Independent Pattern designers – of whom there are many these days – do not have the luxury of a professional pattern testing team. They cannot afford to pay people to make up several versions of their designs. So they often seek others – family and friends, or keen amateurs they contact through the internet, to make up a version of their design and give feedback about what works and what doesn’t. The designer can then amend the design and directions to make them better.
Here is a debate that happened on Artisans Square in response to a call for pattern testers. One person wrote:
Do I understand correctly, that you want us to:
– sign up to test your patterns
– spend money on muslin material, fabric and notions to test your pattern
– invest time to fit a muslin to test your pattern
– invest time to make a garment to test your pattern
– provide all above services for free?
I think it would be fun to pattern test, mostly because I’ve never done it. I’m long since past the “needing to sew” stage–for many years it’s been the “wanting to sew” stage for the experience, the creativity, and the fun it brings. I would hope that no matter what I would learn something new from the experience.
I am firmly in the latter camp. I joined in for fun, and for the experience. That said I knew something about the designer, Lauren Dhal. In fact I had done one of her courses (which was not that good to be honest). When she posted her Inspired by Jane Birkin jeans on Instagram I really liked the look of them. I asked myself – is this a pattern you might buy? And I said yes, so I thought why not? I get the pattern free and I will learn about how a designer reacts to test results. I am not a professional seamstress so I would not expect to be paid for this. I see it as a way of helping someone who is designing but without a whole studio of testers and professionals at their disposal. My experience has been entirely positive and I wanted to give this feedback in case others are wondering if it is a good thing, or something essentially exploitative and cheeky.
There are a few cynics in the sewing community who notice hundreds of, shall we say “Poppinjay Pants”, appearing on blogs and Instagram, with comments such as “Awesome!!!!” and “Beyond Brilliant – Wowsers!”. They see a rather banal or poor design (RRP £12 or more) being “tested” by young, impressionable “sewists” who then marvel about the outfit on their glorious, colourful, glossy blogs. And then they react against “blog tours”, “sewalongs” and pattern-testing-as-marketing.
So I wanted to tell you like it is.
I volunteered because I liked the design. Lauren set up a Facebook group so the two dozen testers could share questions, views and pictures. She responded quickly and decisively to every issue that was raised. She took the criticisms to heart and redrafted parts of the pattern. She revised the instructions as people said that parts were difficult to follow. She was not at all precious about testers making changes to her design (I narrowed the flares a little). It was a learning process for her and she was keen to take advice from experienced seamstresses. She did this while leading a busy life with three kids etc, with humour and gratitude. She did ask people not to blog or publicise problems but to let her work through them. Entirely reasonably.
She did ask testers to model their jeans and use Instagram or other means to publicise her pattern. But this was a low key request. I felt inclined to publicise the pattern because I liked it, and I would say other testers did too. So if you want this pattern here is the link. I believe there will be a sew-along too.
Here is what I got out of pattern-testing
- A good intermediate pattern, that I liked and will make again
- A designer who listened and responded quickly to feedback
- An energetic sewalong with a range of other testers
- A better understanding of fitting, listening to the issues women with different body shapes were having with the same pattern
- A chance to meet/help/be supported by a range of interesting women from all over the world – all trying to make a nice pair of jeans
- I have become Facebook friends or IG followers with some of them because they are really nice
- A chance to support an independent designer who is basically a good egg and trying to make a living
What does anyone else think?