Was I exploiting my Test Knitters?

The Yarn Harlot blogged yesterday about the unexpected controversy she whipped up on Twitter saying that pattern testers should be paid. The whole problem of low pattern prices, lack of respect for hand made things (often women made handmade things) is well described in her post.

I didn’t pay the pattern testers who helped me on the dishcloth or on the scarf.

Yikes, am I a – let’s leave this one blank.

So, was I exploiting them?  I don’t think so, at least I hope not.  I feel kind of defensive (though it’s easy to make me feel guilty.)  I’m partly writing this to sort it out.

It was a case of informed consent.  I asked for help in finding errors and communication glitches, as well as the promotional boost that comes from having my pattern in someone’s queue.  I alerted them that I had no money to give, but that yarn from my stash was available, if they wanted it.  These kind grown ups were willing to help me anyhow.

Did I really have no money to give?  Well, if I had to pay them like the tech editor, I would have, though it’s hard to assign a price.  Hand knitting is so slow, most objects you buy were made on a knitting machine.

As with Beta testers in gaming, Design Teams in Scrapbooking, many people enjoy volunteering their time and expertise to be part of things, and get early access to products.

I actually had to turn people away from the Herringbone Parallelogram Scarf test, because I was over wealmed with offers of help.  Some of the testers were designers themselves who liked to see other techniques.  The errors they found were completely different from the errors the tech editor found,  It was more in the way of convenience and communication than accuracy.  For some, it was a way of paying back the community, like offering up helpful research on a forum.

My first test knitters (recruited with a lame request for really gentle test knitters for a first time designer) were teachers of the highest order – several of them published designers themselves. With the Attleboro Sweater, I did not hire any test crocheters, the magazine hired a wonderful tech editor, did not ask for a test, and there was no time.  You could say I was the test crochetter.  For my self-published work (all one of it ;-) I waited on the test to see how things were going, I didn’t think a deadline was appropriate with volunteers.

Part of the Yarn Harlot’s argument is that a professional is someone who receives money for a job, and that if enough people volunteer, no one will be able to work in a job as a paid professional, and the community will loose the option of calling on a professional because he or she will have gone out of business.

Is it true that the large amount of volunteers are swamping professional designers?

As far as I can see, choice is exploding at the moment.  There are free patterns, hard copy patterns, the magazines, and downloadable pdfs.  The relative quality of the designs can be figured out by the ratings and comments on Ravlery.  From a consumer’s point of view, there is a ton of choices.  Will the print magazines die like so many of the Scrapbooking magazines did with advertiser dollars moving to the internet?  I really don’t know.  But consumers have access to more quality designs than ever, though they may have to learn how to use Ravlery to get at them and evaluate them.

Are the designers tired out from all the change, uncertainty and lack of pay?  Some are.  Free lance work is stressful.  I think more of them are tired out from cranky people asking rudely for free patterns and pattern support.

Back to the definition of “A professional is a person who is paid to undertake a specialised set of tasks and to complete them for a fee.” There is another definition of professional; a person who professes that he or she has a call to do something.  With medicine (the original profession)  it was originally quiet supernatural.  With knitting and me?  Um, I just get obsessed sometimes, I called myself.  I could say the same for my volunteer work in Christian Education, organising the homeschool co-op, at home mothering, blogging and homeschooling.  Are my labours unworthy because I’m not paid?  Because I called myself?  Is the exchange of money the only mark of excellence?

(This is the point where you cough and say no, of course not.)

Not that I haven’t been paid for my design work this year.  In fact (woot!) I have to file my taxes differently than I did last year.  Did I make as much as I spent on the soon to be up website, the technical editor (for the scarf, the magazine paid the editor for the sweater), the advertisements?  (My brother and sister in law wouldn’t let me pay them, so the model fee and photography isn’t counted).  No.

Most likely, I will run test for new sorts of patterns to train my writing style to be accessible, but not run tests for patterns similar to ones that have been tested, trusting the tech editors to make them as accurate as possible.  I will always let the testers know how I will compensate them, and let them decide if it is adequate.  Their names will always be mentioned on the acknowledgment page (that no one else reads), and I’ll send a fair copy of the completed pattern.

I’m supposed to read Cathedral with M, as we will be getting to the High Middle Ages soon.  I don’t know if it’s in that book, but remember the creepy stories of guild members knocking the pious volunteer workers off scaffolds of cathedrals because they were unpaid competition?  Knitters aren’t the only ones to have trouble sorting out the paid/unpaid problem.


4 thoughts on “Was I exploiting my Test Knitters?

  1. One thing you get as a volunteer that you can bank on is experience. My son has been a beta tester for a few games. By doing so, he’s learned about how to find and report errors, something that adds to his market value. People tend to think that paycheck separates the pros from the amateurs, but if I were waiting around for a job, I would rather be volunteering my time and using my skills than waiting for the money.

    Just my two cents. Hehe! I need to show this to my knitter.

    Peace and Laughter!

  2. She follows the Yarn Harlot as well and had actually read that article. She thinks it depends on what you are asking of the test knitters. If you wanted them to go through every line and knit on a deadline then there would be justification for payment, but it’s not a crime to ask for volunteers. It also would depend on the complexity of the pattern. There’s a big difference between knitting a scarf and knitting a cabled sweater or a lace shawl.

    (And in my opinion, some of these knitters *cough coughmy daughtercough* get excited over a new pattern and will do anything to get a fix of fabric between their fingers!)