When was the last time you did something for the first time ever?

This summer I volunteered to join the testing team for Amber Zumbrun’s latest crochet design. It was actually a double first for me: I had never done pattern testing for a designer, AND I had never made crocheted clothes where fit was important (my oversized wrap that I made to wear a WonderWool doesn’t really count).

I follow Amber (AKA HeartfullyStitched) on Instagram and when she called out for testers , I signed up! She then got in touch via Facebook Messenger (are we supposed to call it just Messenger nowadays?) and laid out the terms of this collaboration: the deadline, which was a couple of weeks later, the type of yarn to be used, etc. All the pattern testers where invited to a Messenger chat group so that we could all the share information together.

I decided to use a lovely bamboo and cotton mix which I had probably rescued from a yarn shop bargain bin. The range of sizes for the pattern ranged from Extra Small to 4X/ 5X (quite a wide range of fits, which is quite nice), and I tested the XL size.

For the first week of the test I felt quite bad, because everybody seemed to have started immediately, but I didn’t have time to do the same! Some testers had already finished their top (and started making a second one because they loved it so much) when I was barely starting mine!

When I finally had the time to get started, I studiously made a tension square (yes, I know, you’re amazed, and so was I!) I was quite thankful though that the tension square required was only 2 x 2 inches, rather than the usual 10 cm, so it was quite quick. I was quite surprised because Amber was asking us to use either DK or light worsted weight yarn (she’s American) with a 6 mm hook to get the required tension. But with that size I was way off! I worked my way down slowly to a 5.5 and a 5, but in the end I had to use a 4.5 mm hook to get the correct tension (not that much off the normal size you’d expect to use for DK).

Now that my tension was sorted and my hook selected, I could make a start on the top. It is worked completely in the round from the top down with raglan-style shaping. A lace bottom panel and sleeves are added afterwards. I loved Amber’s creativity in providing so many different customisation options for the same base pattern: two main bodice lengths, frilled or fitted lace panel, at least 3 sleeve options… I went for the long bodice, frilled lace and solid sleeves. Of course, throughout the pattern, any section can be made longer by adding a few rounds!

As proofreading is part of my job as translator, I tend to be quite good at spotting details, for instances tiny little inconsistencies in the spacing, the capitalisation or the hyphenation, things that most people wouldn’t necessarily pay attention to. So I think I helped mostly with that.

I also made a point of checking every single instructions very slowly, as many other testers seemed to have whizzed through and finished their top without spotting that the explanation for the special cluster stitch required for the lace section didn’t make sense! I guess long-term crocheters just tend to follow their instinct, so the other testers automatically made a stitch that made sense. If I was a designer asking people to test my pattern, it would annoy me, as it would feel a bit like testers were happy to get the pattern for free (which is part of the deal), but would miss part of the point of hte exercise, focusing solely on the fit and the stitch counts (the “contract” Amber made us agree too covered so much more than that!)

I ended up cutting it quite fine to meet the deadline and sent my final notes to Amber the day before the pattern release date. But I believe that my Sophie Twirl Raglan top is a success! I hope I get a chance to wear it soon, although it might have to wait until next year if the weather takes a turn for the worse! In any case, it was a really nice and easy pattern to follow and if you are thinking of crocheting an item of clothing for the first time, I do recommend it. It has definitely given me the confidence I needed to tackle more clothes patterns!