Friday, August 8, 2014

Open Letter to the Designer on Pattern Testing

In case you can't tell from my posts here on the blog, I have been doing quite a bit of pattern testing. It's not because I don't have patterns. I assure you, I do. Like any other blue-blooded American girl who sews, I have more patterns than I can sew in a lifetime. I stock up on Big 4 commercial patterns whenever they are on sale. I also have a small collection of indie children's patterns because Melissa Mora of Blank Slate Patterns makes super cute boys patterns, and her directions are crystal clear. (Will be sewing up some of those soon.)

So here is an open letter to designers from me as a pattern tester. 

Dear Designer,

I really like testing patterns. Having this encouragement is the only way I seem to sew. I also enjoy the small group and camaraderie of the small sewalong. I enjoy having something to put on my blog. All in all, I generally enjoy pattern testing. 

But Designer, here is why I needed to write this letter though. There are a few things that must be made clear. 

First of all, Designer, getting a copy of your pattern is nice. In our arrangement, it is your end of the bargain, but it is in no way compensation commensurate with the time, effort, and materials that I have put into sewing the garment. Let's be clear. Your pattern, at most costs $20 (and that's at the high end. I have yet to test one that expensive). 

Any pattern I sew will eat that $20 "compensation" in labor alone! Who can tell me what minimum wage is? How many hours work can be paid with a $20 pattern?

Then we must factor in the materials, Designer. There is the paper and ink for printing pdf patterns. I was afforded the experience recently to print a 20 page pattern (and assemble it and trace it onto tissue paper to adjust it) only to find that the designer posted an updated draft the next morning. I was LIVID!

Materials also include fabric and notions. Designer, if you are conducting a pretest and will need more than one garment sewn, it needs to be stated in the beginning. I recently signed up to sew a bodice only. I was given the bodice pattern, sewed the bodice pattern, and was then given a skirt pattern to test. I tested the skirt pattern. I was then told that I needed to participate in another round of testing in order to get my copy of the final pattern when released. I more than fulfilled my commitment, as initially requested. Furthermore, because of the way the pattern was distributed (bit by bit), I ran out of fabric so I am stuck with a completely unwearable dress and have wasted a lot of fabric.  I am not a happy camper!

Finally, I would encourage you, Designer, to know the complexity of the task at hand. If you want a garment properly tested, it takes time. Each of the simple garments on this blog has been tested within the week allotted. I am very up front with designers about the fact that I am a beginner at sewing. I also am clear that I wear well above a B cup and that I will need to adjust the bodice for a proper fit. Adjustments take time. Other aspects of proper sewing take time as well. If there are bias pieces, they need to hang before being cut and hemmed. Knit fabric also needs resting time. More complex designs will require more time as well. Be mindful of these things as you set timelines and deadlines.  If you have strict deadlines that cannot be changed and you are having to roll call half of your testers because they have not met your deadline, I assume that you have waited until the last minute and that you did not allot appropriate time for the testing. To me, that indicates poor planning. And as the saying goes...

Original Image Source
Again, pattern testers do it for FREE! In no way does a "gifted" pattern cover the time or materials for the project, but Designer, you need us. So make the experience enjoyable. Don't make it stressful. Be respectful of our time and materials by being organized. Understand that while this is exciting and top priority for you, we are in essence doing you a favor and not the other way around. You gain far more from the process than we do, but we do it because we enjoy it, because we think it's fun.  I always do my best to honor commitments, but real life can get in the way. Guess what? I have a real life that extends beyond your test!

If you want professional patten testers who work 100 percent on your time and don't act like volunteers, pay them.  Don't use volunteer hobby sewists, employ professionals.

But understand that, ultimately, part of the burden in testing is on me. I become invested as I spend time and money on this project. So respect me when I want to do it well. Designer, respect that!!  Recently, Bunny from La Sewista was torn apart in the comments to her blog for criticizing the work of several bloggers and designers. One of the comments from a different designer says that photos are from testers (another freebie you get) who may be less experienced with sewing. It is my firm belief that anyone can do good sewing if they take their time.  Perhaps the shoddy work is due to rushed testing. Not planning an appropriate timeline and rushing testers does not make for a good process. Testers will be unhappy with their garment, and you won't have usable promotional photos. 

In closing, be a professional, but be appreciative because you aren't compensating pattern testers. Designer, these are just kind people who do it because they enjoy helping. Please, make testing an enjoyable and rewarding experience. 

Yours truly,

Now, after that, you may think that I may be unprofessional and may not need to test.  Actually, quite the opposite is true. I always do my best when sewing. I always try to keep my word. I give honest and critical feedback, but I am always tactful and respectful. That is why the experience that prompted this post was so upsetting. I have enjoyed testing all of the patterns so far, but this was the most stressful testing experience ever! 

So this will likely be the last pattern test for a while. I am annoyed and frustrated beyond belief!  I will not be worked this way when I am not being compensated. Even if I were being compensated, I wouldn't allow anyone to treat me with such disregard.  I am really quite over it. Unless it's for my son, I am not sewing it, and there are really only so many designs that little boys wear.  

And now to deal with the guilt of basically neglecting my child while stressing over trying to fulfill a constantly evolving commitment to Designer, and all for nothing!

End rant!


  1. This is really well said. I think one of the things that is happening is that everyone seems to think they can be a designer. It's not as easy as it may look from the outside and people can bite off more than they can chew. Just because you can whip up a batch of cookies doesn't mean you shoukd open a bakery. Just because you can drape or freestyle a dress for yourself doesn't mean you should be trying to make a business out of it.

    1. Absolutely, Heather. Even a talented designer should attend to the business end or have someone else do it. Just because you are a good designer doesn't mean you will be a good pattern making professional. There is more to it than a good design when you are a one man business. All of it is important.