Join a community of pattern designers getting our weekly posts about running pattern tests

Don't miss out on the latest tips, tools, and tactics at the forefront of running effective pattern tests.
    There was a problem processing your request. Please try again.


    Do I Need to Run Pattern Tests?

    by Stephen - 28th July 2022

    Now let's understand why.

    Stephen's 1st Law of Pattern Testing

    Testing is part of the design process.

    Many people see pattern testing as an essential, but optional, practice that happens after completing the design process.

    They're wrong.

    I know...harsh.

    Three key words here. The first two are essential and optional. We can debate both of them, and there are good arguments for and against them...if only they wouldn't be made redundant once we deal with that third word: after.

    It is wrong to decouple pattern testing from the design process. Testing is a necessary – nay, crucial – part of pattern design. It lets you identify and fix any issues with your pattern before you present it to the consuming public.

    Let's backtrack on this claim for a second and think of testing as an addendum to a pattern's design; a step that comes after design has completed, or at least after one finishes what one might consider to be their design phase.

    So: we've finished our design and started testing. Some of our testers noticed that the intricate, detailed motif we've designed into our elegant lacy shawl loses some of its shape and definition once it's draped over the shoulders. It turns out some stitches are too weak to hold up to the stretching and need to be re-thought.

    Cue a cheesy, self-righteous voice: "Thank you good sir/ma'am for your kind feedback! What an unfortuitous discovery and turn of events. Alas, the time for design is past! We shall proceed forthwith to the releasing ceremony. Behold, the pattern! It is complete."

    Said no one, ever. Of course we'd go back to our pattern to make the necessary fixes! Testing feeds back into design in a repetitive cycle; a feedback loop. We find flaws, we fix them and test again. It is an integral part of design. Design cannot complete without testing. Because testing is not some final pass we make to detect spelling mistakes or misaligned photos. That too, but it pales next to the full value of a well-run pattern test.

    Some caveats

    I'm not making the distinction here between testing and tech-editing. That is a deeper, more nuanced discussion. This post is about the principle of pattern testing, at its most basic, high level, wider interpretation.

    I am also assuming that you are a crochet or knit designer who wants to release their pattern, free or paid, to the public. If it's a pattern you're writing privately for yourself or maybe a small circle of friends, then all we're about to discuss below would probably be excessive. Your pattern would still benefit from all of it but to a lesser extent, and the effort might be disproportionate.

    Reason for testing #1: Eliminating mistakes and pattern clarity

    The most common reason designers run tests is to detect and fix any issues, namely:
    • Mistyped stitches. The pattern was designed well, but somehow it was written incorrectly, such as referencing the wrong stitch or mismarking a repeated section.
    • Checking the design for accuracy/mistakes, such as incompatible increases or decreases.
    • Calculation errors in stitch counts, missing notations and abbreviations
    • Making sure the instructions are clear. The pattern could require some additional explanation to accompany it. There could be some complicated notation being used. Perhaps a need for diagrams, illustrations or close up photos.
    • Spelling, punctuation and grammar.
    • Document layout.

    A "brief" aside

    It's not uncommon for mistakes to still slip through the cracks. Perhaps it's an obscure issue, or the tester group was not very experienced. More often than not, it's a direct result of the designer's pattern testing process not being robust enough to shore up those cracks. I'm not being accusatory; it's just the reality.

    Pattern testing is a complicated process where trial and error and experimentation can be costly in terms of time and effort, with somewhat diminishing returns.

    It's prohibitive for a small designer who releases the occasional pattern to refine their process to a point where it is streamlined, efficient and highly effective without outside help or someone to guide them.

    Unless you know someone who can show you the ropes, there aren't a lot of learning resources out there.

    A good start is to find some very good articles and blog posts targeted towards testers, then reverse engineer that knowledge to gain insight into what you need to be doing as a designer. There are quite a few. I would highly recommend these:
    • Kacey's (The Skeiniac) pattern testing blog. A wonderful resource for pattern testers who really want to level up their game. Kacey is very rigorous in her deep dives on different aspects of testing patterns for a designer. She holds herself and her readers to a high standard, and her advice is solid and practical.
    • Tips to Become a Knitatude Pattern Tester by Chantal (Knitatude). Although it's specific to her needs and processes, it covers pretty much everything. And I just love her stern, but fair, take-no-prisoners approach! (Would you dare ghost her?)
    Yet there aren't many places that consistently focus on the designers running the tests, which is something that I'm hoping to change with this blog. I hope it will become a useful resource to navigate the various aspects of pattern testing and identify best practices. (Shake your head at me in disapproval in the comments section below if you saw that shameless, self-pat-on-the-back coming from a mile away.)

    This blog is not just influenced by a first-hand experience in running many, many pattern tests. More importantly, it's backed by lots of qualitative and quantitative data we are constantly gathering as part of our work here at Pattern Orchard. Some of it we gather ourselves by measuring and observing, and some we receive directly from designers from all around the world. We put it together, analyse it, and want to share our learnings through this blog.

    Send me the Challenges of Running Pattern Tests eBook

    Learn how successful designers are dealing with the top five problems of running pattern tests.
    Discover a novel solution to make the process simpler and more effective.
      There was a problem processing your request. Please try again.

      Reason for testing #2: Multiple sizes

      For garments, typically. It's hard to test the fit and drape of a garment that is not your size. You need other people, and that means using testers.

      It would be impractical to have people of different shapes and sizes (no pun intended) come in for random and extended periods of time just so the designer can try things out. Even if you have someone constantly available to you who can act as your living mannequin, such as a household member, they only come in a single size. You could have one of those fancy adjustable dress form mannequins which could get you close, but at the end of the day you need to test it out in the wild with real people and body types.

      This hits two birds with one stone:
      • You get to test your proportions and, when working closely with your testers, you can tweak and fix things on the fly. Good testers will also offer their suggestions.
      • Through your testers' photos you get to see what the garment really looks like in those different sizes as the fit might look quite different than expected.
      This should not be an excuse to scale a pattern up or down simply by adjusting the stitch numbers without considering the garment as a whole. Not only is it lazy and unprofessional, it just doesn't work that way. Assuming that testing will help identify and correct the issues this causes is naïve at best.

      Reason for testing #3: Visualising

      Your item might not look the same when worked in different yarns (fibre and/or weight) and colours. It's also worked with a different pair of hands. Testing will give you a chance to notice anything which might not have come up with your specific choice of yarn.

      This issue is most common where texture is an important part of your design. Different quality yarns can blur texture, or create it where it isn't wanted. (Side note: let's not get into the budget vs. premium yarn debate; this is not what I'm talking about.) Weight plays an important role here too. If your pattern is not weight-specific, you might notice issues with very heavy or very light yarns.

      Reason for testing #4: Gauge/tension and yardage

      Entire books have been devoted to gauge, the issues caused by different tensions, how to avoid them and, if needed, work around them. So there's no point in me getting into that within the limited scope of this post. I'm just drawing attention to the fact that it is a big deal.

      Whether you require your testers to meet gauge or not, testing your pattern will put it in the hands of people who, by nature, work with different tensions. And that will give you valuable information.

      As a by-product of this, you also get to test your yardage measurements. Depending on the situation, you might want to adjust the estimates listed in your pattern.

      Reason for testing #5: Reception

      Your testers will be the first people to see and try your pattern. Although there is a clear and present bias, their reaction to the design can be an early indicator of how it will be received by the public who will be consuming this artistic content you have created.

      It is important not to read too much into individual opinions here and consider the overall sentiment. Look for comments that might reveal underlying issues or concerns. Most of the times there's nothing to be concerned about. Sometimes you might get unexpected reactions such as your pattern feeling unoriginal, or even too simplistic when you in fact intended the opposite, or vice-versa.

      Then there are very rare occasions where you may have missed or might not have been aware of something considered socially inappropriate, or culturally offensive. This is when you'll be glad to have paid attention.

      Reason for testing #6: Promotion

      A controversial one for sure.

      Having testers post about your pattern in the run up to, during, and after its release has obvious advantages in a time where noise and discoverability are big issues.

      Many designers ask for help with promoting their pattern's release and see it as an added benefit. A subset of these even require it, to varying degrees of specificity with regards to timing, the nature of the content, and the consequences of not doing so.

      Some designers have promotional goals in mind as part of their tester selection criteria, with the quality of the potential testers' social media content and the size of their following having some sort of impact. To varying degrees.

      On the far end of the spectrum, some designers run pattern tests purely as a promotional exercise to acquire extra visibility through their testers' social media content.

      The controversy lies with where one draws the line, with many polarised opinions on this among both designers and testers But that's for you to decide.

      With purpose

      So let's bring it all back to the original question. Do we need to run pattern tests? Are they necessary? Granted, the very first word in the post was "Yes." Having now given context to that, I want to reframe the question. It's not a matter of need, or necessity. Testing is an intrinsic part of the design process. One of many steps in a pattern's creation feeding back into that same process.

      The question we should be asking ourselves is not if. Rather, we should be asking why. Once we understand the reasons for testing, we can then take a good look at our testing process and make sure it is fulfilling the reasons for which it exists.

      Are we just wasting our time blindly going through the motions because someone, somewhere once told us we should be testing? Or are we making sure that our time and that of our testers is being well spent, by being deliberate in our choices and testing process?

      It takes time and effort to develop a good testing process, and there's a bit of a learning curve, but drop by drop, the water pot gets filled. Understanding why we're doing it is a pretty good start, don't you think?


      Comments powered by Talkyard.

      Weekly Pattern Orchard insights right in your inbox

      Everything we've learned (and are still learning) about running successful pattern tests.
      And don't worry, we don't like spam either!
        There was a problem processing your request. Please try again.