June 3, 2014

On pattern testing, indie reviews, and a constructive approach

So you may have seen a flurry of blog posts recently covering the topics of pattern testing, whether folks are, or should be, paid, the absence of negative reviews of indie pattern companies, and a whole bunch of other related points. (If you need to catch up, here are some of the main posts I’ve seen on the topic – most of the debate is in the comments: Michelle’s Flora review, subsequent post after BHL replied, Stephanie’s perspective (regarding knitting testing), Charlotte’s perspective, Oona’s perspective, Heather’s perspective).   
My overall thought is: isn’t it fantastic that we have all these amazing independent pattern companies and get cool modern patterns to make? And isn’t it even fantasticer that they’re fully plugged into the community that use their patterns and there’s a two-way feedback stream? That’s huge, folks! I haven’t been sewing long, but it’s clear that this was not always the case. 
That said, it’s really interesting to follow because it brings up lots of questions I’d never really thought about before, but are quite integral to the sewing blogosphere. It’s only recently that I started getting non-family-and-friends readers to Cashmerette, and even more recently that I jumped into the blog tour wagon with Colette and the pattern testing wagon with Sew Caroline, By Hand London and BlueGingerDoll (though sadly I missed that deadline!). It’s all been quite eye-opening, but I thought my experience might be interesting for folks who are hoping to get more involved in the sewing pattern blogosphere.
The various issues have been getting somewhat conflated, so I thought it might be helpful to parse them out, and provide some constructive suggestions. Of course, regarding all my comments, they’re just my personal experience and I may well be wrong about the experience of others or indeed everyone else… 
1. How do people get to be pattern testers, and are they paid?
In my case, I just asked! I have a personal mission to get more curvy women sewing and represented in the sewing blogosphere, and one obvious step was to get more pattern companies to expand their size range, to test with curvy women, and include curvy bloggers in blog tours and the like. The first effort, the Curvy Colette Tour was a great success! I set that up by simply emailing Sarai out of the blue. 
Since then, other pattern companies have responded positively to emails from me and the Curvy Sewing Collective asking them to include curvy testers, and others have reached out to me proactively. Now of course, there’s only so many testers a company needs, but if you think you’re a great fit for their style, why not just email them? Also, tip here: as soon as I put an email address on my blog, I started getting emails about opportunities. D’oh. Simple step, but worth doing. And for the pattern companies: it sounds like there would be a lot of interest in seeing patterns tested and reviewed at launch by a more diverse group of bloggers, so something worth considering.
Are pattern testers paid? No, at least not for indie companies. You get a free pattern (not insignificant!), and now there are some occasions starting where you also get free fabric. In most cases, the independent pattern “companies” are one woman shops with limited/no resources, and though there’s probably a time in a pattern company’s growth when it would be appropriate to start paying, for most bootstrapping start ups (in any industry) it’s definitely not uncommon to have free help to start with – personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. 
2. How are pattern testing and pattern reviewing related? 

This is interesting, because theoretically testing and reviewing are separate, but in fact they’re not in practice. In the majority of cases (it seems to me, anyway), testing leads to a finished object, which leads to a review post pretty soon after a pattern comes out. I’ve never seen a pattern company *require* a review to test, but in most cases it ends up happening, unless the garment is a disaster (of which more later). This is a bit tricky as sometimes you have comments on the pattern in testing that might be addressed by the time it’s launched – although patterns come at different stages of completion to testers, so this isn’t always the case. 
3. Are blogger reviews of independent patterns biased, and should it change? 

I think this is the most interesting part of the whole debate! It’s true that you don’t see nearly as many critical reviews of independent patterns as you do of the Big 4 (there are some, but they’re fairly rare). Now one possible reason could be that a many if not most of the patterns are just a lot better! There’s no doubt they’re much more RTW, and tend to have RTW-levels of ease, lots of help through sew-alongs and so on. 
But beyond that, there are also some basic social dynamics at play, I think. I’ve had some experience with this in my “real” life: there’s a tendency for people to feel easily able to criticize big “faceless” corporations (who’s the face of McCall’s Pattern Company?!) but much less able to criticize the products smaller corporations, particularly if they know who the owner is – and of course, even more so if they’re friends with him or her.
As a result, a lot of poor makes and critical reviews don’t get published, which is totally understandable at an individual level. However, I agree with some commenters that this isn’t always helpful – it’s hard to know whether you should buy a pattern if everyone with a similar style or body type to yours is strategically not commenting on it. 
So, what’s the solution? Well, based on all the things this has made me think about, my new approach is to comment on all the patterns I sew – whether they work out or not. It’s totally possible to give constructive criticism, and also to acknowledge where there might be issues of something not fitting your body shape, or your skill level, or indeed the pattern drafting. Expect to see more of that here. 
What other constructive suggestions do you have for addressing the issues that have been brought up by the recent discussions? The joy of being such a close-knit community is we can also make it better! 

51 thoughts on “On pattern testing, indie reviews, and a constructive approach

  1. As a knitter, I can see some of the issues here. A knitter who officially “tests” the pattern is generally paid, because the garment being made (with manufacturer or designer supplied yarn) is the one that will be photographed for the magazine or pattern copy and will become the property of either the designer or magazine (depending on who paid the test knitter). If the pattern doesn’t sell, the test knitter may end up making more money than the designer. Knitting a sweater takes time and is hard on the hands. Many designers decide that their time is better put into designing and the business side of things rather than physically knitting the actual sample.

    Also – the test knitter may end up being the person who actually writes the pattern, or at least is doing a complete proofreading of the instructions. The pattern is always knit exactly as written, with no alterations. The garment in the photos should be made from the pattern exactly as written. That is why the garment industry has fit models.

    I can see that some of the problems Michelle encountered were due to the BHL photographed and tested version not being made from the pattern as written (drafted is probably the better word for sewing). If someone is “testing” a pattern, it should involve a muslin being made from the pattern EXACTLY as written for the measurements closest to the sewer’s. Whether anyone but the designer sees that version is a different question.

    I’m a knitter of size looking to move towards designing and getting back into sewing to have clothes to wear with my sweaters. I’m in the Boston area too, hope our paths cross.

    1. gingermakes says:

      I’m not sure about that- I was a tester for the BHL Flora dress, and I made only one small change to the pattern for it to fit me (taking in the side seams a little just at the waist… which I actually shouldn’t have done as the fashion fabric I used had no give at all, unlike muslin). I’m pretty nearly a straight size according to the BHL size chart, but everyone’s bodies and the way their measurements are distributed are completely different. If you lined me up with 10 other people with my exact bust and waist measurements, I bet we’d all look really different and the same garment would fit us differently! I think all, or almost all, testers, start with a muslin of the pattern as written, unless they require an FBA/SBA or something all the time, and then make changes from there, as you suggest that they should. I know I never make changes to the pattern before the first muslin.

    2. Jenny says:

      This is interesting because I don’t think I’ve ever received guidance on whether alterations are ok or not for testing. For the pattern I’m testing now, my bust is 3 inches bigger than the largest size (the rest is fine), so there’s no point me making up a straight muslin as I know it won’t fit! I guess the real question is what is being tested: if it’s to check if the grading is correct, then you need fit models (or bloggers with the same measurements as fit models!). If however it’s for checking the pattern notches, instructions, general style etc then I guess it’s ok if folks are making adjustments. From the designer point of view the concerning thing would be if everyone was making the same adjustments or if the finished garment measurements were clearly not matching up to the suggested body measurements. Any pattern designers want to chime in?

    3. gingermakes says:

      I remember asking about that, and the designer (I forget who it was) asked me to sew it up however I would and to let her know of any changes I made as well as whether or not the changes were typical for me. That approach makes sense to me- if you have to add 2″ to the bodice length, it makes a big difference if that change is normal for you or not!

  2. I remember when I first started sewing and a) people would talk about independent sewing patterns, I’d Google the term, and basically come up with Colette, Oliver and S, and Hot Patterns, so the plurality issue is huge, b) there weren’t very many blogs, and I ended up adding every single person on Pattern Review or BurdaStyle who had a blog to my Google Reader. (Moment of silence for the Google Reader.) It’s so heartening to see the community grow, on both sides of the fence. Thanks for pointing that out. I almost forget, sometimes.

    1. Michelle says:

      I remember those days! There were those companies and then a bunch of “art to wear” indies. I, personally, am grateful that we have so much in the way of pattern selection now, even if a number of the new indies aren’t for me.

    2. Liz says:

      I’ve been following this blog for a while, but this is my first post. Just wanted to comment on the dearly departed Google Reader. I’ve been using Digg.com’s Reader functionality as a replacement. It’s been working quite well for me. My “Sewing and DIY Fashion” folder is growing rapidly!

  3. Jenny says:

    That’s really interesting perspective, thanks for sharing! Sounds like knitting is quite different from sewing in this regard – sewing is a lot faster (and potentially cheaper too) and the garment you make in testing doesn’t go back to the pattern company- the fact you have a new outfit to keep is part of the attraction of testing! interesting point on alterationsh: most sewists I know have to alter almost all their patterns, particularly in wovens, to get a good fit. So much so, I think it’s thought of as standard. Personally I could never test anything is I had to keep 100% to the measurements as my bust is always bigger! I wonder though if that gives a false impression? Transparency seems to be the key once again

  4. gingermakes says:

    I think reviews aren’t necessarily “biased”, but they’re always going to be a little skewed since our experiences with sewing patterns are so subjective. What I mean is that some pattern companies use blocks that work really well for some shapes, while others don’t. For example, you look so amazing in your Colette garments, but I generally avoid them because they’re drafted for a shape that’s too far from mine and I don’t really like tinkering with lots of changes/muslins.

    I think that as bloggers, we should be honest and constructive in our reviews and feedback, and I really think that people are. I know I don’t have a whole pile of unblogged projects that I hated but just aren’t telling people about. I tested one pattern that was kind of a trainwreck, and the pattern was never actually released. And the only pattern that I’ve abandoned and not finished because I hated it in the last year or two is a big 4 pattern. So when I say I liked a pattern, I liked it! I also think that I’m very forthcoming about what I didn’t like, got confused by, or would do differently. In those situations, I almost always get great suggestions from readers about an easier or better way to do something!

    Also- it’s funny you should mention McCall’s as a faceless company, as their new PR-type person is actually someone I know personally! They have a new, active presence on IG/Twitter, and just today in my blog perusals I noticed two posts that they commented on! The woman doing it is someone who was previously, involved with another well-known sewing company, and before that ran her own widely-read sewing blog. I wonder if it will change the way people post about McCall’s patterns if they realize that they know someone with the company! 🙂

    These are such interesting discussions! I really hope that we can all extend grace to each other and continue to discuss these things while shaping our community into the best one that it can be.

    1. Jenny says:

      Wow I’m jealous of your lack of UFOs!! As a plus sizer I don’t fit into many indie patterns and I have literally only once fit a pattern straight out (the Moneta). All others require ample modification and I have many many UFOs. I guess the negative review question is therefore more pertinent to folks like me who maybe have more negative experiences. Of course it’s made even harder by the body image issues – is there something up with this pattern or is my body just too far from the norm? It can be really difficult!

      All of this is clearly related to the other point about needing body diversity in pattern testers – something the CSC is trying to correct.

      Glad to hear McCalls is moving into social media – but I’m dying to know who it is!!!

    2. gingermakes says:

      I totally hear that. I’m so glad to see that companies are starting to draft for a wider range of sizes and use appropriate pattern blocks. You look cool as sh!t in your Moneta(s)! Also I probably have fewer UFOs because I’m only just now starting to wear more fitted clothing (weird body image issues regarding my boyish shape, man, wouldn’t it be nice if we could all really truly learn to love our bodies?). I’ve typically made things that are pretty loose fitting, so the fitting’s not as intense with those.

      I guess I can say who it is- it’s Meg, formerly of Mood. She ran the Shop the Garment District blog, and before that Lindsay T Sews. She was a major cheerleader and encourager to me when I was a new seamstress, before the Mood Sewing Network. I’m excited to see what she’ll bring to the McCall’s/Butterick/Vogue world!

  5. sweetalchemy says:

    I’ve been really interested in these conversations, and I appreciate your post. There are two general things I wanted to add after reading some of the comments. First, independent knitting designers–especially those just starting out–also rely heavily on free test knitters. There are multiple free testing groups on Ravelry where interested testers can volunteer and many designers have their own groups on Ravelry where they also post calls for test knitters. So it’s not just independent sewing pattern companies depending on free testers–you see the same trend towards free pattern testing and the same debate about whether or not it’s ethical/ideal among knitting designers as well.

    Second, there is an episode of the sewing podcast Thread Cult where Christine interviews Liesl Gibson from Oliver and S/Lisette patterns, and she has some interesting comments about how she manages testing her patterns. If I remember correctly, she pays her testers, but asks that they make specific sizes (which may not match their own or their children’s measurements), asks that they sew the pattern as is without alterations, and sometimes asks to keep the finished product for trunk shows, etc. I’m familiar with the way that free pattern testing dynamics typically work, so I thought it was really interesting to hear about how payment might change a number of expectations about the testing process. While it’s easy to imagine the cost of paying pattern testers, hearing about Gibson’s process also made me think more about some of the affordances that come with being a big enough company to pay for testing.

    Anyway–just two things that came to mind while I was reading. Thanks again for a thought-provoking post!

    1. Michelle says:

      I think your comment (and that podcast) emphasizes something that’s been alluded to in this thread–there are two aspects of pattern testing: 1. Testing pattern fit and 2. Testing the pattern instructions. I usually try to comment on both things in my reviews/posts.

      I do think it’s interesting that in the past few months there have been several Indie love/hate threads on Pattern Review and something that typically comes up is the expectations about fit and whether it’s fair to call a pattern “poorly drafted” if someone has to make more alterations than usual. (My answer is “no” because I think that part of the beauty of indies is the variation of the drafting blocks used by indie designers. )

  6. Michelle says:

    I did a volunteer pattern testing once, and the designer was primarily interested in the fit of my muslin off the size chart. This was for a pant pattern, and my waist and hip measurements fell into two different sizes, so that’s what I sewed. Unfortunately, the plus sized version of this pattern never got released because there were numerous fit issues with the pattern testers, but I will admit to getting a certain excitement about being one of the first people to see/try that new pattern.

    I did find interest in your comment about a review not being a requirement to be a pattern tester. I have seen calls for pattern testers that have specifically required the tester have a blog–one, I think, did actually require an agreement to blog about the pattern to be selected as a tester. To me, that’s when the line starts becoming blurred between “pattern tester” and “free marketing.”

    1. Jenny says:

      That’s interesting on the blogging requirement – just goes to show that there is a lot of variation in what’s going on at the moment!

  7. Sew Savory says:

    I have nothing to add to the discussion other than to thank everyone for their considered comments. Thought provoking and fascinating, I’ll continue to ponder the subject for some time to come.

  8. LeahR says:

    Great discussion. I am curious. Is there a list or directory for the indie pattern designers? I follow many of their blogs, but it still seems I do not know about many of them. As a plus size curvy sewist myself, I would love to find more.

    1. Jenny says:

      Hi Leah – so there’s a couple of sources:
      – I did a post on pattern sizes, which highlights which pattern companies make plus sizes (and the precise sizes/measurements) , and includes a whole bunch of pattern companies including an additional list at the end of the post: http://cashmerette.blogspot.com/2014/03/one-stop-guide-to-sewing-pattern-sizes.html
      – Diary of a Chain Stitcher has a great regular update of new patterns and pattern companies: http://chainstitcher.blogspot.com/2014/05/may-indie-pattern-update.html
      and a really long directory: http://chainstitcher.blogspot.com/p/indie-pattern-designers.html

    2. LeahR says:

      Thanks Jenny!

  9. ginaweaver says:

    I think this discussion is really interesting. I got into sewing only in the last couple of years and first came by way of sewing children’s clothing. Earlyish on, I saw a lot of good reviews of a popular children’s designer and purchased a book of patterns. I enjoyed the first several (clothing) patterns I tried from it, and then when I needed some Christmas gifts, I decided to use an activity-bag pattern in the book, which NUMEROUS bloggers had positively reviewed–it was the most popular pattern made on the blog tour for the book. You can imagine my frustration when I made my first one of the two I had planned, and it wouldn’t work at all using the dimensions and directions–they were numerous major errors, and the bag wouldn’t close at all using the given information. This was an expensive project too, and there was no going back once clasps were put on. I was so aggravated. I understand that people only want to put positive information out there about indie designers, but it does no one a service when people don’t note the outright flaws with a product or pattern they give a positive review for. The cynical part of me thinks it also has to do with some of those bloggers’ desires to continue to be asked to pattern test/blog tour. :/

    I honestly had no idea that people would fudge their experiences or avoid giving specifics when they do a pattern test post/review just because it’s an indie company. As someone who wants to support indie companies but also wants to spend my money on designs that will most easily be fitted to my body (by checking out reviews/posts by bloggers who have similar shapes), I really want to be able to trust bloggers’ for HONEST reviews.

    1. Jenny says:

      Hi Gina – I think you’re not the only person to have had that experience, and it’s probably one of the things that kicked off these discussions in the first place! There’s no doubting it makes one feel special to be “included” in the select group that get asked to pattern test, and reciprocity makes it harder than otherwise to criticize. However, it isn’t impossible! So I think we all just need to make the effort to check that we’re being totally transparent – and turn down opportunities if they’re not right for us.

    2. ginaweaver says:

      After hopping over to read the post that spawned all of this discussion, I wanted to clarify that I absolutely believe that testers are open and honest in their testing critiques to the designers, and that the designers utilize that feedback in tweaking the pattern. My beef is with the amateur, semi-pro, and pro-bloggers who do a pattern-test reveal/review post and don’t honestly discuss any issues they might have had. I think this is likely even more the case where bloggers aren’t actually testing, but just given a final pattern for free in exchange for being part of a blog hop promo for a new pattern or bundle.

  10. L says:

    Thank you for starting this discussion. I am not new to sewing or pattern reviewing, but I have wondered about pattern testing. I am still learning and am still forming an opinion. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Nakisha says:

    I started sewing last January. I commented (not criticized, not bashed) on the bland-ness of a couple of Indie pattern releases and got blasted. Seriously blasted. I slowly but surely got the impression that you DO NOT speak ‘badly’ about Indie patterns.

    In my most recent experience, I sewed the Lady Skater for my daughter. I was happily putting the pattern together and hit around page 11-12 and all heck broke lose. The pattern pages just weren’t fitting together correctly. I seriously read every blog and review I could find to see if it was just me. I found ONE blogger that said it was an issue and then later said it was a printing issue. I hadn’t printed the pattern myself, someone else did, so I couldn’t say one way or another. However, after mentioning it, I had like 5 people say they had the same experience. But it seems NO ONE talks about any issues they have with Indie patterns.

    I’m a Big 4/Burda (lately) sewer. I’ve sewn some Indie patterns but I guess my aesthetic is such that I don’t see a ton of Indies that I must have and some that I do like are outside of my size range and I don’t like them enough to pay that kind of money and have to grade up. So I mostly don’t bother.

    Love the discussion though. It’s always a good thing.

    1. Jenny says:

      Ugh, that’s so unfortunate that you got that reaction! I think the general absence of criticism means that folks may sometimes over-react when it does occur. I think a lot of people also think “but it’s so great that they exist, so we shouldn’t do anything to threaten that!” – when of course, constructive criticism will just help things get better. Hopefully by everyone being more cognizant of the issue, the culture can change a little in this area.

    2. Michelle says:

      I think that part of it, if you’re happy with the final garment, is that you “forget” some of the little annoyances that you encountered along the way. I know that I’ve done that. (With my Lekala wadder, I had a HECK of a time lining up/taping the pieces together, but I forgot to mention that with all of the other issues I had with the pattern.) I’m trying to get better about noting things like this by starting blog draft posts and making notes during the construction process.

      That said, I’d like to give a positive shout out to Oliver + S and Blank Slate patterns–both indie kids’ pattern companies. Every PDF I’ve used from these companies has lined up BEAUTIFULLY for taping, and they’re well-marked for easy taping. Women’s pattern designers, take note. 😉

    3. Nakisha says:

      Totally agree Jenny!

      Good point Michelle. I do make notes in my phone about a project (deleted once it’s blogged) so I can note the little things not only for readers but for myself! My blog has come to my rescue more times than I can count.

      CONCUR on Oliver & S. I don’t make many kids patterns but I agree that the one I did make went together crazy smooth. Same with Deepika’s Winter Street Dress. I was amazed that not one single line was off. Not one.

      Details really ‘make or break’ it!

  12. gMarie says:

    Oh this has really made me question if I have been transparent with any issues that I’ve had. I know I had issues with the Lady Skater lining up when I put the pattern together and I instagramed a photo of it – not sure if I mentioned it when I blogged about the first dress or not.

    I would like to think I did a fair job with the new BGD patterns – a straight 24 in muslin fit my hips, but not my waist. I really need to figure out how to get instagram photos to my blog. This is a very interesting topic. I recall Debbie Cook doing a series of posts on issues she had with a cake pattern and getting blasted. not good.

    Thank you Jenny, for this conversation and for starting the Curvy Sewing Collective. Slowly – I’m working through my own body issues and getting more and more comfortable. g

    1. Jenny says:

      Wow I just googled the Debbie Cook / Cake debacle – what a train wreck! That’s like textbook bad customer service. The patterns aren’t really my style but I certainly wouldn’t consider buying them now after that! Hopefully the owner learned a few lessons …

    2. Debbie Cook says:

      Yeah, it was a train wreck. That kind of reaction won’t put me off from continuing to share my opinions (and remember, they ARE but one blogger’s opinions after all … not gospel), but I can definitely see why others with skin not as thick as mine wouldn’t want to dip a toe into that pool … and thus we probably end up with more non-critical reviews as a result, which really doesn’t help the customer. I know I got some backlash from not exiting the “conversation” quietly and instead re-posting Cake’s comments after she had deleted them, but I stand by my belief that it’s important the whole story remains.

      I also want to note that I *have* done many honest reviews over the years, both indies and non-indies, and except for the train wreck incident, all have been received in the spirit intended — full disclosure. My intent is to help the sewing community. That is all.

    3. fourkid says:

      [QUOTE] ” .. Hopefully the owner learned a few lessons ….”
      [REPLY] It is hoped so, but the jury is still out on that one.
      I love a good honest review, warts and all – how else can we learn. There is no perfect pattern and no perfect body – we need to know the pitfalls and how to fix them. I am always inspired at how someone manages fixes for the bumps and bulges they face.

    4. Jenny says:

      Thanks for sharing your perspective Debbie! I think it was terrific that you stood your ground. As my Mum says (maybe it’s a British thing… it’s a bit dark!) “give someone enough rope and they’ll hang themselves…”

  13. Thank you so much for posting those links above. I was beginning to think the sun rose and set on indie sewing pattern creators!

  14. Janet says:

    Thank you for the conversation. Fit and body image are related. So those body types that are not “fashion figures” may be less likely to criticize the fit of a pattern. Fit is subjective. I have had a few wadders with indie patterns because I wanted to hop on the band wagon. I think it is so interesting, sometimes it seems bloggers are sewing all the same garments in sewing blog land. I recognize that showing new patterns made up is a great topic, but doesn’t it then become a mirror image of ready to wear? Ready to wear conformity is something I was trying to avoid. That being said, I love being part of the community and particularly appreciate the curvy blogs!

    1. Jenny says:

      Some great food for thought there Janet! Even more than being slim, I think just being the “standard” measurements helps a lot – if you have to do a major FBA on a small size, I’m sure it’s still tricky. Funny what you say about everyone making the same stuff – I’m sure that partly reflects the relatively few number of cool patterns, but I totally have experienced it – I went to a sewing store in Seattle with a friend and immediately it was “Oh I love your Sorbetto!” “is that the Staple dress? It’s great!” and my friend was like WTF how do you know what each other is wearing?! 😀

    2. I think if you tend to read blogs that are all in the “same circle,” I’m refraining from calling them the popular blogs because I personally dislike that term, you may see a lot of the same pattern. I know that we as sewists tend to read the bloggers that appeal to our aesthetic, but if we step outside our comfort zone and read a variety of sewing bloggers in skill, size, type of clothing they sew, we may all be more inspired as sewists.

      I don’t sew a lot of indie patterns because they don’t fit my lifestyle. I’m also not much interested in being a pattern tester because I like the freedom of taking a pattern and doing whatever the hell I want with it. However, I understand why pattern testers are needed and how they help a new indie designer to get their foot in the door.

      As with all things, if there is transparency, there are no questions, blog posts and backlash…and if you are going to offer a new pattern to the sewing community, good customer service and taking the good comments with the bad comments will help you grow your company.

      Though I must acknowledge here that lately I’ve gone the way of speak no evil. If I think an indie pattern is a waste of time, I keep that opinion off my blog because I’m acutely aware of the fact that I could be cutting off an indie companies income. I’d much rather see as many people succeed as possible AND I vote with my dollars.

      This is a great conversation though…

  15. Jne4sl says:

    I’ve been enjoying this discussion to the point of distraction really. The feeling I have is the problem isn’t whether it’s paid work or not but what is testing and what is reviewing. It seems some things which are called testing are really receiving an advanced copy of the production pattern just before release. Yes, this does require sewing up a version, but is this testing or just reviewing? To me, it’s really just participation in the pattern launch. That’s all fine, I’m happy to see the quick response to new patterns and I don’t mind that some receive free copies. But when people call themselves testers they seem to feel an extra loyalty to the pattern company. I’m all for people being supportive and keeping things positive. But if you receive the final version of the pattern which is not going to be revised, I’d prefer an honest review warts and all. When people call themselves testers at that point in the game, I think they’re basically just declaring loyalty to the pattern company. I don’t know I’m not a blogger so I haven’t had to wade through this stuff.

    1. I agree with this point – at what point is the line drawn between testing and just reviewing? My understanding is a test garment should be a muslin – serviceable, off the pattern and certainly not swish enough to be posted as a review alone. It’s a rough draft. Would an editor of a book allow a review of an unfinished work? I guess it comes down to the expectation of the designer – as in ‘I want an unpretty but practical version of my design, mistakes included if they are there, objective comments and all versions of feedback. Period.” Or “make this up as you wish, and blog about it whenever you want.” You truly rarely ever see pattern testers original gsrments being blogged about, do you? Usually it’s version 2+ I commented on Heathers post that I suspect the reason most reviews are positive is that not many people want to publicly criticise a pattern in development – that’s for the designers eyes only, but when the design is a success they want to share that. And I think that’s commendable.

    2. Jenny says:

      I think in quite a lot of cases (I know many others apart from me), the test garment actually comes out as a wearable finished object – or at least, a wearable muslin. I know for myself, I often make a muslin of parts of the garment *first* to check for fit, then make up the pattern in my “final” fabric. The majority of the time, there actually isn’t anything significantly wrong with the pattern – the feedback is more about notches, typos, construction steps etc – so the garment looks good!

    3. Jne4sl says:

      I think this is all correct if the person is truly a pattern tester, i.e. thoroughly reviewing the pattern before release and at a point when changes big or small could be incorporated into the final product. In that case I’d expect a nondisclosure agreement of some form even if informal and I’d have no expectation that the blogger explain blow by blow what they’d seen. But, how much of testing is truly testing and how much is really just the marketing rollout? Why would a dozen testers of relatively similar build and sewing ability be required to catch typos and missed notches? When they’re all popular bloggers it makes sense. It makes perfect sense to me that bloggers are given promo patterns ahead of a launch, I don’t mind that, but why call them testers? I think they are either independent reviewers or they are promoters. If they want to be seen as reviewers they should try to keep some separation between themselves and the pattern company’s interests. I don’t think anyone wants to call themselves a promoter but in some cases tester is just a euphemism for that because saying tester implies some sort of working relationship with the company. I’m not saying this is all cases but seems to be happening more and more. And in the case of the pattern which started this controversy it feels that way to me. Not having seen the pattern I couldn’t say one way or another if it’s good but re-reading the tester reviews today in one sitting I think they do mostly ring pretty hollow. There is a link round up at the bottom of this post: http://chainstitcher.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/pattern-testing-flora-dress-from-by.html

  16. Jenny, thanks for the thoughtful comments. I sew (do not blog) from both Indie and Big 4 and although I have less fails now, I have fails in both camps. Frequently it is because I have not taken the time to make certain I made the alterations necessary FOR MY BODY. I sew because I love it, not because I have to, and I’ve learned who designs for which bodies. I see this discussion as an inevitable one given the rise of bloggers, sewists, and indie designers. Of course this conversation was going to happen. It’s great that it has because ultimately all of the indie companies will be strengthened by their responses to this, and bloggers will also think carefully about their responses to indie patterns. Case in point: I made the Mabel for my 19 year old daughter. It was insanely great on her. I made it for myself, and it wasn’t right for my 64 year old body. NOT THE FAULT OF THE PATTERN. If I blogged I would make that point . And I think most sewing bloggers do exactly that.

  17. This is such an interesting debate that I am just following around this evening. I really love your constructive post.

    I’ve only tested once, for Christine Haynes Emery Dress, and I loved both the pattern and working with Christine. I ran into a few bumps here and there in testing, but in many cases Christine had already emailed that she was fixing them as we reported it. Some of it even came out later in her sew along posts. For example, I totally didn’t understand the instruction for a ‘scant 5/8″‘ on the pockets, and asked if maybe she meant a smaller measurement. Apparently other testers were confused, too, so she called it out in the sew along and explained what it meant.

    So I didn’t post any criticisms in my review because I knew I was sewing a beta, and I assumed that those things would be fixed in the final pattern. I think one of the things we all love about indie patterns is the great customer service, so I just figured it carried over to incorporating my feedback. Thankfully in the case of Christine, she totally delivered. Have you found the same to be true?

  18. Heather Lou says:

    Great post! Lovely to see such a smart, measured read on it! I’ve been feeling a little emotional about it lately (could be PMS, who knows) but ist probably because I just think everyone is so great and smart and the responses I’ve been getting have made me feel really good about the career choice I’m making. Regarding Debbie Cook being “blasted” – it certainly wasn’t be her readers. Unfortunately the designer in question didn’t keep in mind that the internet is FOREVER and sewing bloggers have very long memories. That was a very big “What not to do” lesson for me.

    1. Jenny says:

      Thanks Heather! Unsurprisingly it’s a super emotional issue – especially for the indie pattern makers who are trying their best to make everyone happy! I think what’s come out of this whole shebang is a lot of love for the indies, and a bit more honesty from lots of sewists about what’s important to them – transparency, a more diverse group of people involved in testing and reviewing, and so on. I hope that it will help change things for the better!

  19. Ah, a discussion! Always nice. 🙂 I do get the sense that indie patterns are treated with kid gloves, but on certain blogs (like Nakisha’s) you can get the real deal about them, and the big four/Burda, too. Honesty is important, and being truthful is being helpful.

  20. blog1 says:

    I too think this conversation is great, and I thank you for your fantastic summary of all of the issues here.

    I’m on the fence about indie designers using a broader range of body types when testing patterns. I think it really depends. For instance, Sewaholic is quite up-front about designing patterns for pear-shaped bodies. I’m not remotely pear-shaped, and I respect her choice and expect that when I use her patterns, I will have to alter them more than usual. No big deal, and not her fault, and if she wants to use pear-shaped testers at different sizes, that’s a-ok by me. Some indie designers quite obviously design for waifs, and I think that’s fine too–if they say so. It’s when they claim that their style doesn’t have a particular body-type in mind that it gets into that grey area. If you want to claim that your patterns suit a range of body types–or want to be able to get a larger-market share by implying it, either explicitly or by omission–then yes, you need a range of testers in a range of body styles and sizes. And they have to be free to criticize what doesn’t work and talk explicitly about whatever modifications they need to make.

    I know that I don’t have the time or money to make more than one muslin for any pattern, so if it’s going to take more than one muslin to get it to fit, for me, it’s a failure.

    1. Jenny says:

      I think the interesting thing is the brands who go up into large sizes, but then they’re never tested or really reviewed in those sizes (or rarely). However I know several companies are trying to work on this, so all credit to tehm!

    2. blog1 says:

      There is absolutely room for improvement. Particularly when you’re part of a market segment that is both very large and usually ignored–and sometimes stigmatized–the demand for testing patterns appropriately and honestly is well deserved.

      But in my own life, my biggest example is my daughter, who due to health issues has some real fitting challenges. Basically, her bones grow very slowly but her organs grow normally so she has a large stomach on a small body. I don’t feel I can fairly ask any pattern company to make children’s clothing patterns in what would essentially be a maternity style. So–everything, RTW or DIY, gets altered, and this definitely has affected my expectations.

    3. Jenny – I think that is the most awesome thing about the Curvy Collective because it is a segment of the sewing population that has been basically ignored by the new indie designers that’s rearing it’s collective heads and in one voice saying “please don’t ignore us anymore!” There is strength in numbers but thank you for gathering us under one umbrella.

  21. Another issue is when a blogger might call out an issue with an indie pattern sometimes the resulting comments can be really negative so mybe they were wanting more of a marketing post as less a honest assessment of the pattern.

Let me know what you think!