Welcome to BT Backstage, a series of posts introducing some of the folks who bring our patterns and designs to the knitting public. Once the concept for a new design is sketched and swatched, the work begins to translate the designer’s vision into a knittable pattern. Robin Melanson, our Senior Tech Editor, has been the linchpin in this process since we began producing design collections in 2011. We talked with Robin about the demands of her job and the skill set that allows her to bring to life more than 60 patterns for Brooklyn Tweed each year.
BT: Let’s start with a bit about your background… how did you become a tech editor?
Robin: I started working in the knitting industry as a freelance designer way back in 2003. I have had many patterns published with magazines and yarn companies over the years, I published a book with STC Craft in 2008, and I’ve made knitted costumes for several stage musicals (including a Broadway show). Nearly all of my work as a technical editor has arisen from relationships I made as a designer with technical or creative editors working in the industry. People who were familiar with my work as a designer would ask if I was interested in editing, or when they found out I was editing, they would be happy to add me to their team. What they liked about my work was that I was submitting well-written, logical patterns with excellent math and very few errors. At the time I thought that all designers had those skills, but as it turns out that is not always the case. I enjoy the imaginative aspect of designing, but I also take a lot of pleasure in solving the technical puzzle of an unexpected detail. Basically, I’m a Velma — the nerd who figures stuff out — and it suits me to edit pretty much full-time. My clients include yarn companies, magazines, book publishers, yarn shops, and independent designers. I think my path is a fairly common one among tech editors.
BT: What do you think are the most important skills for a tech editor?
Robin: In addition to having a great amount of knitting knowledge, a tech editor must be skilled in language, math (including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and occasionally trigonometry), design, grading, spatial reasoning, logic… it’s a long list. Most tech editors must also use Adobe Illustrator, so some graphic design skills are required. We must be able to cut to the gist of a document, figure out what is really intended and how to say it in the most logical way, and be able to do so in a timely fashion because we don’t have unlimited budgets or flexible schedules in this industry. My educational background is academic and language focused; I earned an Honours BA from the University of Toronto with a double major in English and Celtic Studies. I am also an avid sewer (as an English major I can’t use the word “sewist”), which gives depth to my understanding of garment construction. Tech editors are inventive problem-solvers; accumulated experience is a valuable asset when someone comes up with something you’ve never seen before and you need to use your previous experience creatively. We also occasionally need to be the voice of reason.
BT: At what point in a pattern’s development do you get involved? What’s the route a pattern has to travel before it’s ready for publication?
Robin: For Brooklyn Tweed Design Team collections, after the designers have created their concepts and the layout of their sample sizes, I write and grade the patterns for them from the charts and swatches they have provided. I communicate with the sample knitters to resolve any problems that come up (although the designers also work with the same knitters frequently and discuss the sample amongst themselves as the work progresses). I re-edit the patterns after receiving feedback from the sample knitters and any finishing notes from the designer. Our counter editors work with me to identify problems not discovered earlier; this is an important step because if it’s me who is doing the initial work on the patterns, then we also need additional eyes to check my work. (It would be nice if I were 100% perfect 100% of the time, but alas I am not Borg!) The process is many months long from start to finish for any given collection.
BT: What’s your favorite part of the job?
Robin: Quality alone-time with my spreadsheets.
BT: Thanks for taking the time to introduce your work, Robin! We’ll let you get back to those spreadsheets for the Winter 18 collection!