Let’s talk about pattern testing!

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.

Some of your responses to my IG stories yesterday!

Warning signs:

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?


24 thoughts on “Let’s talk about pattern testing!

  1. HI Gillian, it’s a great topic. I’m still not up to snuff with Instagram, so missed it there entirely. I test patterns for a few companies and enjoy the challenge. I too am privileged to own a “stash” of fabric making it easy for me financially. The companies I test for do not pay. I only choose styles that appeal to my style and that suit my age and body shape, so have had great success in coming out of testing with wearable garments. Because I am a blogger, I usually will promote the final pattern upon it’s release. The most “eye-opening” aspect of testing is the sewing inexperience of some of the participants. I guess I assumed that testers were experienced at sewing.

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    1. I wonder if designers are purposely choosing a range of experienced and inexperienced testers? Someone like you is perfect for finding drafting or technical mistakes – a rookie might be best at indicating if the instructions are thorough enough! 🙂

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  2. It’s been awhile since I did pattern testing– the last (and only) one that I got into was for Sewaholic! I had a good experience with it, and still have the skirt that I made, assuming it will end up fitting after my body stabilizes again. Based on what I’ve seen more recently, I’m not sure that I’d want to get into pattern testing again. It does seem like it’s gotten cliquey, and like there’s not much place for people like me who have smaller accounts and little to no social media influence within our community. But the bigger reason is that every time I’ve seen a potentially interesting tester call come up recently, the deadlines are too short and I just can’t deal with the pressure. (I’m already flipping out over missing 3 separate self imposed deadlines on a project I’m currently making for someone else, and she isn’t giving me outside pressure!) Plus I can’t even manage blog worthy photos for my own blog these days! So I can’t say I’d never test again, but for now, I need to save my sewing time for patterns that I know will fit my lifestyle because I choose them.

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    1. I feel like we need a new term: pattern promotion, instead of pattern testing! Actual pattern testing still goes on, and I don’t feel like it has anything to do with popularity… but contractual pattern promotion is definitely on the rise and it stinks! (Unless there is actual quid pro quo and benefit to both parties.) When i test for Closet Case, Helen’s Closet, Cashmerette, Jalie etc, there is absolutely no requirement for me to ever share about the finished pattern, and that’s the way I like it. Half the time I do share anyway, but only when I feel passionate about it!

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      1. I totally agree that pattern promotion is different from pattern testing. I’ve never done testing myself because a) I feel it’s really cliquey, b) I don’t have time or energy to put into something I don’t know I will wear, c) there are plenty of people who seem to want to do it anyway! As an average sized person I don’t think I’d be adding too much to the pool

        Pattern promotion – I understand that IG and influencers etc. are a good way for marketing as well as to show the garment on different bodies, but sometimes it feels a bit disingenuous. Is it reeeeally a privilege to test a new pattern? Do you really love it and therefore want to share anyway, or is posting nice photos etc. part of the deal? Maybe a bit of disclosure would sort that one out.

        Finally, payment is an interesting one and I can see both sides here. Having said that I recently wrote a sewalong which was paid and I appreciated that it was paid. I did it because I owned the pattern already, the designer is a friend of mine, and I thought I had value to add in terms of explaining the “how to” with photographic detail.

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        1. I got paid $100 once to write a photo tutorial for a pattern company, and i was thrilled! Sure, it probably worked out to minimum wage or less, but it was lovely to be compensated. If Sewcialists ever gets rich, i would dearly love to pay each author/editor a flat rate, even if it is a token. However, since I’m currently paying about $500/year myself just to keep it going, I don’t see any of us getting paycheck any time soon! 😛

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          1. Hi Gillian,
            Thanks for pointing out the costs you have for keeping this site running. I must admit, I hadnt even thought about that.
            Have you considered opening up a Patreon account (or similar)? I personally don’t have much money to spend each month on media, but I love being able to give my favourite creators on YouTube etc something line 2$/month.This quickly adds up for the creator. I’m sure enough readers here would support you, even if it’s only a fixed amount per year. Like me, I’m sure many feel that the Sewcialists add an important value to their lives that is worth supporting, just to prevent you burning out!
            (Sorry if you know all this and have already decided not to go that route for any reasons, just wanted to let you know I’d love to support you)
            Love from Germany, Isi

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            1. Hi Isi! Thank you for your kind words about Sewcialists! We have thought about asking for little donations of a dollar or two, because I think it wouldn’t take long to cover out costs… but it’s a lot of work to decide the best way, and because we are spread out around the world I’m not sure how to handle the taxes! A part of me also worries that people would feel disappointed in us if they have donated money and then they don’t get what they want or don’t like a direction we take. (Ok, writing that lets me see that it’s a bizarre fear.) One day, we’ll get around to it! For now, it’s my gift to the sewing community. ❤

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          2. Yes, my sewalong was alos less than minimum wage given the time I spent on it 😉 but that wasn’t the point.

            I think it’s nice that Sewcialists is a community and free for those who are part of it – no payment necessary in my books to contributors / volunteers. BUT I don’t think you should need to keep that going yourself cost wise! A little fundraising just to cover the costs might be needed!

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            1. We’ve talked about raising money several times, but we always get overwhelmed with other stuff and push it back! I think of it as my charitable donation for the year. ❤

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  3. Thanks for this post. It’s interesting. I don’t pattern test, and I doubt I will start. However, I do appreciate it when I can see the pattern testers’ finished garments before purchasing a pattern. I am more likely to see someone in the garment with a more similar body shape to mine.I also completely understand the other side of this. I think clear expectations and understandings are going to be important in these negotiations. Happy sewing!

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    1. I really appreciate seeing similar bodies too. Especially if I’m familiar with any of the testers of if one is a friend… then I feel like I can really trust them and I have a sense of how their figure relates to mine.

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  4. I did do some pattern testing for a while, mostly kids’ clothes. Some of the designers I tested for were great, responded to feedback and didn’t require promotion. I would test for them again but all the recent calls have been either for things I had no interest in making, things that required fabric that I didn’t have on hand, or just happened when I didn’t have the free time.

    One company I tested for completely ignored my feedback and not only did I never test for them again but I also never bought from them again.

    Honestly, I enjoy testing, especially when there’s a community for the testers but I just don’t have it in me at the moment.

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    1. I’ve got a company that I will never buy from again, and I’ve heard other people had bad experiences too! They require links to social media and a promise that you will send pretty photos AND talk about the project… and they have a short deadline! So not worth it!!!!! I can’t believe anyone is getting away with that!

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  5. I’ve really enjoyed the pattern testing I’ve done, it’s allowed me to try some styles that I might otherwise not have considered, and the designers I’ve tested for have run facebook groups that are fun and informative. Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but the designers I’ve tested for have seemed to appreciate any feedback I’ve given, even though they sometimes choose not to make changes. But that’s okay, there are many right ways to do things in sewing! However pattern testing is very time consuming and it can be frustrating to commit my own fabric resources to untested designs. Lately I’ve had the courage and restraint to politely decline designs that I’m pretty sure I won’t wear. I also feel that as I further define my style and build a cache of TNT patterns, my desire to sew every new pattern out there is diminishing in favor a focusing on a select few that fill specific needs or interests, and pattern testing doesn’t always fit into that.

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    1. “Lately I’ve had the courage and restraint to politely decline designs that I’m pretty sure I won’t wear.” <– THIS! This needs to be my goal in 2020. I love how you framed it as a positive to say no!

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  6. I will likely never pattern test again. I have no reason to expend the energy and time, nor the resources, to “help” a company out for free. I enjoy market research and my husband and I have done a ton of it over the years 🙂 An we’re paid every time. Because, why on earth would I give ABC corp my time for free? I think that a lot of Indie designers capitalize off of the “friendship” vibe. Meh.

    I tested for some smaller companies that ended up essentially being promotions. I tested the Appleton and the actual process was positive but I will say, I never posted/promoted that pattern and I was never asked to test again. IDK if it’s related, I’m just sayin!

    I had an extremely positive experience testing the Birkin Flares pattern! I am not a FB person but I enjoyed the group. It was so dynamic, there was such ease of information sharing and constant feedback.

    But, it’s not something I’m willing to do anymore. I can’t see an upside for me as a sewer.

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    1. I love that you know your mind so clearly! There really is no reason to pattern test unless you enjoy it or the rewards make it worthwhile. When I was underemployed, sometimes getting the free pattern seemed worthwhile… it really depends if you have the right fabric in the stash though! I’d love to see indie sewing patterns move away from volunteer testing now that the industry is out of its infancy.

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  7. I’ve tested quite a bit over the years I think (apparently enough that it is hard to remember), and the one thing that has always been a hang up for me is the promotional photos. (I literally did not know that companies WOULDN’T require these, so that shows you who I’ve been testing for! 😉🙄) First off, I don’t have a good DSLR, and I’m quite happy with my iPhone camera in real life, so no, I don’t really want to submit “blog worthy” photos each time. And you know those people who are just brilliantly unphotogenic? Yeah, that’s me. So a good quality camera is not going to fix that, and I hate the pressure of needing to fit in to the rest of the group in terms of what my photos look like.

    I do learn new skills when I test, and that’s always a bonus. But unfortunately, it isn’t always the skills I need to be better equipped to handle my own sewing. I always hope that this will be the test where I learn how to handle my crazy broad shoulders (basically nothing with an actual sleeve will fit me off the hop), but all too often I hear, “Well, your high bust measurement should compensate for that!”, and it doesn’t. So then I’m testing a garment that (in theory) I love, but I’ll never wear, because there’s no help to get it actually fitting my body. I understand that designers are under a time pressure, and really don’t have time to help everyone in the test group, but for now, I think I’m done with testing for a while. Used to love it, sadly not working so much for me any more. Maybe someday I will again.

    Thanks for starting this conversation! I feel like it’s one that needs to happen.😉

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  8. I would probably be a good pattern tester, seem not to want to sew unless I want to wear it tomorrow. Have been like that since childhood. It worked really good in teenhood when I could bully mom into sewing while I did the hand work. Not so much in my 60s. Bummer. But when I want the piece sewed by the end of the week, I can fly!!!

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  9. I get where the ‘cool kids club’ feeling comes from – lots of familiar faces in every major pattern test! Often, though, I like this (like when I follow a frequent tester’s blog, I’m more up-to-date on new patterns). I’m not on IG for my emotional well-being so I never see tester calls, so I do feel like a little left out, but that’s certainly my decision and under my control. Still, for me, I love having inside scoops AND writing criticism, so at least from the outside, the system seems mutually beneficial!

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  10. I followed your posts on this on Instagram and I think it is really interesting! I’ve never done pattern testing, and while it’s something I maybe could have seen myself doing 4 or 5 years ago, I don’t think I would do it now. I have so little time, and I really want to spend my me time doing things for me! I’m becoming more selfish in my old age, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing. I’m learning to say no, or at least be really careful what I say yes to. I appreciate when others do pattern testing, but I would only support them if it is something they want to do and aren’t under any sort of stressful deadlines and actually enjoyed the process.

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