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Evaluating Patterns - Other Knitters' Projects

This is the last installment of a three-part series. In part one, we talked about evaluating the fit of a pattern on the model. In part two, we covered evaluating all the information provided by the designer, with a special focus on the schematic. Today is all about evaluating those finished object photos and reviews. As always, if you have thoughts, hit me up in the comments!

As more users decline to use Ravelry, seeing other knitter’s projects can be increasingly difficult. But even on Rav, as a knitter, I’ve long despaired over poorly lit and ill-described finished object photos from other knitters. How to make sense of a sea of such projects to know if I’ll be able to create the sweater I want? Or conversely, how to evaluate sparse tester projects if a designer is little known or a pattern has just been released?

I'll use myself as an example - how unhelpful is this finished object photo I left for Leaving, by Anne Hanson, when I finished it in 2014? I did not put down yarn, size, how it fit, or any other thoughts about the pattern. But looking at it, I can clearly see that something wacky is going on with my neckline, and it's telling that in comparison to some of my other projects, this one only has one photo.

Note - the thing that's wacky is the fit - I needed to choose a size based on my shoulder width, not my full bust. When my body was this shape and size, my cup size was larger than that predicted for my frame - which meant that the neckline was way too wide for me. And I still had to struggle to keep those buttons closed! Just so we're clear that the fault is not the pattern. Oh, and I also used a beautiful but scratchy yarn - I didn't yet know what I needed to do to meet my sensory needs (more on that here).

Evaluating Tester Patterns

About Testing

Testing is a process where volunteers knit a finished pattern before publication. The pattern that testers receive should be tech-edited and accurate. The point of testing is to make sure that what looks good on paper works well on the needle, to provide feedback on clarity and whether additional resources are needed, and to make sure that all the instructions work well to create the item described by the pattern. Often, testing includes an element of fit testing - at least to the extent that any single tester's body matches the designer's size chart.

What testing shouldn't be: a marketing scheme by the designer to get free labor to promote their design.

And that can be messy, right? Many testers love to share their work and are driven to do this work because they want to give to the knitting community. From the knitter's perspective (especially those at the top of the size range), tester projects can provide very valuable information about the fit and grading of sweaters in their size. And of course, designers definitely benefit when testers are comfortable sharing photos of their work.

So before I dig into evaluating tester patterns, I want to acknowledge that lots of dynamics can be at play. Some testers don't publish photos, create project pages, or update them after cast-on - and that's TOTALLY OKAY. That's not part of testing - that's marketing. And at the same time, knitters are definitely evaluating all the information that's available, and making decisions based on what they can find.

My advice to knitters is to do your best, as you evaluate tester projects, to consider tester photos as a sort of 'icing on the cake.' If they're present and beautiful and glossy, great. If the photos are amateur or incomplete - also great - that simply means that the designer hasn't prioritized 'ability to take great finished object photos' as part of the skill set required to test knitting instructions.

Consider the Whole Picture

I've written these tips assuming that the pattern you're evaluating has just hit the market, and you only have tester projects to evaluate.

The Designer/Tester Relationship is Just That - a Relationship

Before I started designing, I wondered if I could trust tester feedback - wouldn't they only have nice things to say about their friends? I suggest reading the notes and captions. If they’re ALL glowing, check to see if any of the testers have left constructive feedback on other tests. It’s easier to trust a portfolio of great reviews if you can build confidence that testers will be non-biased with their feedback and notes.

Compare the Finished Garments to Each Other and the Model

Do they all seem to fit similarly, and generally be the same sweater but in different sizes?

Did Testers Finish the Project?

First - all sorts of things can come up during a test, forcing a volunteer to withdraw from a test. And that's OK - it's a volunteer gig! I find that the longer the test, the more things tend to come up over the course of the test, and consider that the price of running a size-inclusive test. No shade to testers who need to withdraw!

AND - if a lot of testers started a project but did not finish it, check to see if they stopped in the same place. If many testers get to the same point in a pattern and then stop, that can be a red flag.

Peep the Mods

Increasingly, designers recognize the volunteer nature of testing and permit or encourage fit modifications. As a knitter, I find this incredibly helpful - after all, we know that most knitters will need to make at least one modification, and I want to know how the pattern holds up against mods. So take a look at the notes - have testers made modifications you might also want to make? Does that set your mind at ease about any concerns that surfaced at another point in your review?

This is Molly's Letters From the Open Road. If you can use Ravelry, her project page shares SO MUCH generous information about her project and the fit modifications she made. Molly added width and length to her sleeve, and she explains the whys for each of her modifications.

Evaluating Non-Test Patterns

It's intuitive that knitters are less biased with their feedback when it's independent of a testing relationship - when they paid for the pattern. Here are some things to look for as you evaluate these projects.

  • Look for knitters in your size, and evaluate the location of key fit points

  • Not every knitter is an expert, and that's okay! If the sweater looks kind of wonky, check other projects by that knitter. Could it be color or fiber choice? Do they seem like they're getting gauge? If the knitter's other projects all seem to represent expert knitting but this one is different, that can be a red flag.

  • On Ravelry: click into the notes – did they like the project? What did they say about the instructions? Do they wear it?

  • On Instagram: browse their grid. Do you see them wearing the sweater again?

  • Did most knitters finish the project? On Ravelry, see how many were frogged. On Instagram, see how many cast-ons grew up to be finished sweaters.

  • Try to ignore color choices. If your brain won’t let you do that, take a screenshot and apply a black and white filter.

  • Look for knitters with a cup size relative to their body that matches yours. How does the sweater fit? Did they make modifications? If you wanted to add vertical darts or short rows, would that be possible?

Let's talk about my Bock. It's too big for me! I did that on purpose - in my wardrobe, this is a replacement for my hoodie, which is several sizes too big for me. I wanted something I could layer, something that felt like snuggling up in an oversized garment.

In evaluating this, you can see that the neckline is too wide, the raglan too deep, and there's lots of extra fabric around the body. If just one of these issues were present, that would be a red flag. But because you can tell that it's too large in every dimension, you can conclude that the sweater is just oversized on me. Evaluating additional patterns, like the more fitted version on the model, Becca, can give you a better sense of how the sweater will fit your body.

I hope that this series has been helpful, and if there are some other things YOU look for, hit reply and share your thoughts!

Go Further

Where to find other knitters' projects if you can't use Rav? Check out Instagram, the Making App, or Reddit (or so I hear, I personally don't Reddit but I've seen some peeks!)

Looking for more on schematics? Check out this piece by one of my fit heroes, Kristina McGrath - Schematics: getting the most out of them.

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