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,
19 thoughts on “Pattern testing-a few thoughts on the subject.”
Another GREAT post, again right up my alley! I test for 3 pattern companies, none pay. I’m fine with that and I choose patterns that please me and suit me. I end up with a nice pattern, and often a few garments, too. I also still teach, and mentor, so involuntarily sometimes offer suggestions to my fellow testers. I’m retired, have time, and LOVE to sew and be challenged. For me, it’s a win, win.
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Thank you Yvonne, I was a little nervous of posting this one but I felt there were things that needed to be said. I accept that testing isn’t for everyone but lplease don’t make those of us that do it willingly feel bad.
There is a difference between pattern companies who cannot and those who choose not to pay. We really should not accept volunteering for the latter or we devalue ourselves and the industry. Once a company is established and has a reliable income from their pattern sales, they should adjust their budget to include paying testers.
Also, I think voluntary pattern testing for a business is very different than volunteering for a charity.
Just my 2 cents …
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You’re absolutely right that the larger pattern companies should be paying even a modest amount by now. As I said, I know of one in the UK because I tested for them, there may be others though. I tested for a larger overseas company a couple of years ago who gave a final PDF copy of the pattern plus one other from their range but no payment, I haven’t been asked to test since but I would have thought by now they really should be offering even a nominal amount to cover fabrics. Making a gesture would at least be a start. I hope larger pattern companies might read this (but I doubt it) personally I’m happy to continue helping one-woman-bands if I can because they don’t really have another option but if I’m approached by larger companies I might get bold and ask why they still don’t pay!
There are now so many indie designers that it has made me very picky as to which patterns I buy whilst I used to purchase most of the new releases. Like most of us I have my favourite designers and they tend to include the ones who show their designs being worn by someone similar to me, ie, with a bit of grey hair and probably a spare tyre too. I don’t choose designs which are only modelled by the petite and youthful . If a designer wants to sell their patterns to a wide group of ages, shapes and sizes then they need to show them being worn by all of us and not a select group. I don’t have time to be a pattern tester, paid or otherwise.
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Thank you Fiona, pattern testing isn’t for everyone (although it should be a vital part of producing good patterns) You’re so right about choosing patterns which have been modelled by women similar to ourselves, I don’t know in which universe designers think anyone wants to look like a bored teenager-smile for goodness sake!! There’s no need for dress patterns to follow the dreadful fashion industry norm of super-tall crazy-skinny women so why do some companies (not all to be fair) perpetuate this? If we the customer keep on at them maybe things will eventually change? we can only hope…
Interesting post Susan. Personally I choose not to test because I don’t enjoy it and often resent giving my time to sew something in a tight time frame and maybe something I didn’t actually want to make. I would much rather just wait and buy the pattern when I am ready. It’s not the pattern testing I object too. If you have the time and inclination to do it, you should. But I know when I did pattern test for one company there was no obligation to sew a finished final garment. That particular company didn’t want you to make a finished garment so they could share your images on social media. Again, I can see this working both ways for both parties involved, but I don’t think true pattern testing should pressurise people to make finished garments so the designer can use the images for free on their social media or websites. That seems a little unfair, especially if people are not compensated for time and fabric used. It is a contentious subject for sure!
Thank you Manju, you make an interesting point about not making a complete garment, I’ve not come across this so far.
I think this is a subject that will run and run.
Thanks for some insight into the pattern testing world. I have never done this, not have I been asked to. Years ago I tested cooking recipes for a magazine, but I stopped after a few test recipes because the dishes either did not appeal to me, or I did not want to go through the time and expense for something that might not be very good. It’s nice of you to donate your time.
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I only test for Cashmerette Patterns and I only test the patterns I would wear in real life. When she called for testers amongst her group for the swimsuit or the jeans, I bowed out. I also appreciate the fact that Jenny listens to the feedback and incorporates the changes into the finished pattern. Finally while we’re not paid, every once in awhile we receive gifts of fabric and/or patterns for appreciation for testing besides the standard pattern when the garment is put out to the public.
I test for no one else because I’m selfish with my sewing time. I was one of the original sewists who sewed for Mood and I won’t do that again. Even though there was a free fabric allowance, free fabric only goes so far…especially when I can afford to purchase my own. So while I semi-quasi sew for another fabric company, it’s totally on my terms.
As for the “privileged” comment, can some of that be based upon when all of this testing and free fabric giveaways seemed to be done by a specific group of people. Some people did take objection to the fact that it seemed like the same people were testing and getting the free fabric…though these days there are so many more indie pattern companies that do general call outs AND fabric companies that try to get a deeper selection of sewists to sew for them that I think that “privileged” circle doesn’t exist anymore.
Great post Susan!
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Thank you Carolyn, I’m glad to hear from someone else what their past experience has been as I pretty much only have my own to go on. I do remember thinking 2 or 3 years ago that it always seemed to be the same people doing the ‘testing’ (not even sure how rigorous that was!) but there seems to be a much wider selection popping up now, although maybe that’s because there are so many more pattern companies that ask for help. I think from now on I shall consider only testing for people I’ve actually met because if they then ask me directly to help I’ll feel more of a connection and want to help them. Like you, my sewing time is precious and I want to know it’s appreciated by those I share it with.
I fail to understand how one commentator thought pattern testing means you are privileged. We are the privileged ones by having access to your blog and the enormous amount of knowledge you share with us. Thank you. Sewing the unknown and then commenting it can be hard work.
As for payment I think that is a very individual thing between the sewer and the company, after all a sewer might get the opportunity to make things they wouldn’t normally consider. It’s the lack of acknowledgement and age discrimination by some companies which is shameful.
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Thank you for your kind words Elizabeth.
This is the first time I’ve read your blog. I really enjoyed this article. Good points raised. Look forward to going back and reading your previous articles. Thanks for taking the time to write this. Ann
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I have never understood why pattern testers cannot be compensated by some pattern designers. I find the whole process to be so exploitative and unethical. If you are selling digital goods, there is no loss in offering one or two digital patterns as compensation to your testers. Lifetime discounts or a discount that expires after a few months are another option. Maybe the designer could take the time to offer a technique video for something complicated like fitting exclusively for testers? There are so many options. No matter how small your operation you can manage to compensate people for their work. Also, it is even compounded when, as you describe, people get left off the promotional photos because they aren’t the standard of young and petite. I wish people would name and shame these companies with these poor practices. With all the pattern companies out there I would much prefer to give my money to ethical ones who value other women’s time and resources.
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Hi Kerri, thank you for your response. In my experience (which is fairly limited admittedly) most companies will give you a final copy of the pattern as a PDF, where practical some will give a paper copy if they produce them. What most don’t do if offer any cash payment for the time and fabric used. Some people object to this more than anything I think but as I said in the post, no one makes us do this in the first place if we don’t want to.
Thank you Susan for another thought provoking post. I have just tested once and the pattern company was lovely ( I received free fabric, the pattern & they put me in their blog post so now know I was unusually lucky) However, the turn around time was crazy ( a about a week ) & it was too time consuming for me so hats off to all you testers ! I often think one reason testers aren’t paid by the bigger companies is because RTW clothing is so ridiculously cheap,( largely due to not paying a living wage for construction) Most people just don’t think about the repercussions of that mindset. . As the ‘over 50’ community recalls, this was not the case before widespread globalisation. Ideally pattern designers who can afford to do so would pay testers & use the cost as a platform to bring awareness to this exploited sector of the garment industry. It really seems to be ‘off the agenda’ lately (& sorry, I do know it’s a separate issue, I just couldn’t resist).
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Hi Sheila, thank you for replying, it does sound like you had a positive experience (they aren’t always bad!) so that’s good. I haven’t tested for quite a while now and I don’t really plan to unless someone comes up with a tempting offer! I do however make photographic samples from time to time which is more enjoyable and that pays a fair price as well😊