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More Ramblings on Test Knitting, both Good and Bad....

I thought I would add a few points after my outburst yesterday re hired knitters. I just wanted to say that the point of the discussion on Ravelry was not whether knitters were good or bad or whether designers were fair to them.

The point was, that a test knitter had asked where on Ravelry she could name and shame designers who don't pay up, and my reaction to that was that I didn't feel that either a knitter OR a designer should be dealing with those issues in public, where neither party could defend themselves adequately without appearing really unprofessional or actually breaching the confidentiality obligations in their contracts.

However, someone said she thought that perhaps I was scared of negative feedback because I had a high rejection rate and perhaps was unnecessarily harsh on employees, and perhaps looked for faults where there were none.

I can assure everyone though, even if you absolutely spell out what needs to be done there are certain people who can't do what they are asked to do and fail even if given every opportunity. I do a little test knitting stocking stitch squares, knitters are asked to do the following

Exercise 1: Knit a square, (approx 20-30 sts wide ) in
4ply/on 3mm needles,
DK/on 4mm needles
Aran/Worsted/on 5mm needles

Then they are asked to label each swatch with the following Name
Type of yarn/gauge weight of yarn

Needle Size

Gauge per 4inches (measure this yourself)

Weave in your ends and block swatch so it is presentable

This is useful to both check they can follow instructions and knit to gauge, but also that they can finish their work and make swatches good enough for photos as sometimes publishers of the Harmony Guides employ my knitters to knit their swatches and require clear labelling and good blocking and weaving in of ends.

In response to this, I get people knitting in any old yarn they find on any old needles, then not labelling it and returning it saying they didn't have the yarns and didn't have the correct needle sizes so they changed these and hope that I can see they knit neatly from the swatches anyway and they can follow a pattern.

Usually these people completely ignore the gauge measurement, and don't weave in ends or make their knitting look presentable (creased with uneven stitches)

Many who gave their gauge measurements of what they had knitted, had measured it inaccurately and usually their methods when described, explained what was causing the discrepancies. Often they had no concept of average gauge, or that it could vary over a whole garment.

I also set them

Exercise 2: knit the following on needles to achieve the gauges asked for
4ply yarn (I give them a specific gauge)

(I give a them specific gauge) Aran/Worsted (I give them a specific gauge)

They are asked to label these swatches in the same way, with their name, gauge/weight of yarn, the gauge they have knitted to and the needle sizes they used.

Some knitters have not labelled at all, told me once again they didn't have the needle sizes needed or the yarns needed.

None however, ever contacted me when they had received the test to communicate they didn't have the right needle sizes or yarns. They just hoped doing the squares any old how would do.

They were specifically warned at the beginning of the test, that it would assess whether they could knit to a gauge, label and take notes correctly, follow simple instructions and communicate any problems.

Really, the test was very simple and only a fraction of what they would need to do if knitting up a pattern for photography, or swatches for the Harmony Guide publishers. Many just refused or ignored instructions. However, a few people were excellent and beyond the standards asked for and these few people I passed on to Collins and Brown and as far as I know, they are still knitting swatches for a good fee per swatch and being offered other work.

I also get a fair amount of test knitters, who are told on Ravelry, please email me directly firstly for it to be confidential and secondly because I can send a return email immediately with the patterns they need. I ask, please don't pm me or put a message up on the forum.

Despite this, I get some knitters sending me forum messages, and some even say "I know you didn't want me to pm you, but I just wanted to ask if I can test knit....." and then if I say, really you need to email me as it is more efficient and I can't send you docs via Ravelry, they go off for a while, then come back and say they looked everywhere but couldn't find my email address so could I just send them what they need via Ravelry? And actually, my email address is on the forum, is on my profile, my website, and on every correspondence with them.

Their confusion and laziness for following simple directions, usually tells me
what they are like to test knit with. And often those people will test knit a pattern but not bother to use an appropriate yarn, and if it is a baby item convert it to an adult, or often they just disappear then a photo of the supposedly confidential design pops up in their public Flickr album.

However, these are just some of the problems. There are some excellent test knitters who popped up, who surprisingly, hadn't ever done a job like that before but were able to produce a garment overnight and edit the pattern and comment on it constructively.

They proved that the pattern could work as well, because I had also received emails saying that knitters could not even knit one of the patterns as it did not work, even though it was a simple rib with just one simple cable.

I really feel in some of those cases, it is not the communication the designer offers that is the problem, it is that people who are able to knit to a beginner/intermediatelevel pattern to satisfy themselves sometimes overreach themselves if they think they can test knit a pattern too.

A few people had problems with language, they didn't understand what minus/take away/or subtract meant, so instead of knitting a sock to a specific length minus (subtract or take away) the 2.5cm toe, they just knitted the whole sock length as 2.5cm and I could not find any other way of explaining that other than in the final pattern putting a specific length. I wanted to find out those specific lengths/row numbers from the test knits, and couldn't rely on them matching specific row gauges if I gave row numbers, so those who could not do simple maths or said the word 'minus' did not exist in US English, were not really suitable to test a rough pattern. It is slightly different from just normal knitting.

However, the fact that some people got stuck on a simple pattern does reflect what could happen commercially if that pattern was sold, and it is disheartening as there is nothing that can be done to improve some people's interpretations of a simple pattern that cannot be simplified further. My patterns tend to be in abbreviated form, either US language text or UK language text, or both, depending on where published

The majority of people applying to work as knitters wish to do so as they are at home and enjoy knitting as hobby so think why not do it professionally. And not everyone can cross over and reach the high standards the industry requires. Even I can't achieve those standards when it comes to seaming set in sleeves or fiddly embroidery on sweaters, so I don't take on these jobs when knitting for other designers as my hand mobility is not up to it.

I am being totally truthful when I say a very small percentage are suitable or
able to do the things they are asked, and I know from my experience of working with other designers that the patterns I give out to people I don't know, are very thorough. I often put more into the pattern to help a knitter achieve specific sizes etc, than will eventually appear in the published pattern.

There are some very good knitters out there, but unfortunately some of the more senior ones will not use dpns as they are traditional sweater knitters
for yarn companies. And the rest of the good ones, will do one or two jobs but really if they are good then they will want to produce their own work and design themselves, which is fair enough.

The knitters I have helping me at the moment are designers, and involved in publishing and they really are the best, if something is causing a problem, they tell me so, they are capable of communicating and have a strong drive to achieve a beautiful finished piece. They are much better than I could ever be at finishing and neatness. The thing is, my standard is very, very average, and all I want is for knitters to be at least up to my standard, which shouldn't be very hard at all considering the problems I have with using my hands (numbness, neuropathy, hardened scar tissue and limited movement, fatigue, brain confusion, overall slowness and eyesight problems).

By the way, all the images on this post have absolutely nothing to do with the content, but I just couldn't leave all that bare text up there without sticking up some colourful but totally useless scribblings and images from the web.


noblinknits said...

The images are hilarious!

chris said...

I have knit my own designs for years now, and it all comes down to the swatch. I tell all my friends, with a good swatch and some simple math, the pattern comes together. How is it there are still knitters who are sloppy with (or skip completely) the swatch. I sympathize with your dealings and concure with the simple tests to see if your knitters can follow instructions, and understand that the gauge and swatch are the foundation of the garment. Keep up the standards!

Zabet said...

Erse, I have to side with you. When I was looking for tech editors for the AC I put them through paces to determine ability to follow directions, knowledge of the nomenclature for the craft involved, as well as to see what they do when presented with a challenge. I absolutely agree that you are right to set tasks for potential test-knitters (it is a JOB, not a HOBBY once money is changing hands). I'm also not surprised by the general horror you've encountered. You forget that a good 85% of the population are complete monkeys who want everything pre-packaged, disposable, AND spoon-fed to them. The crafting population is no different - there are more dabblers than there are artisans.

And I assure you, "minus" is indeed a part of US English. ;)

Anonymous said...

explains Bush as prez

Nan said...

I only recently came across the test knitters group (and from there, your blog). This post is fantastic information for anyone who wants to do test knitting! Anyone who would take issue with it, probably doesn't really want the reality of test knitting (or any other kind).

Thank you so very much.

(as for "anonymous" comment re Bush - I laughed - nay, I guffawed. Too true.)

loved the post, thank you again.
Nan C