As I write my Top 5 round-ups, I’m realising that I have mixed feelings about pattern testing – sometimes it is a joy, and sometimes a challenge. I wanted to know what other people thought, so I took to Instagram to ask!
What is pattern testing?
First, let’s define what we are talking about! In my experience, pattern testing involves the following steps:
- A designer puts out a call for people interested in testing, then emails out a line drawing of the pattern, finished pictures of the garment, the timeline (usually about 10 days) and expectations. Sewists usually have a day or two to decide if they want to test.
- You are sent the pattern and instructions, and give the designer feedback and ask clarification throughout the process. Sometimes you also get to chat with the other testers, which can be quite fun.
- At the end, you submit final feedback and pictures (generally cellphone fit pictures of front back and side, or finished blog-worthy pictures, if that is what you agreed to. Personally I never agree to having to promote a pattern or submit finished pics!) Hopefully the designer writes back, asks further questions, and lets you know your feedback is important.
- Before the pattern is released, you will be sent the final pattern and notified of any changes since testing.
That has been my experience, at least – does it align with yours? There certainly is a lot of variation between different companies.
Did you do any pattern testing in 2019?
Seems like about 1/4 of my IG followers did pattern testing this year. I tested 9 patterns this year, which is less than I’ve done in previous years, but I’m trying to get better at only saying yes to what suits my style. For years I felt like it was important for people like me who are at the top of the 0-20 size range to do pattern testing and give curvy feedback. Now that more and more patterns are expanding up to size 30, I don’t feel like I have to carry a baton for the plus size community any more!
Do you want to do more/any pattern testing?
Interesting, more people seem interested in pattern testing than are actually doing it! I wonder if that means that designers already have a big enough pool of testers and aren’t looking for more, or if there is just more supply than demand? I have to say, it makes me feel good about stepping back from pattern testing for my favourite companies to know that lots of people want to take my place.
On the one hand, I can see why companies like consistent testers – if they know my sewing style and skill, and how previous patterns fit me, then it’s easier for them to learn from my feedback. On the other hand, I don’t ever want to be part of a “cool kid” club where certain people are testing for lots of big companies. I’m always happy to see diversity and new faces in a tester roundup.
Is pattern testing worth the time and money spent on fabric?
This is the big question! It’s a sign of my own privilege to be able to work for free and use my own time and resources to benefit someone else’s company. Put that way, it also seems like an unfair offloading of costs onto volunteers who often only get compensated with a $10-20 pattern. Some people argue that it perpetuates the undervaluing of traditional women’s work, and I get that.
So why do people pattern test? It can be really fun to feel like you are contributing to the sewing community, and supporting small businesses and people you believe in. Personally, I’m proud to test for Canadian companies like Helen’s Closet, Jalie, Closet Case Patterns and Thread Theory. Sometimes the tester groups are fun, and sewing to a deadline can be a thrill!
Let’s talk compensation!
Should pattern testers be paid? A lot of you think they should be! And in fact, I was so happy to hear that a few pattern companies are actually compensating their testers. Some pay a moderate lump sum or offer a budget for fabric, and others arrange a coupon code with a store to offset costs. I know a few designers handle pattern testing in-house, and others pay a professional to make various sizes. For bras, which are time consuming and expensive to make, I’ve twice had designers make me a bra and send it for me to try on. Sometimes designers offer a bonus pattern from their inventory, which seems to me a very low-cost but effective way to say thanks.
Fundamentally, I think most of us want to feel appreciated and that our time and feedback was worthwhile. That means we expect to be treated like adults, with the right to pass on a round of testing or even miss a deadline on occasion. We want designers to actively listen to our feedback, and see changes made to the final pattern. We expect a reasonable deadline, and no requirement for advertising or pretty finished photos. I’m happy to say that 90% of my pattern testing experience have met all those criteria, and have therefore been a pleasure.
On top of that, it is important to test designs you like and might actually wear! I like experimenting a bit through testing, but I’m trying to get better about turning down patterns that I won’t actually wear.
Based on your feedback and my own experiences, watch out for the following:
- companies that pick testers based on social media presence (Yuck!)
- requirements for blog-worthy pictures (And am I part of your advertising or your pattern development?)
- short time frame (less than a week – if the pattern is in such a rush, is there any chance they will adjust the pattern afterwards?)
- rude interactions with the designer (duh, but it happens! I’ve heard of people being scolded when family emergency meant they missed a deadline, or because their finished pictures weren’t glam enough!)
- asking you to test without showing the line drawing and description
- companies that don’t respond after you submit feedback, and don’t make alterations to the pattern (I can literally point to well-known patterns and tell you what changes were made based on my individual feedback, and also times where the designer said, “I hear you, but here’s why we have chosen x”. That’s how it should be.)
Phew! This topic gets me all worked up – and I love seeing that you feel passionately about it too. I hope you’ll share your opinions in the comments below – this is one of those topics where we all make our own choices, and all perspective are valid!
What do you think about pattern testing in the indie sewing world?