Ruminating

ON PATTERN TESTING

There has been a debate raging (well, as raging as a bunch of kindhearted crafty folks can rage) about the nature of pattern testing in the independent pattern community, and it’s something I’ve been thinking A LOT about in the last few weeks.

The sewing blog world is growing rapidly, and as a result, a lot of sewing bloggers are releasing patterns. It’s a natural evolution; you start a blog, you develop your skills, you learn pattern making, you have an idea, you think maybe it’s something other people would like to sew. For a lot of us (and for me in particular), the natural next step is to reach out to people you know in the community to try it out. When I was working on the Bombshell, I was just getting my feet wet. It was scary, and overwhelming, and at times I had no idea what I was doing. So I asked my friends, my sewing friends, to make it. I asked for brutal honesty. And I got it. As a result of their feedback, and the subsequent feedback I got from non-testers, I fixed and tweaked the pattern into something I am divinely proud of.

Without those first few brave testers, The Bombshell simply wouldn’t exist. When it came time to release Nettie, I relied on the same system. I reached out to those same friends, a few new ones, and a few ladies whose style and skills I admired. Again, I asked for and received brutal honesty. The pattern is better because of it.

I never paid anyone, or supplied fabric. I would love to be in a position to do both of those things, but the reality is that I am a tiny one woman show. For the last 6 months I’ve been working on average 80 hours a week. I go to my day job and then come home and work until midnight or 1am almost every day. I haven’t had a real day off in months. This Sunday I took some “time off”, went on a bike ride with my boyfriend and came home and sewed for another 6 hours. It will be a while before I can consider making this a full-time gig, and it will be at a great pay cut, working substantially more hours than I am at my office job.

All this to say, I don’t foresee a day, at least for my tiny company, when I can afford to pay people to test patterns. I am relying on the goodwill, enthusiasm and skills of people I’ve met on the internet, and all I can offer in exchange for their time and hard work is a free PDF pattern, a digital hug and a round of cocktails if we ever meet in person. It seems some people feel this is an unfair exchange, and I sympathise with that point of view. The unfortunate reality however, is that the bounty of exciting, unique new work we’re seeing simply wouldn’t exist without this process. The Big 4 have the resources and staff to test in house (and we all know that is not a perfect system!) but most of us indies designers are working out of our homes, driving our friends and families crazy, working around the clock, for a relatively small income… it’s a slog. A fun, exciting, rewarding slog, but a slog nonetheless. A slog that would not be possible without the generosity, time and wisdom of people who want to participate in the process.

None of us are rolling around in piles of money while Sade plays. I know my gals at By Hand London are doing well, but they’re working out of Elisalex’s apartment and busting ass trying to stay afloat. We all are. We love and appreciate our testers, more than I can probably articulate without getting emotional, and we want this process to be fun! We want to learn from you, to be BETTER. It wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and cheerleading we get from the people who not only want us to succeed, but want the whole industry to get better.

I, personally, love testing patterns. I’ve tested everything BHL has released, and have posted my honest accounts of my experiences. Thankfully, those patterns work for me. I have nothing negative to say because I have nothing negative to say. I’m testing something for another blogger as well right now, and in all cases, I am brutally honest. I recommend different finishes, I point out confusing explanations, I note drafting errors. And since I’ve been lucky to love everything I’ve tested, I’ve shared that love with you. Because I want By Hand London to succeed. I want Sewaholic, Colette, Deer & Doe, Papercut, Salme, Victory, Named, Bluegingerdoll, Seamster, Fehr Trade, Tilly, Grainline, Thread Theory, DIY Dixie, every single indie designer out there, to succeed. I want people to pursue their dreams and be creative and brave and articulate their unique point of view in a way that other people can enjoy. IT’S IMPORTANT. And it makes our craft, our skills, our community stronger.

So that said, a lot of the negative comments I’ve been seeing on this topic just plain bum me out. I think it’s a great conversation to have, and I hope it will encourage other designers to be more transparent about the process, but I really want people to understand how we on the other end are conducting ourselves. I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but I think it’s safe to say we are not greasing the wheels. No one is getting paid to lie about patterns, unless I am hopelessly naive and there is some seedy black market internet scammery going on that I am unaware of. People are asked to test, and if they want to, they say yes. No arms are being twisted, no cow heads are being thrown in beds. If the process goes well, people give feedback which is then implemented in the final product. Because we have a vested interest in supporting one another (and this is a feature specific to our community in general) people share their makes in a positive way for the most part. They are free to also share the problems they had, the fitting issues they encountered, what they liked or didn’t like about the pattern. That is how the process should work. If that’s not happening, designers and bloggers alike need to communicate their needs and issues more clearly in the future.

If people are being paid, they need to say so. Identifying what has been sponsored, and what has been freely done, needs to be very clear so there is no confusion about where things stand.

What is very, very important to note is that very infrequently will anything fit out of the box. We all have our sweet, amazing, idiosyncratic bodies. Our adorable dowager’s humps, our bodacious booties, our big naturals, our perky a-cups, our cozy tummies, our skinny or plump shoulders, our petite or elongated torsos. Many times I see people complaining of drafting issues from patterns that have worked flawlessly for others (Big 4 included). It’s very hard to say sometimes what is a design error, and what is something that needs to be tweaked to accommodate a specific figure. Some patterns are tricky to fit, regardless of the execution of the drafting. Some pattern companies design for specific body types that are not quite your own. I am thinking of Nettie right now. Some folks are having issues with it being narrow in the shoulders. Since I am my own fit model and have somewhat narrow shoulders, it follows that that would be the case. Is it a drafting mistake? Or is it just something to keep in mind when you make your own?

And then there are pattern fails. We’ve all seen them. We’ve read enough negative reviews or seen enough ill-fitting dresses that we know “That one will need some work” or “That one is not for me”. In those cases, I hope we can be honest, while being kind. Constructive criticism is healthy and necessary and makes for better designers. I am so sympathetic to this because I know how much insane work, sleepless nights and gray hair goes into this process. I know how much it stings when someone is not happy with something they’ve made that I designed. (And this is NOT to say that this is often the case! It’s very rare and infrequent when I see an unfair or mean-spirited review. But sometimes it’s nice to remember there is someone out in the world who worked their butt off on something that just didn’t work out).

All this to say, we are doing our best. We want to make you happy. We want to design things that get you excited to make clothing. That is the most important thing of all. We are learning, we are evolving, we will get better. And you are the most crucial part of that process. Every single person who blogs their makes, regardless of whether they are an official tester or not, is integral to the success of this burgeoning industry. Without sewists generously giving of their time, most of the new independent companies simply would not exist.

The very idea makes me incredibly sad.

And honestly? If I couldn’t depend on bloggers I like and admire to test for me, I wouldn’t be here writing this post. No Bombshells. No Netties. Nada. That promotion is what makes it possible for me to dream. That promotion is what makes it possible for any of us to get up in the morning, sit at our drafting table and think about what you might like to wear. It’s just the hard truth of trying to start a small business in a huge, wired marketplace.

For my part, I will be doing tester calls for all future patterns. I want the widest range of people I can get my grubby mitts on. I want to know what you think. I want to know what works and what doesn’t. But only if you want to. Only if you want to be part of the process. A process that has you at the very center. A process that wouldn’t exist without you.

So. It’s way to late and maybe I’ve over shared or been too honest, but this has been weighing on me for a few weeks. I needed to talk to you. And I want to hear what you have to say. What do you think of the pattern testing issue? Do you think it’s fair? Do you think it’s wrong? Do you want to test for me? I’m listening.

CATEGORIES: Ruminating
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  • Lucy

    I haven’t seen this debate, and I’ve feverishly Googled without success to figure out what people could possibly be debating. I haven’t ever done any testing (though I do get the emails from Sewaholic), but from what I can tell, you get a sneak peek of an up-and-coming pattern, you get it for free, and you get to help QA. What is the issue? What are people saying? I’m genuinely perplexed about what there is to debate. You don’t like it for whatever reason, you don’t do it.

    • Here is what I was referring to (she links to another post where this came up): http://seamrippedblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/word-from-around-town/

      • The whole exchange saddens me 🙁

      • Lucy

        Thank you! It’s hard to form an opinion on hearsay 🙂

        Though, my opinion hasn’t changed. I suppose I *sort of* see how people might get bent out of shape because the same bloggers seem to do a lot of the testing, but a) they’re part of the designer’s community, b) they’re clearly committed enough to the cause to follow through, and c) who’s to say that other people just don’t blog?

        I really hope this isn’t a case of some people thinking certain ‘indie’ pattern companies are getting too big and therefore aren’t indie/hipster enough for them any more.

  • Lynn

    I think getting a free pattern and being part of a new pattern designer’s start in the business is reward enough. If some don’t agree, they don’t have to participate.

    I have begun to have a bit of a pet peeve that you touched on briefly. There are a few bloggers who vehemently complain about EVERY pattern company. They do not seem to realize that pattern makers do what they can to insure their work fits most people. That means they take average measurements and try to fit near those. If your figure is way off the average, just deal with the fact that you will need to alter. Yes, it is hard to be different. Yes, it is tedious to alter and adapt everything. But at least if you sew, you can make something fit you a whole lot better that RTW ever will!

    Oh, and I do alter everything. I am 5′ tall, short waisted, and have narrow hips.

  • Mary Nease

    I’m thrilled to test patterns. Like people have said, you get a sneak peek, the pattern for free, and direct communication with the designer/pattern company. Plus, depending on the renown of who you’re testing for, it’s free publicity/traffic for your blog when release time comes around.

  • Kaoru Marie

    I can’t imagine what people are all upset about. I’ve only pattern tested once (got a free pattern) and I loved it. It was fun to get a sneak peek and hope that even one of my comments helped the final product be better. Anyone following Indy designers should be well aware (and appreciative) of the time that goes into these patterns and realize that paying testers would not be economical for most, especially those starting out. Your hard work is very inspiring!

  • Kelly

    I love that you don’t shy away from talking about this stuff. I LOVE pattern testing!! And other than a free pattern I have never been paid to do it. Whenever I am asked, I look at the design and decide if it fits with my style…if it doesn’t, I kindly say no. (And sometimes I say no just because I am too busy). I have always had positive experiences and I can’t imagine why people would get upset about any of it. I am always, always honest about my opinions, but if I had a negative opinion about a pattern I most likely wouldn’t blog about it (I loved Oona’s post about being/not being a critic). I promote patterns and designers on my blog all the time and I make ZERO dollars doing so. It COSTS me money to run my blog. It’s sad to me if people think we are being dishonest when all we are trying to do is support the people who make the patterns that we love so much. Blerg. Oh, I would LOVE to test for you sometime if you need someone new 🙂

    • I think that’s part of it- there seems to be an idea that some of us bloggers are making money and living high on the hog sewing and blogging and that’s just not the case! There are a few people who have book deals or have started pattern companies, and I would wager a guess that every single one of those elite few took a monster paycut from whatever their job was before! Yep, I do get free patterns from time to time, and I even get free fabric from Mood, but I spend SO MUCH TIME on all of these projects, spend money on fabric for the pattern testing projects, and spend money on additional fabric for nearly all of my Mood projects that I’m in the red with every single project! We sew and blog because we love doing it, not because we’re laughing all the way to the bank!

    • Kelly, I would adore it if you would test for me! I love your comments and style so much! Get in touch when I make the call.

  • GirlMaverick

    I’d be thrilled to test a pattern for any indie company! I’d do it for so many reasons but it boils down to this: I want to support someone who is contributing to a community I love and am a part of. Donating a couple of hours after work everyday for a week and getting a free pattern in return seems like a pretty good deal to me! If someone is pursuing a career as a pattern tester, a start-up company isn’t the place to search for well-paying work! DUH. It upsets me to think that anyone would complain about this, and if they do, then they’re completely missing the point of the friendly, happy, bright, creative sewing community!

  • Linda M

    Great blog. I am new to this and I think I have learned a lot from what you said. It sounds like a difficult business, but then isn’t self employment always a challenge – albeit a rewarding one. I believe that testers who are paid should be honest and say so. Just like the political ads where they say So & So is wonderful and then add at the end paid for by So & So. I think it would be fun to try out a new pattern. I try all sorts, and even the big 4 have to be adjusted for fit on me. I think that is part of the reason that people sew, to make something that can be adjusted to fit better than RTW.

  • I’m interested to hear what it is that people are saying that is negative about pattern testing? I suppose we see a lot of the same bloggers testing patterns – is that it? I’d hope that when I fork out good money for a pattern that it’s been tested by bloggers, friends, family…anyone! I’ve been asked to test a few patterns but I’ve always declined as I have minimal sewing skills (I’m just starting out) and I know I’d not get the garment done in time. Like you said, having bloggers test your pattern is great publicity…it’s how I find out about all Indie patterns.

  • I’ve done quite a bit of pattern testing recently and I have enjoyed it, even though it can be a time consuming and frustrating process at times. I am always honest about fit issues, and I have only tested one design that for me was totally disastrous …. So I chose not to blog about it. I remembered that thing my mother said – if you don’t have any nice to say then shut up!

    I also think many people don’t understand the commitment involved, both from the designer and the testers in the process of getting a pattern ready for release. All the indie designers I have tested for have been amazingly helpful and generous with hints and tips if I have had any issues.

    It still comes down to this for me. Every single independent pattern I have made has fit me better than anything I have made from the Big 4. The designs are more stylish and interesting and also many are just starting to be available in truly plus size sizes. Anything I can do to encourage this trend is a given.

  • I haven’t done any pattern testing before, but I’d love the opportunity! I think testing is an important part of the process, and it’s important for the pattern testers to be honest. I think maybe there’s a bit of an idea going around that maybe people aren’t always being honest, and are just “sucking up” to the designer. I’m not saying I think that, for the record!

    And as for the payment issue – if you think it’s unfair that you don’t get paid to pattern test, then don’t do it. I think it’s a wonderful arrangement, personally – you get a copy of the pattern before other people, you get blog exposure, and you get to help out an indie pattern designer!

  • I think I’ve seen the debate you are talking about in this post. However, I really appreciate the transparancy you provide! Being in a start-up business is a lot of hard work and I admire everyone who takes on the job and provides us with gorgeous stuff. I do feel that patterns are often tested by the same group of people, but that’s probably because they already have a lot of skills, are real friends, have a large audience and so on. I think it would be interesting to switch up this group every now and then, to see other styles or figures in new patterns.
    I love the aesthetic of your designs, so if you ever need another tester I’d love to help you out.
    I strongly aggree with what you said about the sewing community being a supportive community. That’s what makes sewing so great and that’s also why we read too many blogs too late at night and make real life friends from an online life. Keep working hard, I love what you do! Honestly is always appreciated in my book!

    • Get in touch when I make the next testing call Hanne!

  • Katy

    It saddens me that such a debate would be raging in such an otherwise welcoming and friendly community. I can’t imagine how proud (and nervous) you must be to send your patterns off into the world to be tested. I would see it as more of an honour to pattern test and contribute to the fulfilment of that persons dream, there shouldn’t be a sense of entitlement that comes with it. And to complain about patterns not fixing straight out of the pack? That’s ridiculous, you only have to look out the window at passers by to realise we”re all different sizes – nothing is going to fit everyone perfectly! That’s why I sew in the first place, and I enjoy making things fit perfectly (or at least better than the shops…). I’d love to be a pattern tester!

    • Get in touch this summer when I blow the pattern tester horn!

  • MarrieB

    I’ve only had the pleasure to pattern test once, but I really loved doing it. I took the task seriously, knowing that the designer was looking for honest feedback and relying on her testers. I was happy to do it without compensation (although I did get a copy of the pattern), because it made me feel good to be able to help an indie designer out. The sewing community is such a collaborative place, pattern testing just seems natural to me. I really think we would all lose if people stopped being willing to pattern test or expected to be paid to do it. And yes, I’d love to pattern test for you. 🙂

  • carmencitab

    Well said!

  • This post reminds me of a feeling I had, when we were in NYC, hanging out on the balcony after some K-BBQ. Someone on the same wavelength as me. So much love for ya (and the other ladies). I love this post. I haven’t seen any recent raging but I saw something maybe last year. You pretty much said what I have been thinking and am very curious if you have the same opinion about a related topic. When I have done testing, I love that the pattern is payment, especially if I am probably going to purchase it anyways. Sometimes, it allows me to get out of my style comfort soon, sometimes with amazing results. I also love testing because it helps me become a better pattern-maker. You know I am always up for testing for you if I can. 🙂

  • funny how just what we love the most about our community (the friendliness, the encouragements, the positivity) is creating an issue… sometimes, this positivism we see often see in pattern reviews on blogs, and especially those sprung out of pattern testing, can be overwhelming, and i think is the source of this debate. a more nuanced conversation around all the patterns would only be positive to everybody, patternmakers and sewists alike. thanks Heather for sharing your thoughts on the subject!

  • Kirsty Splatt

    I think you have clarified the issue. I have so much love for the indie patterns. Some of them just don’t work for me, others I’ve made 7 because I just have so much love for the design and the fit. BTW if you ever do a call out for pattern testers, let me know. I would love to do it for the experience.

  • Elizabeth Bradford

    I think its a person’s choice to help. To me, who has limited creativity, I love pattern testing. When I sew up a pattern after it has been released and I find errors, I email the creator because I know how catching errors can be difficult. No matter how many people have tested, there still will be a typo in step two etc. I like to think of it as less doing your job and more helping out someone who helps me.

  • Errr I’m totally oblivious to this, has a war been raging? Happily in the dark I know pattern testing to be a mutually beneficial process without the need for payment as well. If there is negativity out there it sounds like the whole “blog photos shouldn’t be too beautiful” nonsense — people need to chill out and stop criticising each other

    • Oh man, that debate made me so sad. The greatest thing about getting involved with the online sewing community has been the relationships that I’ve made with all kinds of people of all ages, incomes, religions, ethnicities, nationalities, etc- I never would’ve crossed paths with these people otherwise! I hate any time people want to bring division into a community that’s so about inclusiveness and encouragement. 🙁

      • Exactly! I mean for example how else would you and I have crossed paths. It doesn’t matter that we’ve never met.

        In truthfulness, I almost missed that other stinky debate until someone drew my attention to it so I think I’m successfully avoiding the negative people on the internet and not letting them bring me down. Though I may have just unwittingly invited trolls to target me there with my smugness… gulp. From where I’m sitting there is a sea of lovely positive and encouraging sewists to engage with.

        • That’s a good place to be sitting! There’s enough ugliness and anonymous namecalling in other corners of the internet… OK, every other corner of the internet, sad face.

    • Raging may have been stretching it – i’ve just seen a few posts over the last 6 months or so and the comments can get…. nasty.

  • Sarah

    I don’t get it: what’s the argument against free pattern testing- a free pattern for someone who loves to sew. No brainer?

  • Like when Jen had to post about her work hours for Grainline studios, I was sad that she had to address it. I’m sad that you had to address it. People should understand that there are humans running your pattern company and! Sometimes with full time job. Seriously!

    Like you said, No one is forced to be a Pattern tester. It’s an opportunity to be a part of the process and help a person out. I don’t know, call me weird, but if you want to help someone out, you don’t ask for a reward of kind. I hope to see all indie companies to succeed, especially yours. I started sewing again very recently and I’ve tried your first pattern and can’t wait to home and try the Nettie (I’m out of the country). I feel like I’m a part of the process because I get to see your company to develop. I think your company is great because you are designing patterns that the market is missing. Amazing! I admire you even more for That.

    A call for pattern testers, me please! But I totally understand why you pick your testers. Makes complete sense. Oh my, I’ve babbled!

    • Get in touch darling! Would love to have you test!

  • I totally agree with you. Pattern testers are what make a good pattern great. They bring fresh eyes and mindset to the table and point out things the pattern maker might have overlooked or didn’t think of. We are all human and mistakes are natural.

    And I think asking for a financial “reward” for being a pattern tester from an independent pattern maker is wrong. They aren’t forced into testing. They are asked. The whole process is voluntary and if they want to get payed for pattern testing, then maybe they should go and work for a big company that makes patterns… I think that if the pattern tester would think about how much they would spend on the pattern, then they probably see that they actually win in the process. But if someone wants to be ignorant, mean and a bully, they can. People can be horrible and make others feel like crap.

    Anyways. You are doing a great job and you shouldn’t let the meanies let you down. And if you need a pattern tester, I’m your gal 🙂 And virtual hugs are my favorite way of payment 😛

    • Thanks darling! Get in touch when I make the call!

  • Jenny Askew

    I cannot possibly see a negative side to pattern testing. If you ask someone to test and they want to, no problem. And if they don’t want to, they don’t, again, no problem. I really lobe the fact that independent companies are springing up and offering the rest of us a far greater choice, and pattern testing is just crucial to that process. I admit that I don’t buy independent patterns as often as I would like. But the ones I have used have far fewer fitting issues for me than any by the big four. So, long live the independent companies. Keep up your good work, I look forward to seeing what you come up with in the future. As a side, I would be quite happy to test patterns, but I am not a bloggy type, so I don’t know if that would rule me out.

  • A Stitching Odyssey

    Beautifully said Heather! I think people often underestimate the sheer hours and effort that go into producing indie patterns. And the fact that producing them in the first place is a labour of love and about raw passion. I’ve always admired the length indie ‘companies’, like yourself and all the others you listed, go to in order to get honest feedback and improve their product. Keep up the excellent work, it’s people like you who are giving stitchers like me so much choice and the ability to be creative!

  • Sew Little Time

    i haven’t seen a recent debate, but i do remember the one from last year. i think some indies use it as promotion (i.e. they only want big bloggers to test it as they want the publicity for the pattern and so the pattern isn’t going to change following testing) and some genuinely want the feedback from testers and change the pattern accordingly and so want a wide range of testers and body types. i had no idea that some people were paid, and don’t think it is necessary. the great thing about the sewing community is that it is a community – testers get a sneak peak of the pattern in exchange for their views. no need to supply fabric or payment! so if you don’t like the pattern, you wouldn’t volunteer to test it. i love to test. i think my type a personality likes finding tweaks and glitches in instructions!

  • Charity Shop Chic

    Couldn’t agree more, Heather, well said. I’ve obviously missed out on the debate you are talking about, but… pattern testing seems like a win-win to me. If you are a pattern company, you get the QA support and feedback you need, and if you’re a tester, you get free patterns and the thrill of seeing it before anyone else. Ultimately, if you are not comfortable with it, don’t do it!

    On a related note, it really REALLY annoys me when people give a pattern negative reviews because it didn’t fit them out of the packet. Not everyone has the same body shape, so not all patterns will fit all people! It’s not rocket science!

  • Buttontreelane

    I’ve been pattern testing crochet patterns on Ravery for years. I don’t have an issue with not being paid for it. I don’t feel taken advantage of. I feel I am doing my part in helpin pg crochet designers get great patterns out there. Sometimes I test for someone spcharging $$$ for a pattern. Sometimes the person is offering the pattern for free. But it all comes down to this – as a community of crocheters/ knitters/sewers we help other designers so that we can ultimately reap the rewards of great patterns.

    Keep doing what you are doing. I don’t have the body shape or size for your patterns, but I am really enjoying seeing what my friends are making from yours and other patterns. We’re all in this together!

  • Helen McFadyen

    I’m not aware of the issue at all. The process seems to me to be completely obvious, and fair and I’m actually struggling to understand the problem. I think the process is necessary and seems to me to work. My only thought would be that it’s often the same bloggers we see time and time again doing said testing. This could just be because pattern designers are choosing the group they know and trust, and that this is a pretty tight group. It might just be that these individuals are best at testing, which I’m sure must be a skill itself. It might just be that I need to expand the number of blogs that *I* read to get the full picture. But I do sometimes find myself thinking it would be nice to see different bloggers doing the testing from time to time. Just my 2p worth, since you are asking! Otherwise, keep up the good work! 🙂

  • i would LOVE the chance to get a FREE pattern to test! AMAZING! I’m always hesitant to volunteer because I’d still consider myself a beginner. and on top of being a beginner, I know I can be a bit sloppy.I haven’t heard anything negative about pattern testing myself. please keep making patterns! I LOVE your style (s) (the 3 Heathers)

  • Heather Bee

    I must be oblivious to what ever dust up is going on the interwebs. Anywho as someone who has gotten a decent amount of pattern testing work this year, let me say I love “barter system” of testing. It lets me stretch my limited income by using my rather ample sewing time. I like having a sneak peak at the patterns and using my sewing/drafting experience to help make the pattern better.

    Is the fact that I found Nettie narrow in the back a drafting error? In my opinion no. Like you’ve said, we’re all different shapes and expecting something to fit out of the envelope is foolish. It certainly didn’t turn me off to your patterns.

    • I loved your Nettie post! I thought it was a great example of modifying an existing pattern to work for you. I wish everything fit everyone right out of the box, but you know, our bodies are a unique, frustrating wonderland.

  • This is such a well written and thought provoking response Heather – thank you! I’ve been lucky enough to pattern test for a few different indie companies and it’s always been a positive experience. I’ve never been paid and to be honest it’s never even crossed my mind. I get a free pattern at the end of it and a unique opportunity to test/see a design before it’s on general release – that, for me, is well worth the time and effort. I do think carefully before I commit to pattern testing, sometimes the timing is just unfortunate and I can’t do it, but really it comes down to the question “would I buy this pattern if it wasn’t free?” If the answer’s ‘yes’, I go for it, if not, I politely decline. It makes me ridiculously proud to see any changes or amendments I’ve suggested turn up in the final published version of a pattern. It really shows that the pattern designer values your opinion and wants to make the pattern as good as it can possibly be for everyone.
    Keep up the wonderful work with your own business, you’re an inspiration! x

  • I’m not really sure what the debate is on this. Surely if you aren’t happy with the deal you get when pattern testing, you just don’t do it! Participation is voluntary. I personally haven’t done any pattern testing but would really LOVE to (so if you are planning on doing a shout out for pattern testers, I am in!) I realise that signing up to be a pattern tester is a big commitment but I feel that remuneration from the person whose product it is slightly invalidates the opinions given, I feel that people are more likely to give honest (although hopefully constructive) feedback when the only incentive is for them to end up with a good outfit at the end and make the experience rewarding for themselves and others.

  • I don’t think payment for testing is the main issue, nor not appreciating the work that goes into creating indie patterns. Testing is a completely essential part of the drafting process and it’s obvious a designer must do it, and there’s no shortage of willing volunteers.

    To be blunt, I think it’s a perception that the pattern-testing circle is cliquey and a bit circle-jerky: the same fairly limited circle of bloggers always testing garments, always leaving rave reviews, then you see a slew of the pattern all over the bigger blogs at the same time. The unwillingness to point out negatives – by glossing over them, blaming oneself for sewing fails, or not blogging about unsuccessful projects at all – makes it look like a falsely-biased sample when all the reviews for a new indie release are glowing. I don’t mean to be harsh and certainly not to point fingers; I don’t think any of this is intentional from any party. HOWEVER, I totally understand why that happens: a designer is of course going to pick her friends and people who she thinks will like and suit the pattern for testing.

    What’s the solution? I don’t know. Maybe it’s not even a problem since I think encouraging and nurturing indie designers is more important than a few people getting bent out of shape by perceived clique-ness and bias. I think you’re right in opening up your circle of testers – that will definitely help. It’s a really interesting debate to have anyway, and I for one am going to try and be more balanced and critical when writing about projects, both hits and misses.

    • I for one will definitely be broadening my testing circle outside of the perceived “clique” (though to be fair, many of these folks are very dear friends in real life, so it makes sense that I reach out to them). Appreciate your thoughts!

      • twotoast

        Have you thought of approaching other bloggers that you do not know so well, but whose blogs you follow/enjoy who may give you a different perspective due to their size/ethnicity/age/experience? Maybe a few ‘wildcards’ would give a different slant?

  • ghainsom kom

    I’m very surprised about your post because this is a non-issue to me: anyone who finds pattern testing unfair should not volunteer to pattern test. Point.
    And the fact that you’re an indie designer doesn not entitles anyone to ask for a refund if it doesn’t fit out of the box, just as this idea would never come to mind when sewing up a Big 4 pattern. Though they can write and vent. And should, Because it may be a hint that you should enlager your pattern tester panel to include either a greater variety of body proportions, or more (brutally) honest people.
    Keep up the good work!

  • This Blog Is Not For You

    Thanks for this post. Very well put, Heather. I feel this needed to be said. Only one (very heated) debate comes to mind, which, reading it, made me very sad (although I appreciate honest opinions). I’ve also just started out and launched my first pattern and people not involved in process can’t imagine how much work goes into the simplest pattern. If indie pattern designers were just doing it for the money, we wouldn’t be indie pattern designers.
    Heather, your patterns have been amazing so far! You go girl! Can’t wait for more to come! Charlie

    • This Blog Is Not For You

      Oh, and I’d love to test one of your future patterns!

  • Sox

    I’m surprised to hear some people fuss about the pattern testing process. Maybe I am reading the wrong blogs, but all the ones I have seen are delighted to be testers and are only worried they might spill the beans ahead of the pattern launch.
    As far as I am concerned, if you want to test, say yes. If you don’t want to or aren’t able to, say no.
    I think your patterns are lovely, Heather. I’m not an owner of either yet, but the day is soon approaching.
    Please, keep it up!

  • Ilona

    I don’t know if you’re talking about the thread on GOMI or if the debate is happening somewhere else, but my take on it is this. I have no problems with people testing patterns and while it would be nice if indie companies had the money to pay professional pattern testers, it’s probably not going to happen. What annoys me, however is seeing the same people test patterns all the time. There are blogs who started off with great content and are now just free test patterns/mood or minerva sewing network/blog tour shills. That’s fine, if that’s the direction the blogger wants to go in, but it loses me as a reader.

    • I hear you Ilona. The problem is that its hard to turn free stuff down. I get offered fabric and patterns and all the time, and if it’s a product I believe in, I’m happy to accept. It’s hard to strike a blance between the freebies and the self generated content though…. I think having open tester calls and widening the range of bloggers would help with the perception that it’s just the same people getting asked over and over again.

  • I am so surprised to read that some people may be complaining about pattern testing.
    I totally understand what you have written, and would be so honored to be chosen by a designer to try a new pattern 😉

  • overflowingstash

    I would like to see constructive criticism for all pattern brands, not just indies. And more transparency from the pattern brands. None of us would want to work for free / see our hard work devaued by others. So I’m hoping that more transparency about the amount of work and the constraints that all pattern companies have to deal with will educate people and make them more understanding, less mean in the way they feed back.

    It’s too easy to think of all businesses as greedy faceless machines. But indie or big, there are human beings behind the company. And with cheap fashion it’s not like pattern companies are thriving as they once were when making your own clothing was commonplace. So I’d love to see us work out ways to help all pattern brands do better, minimize their risks, and see them creating more affordable and interesting patterns for niche markets; and help sewers find patterns that work well for them and learn how to alter others. (BTW I just blogged about an idea I have for a pattern match-making website / feature that might help: http://wp.me/p1DP8F-19z)

    Regarding pattern testing, I’m a bit unclear about its goals, so am reluctant to sign up to be a tester. I don’t see how any pattern could work perfectly on all figure types without any modification. So while testing can be really useful to quality control the drafting, grading, and instruction, it seems to be of limited usefulness when it comes to people of totally different shape than the pattern’s assumed body shape. Maybe it can identify the range – how far one can deviate before needing more complicated alteration and what deviations can be handled by simple “grading” tricks. What I’d want from the pattern brand is that the pattern does what it says on the tin. The tin however, can manage my expectation so I know when I might have to do a little bit more work for the result I want.

    The only other thing I can suggest for indies is that perhaps review the pricing or explain the cost. That is one of the barriers I have to trying Indies – I’m dealing with an unknown brand, but it costs more, so there’s more risk for me. I can usually get the big brand patterns at low cost, so it matters less to me they don’t fit out of the envelope. As Shop the Garment District said, “pattern companies don’t sell patterns; they sell dreams. 75% of patterns purchased never even get opened by the person who purchased them.” I can understand higher cost if the patterns are paper based, so cost more to produce (and correct / improve). But I don’t really understand higher cost for downloadable patterns.

    In your case, if your price is in Canadian dollar it might also help to give approximate price in other major currencies. The two digit number looks scary! I thought “CAD” is referring to file format – isn’t CAD a type of drawing program used by pattern drafters? 🙂

    • I always love your comments! CAD is roughly equivalent to US, btw! I think my prices are pretty competitive. I’ve seen some indies that charge $15 plus for pdfs and I personally feel that’s on the high end, but I don’t know pother people’s business costs, so to each their own.

  • blacklabel

    I too am amongst those that have already voiced shock at what could possibly be the problem/debate worthy. Id love to pattern test, good or bad – the bigger picture being assisting the sewing community to be the best it can be. Id personally refuse payment because sewing is what i love to do & if i can help in the process, then all the better. I do however have to agree to a certain extent with what Katie has already commented on already – Im getting a little bored of seeing the same pattern testers for the same indie patterns over & over. Id like to see more variety of body shape etc because those are the things that appeal to me BUT I do understand that for many this is a business so attention also needs to be paid to those bloggers that have more subscribers, push out more garments etc….business is business, but that would be my only recommendation. Keep up the great work!

    • I think having a mix of testers AND reviewers from a variety of sources would really help the industry in general!

      • blacklabel

        I absolutely agree..the more I read about testers AND reviewers, the more it makes sense. Im loving reading all the comments…and Im loving how everyone is giving their opinion but with the utmost respect.

  • Bambinolove

    As someone who doesn’t blog but avidly reads them it makes sense to me that when getting a pattern tested you would use someone with a reasonable amount of experience and someone who long term could give you a bit of exposure. It’s just good business sense! If someone wants to be paid or a kickback by way of anything other than a free pattern then their motives seem to be off. While I don’t participate in it by blogging it is quite blatant how supportive this community is on the whole and you can see that a lot of very good friendships have been made through it. I think it’s lovely to see. When you have a hobby that is often still not something many people do finding like minded people to share it with is fantastic. So using those friends to test is the obvious step, if is feels clicky to some people then tough, at the end of the day you guys are trying to run a business not win a popularity contest. I say carry on what you are doing and try not to let the dissenters get you down. Most of us realise you are trying to follow your dreams.

  • I had never imagined that there would be such debate about this. I’ve been testing patterns several times and each time I was asked and then volunteered. Most of us here share the same passion, and I’d like to think that it is my contribution to this community.

    Sure we often see the same bloggers testing patterns over and over again. I think it is understandable, maybe the designer already has a list of people that they think have the skill to be pattern testers. Not just sewing skill, but the ability to give honest feedback within the limited time, or any other reason that is personal to the designer.

    But pattern tester are dfferent than pattern reviewer. Not all pattern tester will end up blogging about the pattern. I sometimes don’t blog about the pattern that I have tested. As a pattern tester, I don’t feel the need to make a public review each time. Maybe the designer can ask a different sets of sewing bloggers if they want a review of the finished pattern, different than pattern testers?

    As for the drafting issues, I think it was just something that should be kept in mind next time you make the pattern. For instance, I always have issues with patterns from a certain independent company while all other bloggers rave about them. It just means that my body type is not their target market and I have to do extra work if I still want to use their patterns. After all, that is why we sew – to make something that really fit our bodies. I find it helpful that several companies list the body types that their patterns will work best for (body shapes, height, cup sizes etc).

    Please keep doing what you’re doing, Heather! The two patterns that you have released really reflect your style.

    • Totally thinking about a atester vs. reviewer system. It’s smart advice!

  • Linda L

    I am a “seasoned”,”mature”,woman, i.e., older woman. I have been sewing forever-over 35 years. I was concerned several years ago that sewing fashion garments for oneself was going to die. Then Project Runway came along and it seems to have spurred an interest in creating and sewing fashionable garments. What I really love is seeing young sewists taking to sewing again. The other exciting thing is to see individuals like yourself developing new patterns and creating a new industry of Independent Patterns. The new future. I have not seen raging comments on blogs about independent pattern developers. Yes, I have seen where some individuals did try a “indie” pattern with not so good results. As you so well put in your post not all patterns are going to work for an individual; that is so true with the Big 4 as well. I too think it is important for constructive feedback, not hurtful, CONSTRUCTIVE. I am sure that is why you and others want testers.

    Having said all of this, I enjoy reading and learning about new indie patterns from you and many others. I would love to be younger and to make up the Nettie; it just would not work for me at my age now. Others have made it with good results and happy for you that it is a hit. So keep on doing what you are doing. You young developers are our future and I for one am so glad to know that sewing fashionable garments and creating patterns for an alternative choice from the Big 4 is happening and that it seems like it has a good future. Perhaps one day some of the indie patterns will become the new Big 4, Big 6……..

    • Thanks so much Linda! I can’t wait to one day say “I have been sewing forever-over 35 years”!!!! Really appreciate your wisdom and input.

  • Awww, I’m sorry to hear that this has been stressing you out… and I think you wrote about your perspective very clearly! I *think* I know what you are referring to, and I’m torn. One the one hand, people should be able to write what they truly think, as long as they are thoughtful. On the other hand, pattern testing is a fun and important part of the pattern process. I’ve tested for a few companies, and really enjoyed it. I guess the crucial part comes when bloggers blog about pattern testing? My personal philosophy is that I’ll rave about any pattern I honestly like, and just not blog about something that didn’t work for me or my lifestyle. I don’t think it’s fair to say negative things about a pattern i’ve tested, bc it’s not the final version. On the other hand, all that collective gushing over certain patterns can make the whole discussion one-sided, and I’m torn about that. What’s a girl to do?
    The new part to the mix is, for me, the BIG blog tours for patterns or pattern collectives. For me, a blog tour is more of a grey area than a pattern testing post, because in that case the agreement between the blogger and pattern maker is that they’ll publicly support the pattern. That’s quite different than agreeing to privately give feedback and only mention it in public if they choose. I can definitely understand why pattern companies do big tours… for the same reason that a heap of fabric stores now have blogger networks! Free/cheap advertising is surely the only way to go when you are indie, so I get that. As a reader though, it starts to seem like sponsered content and that’s not the most appealing. Maybe as bloggers we just need to be more clear about the behind the scenes thought process before we blog about testing/promoting? I dunno… What do you think?

    • Burke

      Can you share what you think this is all about?

    • I think the blog tours are fine (though not a path I would choose) but like you said, being more clear that it is sponsored is important. But a lot of those blog tours are not paid (but I don’t really know) so maybe a qualifier of some kind is in order.

      I know sponsored content turns people off. But you know, we’re in a bad economy and people need to make money. I may be turning to some sponsored post stuff (only if its positive and cool and not like, why am I all of sudden review Tupperware) just to diversify my income at some point. I haven’t really been approached by anoyone yet though so I’m not sure if this is something I would actually do or not….

      • I guess for me being given a free pattern with the specific expectation that you’ll blog it is like being sponsered? It doesn’t really imply money is changing hands… just that an agreement of some form of compensation has been reached! That said, it doesn’t really bother me either… just not that excited by it.
        I’ve really enjoyed this active discussion today – thanks for the post, and for taking the risk! Comments could have turned sour, but I don’t think it did. My big takeaways are the transparency is good, and people are happy as long as they know the big picture. 🙂

        • I’ve never asked people to share their tests, and everyone I’ve tested for has always stated clearly that is completely up to the tester to do so. I think if the person in question chooses to blog about it, it’s nice promo for the designer (if the person as happy with their make!) but expecting that from the people who give you their time and energy isn’t fair.

  • Burke

    I would LOVE to be a tester!! I’m just getting into blogging and I fear I may have been rejected as a tester in the past by other companies because of it, BUT would love the opportunity. It is an opportunity after all to see the new pattern in advance and be part of a crucial process. I don’t care so much about seeing the same bloggers – I trust their skill and expertise. All the indies deserve a round of applause for broadening the pattern base – who knew we all could use a bodysuit to wear with our Zinnias/Tanias/Cascades/Chardons/Hollyburns/Gabriolas/etc.? YOU did! And I’m grateful.

  • This is a great post and so true! I am thinking of asking people to test a pattern I’m working on very soon and I find the whole idea terrifying! No pattern is going to fit straight out of the pack, leave alone a body con pattern like the Nettie, so it’s up to people to acknowledge the fabric suggestions and also muslin first. The work involved is so intense and I hope that you have not felt put down if you have noticed any unfair comments around your amazing pattern. It’s fabulous! I’m thinking of making up a Nettie swimsuit actually as I love the look of the leg cut. Keep at it! X

  • Rhi_Owens

    The way pattern testing is done for indie companies makes perfect sense to me. I would be happy to test a pattern for free because I love the way this industry is blossoming and if I could help to make a pattern better with a little time and some honest feedback I would do that happily (a sneak peek at the pattern is all the payment I need). If I ever get to realise my dream of releasing my own creation out into the world I know I would be relying on the kindness of the blogging community to help me ensure that pattern was ready for the public.

  • What a great article! Thank you for addressing this as it can all seem pretty mysterious to those of us who know nothing about what it’s like to be an independent pattern designer or to test patterns, for that matter. Speaking of which, if you’re interested in feed back from someone with wide shoulders, I’d be very happy to try pattern testing 😉

  • charlotte

    I love indie patterns, and I absolutely appreciate the huge amount of work that goes into making them – the drafting and redrafting, the sewalongs (oh, I *love* the sewalongs), and the ability to go to the designer with questions, if necessary. So much better and more accessible than the big four pattern companies (not to mention the clothes are much better looking!). I’ve just cut out my third bombshell, and I can’t wait to get sewing. I personally would feel honoured to be part of a testing process. To know that I have contributed in some small way to making that pattern better, to making it happen at all, would be all the payment I would need. So yes – I would love to pattern test for you in future (with my short, giant boobed, no-waisted frame), especially if it means you can keep doing what you are doing.

    • Charlotte, I would love to have your petite big natural loveliness test for me! Get in touch when I make the call.

      • charlotte

        hooray!

  • Eithne

    I think most people
    don’t care if a pattern tester is paid or not. It should be between the
    designer and tester how the pattern tester is remunerated for their work.
    However it does become an issue when the pattern tester is also promoting the
    pattern on its release. In my opinion the definition of a pattern tester no
    longer seems to be clear- is this pattern testing or promotion. One thing I
    have not seen mentioned is that pattern testing allows bloggers to reach a
    wider audience and increase their following
    and I think this could in some circumstances mean people are
    uncomfortable giving a negative pattern review on their blog as it may exclude
    them from future patterns testing. I feel the best example of pattern testing
    that I have seen at the moment is with sewaholic patterns- there is an email list of pattern testers contacted and it does
    appear that those chosen often seem to test the pattern anonymously(i.e without
    blogging about it) and is made up of a more diverse group of bloggers, not
    necessarily those with the biggest following etc. notice in any debate re indie
    patterns that it appears that it is not ok to have anything negative to say
    about indie patterns, I love independent
    patterns and am happy to pay a premium for them but I can’t understand why it
    is ok to post a negative review regarding a big 4 pattern but those who do the
    same about an indie pattern are sometimes vilified. At the end of the day if
    someone has purchased a product they should be allowed to give an honest
    opinion on that product (obviously no one wants to see personal attacks, mean
    spirited reviews etc)I understand why testers may not want to post negative feedback on pattern testing but this perpetuates the problem for me and I’m sure others that there is, rightly or wrongly ,a bias in pattern testing. I know I would have more faith in all the postive reviews if occasionaly someone gave a negative/neutral review as surely a pattern can’t be perfect for all people. I think the original discussion that may have sparked this
    debate was regarding a BHL pattern and I felt the blogger was not unfair to the
    company and I personally didn’t feel their response was adequate. I have
    noticed in the last year or so that every complaint made about a pattern is met
    with the response from pattern companies and commenters alike that no pattern
    fits straight out of an envelope and while this is true I feel it’s begun to be
    used as a reason to excuse poor drafting, poor instructions and just plain bad
    patterns. No one expects a pattern to fit without adjustment but the
    adjustments people have to make for some patterns seem to be verging on
    redrafting . I will caveat these comments to say this is not directed at
    Heather or her pattern line, these comments are just my personal opinion on pattern
    testing/ pattern reviewing in general and I think it was brave of her to open up
    this discussion with her post when she could have just ignored the issue.

    • I totally agree with you on a number of points. People should be able to say post whatever they think about patterns. Honesty is important! In regards to that post (which was part of what I am addressing here, but there were a number of posts on this topic I’ve seen lately) I personally felt her review was fair. Although I was a little disappointed that she assumed that her comment was deleted, since that is NOT how BHL works. It was just waiting to be approved. Those kinds of assumptions can really hurt a business if they aren’t confirmed.

      I think the girls responded reasonably (if a tad defensively) which I also get. It’s hard to be objective about your business and product.However, I think in that case the flora wrap dress is problematic to fit, period. The drafting in my opinion was totally fine. It’s just that woven wrap dresses are really hard to fit on different bodies in general. I’ve had the same problem with a number of patterns from different companies. I was totally fine with her posts on the subject, but some of the comments gave me pause because I felt there were some misconceptions about the testing process in general.

  • ute

    The only negative thing I could imagine anybody saying is, that yes, you do see a lot of patterns tested by the same group of (bigger) bloggers. But I always felt, that their opinions were honest and I can totally understand that an indie pattern designer wants her or his patterns tested and supported by good blogging friends who will also help spread the word about it on their blogs. I don´t have a blog and would still like to test patterns. (And to get a free copy of the pattern is compensation enough!) So I would love it, if there could be a nice mix of well known and unknown testers (who probably make the majority of the people who will actually buy the pattern). What sells a pattern for me is usually a look in the flickr group, which is full of “normal” sewers, here I get a great overview of what the pattern can look like on a variety of body types and in a variety of styles and fabric. But it still is great to see the “big names” testing and showing their interpretation!
    Keep up the great work!

    • This is pretty close to what I was going to say. I find it a little sad that many pattern companies always ask the same people to test for them “behind the scenes”—and as a newbie to the community, you don’t get in on the fun.

      I have tested one pattern for a blogger who asked for help on her blog and I was thrilled to do it, and had a lot of fun. I also wrote very long and very detailed feedback (in private) that I’m sure must’ve been very helpful—since much of it ended up in the final version. I have a lot of time on my hands (and no money) and I’m a very persnickety person. I know I would be great at pattern-testing, but I just don’t usually get a chance because people don’t know me. It is very rare that I don’t notice any errors in a pattern! It would be awesome if I could tell the designers what I find before they release their patterns to the public. And the fun of being allowed to be my most persnickety self, plus a free pattern, would be more than enough compensation! (:

      I totally understand that you would ask your friends first, particularly if you suspect you might not get enough people by asking on your blog (as long as you aren’t very well-known yet). But at some point, it would be lovely if successful indie companies invited some new folks to test for them as well. It would let more people participate, would let us all look at different people with different bodies for a change, and would surely be quite beneficial to the companies as well. (You guys don’t know what you’re missing by not inviting new, unknown people!) So yay for your willingness to do just that! I’m looking forward to hearing about your next pattern!

      • Alicia

        I’m in complete agreement – I’m a total sewing newbie with very little blog traffic (which Jana is right about, blogs with more traffic do help sell the pattern), but as a newbie I think I could bring a new perspective, and it would definitely be nice to get a chance to be more welcomed into the sewing community in this way. Before I bought the Tania culottes pattern, I read everywhere about how easy they were to sew – for the most part, they were, but there was one bit that had me really scratching my head for a while (once I got that part figured out, though, they were a cinch – I’m on my third pair!). The more established bloggers always write that “this pattern would be great for a beginner,” but sometimes I wonder if they’ve lost sight of what’s *really* simple and what’s only simple because they’ve spent so long mastering it. Having some *actual* beginners test might help this issue.

        As for the debate – the chance to try out a hot new pattern (for free!) before everyone else seems like pretty fair compensation to me, but maybe if it’s that big of a deal companies could offer to throw in one of their older patterns, too? And in case it wasn’t clear from the above, I’d love to test for you someday! 🙂

      • Please volunteer when I test the next pattern! Love persnicketyness.

    • Thanks love! Appreciate your input.

  • Ysolda

    As a knitwear designer who does occasionally pay testers or sample makers (although it’s not the biggest part of my pattern refining process) I found this interesting. Similar debates pop up every so often in the knitting world, and while I don’t feel comfortable having people work for me for free I can’t see how it’s exploitative if it’s something the tester is volunteering for.

    I found this comment kind of strange though: “If people are being paid, they need to say so. Identifying what has been sponsored, and what has been freely done, needs to be very clear so there is no confusion about where things stand.”
    It feel likes there’s a huge distinction between paying someone to do the work of helping to refine a pattern and sponsoring them to say nice things for you. It’s one thing to be appreciative of free testers and argue that it isn’t wrong to use them and another to argue that free testers are superior and more honest to paid ones.

    • Sorry, I think I phrased that wrong! Paying testers to TEST is totally fine. But if you are paying people to “Test” when you really mean “give positive review” it should be clear that the post is being sponsored.

  • Lauren Taylor

    I didn’t realize this was an ongoing debate, but I’m glad you said something to address it. I’ve done my fair share of pattern testing, and I have one word for anyone who thinks I get paid to do it – LOL. haha 🙂 While I do think blog tours can be kind of a murky/grey area (I’ve done a couple and since realized that they are not for me), I don’t see what the fuss is about pattern testing. I would assume people want a product that has been tested – for fit, for instruction clarity, and to see how flat pattern changes (to adjust for body type) affect the pattern. Sure, it would be cool to get paid to do it – but a free pattern, and the occasional fabric push, is generally enough for me, for now.

    As far as companies only pulling in the “big blogs” for testing – well, a lot of these companies start really small and may not have a big readership on their blog. They can put out a call to testers, but what if their reader pool is so small they don’t get many bites? So they have to reach out to bloggers to find testers – which might end up that they only read big blogs, so those are the only people they know to contact. Once they start getting the ball rolling and have a customer base that they can reach out to for testers, then they can branch out, but you gotta start somewhere. That’s what I always assumed, anyway!

    For me, I personally just assumed that people ask me to test because I give pretty detailed (and honest!) feedback, and I always meet the short deadline. I would hope I’m not getting asked to test *just* because of the size of my readership (and thus could translate into free advertising), but I suppose it happens, which makes me a little sad. On the flip, I don’t blog about every single pattern I test (sometimes I don’t have time to make more than a muslin for fit, and/or maybe the pattern just plain didn’t work for me), so if people are hollering at me in hopes of blog space, they may be in for a rude awakening haha.

    • Well said Lauren. I reached out to you with the Bombshell because I thought you would like it and I had a huge girl crush on you and wanted to be friendsies. AND MY EVIL PLAN TOTALLY WORKED!

    • Shefeline

      > I don’t blog about every single pattern I test (… and/or maybe the pattern just plain didn’t work for me)

      That’s precisely the issue. Only the “hits” get blogged about, creating a very biased impression.

      I wish indie pattern makers would ask primarily their “regular” readers to pattern test, not other pattern makers, and not even other sewing bloggers (gasp!). No free advertising, no sugarcoating. Plain honest feedback from a variety of shapes and, most imp. skill levels! Pattern makers and big sewing bloggers are likely to be far more experienced sewists than most of us regular folk buying those patterns, which does not make for a very representative set of opinions and suggestions. My 2 cents.

      • Lauren Taylor

        I don’t think that’s very fair. A lot of the things I don’t blog about are just because I think they’re a bit too repetitive for my blog (such as the 2 tshirts and 3 pairs of leggings I made a couple of weeks ago. They’re cute, but man how many times can you talk about sewing the same tshirt and leggings pattern over and over again, you know?). I do occasionally post fails, but only if I finish them first – and I don’t always finish stuff. Sometimes you can tell early on that something won’t work – maybe the pattern is drafted weird, or you had a bad fabric choice, or the style won’t work for you. Since I don’t post unfinished things, they never make it to my blog. I hate to sound whiny, but blogging *does* take a lot of time and I’m not about to finish/photo/edit/post something that I don’t even care for because ~someone~ thinks there are too many “hits” being blogged about. Sorry, dude. Not gonna happen. But, in all honesty, I finish and post most of my misses so people can see them and learn from my mistakes. The stuff that doesn’t get posted, for the most part, are just because I think they’re not special enough to get their own post. I sew a LOT – I don’t think you want to see everything single thing I make 🙂

        As far as getting other people to test – I’m just going out on a limb here, but I assume indie pattern makers like to stick with bloggers/TNT testers because they know that they can count on them to offer clear and constructive feedback, take clear photos, and meet a deadline. When you’ve got a person who doesn’t have anything to show for what they make – it can be a gamble to pull them into your testing pool, and unfortunately, I’ve seen what happens when patternmakers take a gamble and they end up losing because someone didn’t meet the deadline or whatever. It sucks and I don’t blame them for wanting to stick with testers who have proven to meet the requirements. Not saying that they shouldn’t open their testing pool – because I’m always down for that – but I can see where they are coming from in that regard. I see nothing wrong with wanting to play it safe.

        Further, what’s wrong with having a pool of skilled seamstresses testing your pattern? They are competent and efficient, which is what you want in a tester. Throwing a beginner or semi-beginner in the pool just slows things down and you may end up with skewed feedback because they did something wrong. I get that you want a variety of skill levels represented, but that doesn’t really belong in pattern testing (until perhaps a later stage when the pattern and instructions are finalized and the pattern maker wants to be sure the instructions are beginner-friendly or whatever). The main point of pattern testing is checking fit, drafting, for errors, and clarity of instructions. Someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience with sewing probably won’t catch the majority of that stuff.

  • AnaJan Stepalica

    I wish I saw the debate myself, since I hear you and second your thoughts. Running a one man / girl show business is difficult enough, and having all the additional and free help is what spins the wheels for us. Sure, the testers do us a huge favor without being paid for, and we know how much work and fabric and notions has been put into each pattern testing, but I assume that we (the designers, I mean) are trying to find a way to express our gratitude to all of them.
    I’ve been calling for people to apply for pattern testers, rather than asking them to do me a favor. This means that I don’t always have a control of who and how many people would test the pattern, but those who apply for it are doing it on their own will and they do not expect to be paid for their work. This removes the awkward situation when there are unfulfilled expectations. So far no one has complained about it, and I’ve met some really great and kind people this way.

  • I just pattern tested for the first time and was super excited to do so (and just posed about it on my blog if you were interested…). 1.) I was excited to be able to help an indie designer 2.) FREE PATTERN 3.) it was exactly the kind of garment I was looking for anyway 4.) I love feeling a part of a bigger sewing community. Did the pattern fit perfectly? No. I’m super short with narrow shoulders so pretty much all patterns are too big in those area (although yours have narrow shoulders…. That peaks my interest!)

  • Maybe it’s just the selection of blogs I read, but I’ve found them to be quite honest about the process when they test patterns. Some of the anti-testing criticism I’ve seen is really more about not seeing negative reviews, but it’s important to note that ‘negative’ is not the same as ‘uncritical’: lots of the reviews of new patterns I’ve read have been largely positive but have also pointed out the changes the blogger made while sewing it up. Usually they point out that alterations are due to getting a really good personal fit – which is why most of us sew, right? – rather than pattern problems.

    I love reading about the pattern making process and seeing lots of photos of the things people sew, but I don’t think I’ve ever bought a pattern solely based on a review. (I bought Nettie soon after its release not because bloggers loved it, but because I love the shape of the dress and don’t have any other pattern like it.) I’m a novice sewer with limited resources for my hobby and I’m not really interested in sewing hugely complex projects or things that might not suit me, so I always study the line drawings and designer info before buying. I treat a sewing pattern review the same way I’ll treat any other kind of review – it highlights a product for you, but that doesn’t mean you’ll like it.

  • Great post. I haven’t seen the debate of which you speak either, but a lot of what you said resonated with me nonetheless, obviously because we are both busting our bottoms in the wonderful world of indie sewing patterns (woop!).

    I’m glad you brought up the fit thing in particular, it’s such a shame when you hear that someone was put off using a pattern (big 4 included) because someone else had trouble fitting it – it’s inevitable, we’re all completely different shapes! That’s why sewing your own is so great anyway – you can tweak the fit so it actually fits!

    Personally, when I recruit pattern testers, I look for people who are reliable (I need to trust they will meet the deadline), honest (constructive criticism is ESSENTIAL!), and have a mixed range of shapes/styles and sewing experience – the latter is particularly important for me because on the one hand I need experienced stitchers who can spot any drafting/instructions errors and on the other hand my patterns are aimed at beginners so I need to know that people who have sewn very few things, if any, understand my instructions. About half of my tester group are usually bloggers, but only because that’s how I know the vast majority of people I know who sew. I don’t ask testers to blog about what they made because it’s a test and the finished product will – if the testing stage was worth it – be different. I’m very grateful for their help, and they seem to love getting to try out my patterns before anyone else otherwise they wouldn’t say yes!

    • This is a good model Tilly. I may totally copy it for the next round…. You’re lucky in that you have a such a great following you don’t need to necessarily rely on the blog promo. Same with Colette and Sewaholic. Hopefully as my business grows I can stop relying so much on blogger testers to get the word out there!

      • Oh don’t get me wrong, I LOVE it when bloggers help promote my designs! And, as a blogger myself, I love helping to promote other people’s work too – we’re so lucky to be part of such a wonderful community. I just try to keep the testing + promo separate, otherwise it might confuse people if they see/read about a feature of the pattern that isn’t actually in the final pattern. Personal decision, just what makes sense for me.

        I don’t really understand this thing about their being a “clique”. I’ve had a couple of nasty emails myself in the past from people accusing me of being “cliquey” because I’ve said nice things about other bloggers on my blog. I’m not even sure who members of the clique are supposed to be…? Is there just one? Who’s in it? If there is a clique, I must be pretty oblivious to it!!

        In any case, however a pattern business goes about testing/promoting their goodies, I really don’t think it’s a topic that’s worth anyone getting upset about. (Was that a sentence?) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love sewing, it’s my job, it’s my passion, but it IS only sewing. Not worth attacking anyone over, not worth bitching about, not worth getting upset about. We take some fabric and stitch it together to make a dress. It’s a wonderful thing. It makes people happy. There should be more of it. We should encourage it. Love, peace and sewing for all xxx

  • Natalie

    I cant believe people are having a moan about this, i can only imagine what energy emotional,phsyical, financial is needed to release an indie pattern, so thank you for putting in that effort, your patterns are fab x

  • carrieinstitches

    Wonderful post. For some reason it made me tear up. Could be the 2 small children lack of sleep (-: but more likely it is that although new to actually blogging, I have learned so much in the last couple of years from sewing bloggers and independent patterns. Sewing is absolutely my passion and I feel it would not be the same without you all! That is one of the main reasons I wanted to get into blogging, to share what I make with like minded people and hopefully inspire some folks along the way. I find sewing blogs and independent pattern makers hugely inspiring and I am thankful for each and every one.

    I think that it makes perfect sense to test patterns for free. It seems like it would get a bit biased to pay people anyway. And it also seems like such a largely positive and helpful community that wants each other to succeed. I for one would be happy and thrilled to test a pattern for you, or another independent company. I think it would be fun, interesting, and rewarding!

    I also want to say that I love your positive spirit and energy, and the way you write about image and womens bodies. I have been struggling with my changed shape after having 2 kids and I love the term “cozy tummy” I am going to do my best to think of it like that from now on!

    And finally (sorry so long!) your interview the other day really resonated with me too. I am a high end residential interior designer and although I do LOVE interior design, for some reason I am much more passionate overall about sewing. I feel like maybe a big part of that passion is the awesome sewing community and it’s love for each other. As you know, that love and sense of community cannot always be found in the design industry (at least not residential) where big egos often get in the way. I hope this community continues to be a positive, uplifting, and rewarding experience for all involved.

    Cheers! to you, congratulations on your patterns, and thank you for all your hard work. – Carrie

    • Thank you for this Carrie! I just had a crazy difficult meeting with an insane client yesterday, and was so grateful I had my warm, lovely sewing buddies in my loving arms. The community makes us feel good – work often doesn’t, unfortunately.

      • carrieinstitches

        Oh man I know what you mean! Darn crazy clients (-:

  • as always, thoughtfully said.

    the main thing that causes me confusion is the expectation that testers should share their critique, of a *test*, in public. the critique is for the patternmaker, it’s part of the testing process, used to make the product BETTER. if the patternmaker indeed implements the critique (like you, lovely lou) and makes the finished product better, why would we as testers post critique of a previous draft?

    • Denise

      I definitely don’t expect a critique of a test in public, because after all, it’s a rough draft of the pattern. I do, however, love when a tester will point out that if they haven’t remade another version from the final pattern, *this* or *that* might be a problem, just in case it didn’t get changed in the final version. It’s good information to have, because not all changes suggested by testers will make it into the final pattern.

      • oh yeah, that’s a great point! for myself, now more often than not, the garment that shows up on my blog is from the actual released pattern and not the test. i try to test a pattern with as little modification as possible, then i’m ravenous for the real thing!

    • Jill @ Made with Moxie

      I’m not up to date on the debate, but I totally agree with you, Oona. I typically do two rounds of testing one for fit and one for instructions, etc. It is always my intent that the testers are giving their feedback privately to me. That’s the whole idea! I panic at the thought of a tester posting their feedback about my pattern before it’s finalized.

  • Very well articulated. I am flabbergasted that folks have been critical of not getting even MORE compensation for testing an indie pattern. You are a craft artist with a small business creating amazing work and sharing it with our sewing community! I am a regular tester for one company and am currently testing for another and even done some testing for others in the past. Personally, I am flippin thrilled to get an early in on a pattern and a free copy and another reason to have conversations about sewing with fellow sewing bloggers… I’m in on this whole sewing thing purely for my love of sewing and my disgustingly unnatural need to sew 16 hours a day (girls gotta sleep, yo.)

    I have found it to be a very common issue that some folks (who are usually the most vocal, somehow?!) often take small business owners and the value of artists’ work for granted, devaluing all the hard work and the products we sold. In a past life I worked in a community that promoted and help sell artists’ work both wholesale and retail (I even sold my own work for a time.) Time and again I was approached by people asking if ‘they could get a better price’ or I’d overhear the murmurs like ‘oh, I can make that cheaper’. People aren’t thinking in terms of the bajillion hours you’ve poured into your work to create something (a sewing pattern, a complicated and involved dress, etc), they (we!!) are trained to think in terms of how fast and cheap we can get it. Folks are thinking in terms of the dirt cheap one dollar patterns from the Big 4. Or if they are buying handmade clothes, they are thinking in terms of Old Navy’s $10 outfits. I’ve seen discussions on sewing message boards where people are pissed they ‘have to pay $18 for an indie pattern’ they have to print themselves when you can get a pre-printed pattern for under $5 in a big box store. These people are clearly missing the point, they are buying your art work, your thousands of hours of work already done just for them, your expertise and jeez, you even get a direct line to talk to the designer any ole time you want.

    So, yes it is “fair” to offer everything you can as payment to a tester… a round of drinks, a free pattern and an open conversation about developing a pattern. Unless, you are secretly making $145 million dollars off you patterns and not telling anyone.

    The one thing I’ve had a little trouble with is a pretty common practice with indie patterns designers. I don’t blame ya’ll but I’ve been a bit turned off by it. Folks are using the same few, wildly popular, well read bloggers to test patterns. These folks are usually produce amazing results and will market the hell out of the patterns… BUT I would love to see more variety in the pattern testers. But that is just me. I have no clue if others have even seen this trend.

    Anyhow, keep truckin. You’re doing it right.

    • Lois

      I think sometimes people in the indie community miss the point when a customer is leery of the cost of the pattern being offered. As a customer, I don’t devalue the time and energy you put into producing the pattern at all. In fact, I don’t even care what a designer charges for the pattern. If someone is willing to pay the price for the product, then that’s fine by me. That being said, I may not be willing to pay that price for the pattern. Everybody has limitations on their spending ( some more limited than others, obviously) so we make choices about what we can afford for a particular product. If the product truly is unique and high quality I have no problem paying a premium for it. I understand that a small business will have to charge more for a pattern than one of the Big 4. The thing I find perplexing is the idea that we are somehow obligated to support all indie pattern companies and patterns they release. I see a lot of indie patterns out there that I’m sure are very good, well designed, well drafted patterns but just aren’t that unique. If I see a pattern for a fit and flare dress or something very basic, I’m not gonna pay a lot for it. I can buy it for much less if I need to and probably have five of them in my stash already anyway. Competition is a part of business no matter what the size of the business and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s not just about price either. Competition in business also pushes people to develop better products. When I see an indie pattern that is truly unique or something difficult to find elsewhere, it is worth it to me to pay more for it. But I don’t feel that I have to buy an indie pattern just because its an indie pattern. Also, no offense, but I’m not buying artwork when I buy a sewing pattern. I’m actually buying a sewing pattern. Nor am I thinking about dirt cheap Old Navy clothes or even $1 patterns from the Big 4. I’m determining if the product being offered is worth the asking price for me. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.

      • Hear ya! I see a lot of indie designs that I could easily find at the Big 4 for less. You gotta be creative if you want to do well and offer somethin no one else is doing. In that case, yes not paying $16 for a simple top or fit and flare dress when you could get it on sale from Simplicity makes sense. I think my stuff is pretty affordable – I have no intention of charging more. It’s really about what is in your budget I guess.

      • I can’t afford to buy all the indie patterns by any means, just like you said we all have limitations on what we can spend. (Holy cow, we can dream that we can buy whatever we want!!!) I pick and choose what I invest in when I buy indie patterns. I happen to have invested in both of CCF patterns and love them because they are quality and are not something I can find elsewhere. There are a boatload of indie patterns coming out, and I totally see loads of not terribly innovative or different designs compared to what is already available in the world… these are the folks who will need a bad ass amount of superior marketing and PR to sell their stuff. But I’m heading to the big 4 for those generic patterns, too!

        I don’t feel obligated to buy every new indie pattern. I adore seeing them, being inspired by them and if it’s worth my money I’ll by them. I own very few indie ones compared to Vogues or what have yous.

        IMHO, pattern making from complete scratch is a craft. It is an art that combines learned and innate skills along with artistic ability. A seamstress, again IMHO, is a craft artist. And the pattern I buy from a seamstress who designed and drafted a pattern is a form of craft art for me. I’m not framing it and putting it on a wall and admiring it like a painting… it’s a functional craft art.

    • Yes to all of this. And I am totally making 145 mil a year – you should see my floating sky apartment and laser cats. So awesome! Too bad I can’t tell anyone.

  • Jennifer R

    I also haven’t seen the debate you refer to and feel generally out of the loop. But from that perspective I can offer what I’ve noticed and maybe clarify the backlash. You’re bombshell pattern was the first time I was highly aware of pattern testing and I’m sure many others took note of that launch (especially aspiring pattern makers). Yes, I knew there was pattern testing going on but it seemed workmanlike and behind the scenes. With the bombshell, suddenly all the best bloggers were looking fabulous in a new swimsuit from a new designer. I had seen your blog but wasn’t aware of the pending release. I saw the testing as expert marketing, clearly you knew the best bloggers (meaning the ones with impeccable skills, taste in fabrics and ability to match fabric to pattern, so that the pattern looked it’s best and also reflected the blogger’s aesthetic, etc) and you had the reputation in the sewing community that you could get their cooperation. I saw all these as positive and reflecting well on you as a designer.

    But as you’ve launched the Nettie I can see what a change has taken place in the intervening time. The process seemed the same: another batch of great bloggers is looking fab in the bodysuit and I’m thinking I didn’t even know I wanted a bodysuit but now I do. You’ve launched what appears to be a second great pattern and shown it off appropriately. But, I’m not surprised people are cynical about the process because there has been so much boring, knee-jerk pattern testing on the blogs and the other examples I’ve seen aren’t nearly as compelling as your launch. I really find the bloggers more to blame than the designers. I think the designer’s motives are transparent and although they are obviously selling something, that is still honest work. But some of the blogs seem to do nothing but pattern testing, they may skip the awful patterns but the high praise they have for everything tested is becoming hollow as the actual work seems to be a bit slapped together and ho-hum. (Again, I’m specifically not referring to the bloggers you’ve used.) I know freebies for bloggers has been around since the beginning but it seems like it’s taken a bit longer to corrupt the sewing blogs than other categories. But a this point it does seem there are folks who are just doing it for the occasional give away be it pattern, fabric, book or notions. I don’t have a real problem with that except that their motives are harder to discern and it does make for some boring cookie cutter blogs.

    Anyway, I can see how some of this general negativity might unfairly deflect back on you. After all it kind of feels like what you have done so well has launched the imitations which have left everyone jaded so it’s not surprising the two are getting confused. Also, throw in some run of the mill jealousy and sour grapes. There’s clearly an art to picking testers. Thinking of myself, I’d be plenty of help actually constructing a garment and proofing instructions, but I’m not a blogger, I don’t fancy myself a tastemaker. I could confidently offer my services as a troubleshooter but not as a marketer. Clearly the best pattern tester would serve both functions.

    Anyway, don’t absorb all the criticism, even if it’s directed at you, know that it’s likely misplaced or petty (again I don’t know what discussion actually sparked this post). Keep up the amazing work!

    (Oh, and I have narrow shoulders, it’s not fun to fit, I’m excited to hear the Nettie might work to my advantage there!)

    • PLEASE TEST FOR ME MY DEAR! I’ll make a call later this summer! Great comments and I totally hear you – the endless wave of pattern testing can feel tiresome. But its such a tricky balance when you want your pattern out there… Hopefully this dialogue will helps us all make this process better!

      • Jennifer R

        I’ll definitely keep an eye out and through my hat in if I can. I realize now what has gotten this all going and that it really didn’t in any way refer to you, so sorry if I muddied the water there but things have been a little vague. I do think the discussion is interesting and you have used bloggers/testers in a very organic way which has promoted your patterns but doesn’t feel at all uncomfortable. You really have kept above the fray and it’s interesting to read your thoughts since you’ve been on both sides.

  • Hélène

    It seems that many of your readers, including myself, did not know about this raging debate. I do follow a lot of bloggers to get inspiration and knowledge. I really don’t care if a pattern tester has been paid for it or not. Being a “brilliant” person, I feel I can judge if the blogger is over-promoting a new pattern or reviewing it with objectivity. Anyway, thanks for this post, Heather, you certainly touch a sensible spot!

  • Aelith

    I think you brought up the most important thing: how are the testers being compensated. I want to know if they were paid or if it’s just that they are getting the pattern. This is the same as with reviews on blogs. Aside from that, I understand that pattern testing is legit work and that indies may or may not be able to pay for that. If people are willing to do it without additional compensation, that’s cool and I understand that it could step on some people’s toes. The same issue comes up for knitting patterns. In fact, I think it is “worse” for knitting because the time per project can be much longer than for sewing (meaning there is even more uncompensated work). Great post.

    • I agree. Knitting is more complicated because its more expensive and WAY more time consuming! I think very, very few people are paid. I am on intimate terms with a lot of indie desigenrs and most of us just rely on the generosity of testers. As teh industry grows I’m sure beig paid to “promote” will be more common. In that case its important to be honest!

  • I haven’t seen any of the negative debates going on about testing, particularly the part about being compensated with money. I’ve tested several patterns and when asked to test, “How much am I going to be paid” never even crossed my mind. I pattern test because I want to help the designer be successful. I give my honest opinion and I certainly hope no one has ever thought otherwise. I guess the issue here is that because all of the testers are giving positive reviews on their blogs well then they must be getting paid for that ?? haha I hardly think so! The whole point of pattern testing is to work out any kinks beforehand. I certainly don’t feel the need to blog about those because it’s not going to be in the final product.
    Anyhoo your post was very well said and I’m sure a relief to get off your chest. Keep doing what your doing because it’s obvi that it’s working! 🙂

  • lisa g

    this is a very thoughtful and honest post, and i think it’s good you posted this! i’ve pattern tested twice, and both times it was a call for volunteers. i could have turned down the opportunities–i never felt any pressure to accept. i chose to test because i was either excited about the pattern company or i thought my critical eye could be useful. i have a lot on my plate (kids and kid activities…), but i’m both very picky and can usually finish a make rather quickly. sure, seeing the same predictable group of testers makes me wish a wider pool was included, but i totally understand wanting to get the word out to a wide readership. that said, i’d love to be on your testing list! i haven’t had the chance to make either of your patterns yet, but they are both firmly on my to do list!

  • Sarah

    Unlike many of the commenters, I am familiar with the debate that has been happening. I think that there are a lot of valid points to be made on all fronts. I have no issue with a blogger posting honest feedback about her experience with a pattern, positive or critical. (In the case to which I suspect you are referring, the blogger originally posted honest feedback about a PUBLISHED pattern; it was in the comments section that the pattern testing topic came to the front.) I do understand that people involved with a small indie pattern company are likely to feel deeply connected to the patterns, but everyone also must realize that running a pattern company is like running any business. Some people will be fans, some people will not be. Mean-spirited comments or personal attacks are one thing, but a post that is critical of a pattern after publication? Those can happen on occasion, if a community is going to be honest about itself. But I digress, I actually wanted to say three things:

    (1) Personally, I am not concerned about the pattern testing process, although it would be nice to see a broader range of skill sets, voices and body styles represented, if only to help the pattern improve. Obviously, a pattern is different after testing, and I never judge a pattern by whether or not the testing process was rocky or smooth. Looking at the comments, it seems that you have some fresh new voices for your list. Fun!

    (2) I am hopeful that the sewing community will someday have a Ravelry equivalent. Obviously, it would be different, but it would have so many benefits, not the least of which would be the opportunity for terrific exposure for indie designers!

    (3) I did not see a mention of this when I glanced through the comments here, but I do not think that it can be said enough: YOUR RESPONSE TO FEEDBACK ABOUT NETTIE SIZING AFTER RELEASE WAS AMAZING. Immediate, clear, thoughtful. You were not argumentative, you did not just tell people that they were crazy, and you certainly did not blame people for not making the garment incorrectly. You took what could have blossomed into a large issue and turned it into a positive for your company. It was a marvelous job and a wonderful example of how to handle a tricky situation. Hooray for you!!

    • I’ll second #3! 🙂

      • i’ll third all of it and put big sparkly decorations around 3#!

    • Oh man, I got little pleasure goosebumps. Thank you so much for your kind words Sarah! I’ve seen some real train wrecks (a post in particular about 6 months ago, I think you know what I mean) that made me really conscious of taking people’s criticism seriously. It is SO important! Any business owner who wants to succeed needs to do the same. Lesson learned! Thanks my love! xoxo

      • devra

        i think sarah’s comments really solidify what i’ve been thinking lately. all i have to add is – i’ve had some unique opportunities to hear about the testing process from ladies who’ve done it, and my main beef when all is said and done is twofold:

        1 – i think certain pattern companies have evolved beyond their original testing model and are now not treating their testing process with the same rigor and respect as they may once have done; i hesitate to say they are in it for the release day publicity, but i have gotten that vibe

        2 – i think testing needs to be either completely open (as in, call, release of bloggers testing, an expected release date, etc – i grow weary of the ‘sneak peaks’ and hints on blogs followed by a flood of release day posts) OR completely closed, as in, private between the tester and the designer. either of these approaches would eliminate the murky area that has cropped up when a new release pops up on every popular or big or “cool” blog. which, by the way, i hate even referring to them that way. i think all of us have something to contribute – and like you, heather, i feel lucky to call many of these ladies (including you) my real life friends. i know that is never their intention, and i think the amount of time and effort they (and everyone else involved) put into pattern testing is near-heroic when we are all trying to balance our love for sewing with the demands that, unfortunately, creep in from real life.

        either of these ideas might also mitigate the feeling that when we have nothing nice to say, to stay silent – i think that all true designers would steel themselves for constructive criticism and take it at its face value. we all want you to succeed, after all – and constructive advice can be as difficult to give as to receive (says the graduate of four years of writing workshops. and writing students SUCK at constructive advice). some people are going to suck and we can’t worry about them, but without an open review process none of us are better off. as sarah so rightly says, where is our ravelry equivalent where a constructive review is not problematic?

        also, just to reiterate that i completely agree that heather, i responded so positively to your graceful response to the sizing issue that cropped up on the nettie. not only that, but i felt that all of the testers who then posted reviews were honest about this issue, which in turn helped you correct the problem so admirably.

  • Miriana

    http://www.yarnharlot.ca/2011/12/unexpectedly_co/

    Here is the argument for payment put more eloquently than I could manage. You’ll note that she makes a distinction between those trying to make a living from knitting patterns and those she terms as ‘amateurs’ (meaning more of a side line rather than amateurish). I think that we would expect the big 4 to pay. So, when does an Indie company get sufficiently big that they should be too.

    Really interesting comments, especially about what the distinction is between testing, reviewing and promoting.

    • She makes excellent points. I would argue however, that knitting is different in that it a) Takes WAY more time and b) can be way more expensive for the tester. A sweater can take 40 hours to make, and a minimum of $50 for materials. Most sewing patterns are relatively quick to whip up, and can be made from stash or inexpensive fabric if necessary. The monetary and.time demands are much less. In the end, I think it is really up to the company to decide what works for them, and whether or not they have the funds to pay testers or not. And ultimately, if folks want to contribute their time, have a dialogue iwth the designer, be a part of that designer’s community, that should be their choice.

      Hopefully one day I will be rolling around on piles of money listening to Sade and can fairly compensate people for their time 😉

      • Miriana

        I hope you will be too.

  • Angela M.

    Wow, I had NO idea that this was even a debate in the sewing world. I’m one who tends to worry about myself – not in a selfish way, just that my life is so busy I don’t have time to meddle in others’ business. Honestly, it never occurred to me to even stress about it. I’ve occasionally thought that it would be nice to have that chance, but not to the point I was having a bad attitude. And, I certainly want to know that a pattern I buy has been looked at by several people – just like a student should have someone else proofread a paper. The proofreader can see mistakes that the student will miss.

    So, I’m not exactly sure what upsets everyone? Because testers aren’t paid? Well, they aren’t being forced to do this, it is a choice. Because others aren’t given the chance? Well, I suppose a designer could put a request on their blog for testers – only those that want to would respond, and the designer could pick names out of a hat or something. Even so, I can understand that a designer might know that certain people have the skills to examine the pattern as critically as is needed, and want to take sure those people are offered the opportunity.

  • I have no issue with using well known bloggers to test and promote a new pattern. I think it’s great actually. My only concerns come making sure your pattern is tested on a wide variety of body shapes to show the spectrum of issues that each body type encounters with a pattern. It would be impossible to find a pattern that fits every body shape and ludicrous to think there is. But, with saying that, the bloggers who test should be more forth right with their pattern alterations to a tested pattern. Or, they should test a pattern as drafted, showcase that, than show their adjusted one. I feel this would be a better representation of the pattern itself as not everybody knows how to draft or make pattern alterations, and making it straight out of the box is exactly what many home sewers will do.

    • I am really focused on testing on a wider range for the next release – you’re so right. It;s incredibly important.

  • sallieforrer

    Wow, Heather – thanks for writing about this. As always, you’re so very thoughtful and articulate. I definitely get contacted here and there to test patterns – but probably not as often as people might think. And even more often, I say ‘no’. For various reasons – I have a day job that can be emotionally and physically draining, I would love to – but my sewing time is limited and what I REALLY need right now is a winter coat (or whatever), or sometimes I just feel like the design is something I’m not interested in and wouldn’t buy anyway. Pattern testing DOES take time and resources, so in my opinion it’s only worth doing when it sounds fun. Basically, what I’m saying is that if people are concerned that pattern testers aren’t being compensated enough (which I think is a little off point, but whatever) we also have the agency to say ‘no’.

    In regards to transparency – I’ve tested one or two patterns that I really didn’t like. I gave the company honest feedback, told them why I didn’t like it, and never blogged about it because I didn’t want to bash a pattern by a company that I respect, and that I know heard my criticism and did what they could with it. I don’t feel like this was being dishonest to my blog readers. No where in a pattern testing agreement does it say that you have to blog about a finished garment. Usually I feel like bloggers do this because they genuinely want to support an indie pattern company – which are sometimes start-ups by people who you’ve followed, admired, and developed a relationship with. Of COURSE you want to support these people! I read a lot of blogs, too, and I feel like you can usually tell that this is the sentiment when people are all gushy about a pattern. We’re proud of our community and the achievements of those within it!

    I think the real sticking point with this debate is that it seems like it’s always the same blogs testing patterns and people feel like it’s circle-jerk-y and clique-ish and exclusive. At least that’s the sentiment I’ve picked up from all the awesome conversation here in the comments. This is always the toughest issue. I guess the only way to solve this is to do open calls for testers – but I DO think there is something to be said for asking certain people to test who you know you can count on to get the job done in a short amount of time, give the pattern a really thorough look-over and give you straight, honest feedback. And don’t we always look to our friends for that kind of advice?

    I definitely think more diversity in terms of body-type, age, sewing experience etc. is always good for testing. But it can also be a little bit tricky! As I said, I’m not likely to test a pattern if it looks like something I’m not interested in, or wouldn’t wear, and I assume others will do the same. I got a few comments on my Nettie post that went something along the lines of “This looks lovely on you, but on my 56 year old body… ” or “my post-baby body” or whatever… and those are the people that when they see a call to test a pattern for a negative ease bodysuit might be like “I’ll pass!” So what is an indie pattern company to do?! That being said – I actually think you were able to get AMAZING diversity in your pattern testing, and I’ve since seen a lot of Netties crop up on lots of different body types, and I think that’s wonderful.

    Anyway, lots of rambling thoughts. Super thought provoking post. And now I’m late for work! Ha! As always, my dear, I’m always here for you for feedback, testing, what have you. xo!

    • Love you and all your words my wise friend.

  • Jen (NY)

    I think I saw the source of much of this debate. (Names omitted to prevent further trauma to the parties). A rather experienced and popular sewing blogger “S” made a certain indie pattern which, in her view, had serious construction errors. Her review was honest, but the indie designer “C” (not amongst those listed above) responded very defensively, almost ridiculing the blogger’s skills and her experience with C’s pattern. That led to forum questions about testing and (it seemed to me) the issue of the experience level of the testers of that pattern. The error was one that may not have been recognized by a beginning sewer, and it had caused S blogger some headaches. The designer, C, unfortunately, took the low road. C and some commenters kind of attacked others–some asserting that there should be not criticism of indies and that the critics had an obligation to become testers. That led to a further discussion about customers & customer service expectations versus testers. Designer C’s comments suggested that she expected paying customers to be quasi testers. That didn’t go over well with commenters (potential customers) who didn’t want or have time to be testers. Their perspective was that if they paid for the product that they weren’t obligated to give feedback to C.

    So I think that so long as the designer has a clear distinction between her customers and her testers, then its all good. Unfortunately the designer involved in the exchange described above did not seem to have or understand that boundary. I don’t want to mention the name, but, sadly, I have not noticed any new releases since that occurred. I suspect that the exchange caused quite a bit of damage to her customer base. Beyond that, I will reserve further opinions.

    Anyway….As a former/future creative worker, I can say that I understand your long hours, and they are appreciated here. Also, just wanted to mention that I am enjoying the Nettie sewalong!

    • Miriana

      I know the particular issue you mean and it was a bit of a car crash and rather excrutiating to read. I think his actually stems from a much more recent and civilised discussion (thought I’d clarify in case the indie pattern in the latter should get confused with the former)

      • Hi Jen, I read that post (it was about 6 months ago). It gave me serious anxiety for all parties. So painful. The designer responded, um, inelegantly? would be one way to put it, but I thought the who follow up post was unnessarily throwing gas on the fire. I’m sure “C” regrets that episode, but unfortunately its there for all to see forevermore. The comments section was very distressing. A lot of mean spirited and nasty comments, and I saw a lot of misconceptions about the testing process in general, which is partly what I’m responding to here, along with a more recent post that as Miriana said, was much more civilized.

        • Chillmer

          How bad is it that this is the first I am hearing about this, but was able to correctly guess who it was?

        • Jen (NY)

          Yeh, I agree. It was pretty awful all around, but it was the first I heard about this issue. Having followed C for some time, well before she started making patterns, it was a surprising response.

          However, I think it highlights the importance of being able to accept criticism. Having survived grad school in a creative field myself, I know it’s important to step back and objectively evaluate the value of the feedback. Sometimes it can be a revelation, sometimes it can be idiotic.

          On the other hand, there are a lot of beginner and even intermediate sewists who don’t know a lot about fit, or about the way that mass products are sized (whether patterns or rtw), and expect too much. I suspect that this wasn’t such an issue when home ec was still a standard class in public schools, (at least for girls) and most people generally had more experience sewing than now.

  • I could be wrong, but I felt like when reading the post that probably sparked this discussion, some of the commenters seemed to think that pattern testers ARE paid to test, and that made them incapable of fairly discussing the pattern. I’m firmly anti- large corporations using unpaid interns to replace paid workers, but that’s not at all what’s going on here. Indie pattern companies just couldn’t thrive without the happy, willing volunteers who love to test their patterns. And testers make the product better. The large indie pattern company I’m thinking of that never seems to put out a call for testers is the one that most consistently has crazy fit issues on everyone who makes their garments.

    I really think the ideas of testing an unpublished pattern and reviewing free published ones are being conflated in some of the other discussions I’ve seen on this topic. I wrote this comment on another blog, but I’ve only tested one pattern that really didn’t work for me, and it was never released. If I say I liked sewing something, I did! I would never not disclose issues or pin a dress to make it look better in photos (although I will confess to once photographing a dress for a Mood network deadline with the hem just scotch taped in place!). I give rigorous notes to the designer, and if the change is made to the pattern, I don’t bother mentioning that (why bring up that, say, notches didn’t line up once it’s been fixed?). In my post, I’m clear on what worked for me, what, if any, changes I made, and what I would do differently the next time. I also ask for suggestions when I’m not 100% thrilled with what’s happening with my garment. But I also think it’s important to be open-minded and sensitive in the way you phrase criticisms since very often, for me, at least, things I think are pattern errors turn out to be tracing mistakes on my part or body idiosyncracies. I’d feel pretty bad if I tore into a pattern only to realized that I’d traced the wrong size or something, which is definitely possible for a late-night sewer like myself.

    I know we all want this community to be as inclusive and encouraging as possible, but you don’t have to sacrifice kindness or honesty to do that. I’m glad to see new people testing things and I’ve been saying no more frequently or not blogging everything just because I’m starting to feel like people are sick of seeing me pop up in their blog reader with the 10th review in a day of some new pattern or book.

    • Can I high five you from Montreal?

      • Hell yeah, girl!

        • devra

          really well-said, ginger. not gonna lie.

  • This was such an interesting post, as someone who is an avid blog lurker 😛 I always enjoyed seeing the results of the pattern testers to see what were the potentials in making that pattern. The same pattern can look completely different depending on who makes it and what changes they could apply to add their own flare. Pattermaking is a subject that really interests me and would happily volunteer my services to help out whenever possible. The enjoyment of being able to use your hobby and help someone is compensation enough! Like you, I hope some day to have my hobby as a full-time job and you need to start small, like a little seedling, before you can grow and have a blossoming company; to do that you need as much help as you can. Good luck with all your future patterns, I can’t wait to see what you come out with! 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing. I enjoy seeing the pattern testers results from a pattern and I feel that if the big four did the same with some of their patterns they may even see a better product in the long run. I definitely notice a difference in the attention that indie designers get if they pattern test with bloggers versus those that haven’t. I think that it is an essential part to the pattern making process as well as making the patterns known to the general public. I would love to pattern test for you! I loved the Bombshell and I am looking forward to seeing what you come up with next.

  • Lauren

    I never realised this was such a big debate, but it’s a very interesting one all the same.
    In my opinion, patterns should be thoroughly tested before release, and it makes sense for indie designers to reach out to fellow bloggers and friends for testing. You can’t afford your own in house testing department! It does often seem to be the same group of bloggers testing, but again, this makes total sense, as they would generate more traffic through a higher number of page views etc.
    Personally I’d love to help test a pattern if at all possible. It seems like reward enough to be able to help and expand in the sewing community. I rely on reviews and knowledge that patterns are worth it, and produce excellent results. If I can help someone else out with that, even in a tiny, behind the scenes way, I would relish it.

  • Carolyn

    From my perspective, I think there are two very distinct parts of the pattern testing process: (1) testing and providing feedback to the designer, and (2) marketing when the tester blogs their finished project. While I have no doubt that the testing phase generates brutally honest feedback, I think that the marketing phase tends to skew positive, regardless of the feedback from the testing phase.

    Because everyone wants everyone else to succeed (myself included!), I think there’s just a natural desire to praise new patterns and encourage others to give them a try. It may be a conscious decision, or it may not, but I do think it’s there. And as a result, negative feedback from the testing process may get overlooked, or at least downplayed.

    This is just my perspective as a sewist, relatively unknown blogger, and customer of various pattern companies. I have no idea what really goes on behind the scenes. Just wanted to share my 2 cents! Thanks for writing so openly about this issue, Heather.

    • Jennifer R

      I think this is accurate but I find my ideas on this issue are evolving with the debate and I’m beginning to feel there is something going wrong in the area between testing and marketing and I’ve been too accepting of the status quo. I completely understand patterns need testing even when they are in the final stages and if someone is willing to do that in exchange for a pattern I’m fine with that. But it is true there is a second phase which is promotion. I fully expect the pattern companies or anyone with a product to sell to engage in this. My issue is really more with the bloggers who are being given or it sounds like in many cases soliciting promotional patterns and calling that testing. I think everyone is very upfront about freebies received, that isn’t the issue. I think the problem is partly with the term pattern “tester.” It seems to imply an informal relationship with the company where all gripes are reported back to the company and public comment is either glowing or not at all. Compare this to receiving a “review” copy of a pattern just ahead of release. I think this is standard practice across media publishers big or small. If I read a book review I’m not surprised to find out the author didn’t buy their copy of the book but I would expect they would publish an honest review regardless of that. I would be shocked if they took their gripes to the publisher first or even if they just sat on any negative reviews. Now I know there is always the problem that reviewers may be dependent on the freebies either for their own value or because of the instant content they provide and someone trying to break into reviewing of whatever sort might naturally be overly positive. But nonetheless if someone calls themselves a reviewer there is a certain expectation. It seems to me what is going on here, is in sewing circles the words “reviewer” and “tester” are being treated synonymously but everyone chooses the definition they find convenient. Many sewing bloggers are accepting what are clearly promotional “review” copies of patterns but are calling themselves pattern “testers.” When you call yourself a tester it seems bias is expected. But sewing blog readers are expecting reviews and are becoming frustrated with the whitewashing. It’s not a simple problem because in many cases there is real pattern testing going on, but there are also people referring to there work as testing because consciously or not that just makes them feel better than calling it promotion.

  • Jen

    I feel like I should chime in here to say I had NO idea this was an issue. Granted I’ve been so buried in the 24/7 job of running a small company I’ve lost a bit of touch with the blogging world. Personally I don’t pattern test with sewing bloggers, it just never occurred to me to do that. When I published my first few patterns there were really only a small handful of independent designers so I was taking cues from Oliver + S and Colette whom I’d never seen pattern test. I pay an assistant / fellow seamstress to sew through my patterns and be brutally honest about my instructions, etc. and I’ve also just enlisted a copywriter to check for grammatical errors. All of this happening in a 72 square foot room plus a pattern table in my living room for cutting. I was a freelance patternmaker for 6 years prior to this and the thought of someone besides the fit model testing the patterns was just plain not something that would happen. Also my fit model isn’t me, people always assume it is, but it’s a friend who fits my middle measurement perfectly. Sometimes I feel like I should do a blog post on how my company operates but I also feel like, it’s my company, my patterns work for the majority of the intended body type, and who cares how I’m running it behind the scenes (pure stress & chaos). Anyway I’ve never paid a blogger to sew, test, review, blog, whatever, and I also don’t take free things from anyone unless I truly believe in them and buy them anyway. Hello Robert Kauffman Denim/Chambrayyyyyyyyyyy Town. God I’m getting all sorts of weird ideas for co-posts about this type of subject. Omg I need to get off the computer and get back to work. Moral of my long rambling nonsense is you’ve got integrity, two bad ass patterns (which damn I wish I could wear a body suit) and a lot of support. I’ve noticed on the internet people will love you – until you get to the point that they consider too big – they they love to hate you, thankfully the sewing community doesn’t adhere to these rules which is why we’re able to have such awesome pattern options and friends. Okay this officially makes no sense so back to the sewing machine. <3

    • I’m fascinated by your behind the scenes and I’m sure others are too! It’s nice knowing the inner machinations of what looks (from the outside) to be a very time intensive, stressful and all consuming gig. So I would be totally interested in a post from you and I’m sure others would as well. Your post about office hours this week really bummed me out because I know how stressed and overworked you are and emails can be a KILLER! Anyway, Just know I am sending you positive you can do it energy and am super excited to see how your company grows. The growing pains are the hardest part, but also the must fulfilling.

  • I would not worry about this in the least bit. If they don’t want to test then they don’t have too. You are providing a free pattern. I personally don’t mind testing b/c there are so many different body types that is what you need as well as sewing perspectives.. Folks need to get a life!

  • Wow, this is obviously a hot topic! I, like many who’ve already commented, am a little surprised by the controversy… Getting reviews and feedback on a product before launching it to the general public is not just good business practice, it’s the standard.

    When I worked in publishing we used Amazon to discover and contact folks to read and provide reviews of our in-production books. Of course we didn’t pay them; that could have been perceived as clouding their opinion. They got an advanced copy of the book in exchange for their honest feedback. Folks who weren’t interested in this arrangement simply said no. And while we did try to keep our reviewer pool broad, we also needed to find folks who knew enough about our product to provide a useful, timely review. There were a few times when people reached out to us to let us know they would be interested in reviewing in the future, which was totally welcome information to have!

    Anyway. I have so much admiration for you, Heather Lou, and the many other amazing business women out there populating the exciting indie sewing pattern space! Your hard work and successes should be commended and celebrated!

    I’ve found the sewing blogger community to be one of the most warm, inspiring, fun, and inclusive communities I’ve ever had the pleasure to consider myself a part of. It’s sad to think folks have felt left out, but I’m glad you’ve provided this opportunity for anyone to make it known that they want to get more involved. I suppose it’s nice to see you have even more support and enthusiasm for your work than you may have suspected! You can count me among the many who would LOVE to test anything you send down the line!

    • You, my dear, are a doll. And your Netties made 2014 for me.

  • Like many who have commented, I had no idea this was an issue within our community but one I have found to be absorbing now I know about it.

    I’ve often wondered how this process works but I never thought that anything underhand was happening. I took it as a no brainier that the pattern would be tested ahead of time (aren’t most products?) and with small companies, there is no way they could pay someone. I think there is a misunderstanding of just what it takes to launch your own business – I don’t have personal experience but I have seen others try. I just assumed designers approached those they could trust for feedback, and the natural place to start is with those you are closest to. And if the people testing are the same group, that should indicate they are good testers. While I would love to be a pattern tester, my main wish is for all indie patterns to be successful and if buying the pattern is the way to help that then great! There is probably something in the tester vs pattern distinction though.

    Thanks for posting this Heather. It is honest and brings an important topic into the light. I hope you can see from the responses that your way forward is fully supported.

  • I think getting a free pattern is compensation enough. I can’t afford to buy indie sewing patterns much more than once or twice a year, especially since I’ve struggled with patterns, indie and otherwise, running too big even at the smallest size. I would love to pattern test though and fully intend to volunteer whenever the opportunity arises. I’ve always wondered how it works, since I never seem to see people asking for pattern testers, but maybe I’m just clueless.

  • entish

    I’m relatively new at sewing clothing, though I also think pattern testing sounds fun! I would hope that my relative newbie-ness would also be useful in testing to catch small things that a more experienced tester might gloss over.

    Also, there are other forms of compensation which could be offered to pattern testers – free copies of past or future PDF patterns, blog promotion, etc.

  • I’m also new to this discussion and like most others I don’t see a need for testers to be paid. I assume every tester agrees to do this on a voluntary basis – I have never been asked but would be very happy to. I certainly would not expect to be paid and would be aware that I could simply say no if I did not have the time or inclination to test.
    It may be the case that there seems to be a “clique” of pattern testers, but I have never found that a problem, given that I read these blogs anyway and like the style, fabric choices and skills of those bloggers. Maybe one suggestion: I have a feeling that most testers broadly speaking correspond to the same body type and demographic. Again, I don’t mind this, they are what I aspire to, but maybe for Indie pattern makers it might be a good idea to demonstrate how their pattern work for people of different body shapes or ages.

  • Chillmer

    Being asked to be a tester for Christine Haynes was the highlight of my sewing career! I was thrilled to be the first to try it, to get it for free, and have my creation featured on her blog. Anyone who has a problem with it…can just not test patterns. Simple as that.

  • I hope that you and other indie designers continue to put out calls for pattern testers (and/or reviewers) if you want to add variation to your testing pool. I have seen a call for pattern testers (can’t remember which company) that said beginners were welcome, and as a beginner, I think the beginner perspective as well as the more experienced perspective is really useful. I would not be a productive tester at this point because I am so slow, but maybe one day you’ll catch me at the right moment and I’ll have time to test (in which case I would love to, and a free pattern would be a fair/awesome gift). Maybe I am not the only home-sewing-indie-pattern-fan for whom timing is everything, and you could get different body types/experience levels every time you ask for testers. I also want to say that personally, I don’t mind seeing some of the same bloggers testing patterns repeatedly. I do think that reading about failed projects (or partially failed, or I had to seriously change this to make it work situations) can be just as informative as reading about successful ones, so I would welcome more of that.

  • I honestly think getting a free copy of the pattern is compensation enough, especially if the goal is to critique and make it better. Certainly those that feel the need to be compensated can gladly and politely turn down the position to be a tester. As someone (maybe more, I havent scrolled through each comment) pointed out, it’s more of the nature of the clique of pattern testers. But as you have stated in your last paragraphs, you’re willing to do tester calls, which I think is absolutely wonderful. I’ll be keeping an eye out for that!

    From what is perceived, you have done a great job fine tuning your patterns, because I cannot for the life of me (not that I’ve been looking) have seen any negative reviews anywhere out there for both patterns, which leads me to believe, that you have been thoughtful and meticulous, and makes me, the consumer, want to buy the pattern without hesitation.

  • Cari Homemaker

    I’ve always just assumed that patten testers weren’t getting paid. I guess the idea of a “free” pattern in exchange for feedback, knowing that sewing it up might take extra work seems quite fair to me. I guess to me, the appeal of being a pattern tester would most likely come from having a small part in the pattern development process. I have 20+ years of sewing experience, but very little of that has involved pattern drafting. I don’t have the skill set to successfully build a pattern company, nor do I have the time to develop those skills (I have 3 kids and I work full time). Being a pattern tester is probably the closest thing I could hope for in the way of indie pattern design. I’ll be watching for your call for testers.

  • Rachel

    So, to begin with, I am a very new sewist. I don’t have a blog (maybe I will consider it one day), although I regularly peruse plenty of them seeking inspiration and motivation to continue honing this very special craft that I sort of just stumbled into. I don’t get asked to test patterns; I gladly dish out the monies to get the goods (which means I budget accordingly and skip out on some of the other “finer things in life.”) The four garments I have made, which hang in a special portion of my closet, are like proudly displayed trophies, and sometimes I find myself just peeking in my closet to remind myself of of this fact : “why yes, you made that!”

    I cannot wait to try my hand at the Nettie and Bombshell in addition to all the other great indie patterns out there (my first ever garment was the wonderful Grainline Scout.) But I recognize that each of these pieces will take a tremendous amount of patience and effort on my part with regards to fit and construction and craftsmanship.I sew because I like to use my hands and I don’t mind the blood, sweat, and tears that comes from creating something. After scrolling through all of the comments on here and then reading the debate that spurred this post, I feel there is something deeper missing from the argument, which is why are people complaining so much over how much time and effort it took to create a garment in the first place, whether it be with fitting or construction details? It seems to me that in this contemporary world of instant gratification, where literally so much of our daily lives have been immediately satisfied with the advent of technology, people want and *expect* everything handed to them in a perfect package, which seems so counter-intuitive to the way in which humans have evolved over time and certainly the way sewists typically approach projects. In my opinion, the quote, “If at first you don’t succeed….” applies to these situations sewists find themselves in when a project is turning out to be more challenging than first anticipated. If something doesn’t fit, re-work it, get past your own personal frustrations, or put it aside for a while until you are ready to come back to it, but I don’t believe it’s right to subtly shame designers and innovators (on the Interwebs, no less!) who have painstakingly and meticulously drafted a pattern to the best of their ability. I believe it’s time we get back to basics in life, which is accepting that the things that matter, whether it be something as big and deep as a relationship, or as simple and lovely as a dress or tomato plant, take effort and work (and re-work…and re-work) and often derive from something messy and complicated and confusing and oftentimes frustrating. Damn, I hope I’m not starting to sound like some weird, convoluted mixture of Heidegger and your average high school football coach, but I’m afraid that’s what’s happening. I am very much a DIY-er in all aspects of my life and sew for very political reasons (we all know how heinous the fashion industry’s environmental and social practices are), so I guess the whole idea of having to re-work a pattern to death doesn’t really bother me, because at least I know it was me who had to work so hard on it, not some poor, nameless person locked in a sweatshop. It’s important to remember that sewing is more than a feel-good act, it is a personal statement against so many negative practices that take place across the globe. Let us all come together to celebrate this aspect of our sewing and many of the other less intense, positive attributes of this enjoyable activity. Perhaps my feelings and motivations will be too strong for some, but I do think it is important to remember these deeper vestiges when we are making something, especially when crafted by all these lovely indie designers who are busting their asses with very little resources and financial backing. I, for one, want to thank all of you. I may never meet you, but I can’t wait to strut around in my bombshell in front of my boyfriend and know that all of my parts are represented, and no doubt being ogled, in their best possible lights (thanks to the partnership between your drafting and my execution). Same goes for the BHL ladies: is it normal that I kind of want to learn how to flamenco so I can utilize the slit in that Anna dress? Cheers, everyone, sewists and designers alike!

    • This is a very lovely comment and I thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts! Profound and articulate ones. You can be my Coach Taylor any day! And I really hope you start a blog! You write beautifully and movingly about the craft!

  • GorgeousThings

    I did pattern testing several years back for an independent company (not one mentioned in your post). I did it in exchange for 4 free patterns, since like you, the company was brand new and didn’t have any money. I was thrilled to help, because I want to see new pattern companies succeed and grow. I made extensive muslins, as well as test versions in fashion fabric, which the company supplied. I wrote up pages upon pages of technical changes, tweaks and feedback. And what happened? Nothing. The pattern company released the patterns exactly as they were sent to me in the pre-release. I heard from several other testers that they had the same experience. That completely turned all of us off.

    The moral of the story is – absolutely! Please test your patterns, and have your testers give you lots of feedback. Then please, USE that feedback, or at least acknowledge it. I’m sure you do, and you can be sure that your testers want you to be successful. We’ve got vested interest in your success – our time makes it a labor of love.

    • Wow. That is so disappointing to hear! It’s just a grand waste of your time, and a grand waste of the designer’s time, since surely they won’t succeed with such a cavalier attitude towards the people working so hard to help them!

      I take everyone’s comments and suggestions very seriously. Many of the people I ask to help me know FAR more than I do – it would be foolish to not listen!

      • Amy

        I know she’s listening when she loses sleep over crotch grading at least two nights in a row! 😉

  • Eléonore – Deer&Doe

    I just read this post thanks to a tweet by Grey’s Fabric (why am I not subscribed to your blog already? I need to fix that!). I usually don’t comment on blogs (shame on me) and don’t take part in polemics. But tonight, I sit at my little desk with a cup of tea in my hand, in my one room office that is part of my apartment, and I am quite saddened, and honestly a little fed up about some recurring criticisms I read on a daily basis toward indie pattern makers.

    About the particular subject of pattern testing: I have no official training in patternmaking and I am, like other indie creators, a former blogger that worked very hard to learn the ropes of this job before starting my company. From the start, because I was not 100% confident in my abilities, I made a call for pattern testers in various sizes and shapes to ensure the finished garment will fit, will be easy to sew, and that there are no weird inconsistencies in pattern pieces. They are very few, and most of them are still with me today! I, like Tilly, chose serious, precise and reliable people that could produce good pictures so I can spot fit problems. Some were already bloggers that I knew, some had little blogs that grew over the years (but I think I am not part of this particular criticism because, apart from Paunnet, they are all french bloggers).

    I was conscious from the start that when my tester would release their version (and it is crucial for me that they do, because it’s important that people can see a pattern on different body types before purchasing it) people would wonder if the reviews are genuine or paid for, and I made sure to tell numerous times to the girls to be extremely honest about the patterns on their blog (a phony review is ALWAYS recognizable, and just bad for the patternmaker and the blogger, who loses its credibility). I also noted that the fact I allow my testers to publish their garment on their blog is a second reward (the testers only get a free copy of the paper pattern, and performs the test only if they want to) because they get original and fresh content to feed their blog.

    This leads me to another important though: I read here and there that indie pattern makers always play with the same “cool kids”. I agree with that, but everything is not black and white. A lot of famous bloggers with a big audience became famous because they were offering fresh inspiring content on a very regular basis, and now they are expected to keep their pace, and it can become really costly. So more and more sewing bloggers are now reaching to indie companies to test or sew their patterns for free (or vice-versa): this makes for a great exposure for the designer, and as importantly it brings CONTENT to the blogger (and I highlight this word because in this time of constant information flow, content has become king). And in fact, bloggers that need to produce the more content ARE in contact with most indie designers, and this situation tends to produce an overload of over-sewn patterns, ad nauseam. For me, the line is drawn when a blogger publish false raving reviews in the hope that more companies will give her free patterns and notions to review (I encountered the case one time, and promptly stopped to work with the blogger, because as I said nothing good can come from this).

    It’s sad to realize that some people think what you describe about indie designers. On the other hand, there are facts that are extremely difficult to control as a creator (I always cringe so hard when I read a raving blog post going on and on about the “perfect fit” of one of my patterns, when I can clearly see on the pictures that something fits awfully on them… I always fear that people would think I paid the blogger, when I am on the opposite side of the spectrum and love a good honest review).

    The only think I can say, is this: we just do. our. work. We try to come up with our most clever and original ideas (even if they are not the most clever, nor the most original in the world). We work very very hard on creating, testing and correcting our patterns (even if sometimes there is a mistake we haven’t spotted). We work with pattern testers and sometimes famous bloggers, with ethics and transparency (even if sometimes a blogger is overly excited and gives an over-the-top review). I personally NEVER paid any blogger to say good things about my patterns, and consider it extremely unethical.

    We are not very different from the sewing bloggers we were some months or years ago, just a lot more tired, most of the time overwhelmed, and always trying our best to produce kick-ass patterns in a context that became a lot more demanding (but it’s for the best and we are learning from that).

    And obligatory excuse about the maybe-broken-english-from-a-non-native-speaker 😀

    • Eléonore – Deer&Doe

      Oh, and I almost forgot with all the rambling: thank you for this post, and thank you for your fantastic job and great mindset 🙂 . I am in love with the Nettie pattern and I just need to find the perfect fabric to sew myself one (or ten!)

      • Your plantain tshirt is one of my favourite patterns of the year! I’ve made so many!

    • Eléonore, there is so much to love about what you just wrote (BEAUTIFULLY, BY THE WAY, your English is AMAZING and makes me feel so guilty that I cannot respond as well in my shameful French after living in Montreal for 10 years!) I really couldn’t agree more, and wish I could have a conversation with you in real life, with tea. Which may very well happen if I end up going to France this year with my Gallic boyfriend. Please lets get together if you live anywhere near Paris!

      I share your frustration. I have seen some borderline nasty comments lately, but I think it is mostly from folks not understanding the way we work. It seems like so much fun from the outside, but the reality is that most of us are working our asses off and trying to do our best while you know, finding time to sleep and bathe.

      And I think your ideas are VERY clever and original! So happy you’re company is growing and I hope to see so much more from you in the future. Bisous!

      • Eléonore – Deer&Doe

        Thank you Heather! I’d absolutely love to meet, I moved in Toulouse (south of France) last month but the country is not that big, let’s arrange this if you come to France 🙂

        • Guillaume’s papa has a vineyard in Languedoc (boy, do I know how to pick ’em!) so I may actually be in your hood sometime soon!

    • “We are not very different from the sewing bloggers we were some months or years ago, just a lot more tired, most of the time overwhelmed, and always trying our best to produce kick-ass patterns” – haha YES! xx

  • erin

    Ugh! It makes me kinda sad this might’ve been keeping you up at night. Maybe pattern testers should be paid but for the most part it’s probably not feasible. I’ve pattern tested before & really enjoyed it. Then again I’m in fashion design school & know how much work is involved in the process! It’s always good to have different sets of eyes on a project since it’s easy to get to the point where you’ve been staring at it for so long even errors can seem right. Plus you want instructions to easily make sense to the greatest possible audience. I see testing as helping out a friend & hope they’d be willing to do the same for me. That said I wrote detailed notes as I worked through the pattern & really thought about my feedback. My goal was to help make the pattern better – that part of the process should be unbiased.

  • Aimee

    I’d be honored if anyone ever reached out to me to test a pattern. I guess the thought of someone wanting my opinions/input on their creation while simultaneously allowing me to be one of the first to get my hands on the new pattern far outweighs payment. Not to mention the publicity it’d bring to my blog when the pattern testing phases start to get shared. I also agree that if anyone is getting paid they should include a transparent statement about that in those posts so there arent any dogy conflicts of interest.

  • Kathryn

    Longtime sewing blog lurker, occasional sewing blog commenter here. I’ve read through a number of the comments here, and wanted to contribute. I don’t have a blog myself, and am very grateful to the many bloggers who keep putting entertaining and informative content out into the world, free of charge for the likes of me! I am also grateful, as another commenter pointed out, that this community seems to be reviving a dying art form-the last of the fine fabric stores in my city is closing, leaving us with Fabricland.This community gives me hope that there will be enough demand one day for a new fabric store to open ’round these parts, and for more sewists to spring up and diversify the community. So, thanks.
    Now. I sew professionally, which is a gruelleing, time-consuming, underpaid job that I wouldn’t trade for any other job. I find that in Professional Sewing Land, critique is both rampant and necessary, but personal attacks are utterly frowned upon. This is a philosophy I’d highly endorse for pattern testing in the blogosphere as well, as it does absolute wonders for improving the quality of everyone’s work! And with that in mind, I don’t begrudge anyone who asks for volunteer pattern testers-perhaps someday, some of these pattern companies will be at the point where they pay testers, but until that day comes, the volunteer-compensated-in-free-patterns is what this community has available to it. Everyone’s trying to build something together here, so if people want to donate their time to do that, wonderful! Also, on the price issue, I think it’s completely unfair to complain about paying $15-$20 for an independent pattern.I think that many of us in capitalist countries have gotten so used to mass-produced goods made by underpaid labour that we have no concept of what the fruits of someone’s labours actually costs. Time to break out of that, folks! We are none of us entitled to cheap goods. 🙂
    All that being said, I do agree with the other side of this debate, too. It would be nice to see a broader range of bloggers testing and commenting on patterns, in addition to the usual suspects. (Not that I don’t love reading what the usual suspects have to say!) Also, It would be great to see some more robust feedback. So often, pattern reviews *are* glowing and full of praise, which is nice, but not helpful. There definately seems to be a culture of ‘never criticize the indies’,and I’ll selfishly admit that it makes for frustrating, flat reading sometimes, and much more importantly, it doesn’t provide all the necessary information about the patterns either to the pattern maker or to other customers. And, when an indie does gets criticized, there is often a backlash which makes for frustrating, upsetting reading and helps no one. We’re all intelligent people, and we can provide honest, detailed feedback without having to put people on pedestals or having to trash them.

    • Kathryn

      Yeesh, wall of text. Sorry, gang. Also, Heather, I’d love to throw my name into the volunteer hat for future pattern testing!

  • Donna

    i have been sewing girls clothing for two years. To say the least, I have dived into the world of the internet to teach myself this wonderful craft. I am no where near perfect, but I have learned a lot. Now that I think I know enough I have been scouting out the internet for pattern testing offers. Unfortunately I was never able to find one. Hello ! I am offering myself for free (on PeopleHour) and no one wants to bite!. I always wondered why. I am a genuine newbie who will be glad to help an upcoming designer to reach her goals. Therefore I would not charge for testing, and as you said I am getting a free pattern. I think that is payment enough. The item you are making must be worn by someone so it not like it will be going to waste.I think the tester is in a win win situation just like the pattern developer who will be getting reviews and feedback and has not lost anything in return. Pattern testing should remain free!!!

  • Aunty Maimu

    I have offered to be pattern tester to few. For me it would be loads of fun to see something develop and be apart of it. Recently I filled out another form, being honest about everything, my more than 10 years of experience, 7 of it professionally, about me having a degree in menswear tailoring and technical garment design…there was a box “have you ever tested for other designers” of course I haven’t. In the sewing blog sphere I am a no one. And I am completely okay with it.

    As I am with never being contacted to test a pattern. The thing is how it is and it’s better to just keep on swimming 😉

    • I would LOVE for you to test my next pattern as it’s quite technical, if it’s something you’d want to wear of course! Please get in touch when I make the call Aunty Maimu!

      • Aunty Maimu

        Okay, if I have the time 🙂 I would love to. I am looking at a busy summer since my BFF decided to get married and I was semi forced to sew her dress.

  • Kate

    I would so massively heart being a pattern tester for you. Hit me up any time.

  • Maider….Masustak

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts!
    The truth is that I did not know that people pay for test patterns.
    I’ve tried a few patterns, and always find it an honor to try something that has been done with such dedication and love.
    I’d be happy to try one of your patterns 🙂 English is not my mother tongue, but I think I understand it pretty well.
    Keep working hard for your dreams! A big kiss!

  • LauraSB

    I find this whole discussion fascinating. I started sewing for myself after a ~25yr hiatus and have spent a good amount of time tooling around the blog-o-sphere in the last months. It’s an *amazing* resource that people who have grown up with the internet maybe don’t appreciate. I can tell pretty quickly whether a particular post is cheerleading or a thoughtful analysis of what’s been sewn. I don’t care either way. Ten cheerleaders taken together give you a pretty good idea of how special a pattern is. The thoughtful analyses get bookmarked because those are the bloggers on my wavelength. I don’t have a blog, so I have no expectations of pattern testing, maybe that keeps my emotional investment in the whole thing at a manageable level, lol.

    Heather Lou, I just want to say I’m so impressed at your level of professionalism in a venue full of amateurs turned professionals. I started looking at blogs about the time the Bombshell pattern came out. Every time I saw one I thought, if I had any inclination to sew a swimsuit, that one looks amazing on everyone. Then when the Nettie started popping up everywhere, all I could think was “bra straps everywhere!”, but now that I know it runs small in the back, I’m thinking the neckline might work for me. And then Sara at Mixed Emotions pointed out how a body suit avoids the whole exposed belly at yoga, well, I hadn’t ever thought of that. So it’s not always the cheerleaders that sell a product. Sometimes it’s the critics and the random commentary. Best of luck and I look forward to your future patterns.

  • Parker

    Could someone please answer this question for me, because I’m totally perplexed. Why would a pattern designer want a pattern tester to blog about the results of sewing a pattern that is in the testing stage? This doesn’t make any sense to me. Obviously, the kinks are still being worked out, which is the point of testing, no?

    • In all the cases I’ve tested, the pattern itself was more or less exactly the same post testing. If the drafting and sizing is fine (Which it has always been for me when testing for others) the only thing changing in the final product is maybe fixed notches, more clear instructions, typos, things like that. So if your tester has made a beautiful garment from such a pattern, why WOULDN’T they blog about it? Any notes they have on how they constructed or modified it to fit their figure will be the same regardless of whether or not they made it after the designer fixed some typos.

      Obviously, if a pattern has been substantially modified in the testing process, the tester garments from the first round should probably not be blogged about, unless the designer gives their approval.

  • ute

    And wow, Heather! I have just followed up on the discussion and the additional comments and saw that you answerd so many! Thank you for that! (It also shows me that if I were to make one of your patterns – not yet, I am just getting used to a bit more figure hugging, waist defining clothes – I would be in good hands and could approach you if needed! That I think is as important as a good design. I have learned all I know from indie companies and blogs and I am SO grateful for the incredible resources designers and creators like you provide!)

  • I have pattern tested one pattern. And I tried to be straight forward and meticulously documented changes I made and why, and did my very best to follow HER instructions to see if they worked. (Shhhh sometimes I tend to ignore the directions!) I also blogged about it because I like the pattern and I like the designer. And frankly I like my finished garment! I was not compensated in any way- other than the pattern! Which I am very thankful for. 🙂 I do notice sometimes it seems a bit “cliquey”- just cuz we are being honest but it really doesn’t bother me. 😀 There is always an “In Crowd” in anything you do! And TBH a lot of those bloggers make some darn cute things and frankly if I was a pattern designer I would want the peeps making darn cute things to turn my pattern in to a darn cute thing! Just sayin! On the thought of payment for testing- well, I would never ask nor expect that type of compensation. For me and I am sure a lot of testers it is the excitement of seeing something new and making it up in to hopefully something you love. It is also the fact that I get to be a part of something. So ya… I’ll test again for sure and not expect anything in return. OH- and when I tested the pattern I appreciated that the mistakes I caught were fixed and that something almost all of us testers did during the making got put in to the directions. I think that is WHY Indie designers have testers. To catch mistakes and fix directions and make the pattern better. 🙂 Love the Bombshell- I have mine half made up- finally- I am usually a little late to the party! (Only so I can make a grand entrance! lol) Keep up the great work!

  • Amy

    These days I’m always late to the game. What a discussion! I love this community, and one of the only negative things about becoming a mom recently has been my lack of time to keep up with it. I’ve been mad impressed with what you’ve done this year, and I’m so glad you’re moving full steam ahead. Keep the dialogue going. Keep the patterns coming. One thing of note – I think it’s good to design patterns to a set block. That way if I realize I need to narrow the hips or lengthen the waist when I make my first of a particular company’s patterns, I’ll be able to start there first when I’m making other patterns from them. I like consistency. By the way, I’m about to make my first Nettie!

    • Great advice! I have my leotard/swimsuit block down. Hopefully I’ll be adding to them as as I go! Missed you round the internet lately, but you ARE taking care of a baby human, so I guess I understand 😉

  • Sarah T

    This is quite the conversation! I do admire that you aren’t shy about putting out there some home truths from behind the scenes. My understanding of the pattern testing process is that it is very much an editing job – and so not only do you want different bods to try the pattern, you’d need people with the technical ability to ensure the instructions and drafting are as faultless as possible. And those people who can offer this are the more experienced sewists out there – it makes sense that the ‘popular’ bloggers having played at this caper a long time are going to be valued for their skills and experience, not just for the publicity of being able to post a new design to a large following.

    i wonder if pattern testing is being confused by some people with reviewing. As it seems most sewists out there are kind and thoughtful it’s unlikely someone who tests a pattern is going to publicly denigrate a pattern that is still in the ‘editing’ phase – thus those who publicly post positively about a finished design are more than likely doing it because they truly believe it’s a great pattern. It’s human nature (if you are a kind person) to tend to give critical or negative feedback confidentially, but if you’re happy about someone’s performance it can be awesome to do that in a more public way. And so pattern testers who blog their test pieces are far more likely to be positive than negative, hence the possible perception of a biased review.

    I’d consider it an honor if I was able to test a pattern for a designer. I certainly wouldn’t expect payment. But I also wouldn’t commit myself to the process if I was short on time, or couldn’t access or afford to buy the recommended fabric type for the garment, or didn’t have the skills to do the design justice. And so if you’ve a network of lovely ladies who can be objective and quick with a range of body shapes then what does it matter, if they’re the ‘cool kids’ or not? I rely on the experienced and fearless sewists to detect potential issues with a pattern before my less competent hands get on them!

    And to finish up my rambling I guess I always read the ‘blog tour’ posts with a grain of salt. Some are genuinely useful posts, about fit and techniques, others do just blather about how cute something is without mentioning much about the technical aspect of a pattern. Sifting through opinions and deciding on your own is what being an adult is all about!

    I think your passion, ethics and attitude are awesome and I’d put my hand up to be a tester for you any day (I think I’ve narrow shoulders too!). I’ve got my first Nettie cut out, ready and waiting to be sewn into some snug, nautical scooped goodness – can’t wait to see how it goes. Cheers!

  • Roni Arbel

    I sew, I wear my hand-mades, I buy (only PDF) patterns. I don’t have a blog, I don’t use instagram, but I’m still a customer and in a way part of this community.

    I don’t care much that pattern testing has become a popularity contest, probably because I don’t have a blog and I’m not trying to promote myself (even though, like everyone else, I wish I was in on the fun!).

    The thing is – indie patterns are expensive, and while I happily pay the price because I appreciate the hard work that goes into creating them, I can’t buy them all.

    Pattern-testers often answer the question “is this pattern worth sewing” but not “is this pattern worth buying” and most importantly “is this pattern better than the very similar design offered by a different company?”. If you get the patterns for free, you can sew them all. But how should I decide between the Moneta, Lady skater, and out and about dress, if testers don’t comment on the price and the similar designs?

  • Rachel

    This was a really fantastic post, and for once, the comments are definitely worth reading. As a reader of sewing blogs who doesn’t know any of the bloggers, I can say that sometimes it looks like there’s a closed circle for pattern testing, but I’ve always suspected that’s because a) a lot of bloggers know each other, and so ask each other for feedback, and b) of course there’s a benefit to having someone with a big readership test and blog about a new pattern.

    I think there needs to be a distinction made between pattern testing, and writing about the pattern testing. From everything I’ve heard, pattern testers give lots of feedback, good and bad! And that’s the way it should be. It’s just that when it comes to blogging, only pattern testers with positive experiences seem to write about the new patterns, so they do kind of end up looking sponsored. Putting it another way, if a blogger buys a pattern, they seem much more willing to write about not being thrilled with it than if they are given a pattern, particularly a pattern in pre-release. And from a reader’s perspective, I get as much from the negative as from the positive. But of course, the sewing community is so wonderfully supportive of each other, people don’t want to post negative reviews of independent patterns, particularly when they know the pattern designer.

    I do beta reading for an urban fantasy author, and it’s very much the same as pattern testing – I get to read the book early, and she wants all my feedback, big, small, positive, negative. Especially negative! And when the book is released, she’d love it if I leave positive reviews on places like Goodreads, but that’s not part of the deal or anything. And I don’t get anything out of it other than an early chance at an author I love, and the opportunity to give ALL my opinions. But as a reader, even though I know that’s how the process goes, I tend not to trust reviews and comments until I start seeing some neutral or “not for me” ones, just like I tend to skip over the reviews of pattern testers in favour of later reviews from people who picked up the pattern on their own.

  • I’ve pattern tested for different people a few times, and I LOVE it! This post kinda makes me sad…

  • Krista

    I’m late to this, but my thoughts: I totally understand that having other bloggers/pattern designers test a pattern provides some exposure for a pattern once its released, but of course people who earn a living from doing the same should expect compensation. I’m a journalist by trade, and while I volunteer lots of time mentoring new journalists, at some point my skills and time deserve some compensation. It’s how I make my living. I’m also an avid sewer. I don’t have a sewing blog, but I’m a professional-level dressmaker and am often disappointed by Big 4 patterns to the point that I draft most of my own or go indie. I’ve volunteered a bunch of times to test patterns (for free! It’s not how I make a living, so why not? It sounds like great fun) but haven’t been contacted. I understand that I’m a complete unknown and therefore a wild card when it comes to pattern testing, but if people who need testers want the work done for free, they should be willing to use people other than those who either earn their money or seek to boost their online brand via sewing.

  • I think the way it’s being done up to this point has been fair. I never really thought about it but I always assumed the way you have described it to be the case. I think a free (beta) pattern is a fair trade for testing. And it’s a tester’s choice whether or not to blog about it. Maybe there needed to be more transparency about what exactly it entailed, but I think in general, if it is a sponsored post, it will say as much.

    And why shouldn’t a blogger review a pattern they tested on their blog? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to promote a friend’s products? Independent designers should get free promotion in any way possible, because that’s what keeps prices down. Word of mouth is not a crime.

    In the past, I have been known to bitch about how ‘poorly’ a pattern has been drafted (I’m looking at you McCall’s!), but since I started blogging, I’ve finally realised that almost no one fits into one straight size. So if a pattern tester blogs about a pattern and says that it fits them really well, and it doesn’t work for another person, it’s not the blogger’s fault. I really think they promote things they genuinely like. I know I do! I am completely honest on my blog and maybe it’s naive but I expect the same level of honesty and openness from other sewing bloggers.

    Wow this comment turned out a lot longer than I expected! I will finish by saying that if you are willing to add me to your pattern testers list, then I would really love that! You don’t even have to pay me 😉 Anything for a fellow Canadian.

  • mirza

    I have to admit that I’m glad this debate came up. If I’m being completely honest, I started being a bit bothered by pattern testers/testing when the bombshell swimsuit was released. It’s nothing against your pattern – it looks great, it’s just about how the sewing blogs reacted. Well-known bloggers sewed it, said it was perfect, so everyone sewed it. I was tempted, I even bought the fabric for it. But then I realized that I never wear 1 piece swimsuits, I just don’t. And I’m pretty sure that it’s the same for at least some of the people who sewed it. I dont like sewing things that I wouldn’t have picked if I saw it in a store, which means I also don’t like being lead to think that I want to sew one of those things.
    From a business point of view, I’m sure that it must be awesome. And that is fine with me. I’m a customer, if I react to advertising, then advertise away, I’ll buy your patterns and you’ll get rich 🙂
    However, I think that the blogger is somewhere in between the customer and the buyer. A tester does not pay for their pattern, and sometimes, I feel like the review does not include a thought of “would I buy this pattern if I had to pay for it?”, if the answer is clearly no, then why are you saying it’s awesome. I’ve tested a few patterns, and I find it is pretty difficult to keep the “the-pattern-is-awesome-because-pattern-testing-is-awesome”-voice down. Also, when there are a lot of “popular” bloggers testing a pattern, from a reader’s point of view, it’s hard to see the line (if there is one) between pattern testing and promotion. I’ve also seen quite a few bloggers who produce amazing pictures, of amazing garments, just to say a few months or years later that they’ve never been worn because of some kind of flaw. I just feel cheated.
    Personally, I feel that I can’t be partial on a designer’s pattern if I don’t buy some of their pattern from time to time.
    This being said, I love that patterns are tested, especially if they are well tested. I love to see the different versions popping up so I can get a better idea of if it would fit my body type.
    Anyway, now I’m going to go back to my Nettie with too narrow shoulders which I have to reprint because I didn’t follow your advice of tracing my pattern…stupid me 😉 And while I’m at it, may I ask how I can tell which size I need shoulder wise? Should my shoulder measurements match the pattern’s? or is there some kind of negative ease in there?

    • Definitely negative ease! If you’re doing a scoop neck/medium back you may just want to add a bit to your shoulders like i mentioned in the sewalong. It was drafted that way originally – I added the high neck/high back as an option after the fact, and since I have narrow shoulders didn’t realize that doing a high back would be problematic for some folks. The double scoop is very forgiving of a wide variety of shuolder types. If you want to do a high back, I suggest doing a slash and spread at the back center for more room.

  • Lisette

    I appreciate your well-thought-out post. I also REALLY like that you are going to offer an open pattern testing call. Just like Katie said before me, my issue isn’t whether or not people get paid. My two issues have always been:
    1. That companies tend to choose the most popular bloggers to test their patterns. I understand that they will guarantee you sales, but that just makes me dislike and distrust the company. I like seeing a wide range of bloggers test a pattern, especially when they represent a variety of skill levels and body types.
    2. I have NEVER seen a negative comment in a pattern review. That also strongly makes me distrust the testers. I know you want these companies to succeed, but don’t let that hold you back. And yes, sometimes everything is wonderful. But at explain the alterations you’ve made, even if they’re the alterations you make on every pattern. Because it is impossible that all these patterns fit every tester perfectly all the time without a little editing. I expect their reviews of an independent pattern to be just as honest as one of a Big 4, and when they aren’t and other sewists make them up and are totally disappointed, you’re only hurting the sewing community and wasting others’ time and resources with your “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” policy.

  • Ann Tilley

    I’d love to pattern test for you! I’m not a sewing blogger but I make my own patterns and used to be a sample maker before I pushed out on my own 🙂 annftilley.blogspot.com

  • Anne

    I would love to be a tester for your patterns. Put me on your list:) I just made the bombshell swimsuit and I love it!

  • mahlica

    Thank you for talking about this and the discussion is fascinating. Ive many times seen a pattern hit all over at once and I think how is it that everyone is so excited about this all of a sudden? Now I get it, gosh pretty naive. I too am a sewing blogger with not as many followers as id like and have felt discouraged by some of the tight relationships between more successful blogers. Envy I guess. Id like to be a pattern tester for you and hope to have as much help if I ever get there myself.

  • Rachel

    The thing I find most confusing is when pattern testers post about the process as if they were reviewing a fully fledged pattern that was publicly available. To me, testing a pattern in the initial stages should be an exercise conducted privately between the pattern maker and the person doing the testing. Similar to when an editor reviews the draft version of a report, suggesting room for improvement. Once it’s finished and publicly available, the editor can then comment on it to friends/countrymen etc; but in a different way – they are then reviewing the finished article. As for reimbursement, as long as both parties are happy I couldn’t care less whether testers receive nothing or millions – it doesn’t affect me and therefore I need not have an opinion and seriously, why get myself tired up in knots over something else in life? Various comments have been made about only the big blogs being reviewers, but I take the view, which is perhaps naive, that if those blogs are easy for me to find to read they are going to be easy for a drafter to find potential testers. Isn’t that just logical?

  • Rachel Whitehouse

    Have you thought of having non bloggers test your pattern. Having people people outside of the experience usual circle will give you a better idea about the clarity of your instructions. People who don’t know you have a diffent perspective. Those less experienced need clearer instruction. Then add thier comments to your page when you post the pattern. Pick some negative comments or much needed changes that where made to post. Make the procees more transparent to the people reading your blog and buying your patterns.
    That being said. When you buy a pattern from a fabric store you have no info from anybody on how the pattern turned out or if the instructions were easy to follow.

  • Iris

    Thank you for this. I am a beginner and new to the community and just became aware of a backlash against indy pattern makers and a suspicion of some kind of nepotism. Then I saw a whole site devoted to talking about how bad patterns are and how new designers don’t have enough experience to make and sell patterns at all. And finally that most are copies of others and too simple to look twice at. It made me really sad. Up until now, the community seemed one of the most inspired and supportive I have ever seen. But, of course, there is always conflict in any group.

    Glad you are speaking out and putting your reality on the table. Thank you for your courage. And, yes, if you ever want to have your pattern tested by a relative beginner, I am all yours.

    • Hi iris. Thank you for the kind words! Don’t let the haters get you down, heehee. It’s only natural that there would be a place on the more negative side since the sewing world is by and large amazingly supportive. People want outlets to vent and even though I disagree with a lot of the talk over on that site, I respect people’s right to say and think what they want. Anyway, we are a kind bunch by and large, and I’m excited for your new sewing journey!

  • I listened to you seamwork radio piece and was intrigued when you mentioned GOMI. I had never heard of it. I looked it up. First I was defensive and a little shocked, then those ladies sounded petty, THEN I had to scroll through your Instagram to find THAT picture of your Frenchman wearing Hudson pants because I got’s to see that. Please know that the majority of your readers and customers support you.

    • The one with Gretchen? Did I mention GOMI? I don’t remember. Sorry I sent you down that rabbithole! You can get caught up in the nastiness pretty easily. I don’t really sweat it anymore; its impossible to please everyone, but thank you for the support Kate!

      • Sorry the Reyna Lay Designs Podcast. Been listening to lot’s of podcasts last couple of days. Could you quickly answer a sizing question. When picking my ginger Jean size should I use my natural waist on the size chart?

        • Yep. The finished garment measurements can be misleading because the jeans sit lower on your waist than your natural waist.

  • Chantal Lapointe

    Hi Heather Lou, I would love to have the opportunity to test your patterns. I’ve been sewing since I was 9 years old. I recently started drafting my own jeans patterns for fun and, well, I pretty much discovered all the hard work that goes into it. I have a lot of respect for the work that you do. By the way, your designs are awesome! I love the distinctive Montreal flair (coming from a fellow Montrealer!).