In light of my recent move into technical editing of knitting patterns, I thought I’d compile a short FAQ based on my experiences in the various designer communities I’m a part of. I see lots of questions and opinions about technical editing, especially from newer designers. While the following are my own personal opinions, they come from the point of view of someone who is both a designer AND a technical editor.
What is technical editing? What do tech editors do?
Technical editing is the process of editing a knitting pattern for correctness, clarity, and consistency. It involves not only proofreading for grammar and spelling, but also checking all mathematical calculations, ensuring the style is consistent throughout, and making sure the pattern itself is complete and contains no errors.
Are all abbreviations defined? Are all required tools and materials listed? Will the stitch counts yield the given measurements based on the listed gauge (and do they match what’s shown in the photos/schematic)? Do the charts and written instructions match? These are just a few of the many things a technical editor will look for.
In addition to finding errors, tech editors can help tweak the way instructions are worded so that they are clearer to the knitter. They can make suggestions about layout to help make the pattern easier to read and follow. They do not, however, knit the pattern.
Specific services offered will vary from editor to editor (for a list of my services, click here).
I have test knitters. Do I need a technical editor too? If so, which one comes first?
In my opinion, yes. And this comes from my experience as a designer who has worked with both tech editors and test knitters.
Test knitters actually knit your pattern, providing physical proof that following your instructions will produce the expected finished object, as shown in your photos. Good test knitters will also point out pattern errors and inconsistencies. But no matter how good your test knitters are, it’s unlikely they’ll be as motivated to help perfect your pattern as a paid professional would be (even if they are capable of it). Your tech editor will want your pattern to be the best it can be because it affects not only your reputation, but theirs. Your success is their success. This simply isn’t true for your test knitters, who have no vested interest.
In addition, an experienced knitter might unintentionally read between the lines, not realizing that a particular instruction is unclear, or that an abbreviation for a technique they’re familiar with isn’t defined. They might also hold back unsolicited opinions about issues they noticed that don’t directly affect the correctness of the pattern (style and consistency issues, for example).
Test knitters are also usually working for free, using their free time and their own yarn. This is why I have my patterns tech edited BEFORE I have them test knit. I want to make sure my pattern is in the best shape possible before asking someone to spend their own time and yarn on it.
What if I’m just starting out as a designer and I can’t afford to hire a tech editor until I start making money?
In my opinion, you can’t afford NOT to hire a tech editor.
Regardless of what you plan on charging for a pattern once it’s published, every pattern you release affects your reputation, and first impressions are forever. You wouldn’t publish a book or an article without an editor, so why would you publish a pattern without one?
I worked with a tech editor once but I didn’t like it. She was too picky/not picky enough/gave too much feedback/didn’t give enough feedback/emailed me too much/didn’t email me enough/etc…
Ok, so this one isn’t a question, but it’s something I’ve seen discussed that is definitely worth mentioning.
The relationship between a designer and a tech editor is a very personal one. It might take a couple of tries before you find someone you really gel with. Just because you haven’t found the right tech editor yet doesn’t mean you can’t, or that you should give up on tech editing! And if you’re worried about compatibility, you can always ask the tech editor about their style, or check out their services on their website, before hiring them. If you design patterns for beginners, for example, you might find value in a tech editor who gives lots of suggestions on how to word things to improve clarity. If you design complex patterns with complicated shaping, a tech editor with a strong math background might be of more value to you.
Also, and this is not always easy… check your ego at the door when working with an editor. If you want to make your pattern the best it can be, you can’t take corrections and suggestions personally. It’s hard sometimes, after you’ve worked on something for so long, to give it to someone to critique. But a good editor will not try to change your style or your voice. A good editor will want to help make your patterns better and more successful.