While some people follow different pattern designers and have their favorite designers, others rarely think about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into being a pattern designer. Although I am not a designer, I know a number of them and follow even more. Theirs is not an easy task. The process of designing is actually fairly complex, and sometimes I don't think designers receive their fair due.
I've written and spoken before about copyright and respecting a designer's work, and if you know me, you know I feel very strongly about not violating copyright. I also feel quite strongly that designers are not given enough credit for the work that they do because they really go through a long process to bring us those beautiful patterns.
When a designer sets out to write a pattern, sometimes he or she does so at the behest of a yarn company for whom they are under contract. That means that while you can often find substitutes to make a pattern, the pattern itself will be designed specifically for that yarn because it was commissioned by the yarn company. Think, for example, of the patterns designed by Margaux for Berroco. Margaux works for Berroco as a pattern designer, and her patterns are made to specifically show off the best qualitites of that yarn. Or, if you follow Arne and Carlos, occasionally they'll mention how they did a design for Rowan, which means that the made their design specifically for Rowan.
Othertimes, a designer creates a design and simply uses the yarn he or she prefers, and generally these patterns will note that you can substitute a yarn of a similar weight and/or composition. In these instances the designers have purchased the yarn on their own, so when you think about the costs associated with purchasing a pattern, keep in mind the sheer number of times the designer may have had to make and remake that design before sending it to testers which means he or she has used much more yarn than the, say, one skein of yarn you would buy to make the same hat.
So, when you hear about someone doing a test knit or test crochet or test pattern, this means that they have agreed to try out a pattern for a designer before it is widely released, and in return, the tester sends the designer notes and specifications about their experience with the pattern. Some designers have a small cadre of testers whom they rely on, perhaps pay, and have often screened to ensure the quality of their crafting skills before counting them as a tester. Others issue "open calls" through Ravelry, Instagram, Facebook, or even on their websites. In these instances, there may or may not be screening questions or even sample requirements to ensure that the tester's skills match the design requirements.
If someone is chosen as a tester, then that person is sent a draft copy of the design. Most often the tester will be required to procure the required yarn and the tools with which to complete the testing. While I've seen some testers brag about testing patterns, the bottom line is that being a tester comes with the responsibility to provide the designer with very specific comments and notes regarding the pattern. This is why it is profoundly important that testers use the recommended yarn (unless the designer has asked to see what might change if the yarn weight or content were changed) and the recommended needle or hook size (again, unless the designer asks for this to be changed). The point of following the pattern almost exactly when testing is that the tester needs to let the designer know if the recommended needle size does or does not provide the appropriate gauge and finished sizing, if the yarn yardage requirements matched the pattern, if the pattern as written is correct or needs editing, if the explanations within the pattern are clear, etc. A lacksidaisical tester or one who doesn't provide the designer with the most accurate information is not helping that designer.
After the testing notes have been gathered, collated, and incorporated into the finalized version of the pattern, then the designer releases the pattern, and that release can be contingent upon a lot of things. If the designer is part of a larger company or publication outfit, then there are a number of other external factors that need to be taken care of before the pattern release. There are also various publication and legal steps that need to be taken to ensure that the designer's rights are protected. If the designer is releasing the pattern to sell on a third-party platform, there are additional considerations that need to be taken care of.
Then, of course, comes the marketing involved if the pattern is for sale, and often even if it is a free pattern, because free patterns are also ways to raise a designer's profile, to encourage yarn sales, and to introduce nervous crafters to try a designer's designs. More and more, marketing, particularly for craft, the arts, books, etc. falls to the creator, and all that time taking pretty photos or collecting and sharing photos from others who have made the design, uploading them to social media, and creating any kind of buzz about them is time consuming. It isn't as simple as tossing something up on Instagram or Twitter and calling it good. Good marketing demands that one taps into the language of the consumer, and that means more than just a minute or two of your day. This is often why, when I am promoting a design I try to be as explicit and detailed as possible to provide the designer with concrete information that he or she might be able to use later.
All of this is to say that the life of a designer isn't easy. It's a lot of work, even for just one design. If you want to read more about that, check out Hunter Hammersen's Twitter string about designing which I've linked to in previous blogs. And, remember to tag the pattern or the designer whenever you post a finished project.