Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Going Paperless with the knitCompanion App

It's been over a year since I did my reader survey, and believe it or not, I am still getting around to writing about some of the suggested topics! Knitting-related apps were requested by several readers, and after looking over all of my previous app reviews, it's become clear that this is a topic that is worth revisiting. Nearly all of those reviews were written before I switched from Android to iPhone (and that happened over 5 years ago!).

Obviously, I'm not an early adopter. In fact, you could say I'm pretty old school: I still don't own a microwave, and I never stopped buying vinyl (in fact, the number of records in our house far outnumbers the amount of CDs we still own). And when it comes to knitting, I have always preferred print copies of patterns, even the ones I buy digitally.

But my recent craft room #konmari excercise was eye-opening: I discovered a huge pile of printed PDFs I've amassed over the years. Some were pristine and clearly never used; others looked like they'd been through a horrible experience (i.e. spending some time in my knitting bag!). Seeing them all together made me realize what a waste of paper and ink that really is...surely there is a better way, right?!
This is only a small fraction of the printed patterns I've amassed over the years.
Enter knitCompanion, an app that makes working from any pattern both portable and easy on your iPhone or iPad (there is also an Android version). Ironically, some folks have recommended it to be before, giving it high praise, but I never gave it a try until the developer of knitCompanion offered me a free one-year trial of the Setup+Essentials subscription.

I have to be 100% honest here: now that I've given it a try, I don't think I can live without this app!

Their tagline is "knit more, frog less," and that is exactly what each feature is designed to do. For example, if you have a huge chart or a complex set of instructions, you can use the custom tools to help you stay on track as you work through the chart or instructions. There is a bit of learning curve with some of the advanced features, but once you get the hang of it, you're golden.

In the free version, you can start an unlimited number of projects, connect your Ravelry and Dropbox accounts, and use several simple features to help you keep track of what you're working on. The Essentials upgrade is $9.99 yearly and offers greater options for customizing row counters, highlights and notes, plus MKAL support, and the ability to embed videos and row counters. With Setup+Essentials ($14.99 yearly), there are even more ways to customize your patterns to make them easier to work from. Here is a handy chart which outlines all of the features available for each level:

Getting set up was super easy, and all I had to do was connect my Ravelry and Dropbox account so that I could start importing all of my pattern PDFs into the app. The basic process of starting projects and working from patterns within the app is fairly intuitive; I was able to figure out how to use the simple row counters on my own, and they offer some tutorials on their YouTube channel for you visual learners out there. 

Plus, you don't need a wifi connection to access your projects - so no worrying about blowing through your data plan when knitting on the go. 

I have been using this app exclusively since I downloaded it...basically,  I am obsessed with it! I've even scanned some of my paper patterns which I don't have digitally so that I can use them in the app.

When I think about all of the money I've spent on paper and ink over the years or even in just one calendar year, $9.99 or even $14.99 seems quite affordable. I don't think I'll even print another pattern again, to be honest. Obviously the money I'll save on printer ink and paper will just go towards more yarn, right?!

If you have been thinking about going paperless (or even if you weren't!), I hope you'll give knitCompanion a try. Also, if you have used this app previously but haven't opened it in the last year or two, it sounds like they've streamlined and simplified things to improve the user experience. It might be worth your while to give knitCompanion another try!

Click here to learn more on the knitCompanion website.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Is Sample or Test Knitting Right For You?

I've been test and sample knitting for several years, and most recently one of my samples made the front cover of the collection - I have to admit, I was elated! Since I always get a few questions when I share photos of my samples, I thought a blog post talking about the ins and outs of test and sample knitting would be a handy reference for anyone curious about this aspect of the yarn industry.

Also, please know that there is also a need for test and sample crocheting, too! I just don't feel like I have strong enough crochet skills to engage in that type of work, and writing "test and sample knitting and crocheting" every time seems like overkill. I hope you'll forgive the shorthand used for the remainder of this post.
That's my sample on the cover of the Radiance collection from KnitPicks!

Sample Knitting VS. Test Knitting
First, let's talk about the differences between sample knitting and test knitting - and please note, sometimes you will be doing both at the same time!

In sample knitting, you are making a sample for display or photography. this could be a re-knit of a previously published pattern, or an all-new pattern which may or may not have been test knitted or tech edited before you work from it.

Test knitting is the process of knitting a pattern to make sure instructions are clear and error-free; unless otherwise stated, you will get to keep the finished project.

The Process
This will vary widely among designers and yarn companies, but generally it works like this: a call for testers or sample knitters is put out (I'll cover some of the common spots for those later in the post),  or an email request is sent to you with a description of the project and the proposed timeline. If this is your first time working with them, they may ask for some examples of your work; this ranges from an informal "send me a link to your Ravelry notebook" to an actual application that you fill out.

Once you pass that first stage and agree to an assignment, the pattern is sent your way (and the yarn, if provided). You will need to swatch and confirm that you have gotten the called-for gauge, after which you will need to provide updates and feedback throughout the process. If you encounter anything that may be problematic for knitters (for instance, unclear instructions, sizing errors, typos, etc), you will need to communicate with the yarn company or designer to resolve them. There is no "winging it" or taking broad interpretations of instructions here - your job is to knit the instructions to the letter; if something doesn't seem right to you, it's your job to speak up. That's why they hired you!
I test knit this sample of the Bosco Cardigan for Knitty.
This is one of the few times that my payment was getting to keep the finished sweater - totally worth it!!

The Timeline

Again, this varies widely, but most companies I've worked with have given me ample time to complete the project - I often have 3 months' notice, even for smaller projects. It makes it pretty easy to slot in a test knitting gig alongside whatever other projects I have in progress.

Plus, remember that you can always decline a test knitting proposal if you think there is any chance you won't be able to finish on time. Not finishing the sample or project on time is a huge naughty no-no, and that means that you probably won't be offered work in the future. Remember, they are relying on you to h old up your end of the bargain so that they can launch a new pattern/yarn/ color at a very specific time. Any delays means a loss of income for the yarn company or designer you are working with.

Finally, if you are stressed out by deadlines, this might not be a good fit for you. I admit, sometimes deadline knitting stresses me out, too - I find that calculating how many rows/pattern repeats/sections I need to knit each week in order to meet the deadline is extremely helpful here. Not only does it break things down into manageable chunks, it also helps me see the bigger picture and feel confident that I can meet the set deadline.

My Evora Cowl sample for KnitPicks. 

Not every gig pays, so make sure you discuss compensation up front. Generally, monetary compensation is either a lump sum that is calculated by the yardage (ideally, the complexity of the project will also be factored in here!).

Truthfully, unless you are a speedy knitter, you'll barely make minimum wage if you break it down into hours. My approach is to think of this as supplementary income, because I definitely don't knit fast enough to make enough money to pay the bills, and I physically can't knit enough to do this type of work full-time.

Besides money, compensation may be in the form of free or discounted yarn, free patterns, etc. Again, make sure that you are comfortable with the terms before you sign on!
Leonarda Shawl Sample for the Bijou Basin Ranch booth.

Pros & Cons (Or, Why Do I Test Knit?)

Most people are curious about my own personal reasons for test/sample knitting. Besides the extra cash, getting to make something without having to find a home for it is one of the main reasons I get into test knitting. I have so many scarves/cowls/hats as it is....and while I love knitting those types of projects, I am running out of storage space for everything I make! Sample knitting gives me the joy of making something, without the stress of having to find a recipient when I'm done. Also, it's really satisfying to see your work out in the world - I've had samples on display in booths at various fiber festivals, and photos of my work on websites like KnitPicks!

Some places will let you keep the yarn left over from the project (so, free yarn!), while others ask for it back. Quite honestly, I prefer to send it back because my house is overflowing with yarn as it is. So, weirdly, that is a perk for me!

Another bonus is that sometimes you get to try a new color or yarn before it is released, and it goes without saying that many of the patterns you'll make are not yet released - so you get to be the first to know! Of course, the flipside of that is that you have to keep what you're working on a secret - no posting on Instagram!

Having covered some of the pros of test/sample knitting, I'd be remiss if I didn't cover a few of the cons. Here are my top 3:

  • Some designers are not as easy to work with, and I have had to navigate some fairly messy patterns from time to time.
  • You have to follow the instructions to the letter - absolutely NO mods can be made based on your personal preference. 
  • Expect to spend a lot of time swatching for gauge! I usually have to knit 3 swatches before I get the called-for gauge. Also, most of the designers I've worked with are hugely aggressive blockers, so you may need to adjust your own approach from what you would normally do for yourself.

Modern Toque sample for KnitPicks

So Where Can I Get These Kinds of Gigs?

If you've made it this far and still think "hey, I'd like to give this a try," here are the best ways I know to land yourself a test or sample knitting gig:

  • Any yarn company that releases their own patterns likely needs testers and/or sample knitters. I work regularly with Knit Picks and they have an extremely well-run test/sample knitting program, in my opinion. If there's a yarn company you'd like to work with, reach out to them via their email our contact page on their website to inquire about test or sample knitting opportunities!
  • Follow designers you like on Instagram, because they often post calls for test knitters on their accounts. Some of them also post calls in their Ravelry groups, so make sure to check in regularly to see if there are new testing opportunities posted.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of test and sample knitting, and perhaps even inspires you to give it a try! If you have any questions that I didn't cover here, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I'd also like to hear about your own experiences test and sample knitting! 

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