The Ideal Tester
Just what do pattern testers do? They go through a pattern, follow it step-by-step exactly, from start to finish. They gather materials and use the pattern as an end-consumer would, and create a finished product from the pattern. They give detailed feedback as to how the pattern could be improved. They identify what instructions could be clarified or what illustrations or photos could be added to make a step more easily understood. They pick out typos, incorrect measurements, undefined abbreviations, font size, structure, and inconsistencies in information.
For Sara Lawson of Sew Sweetness, her testers also provide clear images of their finished product for use in social media or blog posts. Because not everybody has the same taste in fabric as she does, she finds that having them test in their own choice of fabric allows potential customers to imagine the design in a variety ways. Conversely, other designers have their pattern testers use fabric and take photos that are consistent with their brand image.
February Minikin pattern by Sara Lawson, Sew Sweetness
Photo courtesy of Sara Lawson
Range Back Pack by Anna Graham, Noodlehead
Photo courtesy of Anna Graham
Pattern testing is not for the faint of heart; it is work. It’s important to have a group of testers that are committed to making your product better, not just run away with a freebie pattern or simply give you a thumbs up. These are people that you trust to complete the tasks in a timely manner, people that are not afraid to be honest with every little detail, and people who care about your reputation as a pattern designer. Turning to your local guild, as well as trusted colleagues online will help you have a successful and smooth testing process.
Anna Graham, designer of Noodlehead bags, accessories, and home accessories, and author of Handmade Style, asks existing customers that have enjoyed her designs to test future patterns for her. She can see their level of craftsmanship and ability to convey her design and from there, she has built a group of trusted testers that she can turn to for future projects. Having a pool of testers to turn to, rather than just a faithful handful, provides an ability to work their availability around your timeline.
Testers’ level of skill is also a consideration.
“I’ve used testers with a variety of experience levels to ensure I wasn’t assuming too much prior knowledge with my instructions.”
— Shea Henderson of Empty Bobbin Studio and author of School of Sewing.
Making sure that each size of the pattern is tested will determine the minimum number of testers per pattern. Going beyond this number is ideal. Sara advises to use as many as you can manage: “The more feedback, the better,” she says. Different sets of eyes catch different things — verbal instructions, visual directions, language details, overall cohesiveness, and structure.
Crimson and Clover Train Cases by Sara Lawson, Sew Sweetness
Photo courtesy of Sara Lawson
Clarity of communication between the designer and testers is key. As with any type of team management, expectations need to be clear — what kind of finished product, feedback and/or photography is desired in what timeframe. Methods of communication can include email, closed Facebook groups, phone calls, and in-person sessions.
Closed Facebook groups allow for the designer to put out a general call to their testers to gauge interest and availability. The pattern file can be posted there for easy access. Questions can be asked there and answers viewed in one place. Although the exchange during the testing process can be beneficial, it does not mimic the end user experience. Your customer will not ultimately have the same Facebook group available to them, so it is important to address the questions that come up directly in the final pattern.
Wayward Transparency Quilt by Yvonne Fuchs, Quilting Jet Girl
Photo courtesy of Yvonne Fuchs
When a tester receives a set of questions to accompany the pattern, they can focus their feedback as they move through the pattern. A survey of questions, whether through email or through an online platform like Survey Monkey, will guide them through. Yvonne Fuchs of Quilting Jet Girl asks for specific feedback on new things she’s trying in a particular pattern: “I formulate questions about how well that set of instructions read.” Pointing to specific sections will bring attention to something that can be tricky for the end user. No error is too minor for testers to address; they can comment on a typo, a line that is too light, text size, and font.
Yvonne also wants to know how much fabric they had leftover and if it was too much or too little. Some other questions to consider are how long the pattern took them to execute and how much they would be willing to pay for the pattern as a consumer. Asking them how your pattern differs from other patterns they’ve encountered can also help you differentiate the value that it will bring to a future customer.
In an ideal world, testers would be compensated appropriately for both their materials and their hours of time. But the question of compensating testers in the sewing industry has no clear answer. Some pattern designers will pay for the fabric for the test and long-arm services to complete a quilt pattern; some will provide their testers with fabric or gift cards for fabric shops; others will provide hardware for bags and discounts in their own supply shop. More often than not, testers are extremely generous with their time and efforts, so a token of appreciation at minimum should be a standard practice. Crediting testers in the final pattern and/or on social media is another way of showing appreciation.
Be your own tester
The most important advice to pattern designers is to be your own first tester. Write the pattern first and work from it yourself. Make notes as you go along, revise your pattern, and then send it out for testing. “Then your testers are really getting a pattern that has already been mostly field tested,” says Henderson. Testing is an essential part of the pattern design process, maybe even the most important. An enjoyable sewing experience will create repeat customers and their word-of-mouth recommendations will be invaluable to your business.
Andrea Tsang Jackson
Andrea is an artist, designer and quilter based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Quilting has become the medium through which she can explore her interests in material, geometry, and place. Her background in architecture has allowed her to understand the design process from a variety of approaches. As an educator, she wants to inspire others to reach their own creative potential and to see themselves as designers of their own lives. Although her favourite colours to wear and design with are neutral, she loves to play with colour in her 3rd Story Workshop. You can find her at www.3rdstoryworkshop.com.