If you’ve recently read my post looking at ways in which the Sew Over 50 community can keep ourselves in the public eye (should we wish to of course) you’ll know that I was talking, in part, about pattern testing for pattern designers. This seems to have generated a lot of comments and opinions so I thought I’d look at some of the issues here rather than a long trail of comments on the Instagram account (although you can always read them there too of course)
I deliberately chose not to address the biggest elephant in the room in the previous post because it would distract too much from the overall point of the post. That elephant is ‘why is it unpaid?’
Firstly, in the interests of balance, in a very few cases it isn’t always unpaid, because there is at least one pattern designer who gives a modest amount towards fabric and time for testing when the patterns are getting closer to being released. In my experience they have been pretty well tested in-house before they are sent out to testers for what they hope will be final checking, typos, errors, sizing and fit issues etc. I’m not willing to name this company because I’ve no wish to cast the ones who cannot, or do not, pay in a bad light by comparison, or give anyone the opportunity to start mud-slinging.
This leaves the companies who cannot, or do not, offer to pay for testing. I can only speak for my own experiences of testing here, you may have had other experiences yourself-positive or negative.
Let’s be quite clear, obviously nobody makes us do this and if you are unhappy or don’t agree with it being unpaid, don’t do it! Many indie pattern companies are quite literally one-woman-bands, often with other jobs the rest of the time, and to pay testers is impossible. At least they wish to have a testing process because if they didn’t we might find half-baked products released onto the market for which we’ve paid good money. I’m sure we’ve all used that type of pattern too, which has been rushed out with little or no quality or typo-checking and testing first, it’s infuriating. Yes, of course in an ideal world we would all be paid for doing this but the simple truth is that that isn’t possible in most cases. It’s a terrible business model to rely on unpaid labour but what is the solution? I agree that more of the larger indie companies should definitely be giving better ‘rewards’ because if they can finance fancy promotions and campaigns and websites and several staff then they can give some small remuneration-they wouldn’t expect a photographer or professional model to do it for nothing and they probably work for considerably fewer hours than it takes the maker at home to construct complex garments. Or maybe the ‘working for free’ culture goes further up the chain than we realise?
So, if you offer to do this and are asked to test, what next? The time it takes and the quantity of fabric needed will vary hugely and personally I prefer to know in advance what sort of garment it’s going to be, some designers give a clear descriptions of what it is so you can choose not to participate if you don’t like the sound of it, others play their cards close to their chests and don’t want to give too much away, which makes it a bit more difficult to decide. Again, the comments on IG vary from people finding it an enjoyable, interesting, at times challenging but rewarding (though not financially) experience. Usually the very least reward you can expect from the designer for your time and fabric is a copy of the finished pattern. Some offer discounts for future purchases (is that a ‘reward’?) it depends on their size and set-up to be honest.
One comment on IG spoke of her positive experience with testing for one designer who, whilst not paying, was very happy and appreciative of the results and shared the testers images upon the pattern’s release. Her experience with another pattern company however left a nasty taste because after release the designer only shared images of young, skinny testers thus ignoring this commenter’s time and contributions to the process, let alone her age or body type! If you want a very specific group of people to test for whatever reason then make sure that’s who your testers are. Don’t encourage anyone and everyone, allow them to help but then cut them out afterwards. I wish I knew who the company was so I can avoid them!
Obviously not all of us will have the time or resources to take on testing, the timescales are often tight (2-3 weeks max usually) so if it doesn’t work at the time then turn it down. It isn’t only the making that has to be done, you’ll need to give proper feedback which can take time. The flip side of the coin would be a small designer waiting on information from a tester only to be told, “nah, sorry, didn’t get it done”
I took exception however to one comment that because I, and others like me, were able to give my time, skills and fabric usually with no expectation of reward that I was somehow ‘privileged’. Couldn’t the same accusation then be applied to anyone who ever did anything for another person voluntarily? The person who pushes the book trolley around the hospital wards? The grandparent who goes into the classroom to listen to children read? Charity shops up and down the land would close if they didn’t have enough volunteers to help run them, the world would be an infinitely sadder place if we only ever did things for monetary reward. Yes of course it would be nice to be rewarded-I’d certainly like to get paid more of the time for my sewing, it is definitely undervalued although more often in my experience by the general public than by those who know what’s involved. I’m not putting anyone out of a paid job by helping test patterns, and if it was being paid then I would expect to be paid! If I am willing to offer my experience and skills to someone for little or nothing then that’s my choice.
Pattern designers do also take a chance with who they use to test. If they don’t have any kind of system whereby they can ask or check what skill level someone has then the results that come back may not be useable for them. If it’s a simple pattern then beginner skills might be perfect but I would hope they never dismiss experienced sewers just because it’s a simple pattern because they are more likely to spot errors or offer a better technique or method.
A growing area of change is that many designers are expanding the size ranges they offer so they will (or at least should!) be looking for sewers right across the range to help test the patterns. Is this something you’d consider doing, particularly if sizing has been an issue for you in the past?
@GroovyGreyLook asked if there were consistent standards for testing across the industry and I doubt very much if there is. Designers will set their own criteria which will be hugely variable depending on their own experience I’d say. The ones who have long-term and industry experience will know what they’re doing (although their instruction writing may not be great) whilst newcomers who’ve done a short pattern cutting course for example won’t have encountered so many potential pitfalls yet.
To sum up, yes of course pattern testing should attract some sort of financial reward but the fact remains that the vast majority of designers could never ever manage to do this, they are simply too small. Many of us choose to test because it’s an enjoyable and constructive way to use our skills for the benefit of someone else. It can be frustrating at times because the quality of pattern can be hugely variable and pattern designers will also have the right to pick whomsoever they like to do the testing and if they don’t choose a broad enough pool of people then that’s up to them, there is a vast resource of knowledgable people available.
I must stress that these thoughts are mine and are responses to the comments that have been left on the Instagram posts. I think the question of pattern testing will continue to go around and around but if the discussion leads more of those who are able to pay, even a small amount, to start to do so then that will have been positive. It’s no use getting shouty at people who are working quietly away in a small room doing something they love and hope to share, that’s not helping and it’s tantamount to bullying too. By all means leave your responses so that it can be a discussion but if I feel they are rude or shouty I reserve the right to ignore or delete them.
Until next time,