my completely irrelevant opinion about pattern testing and indie designers

i am not and have never been a pattern tester.

just sayin’.

i’ve never been asked, and i’ve never volunteered.  like a lot of us, i have other demands on my time and right now that time is too precious for me to be tempted by a free pattern and a test drive.

because all of my sewing is a test drive!  and my to-do list already takes up half of a fashionary.

but i do enjoy seeing new pattern releases.  and i always enjoy reading the reviews.  where it gets tricky is in thinking about how to process those reviews.

i mean, i appreciate the idea that when we have nothing nice to say, we stay silent.  i think that is part of what makes this corner of the internet so sociable:  that baseline of respect.  and when you – yes, i know you are out there – thought my ridiculous t-shirt hacks or stealth cosplay or drape drape garments were ridiculous, i truly appreciate the kindness you showed in not telling me about it.  and if you’re still here reading, i thank you even more.  it’s gotten much easier to tell people off than to refrain from doing it, and more of us should be like you.


a review is a review – it is one person’s experience.  how can i have an opinion on someone else’s experience of the pattern?  i can’t.  all i can do is read the review, decide if i agree with it and/or any of it applies to my own sewing, and move on.  i don’t really attach much more meaning to it than that.  if a review is negative, i decide if i agree.  if a review is positive, i decide if i agree.  and it doesn’t make any difference to me who the pattern company is.  i’ve had my mind blown by seeing a made-up version of a garment whose technical drawing and/or photoshoot was completely meh.  and i’ve had my mind changed by seeing a made-up version that showed the design flaws.

and i am not sure i buy into the idea that the free pattern and/or the content is “reward” enough for the testers.  for one thing, i think that completely undervalues the testers, who have given up their evenings and/or weekends and/or patterns they planned to sew for themselves in order to do a friend a favor and support the community as a whole.  it’s not a reward:  it’s a mutual admiration society, done out of respect for the designer and the work.  i certainly would neither expect nor would i want that to change.  when one of these new companies succeeds, it is better for all of us – it means there are more options and more variety and, in many cases, more women blazing new paths for monetary or creative success (since sadly they rarely seem to come together!).

because when we hate on big 4, aren’t we really disappointed that there’s not enough variety/style/options/body types represented?  and aren’t these women doing the work for us to make all of those things less true?  i want all of these women to succeed regardless of whether their patterns fit my style or not.

i’ve bought books and patterns that i knew i wouldn’t love because i have the luxury of splurging on those purchases, and i chose to vote with my dollars to support that person.  i would never expect other people to make that choice.  some bloggers choose to show that support by pattern testing, and then, if they have a positive response to the garment, posting it for us to see, and for the designer to enjoy the clicks or purchases.

i even get the idea that the testing game has gotten too clique-y.  i completely identify with it – in fact, i over-identify.  which of us hasn’t been the odd kid out in the circle of friends, who never got “invited” to come to the party or the BBQ or what have you, and then when we complained were told that of course we should come, why should we expect an invite?

i know i’ve been that kid.  my sixteen-year-old-self is still quietly fuming somewhere about being left behind.

but this is a virtual party and you’d better believe that everyone is invited.  i invited myself when i started my blog – and so did you, and all of the people i’ve ‘met’ IRL or otherwise.  because blogging is an act of courage and honesty.  so i don’t get worked up about the pattern testing ‘clique.’  because these women are smart and talented and have a point of view that i find inspiring, regardless of whether i know them in real life or not.  or whether they are cool and i am not.

especially since in most cases the latter is true!  i am totally not cool.  the parties i wasn’t invited to?  they were marching band parties.  i wasn’t cool enough for the band geeks.  (although, to be fair, my high school had some pretty awesome band geeks.)

so what am i really hung up on, then?  it comes down to this:  we are being unfair to the designers and to ourselves when we hold back on truly useful, constructive reviews.

that is all.

and i think every single pattern tester-turned-reviewer i’ve seen has been really honest about what they have done to the pattern to make it suit their shape and their style.

and i don’t expect anything more than that.

suggested reading:

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14 Responses to my completely irrelevant opinion about pattern testing and indie designers

  1. jay says:

    Independent pattern designers, small fry, just starting out, almost certainly can’t factor in paying testers. Sewing patterns are really sold quite cheaply, considering the work that goes into them.

    • puu says:

      this is undeniable. and i would hate to see the work of some of these great creators stopped because they felt they needed to pay people. let’s just call it a barter, right? diffuse the confusion and respect the work that everyone is doing – because all of it is work and demands respect.

      the pricing issue is a problem as well – it is so easy to devalue the work of an indie designer when the big 4 have their massive sales. (not that i want to see the sales stop!) i’m always aware that i am lucky that i have the money to spend to support indie patterns.

  2. David says:

    I’m not familiar about pattern testing but I’m with you on the fact that creating patterns is not only really time-consuming but is the cost really worth the effort, and to second Jay’s opinion, if you’re a small independent patter designer? That’s the answer I got when I asked a talented independent menswear designer a while ago!

    • puu says:

      david, i completely agree that for a lot of designers paying a pattern tester, or a crew of pattern testers, on any scale would make the whole enterprise impossible. that is why i think we need to acknowledge that the testers who then review and/or post are not getting something for free, but are bartering services with designers they choose to support.

  3. prttynpnk says:

    Ive done it once or twice and it wasnt my favorite activity- then if you have a rough experience you get to keep a souvenir of your anguish- yay!

  4. Maddie says:

    Very thoughtful, Devra! My experience with pattern testing is limiting, but in the few times that I’ve done it, I’ve been as honest as possible, but I didn’t have anything negative to say because I truly was pleased with the pattern.

    • puu says:

      i think we are blessed to have these designers out there who are producing, by and large, great work – so i feel like your experience is not uncommon. but your honesty is key, so keep it up 🙂 i especially enjoyed your version and review of the nettie. it was quite inspiring.

  5. Leah says:

    I have too many projects to make to be a tester. I recently wrote two blog posts about sewing and indie pattern (that I bought) and comparing that to sewing with a big four pattern. Indie patterns tend to be simple but often have good extensive sewing instructions, the big four skimp on instructions – they figure you know how to follow a pattern – but they are able to offer much more complicated patterns.
    On a similar subject, I also quilt – there is the whole crowd who will only buy designer fabric from quilt stores and will disparage JoAnn’s, I love both and am grateful that I have a JoAnn’s nearby. My work is the result of what I do, not simply the base material that goes into it.

    • puu says:

      i think you say something really true here – our work is the result of our effort, not just the base material. everyone has to make the choices that best suit their goals/funds/abilities/style.

  6. Heather Lou says:

    Beautifully written Devra! I especially like “this is a virtual party and you’d better believe that everyone is invited. i invited myself when i started my blog – and so did you, and all of the people i’ve ‘met’ IRL or otherwise”. Hear hear!!!

  7. Trice says:

    I have done some pattern testing and I love it. For me pattern testing is work experience and I learn so much by testing, at least from the pattern company that I have test for the most. I don’t always post my testing results. I know that it might not help the community as a whole, but I am not a fan of posting unflattering pictures of myself on internet. Heck even seeing my croqui still makes me cringe (especially when it label as plus size, which I don’t identify as, but maybe I need to suck it). I also do not want to post about the failed experience, since I like to try to give people (experiences) the benefit of a doubt, the designer might have been stressed out or my brain might not been working at the time.
    I do find these post helpful, since when I hope to start making commercial patterns, I have a better I idea what the community would like.
    I can’t image you not being part of the cool club.

  8. Debbie Cook says:

    I don’t think your opinion is completely irreverent, and I enjoyed reading it. You write well and make some very valid points. And now I’m off to explore your blog some more …

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