

I have been wanted to do a series of articles that talk about what I’ve learned about being a designer.  As a result, I’ve added another category to the mailing list!  Now you can signup or update your subscription and pick the topics you want to read!  Currently you can choose from Homesteading, General Crafts or Designing.  If you are currently signed up, you have not been automatically added to the Designing list.

Tech Editing

As you may or may not know, I am not just a knitting and crochet designer, but I am also a Tech Editor.  What does that mean?  Basically, designers hire a tech editor to review their pattern looking for things like:

  • All relevant sections are in the pattern: name, yarn used, hooks or needles needed, size(s) finished project, stitches used, etc.
  • No typos or bad grammar.  This is editing after all!
  • If stitch counts are included, are they accurate?
  • If there are charts, do they match the written instructions?
  • Are the instructions consistent throughout the pattern?

I have a long checklist of things to watch for when looking through a pattern!

You might think that being a tech editor that I would be able to process my own designs, right?  Wrong!  It’s too hard to see the mistakes I make in my own writing and formatting.  As a designer, you know what it is supposed to say, so it’s too easy to skim past the problems because your brain reads it as it thinks it should be written.

Tech editors typically do not make changes to the actual pattern.  They offer suggestions to make it as readable and error-free as possible.  These days it can all be done electronically by “marking up” a PDF or other digital document.  It is then up to the designer to make the final corrections to the pattern based on those suggestions.

Tech editors are usually paid for their services.  Some charge an hourly rate and others use a flat-rate fee depending on the type of item.

I understand that sometimes it’s a temptation to skip this step, especially if you are new or if the cost of a tech editor is a huge expense compared to the cost of the pattern.  But even if you plan to offer your design for free, it is still a good idea to have a tech editor review the pattern.  Having poorly written instructions can affect a designer’s reputation.  If your free patterns are quality work, then knitters and crocheters are more likely to purchase patterns from you.  Sometimes you can find someone who is new to the tech editing world that would glad offer a reduced rate in exchange for an honest review or testimonial of their work.


If you have a tech editor, why would you also need testers?  A tech editor strives to not just look at formatting issues but tries to find as many technical errors as possible – stitch counts being off, measurements that don’t match the proper sizing, etc.  However, sometimes it is hard to spot problems without actually making the item.  This is where testers are invaluable.

One thing to note: testers are not the same as sample knitters.  Sample knitters are paid for their time to work up a prototype of the design.  Often they are also sent the yarn needed to knit the design.  When complete, the finished project is mailed back to the designer to take measurements and photos.  Testers on the other hand are working the pattern according to the directions, typically using their own yarn but they also get to keep the finished project.  Some designers only use a sample knitter while others (like myself) will knit the prototype themselves and then use testers.

Testers can help with determining:

  • do the directions make sense for their level of knowledge?
  • are they able to match the gauge with the needles or hooks listed in the pattern?
  • how much yarn was used in their finished project?
  • is there information missing from the pattern that could help make it clear?

Not all testers will find all the problems, but the more testers you have at varying levels of proficiency (beginner, intermediate, etc.) the better chance you have of discovering issues with the instructions.

Some designers pay testers that they like to use.  I’ve occasionally “paid” testers with an additional pattern from my design collection if they’ve done exceptional work – such as help me through trouble areas, posting beautiful pictures, etc.

If you are just starting out, it is easy to find testers that are willing to test for “free” – with the only payment being a final, clean copy of that pattern.  When I was first learning to knit and crochet, I often participated in these tests – it was a great way to learn new techniques and try different types of patterns I might not otherwise do!

There are several free groups on Ravelry that allow you to post patterns that are available for testing.  The Testing Pool (m favorite), Free Pattern Testers and Open for Testing are the most common.  Some have stricter posting rules than other, but are a great way to find people willing to test.  If I’m running a test on Ravelry, I might post in the free groups, but then run the actual test in my own ASimpleHomestead Designs group on Ravelry like many other designers.  (Note: if you are a knitter/crocheter and have a favorite designer – check to see if they have a group on Ravelry; often you can find out about tests being run, new releases, discount codes, etc.)  You might also be able to find test knitters by reaching out to your local yarn shop (LYS) – especially if the store carries a yarn suitable for the test.

The only drawback to these free test groups is that sometimes you get people that “flake”: they sign up for a test and may even start it, but they don’t finish in the required time frame – or at all!  It’s completely up to the designer to manage who is testing and keep track of who finishes and who doesn’t.

A low-cost solution to help manage testing is Yarnpond.  It’s free for testers to sign up and only $5 per test (or less) for designers.  Testers can be rated by the designers so others can see if they finished or were helpful to the process.  Testers can rate the patterns and fill out feedback forms.  There’s even a chat room per test so others can see what questions and issues there might be with the pattern.

In addition to finding problems in the pattern, another advantage to using testers is that you can make it a requirement that they upload pictures of their finished projects to Ravelry.  This gives knitters and crocheters a chance to see how the pattern turned out for others.  Some people don’t like making a pattern unless they’ve seen that someone besides the designer has created it.  And it can even help create a “buzz” about your new design if they post on social media!

I’ve also made some good friends through running the tests.  Some might even call them fans :-).

Do I need both?

As mentioned above, tech editing is crucial to a good design.  They are the ones that will be looking at the whole pattern – not just one size (as your testers would be) or skipping over explanation sections if they already know a technique.  My tech editor also edits my patterns to make sure they follow my Style Sheet (see below) – a document that lists how I want to describe instructions, so they are consistent across all my patterns.

A tech editor will also compare pictures of your finished object and any charts against the written instructions to make sure they match.  When I was preparing my Trinity Cabled Pillows, my tech editor spotted that my cables were “backwards” – because I had taken the pictures of the pillows upside down!

Sometimes testers will automatically “fix” a problem in a pattern by determining what needs to be done and doing it even though the instructions say something different.  I’ve seen that happen when I have two testers complete a project with no comments and a third will find an error.  The error was there all along but either the other two didn’t want to mention it or they figured out how to make it work.

However, even the best tech editors may miss issues where an instruction isn’t as clear, where gauge is hard to match (even though the designer and yarn company matched), or how the finished project fits on “real” people.

Which comes first?

It’s really a designer preference if the pattern goes to the tech editor or testers first.  Some like to have a pattern as close to the release status as possible before they send to testers, so they will tech edit first.  Others might like to save a bit of money and see if the testers will find problems before a tech editor takes over.  It’s really a personal decision.

Normally I send to my tech editor first, but on rare occasion I will reverse the process if I think the testers might find more issues than the editor.

More Information

I have a couple of Style Sheet samples with LOTS of ideas:

These are just ideas.  Feel free to copy or download these files to set up a style sheet of your own to help you and your tech editor maintain consistent pattern writing! You certainly don’t need to put everything in your own Style Sheet and you definitely should make it unique to your own needs and writing style.

If you would like to learn more about tech editing or have specific questions, feel free to reach out to me using the contact form on the Tech Editing page.  It never hurts to ask!

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