So take a minute or three and run over to read what the Yarn Harlot wrote today. I'll wait right here while you do.
Now I will tell you, right off, I consider myself a professional test/sample knitter.
When I knit samples, I can assure you I get paid either in cash money or an equal exchange of yarn and/or pattern books of my choice. Sometimes I get a combination of the two and sometimes I get bonuses for speedy work or whatever it is that the designer/yarn company I am working for is most interested in on that particular day. Samples are owned by the person or company that you knit for, they provide the materials, the pattern, even down to (usually) picking the colors you will work with, seems more than fair to get paid for your work. And I negotiate, either setting a per piece price or a per yard price (with an enhancement to that price if it is an intricate piece, lace or heavy cables) that usually starts at 20 cents per yard and "flexes" from there.
But, bear in mind that means that something as simple as a plain pair of no pattern socks made out of approximately 400 yards of fingering weight will run about $80 on knitting alone. Do you want to pay $80 for a pair of plain jane socks? (Which is why yarn companies would much prefer to give you what retails for $80 worth of yarn - remember they own the stuff and make a profit on it retail, even make a profit on it wholesale so if you ask for say $100 worth of yarn they are still not paying $80 and get a tax write off to boot!)
Pattern testing is a whole different story, at least for me! But, I have to tell you that I work with a couple of different designers who both take very different approaches to test knitters.
Designer A provides the pattern and on occasion the materials which I then knit, make my (usually few) pattern corrections, photo and keep to myself. Designer A also provides free copies of any pattern they have in addition to what I have worked on and even provides non available patterns for my pleasure (one time I was saying I was in dire need of a sock pattern for some special yarn I had, low and behold in my email box appeared a pattern that has not been published, just for me to knit.) My suggestions are taken seriously, with a cheery Thank You , with the added bonus of an intro to one yarn company that really enhanced my stash of cashmere yarns through sample knitting and a mention in the pattern as being of help, you really can't say I don't get "paid" to have the thrill of being one of the first people to knit the pattern...and in many cases let me tell you these patterns are a thrill to be the first to see!
Designer B provides the pattern, the materials and once I am done knitting I send back the finished project which they photo to suit the pattern, then send back to me along with copious amounts of yarn, even additional yarn throughout the year as "just because" presents. As I get to keep the finished object I am given a choice of colors and always given as much time as I need to work on the project, the deadlines being fairly fluid. Another designer that I consider a friend, even though we have never met in person, and who spoils me like crazy.
Designer C, well I got the pattern, used my own yarn, sent in my pattern corrections, got a brief mention on their blog that I was a test knitter and......that was it.
Guess who I never test knit for again?
What I decided, at least for myself as a "professional test knitter", is that small independent designers, the ones you can build a lasting relationship and friendship with, they deserve all the help they can get promoting this craft. They seem to (at least two thirds of the time) genuinely want to provide some kind of exchange for what the test knitter provides. Payment, not necessarily in hard cash, but in some form is traded and we all leave happy. Larger more commercial companies need to pay in hard cash to make the books balance, but are not as concerned with building friendships or taking suggestions from lowly test knitters as to what a pattern could be with a few modifications. Either way, there has to be a perceived equality between what the test knitter does and what the designer provides, I say perceived because I always end up feeling like I am getting the better end of the deal, and the designers I work most often with tell me that they get the better end of the deal.
I agree, contracts, standards and fair wages would go a long way towards making this hobby of ours more of an industry and certainly make it easier for both designers and test knitters to negotiate when both had an idea where to start.
But, I think before we can set a "fair wage" and standardize this industry there is one more thing that needs fixing, and if she thinks about it the Yarn Harlot herself has even mentioned it before. We, as knitters specifically and crafters in general need to stop down playing just how much work it takes to create something!
stepping down off her soapbox now.