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!