Friday, January 17, 2014

Technical editing for knitting patterns? What is that?!

So since I posted last time I've had several people ask me about the specifics of technical editing. What is it? Why is important? Who uses it? So I thought I'd do a post about it. Needless to say, not any photos this time.

So what is technical editing (for knitting)? Technical editing is going through a pattern with the designer to  make sure that things like sizing, stitch patterns, stitch counts, and pattern specific things (like links to external websites for specific techniques) are accurately reflecting the designer's wishes for the pattern. Technical editing is NOT telling a designer how it SHOULD have been done, but simply offering suggestions based on knitting and pattern standards and letting it be implemented how they see fit. In the end, the designer should make the final call on changes made.

How does that work? What do YOU actually do? I get to do the fun part. I receive the pattern from the designer and read through it. I make sure numbers work. I check sizing to make sure that the stitch counts work out to appropriate measurements for what the designer has in mind for each size. I also make  sure that the stitch pattern works out over those stitch counts. I make sure that things are written clearly (and this doesn't mean changing the designers "voice", as part of what differentiates designers is often the verbal presentation of their patterns). I offer suggestions for clarity and sometimes preferences of my own, but try to be clear about those being preferences and not something that changes the workability of the pattern if left as is. SOMETIMES, I test knit the pattern as I work through it. Sometimes I use LOTS of pages of graph paper to draw out the pattern stitches. And then, when I'm confident, I send it back to the designer to review and implement. This process is done SEVERAL times. As things change, other rows and rounds and numbers are changed in the process, so it's a constantly evolving piece that needs to be checked over again each time a new revision is made. And I get to do math! Did I mention that? I get to make sure that at the suggested gauge, that the stitch counts given yield the sizing that the designer has given with whatever ease is being factored in to determine who will fit into each size. . .how it should be listed. . .how much yarn you might need (which is usually done by finding # of stitches and amount of yarn needed for each stitch for each size)

Who uses technical editors? Knitting designers use several ways to verify their patterns. Some are more reliable than others. For instance, some knitters only knit a pattern themselves to figure out if it will work. Some designers really are THAT good. But few are. The way you write things  makes sense to you or you wouldn't write it, but that sometimes doesn't translate well to others. Not all designers are good relayers of information, and often, self-tested and self-written patterns often lack clarity and accuracy. Not all. Please don't think that there aren't some really great patterns out there written just this way. But many are not. Other designers use test knitters. This means writing a pattern and then giving it to people to read the pattern and test it. This can be REALLY useful. BUT. . .and yes, this is a big BUT. . .your test knitters must be people who are not afraid to tell you when you messed something up or it isn't clear. They must also be willing to knit the pattern EXACTLY as you wrote it, even if they can think of a better way to do it. They must be available to relay information to you as they go. And above all, they must be confident in their pattern reading skills. And lastly, to verify patterns, designers use technical editors - someone who can go through the pattern, with or without test knitting it, and mathematically and practically assess the accuracy of the pattern without changing the voice and the wishes of the designer when it comes to the outcome of the design. The designer works with the tech editor to make sure that the resulting knit object coming off the needles reflects the words that are written on the page.

Which of these options is most important? A good pattern often uses all three of the things above. When a designer knits a design several times, writes and rewrites, sends it out to a technical editor and then forwards it to a good group of test knitters who understand their job you will end up with a pattern that is as well-done as possible. It doesn't mean that a great pattern can't get by with one or two of these things, but each of these checks makes sure that the pattern has undergone assessment on several different levels. . .creative, mathematical, and practical. . .and hopefully is written in a way that can clearly portray the design to make it accessible to an every day knitter. Especially for designers who write several patterns, one bad pattern can spoil future sales of other designs, so it's important for a designer to invest (time, energy, etc.) into a design in order to gain a fan base. It is also important for knitters. While I don't believe it's the job of a designer to create something that is perfect for everyone, I do think that it is important for designers to inspire knitters to want to keep on creating. A bad pattern can cause a person so much frustration that they put it down and never come back to knitting. I would hope that a bad pattern isn't the cause, but I fear that it can be. The short and sweet is that all three of the options are important, but a technical editor and/or really great test knitters are, more often than not, essential to a good pattern.

Why doesn't every designer do it? The main reason for not hiring a technical editor, I'm guessing, is that it can cost money. Free patterns are LESS likely to have had a technical editor once over (though the lovely Mel (MSkiKnits) used me to technical edit her free patterns and provides awesome free patterns). Also, it means letting go of your written design(and maybe your ego) on some level. Some designers don't like being corrected. I've worked with someone on a professional level who has every confidence in her designs (a great thing to have for a designer) but she had an unwillingness to accept constructive criticism, which leads to designs that are not ready for publishing. And some designers are not ready to be told that their writing might need a bit of work. Most designers are more than willing to do this because their design is worth it to them, but it is definitely one reason that some don't do much to verify patterns. Other designers don't use technical editors because they have a great group of test knitters, and as a result, the test knitters do a lot of the technical editing for you. If you can surround yourself with test knitters who are worth their weight, you can use test knitters to do much of what technical editing does. Megan Williams (justrunknit on Rav) has allowed me to test knit things for her, and even put up with me finding what I perceived as an error. . .instead, it was me misreading the pattern. . .but instead of her saying, "Dude, learn to read. . .", her response reflected a great designer, "If it confused you, it will most likely confuse someone else. Let me see if I can reword that for clarity." The best thing, I think, that any person can do is to surround themselves with people they trust to help them become the best that they can be. This applies to designers, too.

The most important thing to remember: While tech edited (or test knit) patterns tend to be better, the aren't always. And even the really great ones are rarely perfect. There might be a typo. Or a spelling error. They may have a line that was miscopied and therefore not correct. They could have math errors. Or stitch count issues. Somewhere between version 1 and version 56 something may have been left off and both (or multiple) sets of eyes, having looked at that pattern for hours, somehow managed to miss it in the final edit. It happens. But the first sign of a good designer is one who is willing to look at an issue run into by knitters to attempt to make it correct or more clear (This does not mean rewriting the pattern to fit a knitters preferences. You can do that on your own.). But I must also then  mention that the first sign of a good knitter is to recognize the fact that the knitter is just as likely to make a mistake and it isn't always the fault of the designer. For both sides, it is important to extend grace when necessary . . .and if you can't, then to walk away. There are lots of patterns/designers/knitters out there and not every design is meant for every knitter. Best to use your time on something that won't turn you away from knitting forever but will inspire you to keep creating.

Hopefully that gives you a clearer picture of what goes into a pattern. . .the days, weeks and months. . .of making it as good as can be. . .and hopefully gives you a greater appreciation for the effort and even financial expense that many great designers have had to put in before the pattern was ready for the public. Maybe, you will recognize the value of a well-done pattern, will find it a bit easier to swallow the cost of a paid design, and will appreciate well-written free patterns as the creative gifts they really are. Or maybe, you will get so caught up in knitting that lovely design that none of this matters to you anyway. I hope that's the case.

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