Earlier this year on the Love to Sew Podcast (co-hosted by Caroline and myself from Blackbird Fabrics), we had the lovely Meg from Cookin’ and Craftin’ on the show to talk all about pattern testing. The idea for this episode stemmed from a blog post from Gillian over at Crafting a Rainbow which was all about the current state of pattern testing and pattern testing compensation. I won’t go into all the details because it is all outlined so well in her post, you should check it out!
We had a great chat with Meg about her experience testing and she said something that really hit home for me. Check out the clip below.
It got me thinking about my journey to where we are today with Helen’s Closet Patterns. When I first started making patterns I could never have been able to afford to pay each tester for their materials and time. Not only that, but I could never have been able to release such high-quality patterns without the amazing help of my friends and peers in the industry and the sewing community! It is truly humbling to get help like that from people you admire and look up to. To ask for assistance to make your dreams a reality and have people volunteer time and resources to lift you up. I have made so many friends through my pattern testing groups and learned SO MUCH. Each pattern is better because of the efforts of those volunteers.
Over the years I have also volunteered my time to pattern test for other designers. I like to pay it forward and I really love the accountability, the challenge, the community, and the chance to show my work to a wider audience. I understand all the benefits of testing and I have tried to make my tester groups a fun place where people really want to be. A place where people feel their observations and critiques are welcomed and taken seriously.
Since Gillian’s blog post and our interview with Meg I have been thinking A LOT. I have been reading all the comments on the Love to Sew social media and the conversation online and I have noticed some themes:
- Tester volunteers often use their own materials and pay for printing in order to participate in testing. It is a significant upfront cost that feels unfair considering the pattern is for-profit and they do not know if it will end up being a garment that they will wear and enjoy.
- Tester volunteers are often not compensated monetarily and the only payment they receive is a copy of the final pattern (sometimes additional patterns or perks are provided).
- Tester volunteers often feel their feedback is not valued and issues that arise in testing are not addressed in the final pattern design.
- Tester volunteers can feel pressure to promote patterns after the launch by sharing on social media or other platforms.
As I mentioned above, there are benefits to pattern testing, such as interacting with a small community of sewists, encouragement to try a new style, increased accountability, and even social media exposure. I know lots of people who like to pattern test just to help out friends and designers they believe in, and that is awesome.
I have been incredibly privileged to have so many amazing tester volunteers over the years and I have done my best to do right by them and respect their time and efforts. If you have tested for me in the past, THANK YOU! You are a part of this small business journey and my ability to continue creating blog posts, podcasts, and patterns to share. You have helped me spread my love of sewing!
Looking at the current status quo and the themes present in the conversations this past month, I need to make a change. I always try to follow my gut and go with what feels right, so read on to find out where we are headed!
Moving from “Pattern Testing” to “Quality Assurance”
We are implementing a new pattern development phase to replace ‘pattern testing’ as we have been doing it thus far. Why re-name the process? When making a change like this, it helps to give it a new name to mark the change and make it feel significant – and it is.
Quality Assurance (QA) will happen after the pattern has been developed, professionally edited, and tested internally. The pattern will be ready for sale but the QA phase will catch any unknown pattern issues or mistakes in the pattern instructions.
We will have a team of QA sewists who will print, sew, and provide feedback on the pattern. They will be paid for their time and the materials and print costs will be covered. Payment for each project will be determined by the fabric & notions required and the time it should take to complete it.
Payment example: QA for a t-shirt pattern (in Canadian Dollars)
- 1.5 meters of jersey fabric and thread: $20
- Cost to print the PDF pattern: $10
- 2 hours to cut and sew the pattern @ $15/hour: $30
- 1 hour to provide feedback @ $15/hour: $15
- Total payment: $75 CAD
- Bonus: Access to the final pattern & you keep the clothes!
Compensation for fabric and time to complete the project will vary depending on the pattern (there will be more time for more complex designs). The payment will be a fixed amount for each project. The fabric and notions need to be acquired by each QA team member themselves. We are paying what we can at this time and hope to increase the hourly rate as our business continues to grow.
We will be assembling a QA team that represents our size range (0-30 US). Team members will have 1 week to complete their projects and be given enough notice to gather the materials and get the pattern printed.
We will be expecting our QA team members to be very exact with their sewing and follow the instruction booklets to the letter. We want to ensure we catch any errors in the pattern and each sample created is exactly as the pattern instructs. QA team members will take clear photos of the final garment for internal use and fill out our feedback form with their notes.
There will be no blog post sharing the QA projects or social posts featuring the QA team. QA team members can share their final projects if they want to do so after the pattern launches.
The benefits to me as the designer and director of Helen’s Closet Patterns are:
- Seeing how the pattern looks on different sizes and making sure it fits as intended accross our entire size range.
- Ensuring that each size in the pattern is correct (labels, notches, etc) and the pattern instructions are the best they can be.
- Discovering opportunities for blog posts and supportive content for the pattern such as pattern adjustments, pattern hacks, and technical sewing tutorials.
The benefits to the QA team members are:
- Getting paid to sew.
- Testing the fit on a garment that might work in your wardrobe.
- Keeping the sample.
- Access to the final pattern.
- Experience working in the sewing pattern design industry doing QA (a benefit for those who hope to work in this industry).
Are you interested in our QA team opportunities?
We are looking for intermediate to advanced sewists who are detail-oriented and enjoy editing, analysis, and technical sewing!
- QA is completed from home, using your own machine and sewing tools. You must have the tools to sew a garment using a sewing machine.
- QA team members must have access to the internet.
At this time, we would like to offer this opportunity to anyone whose income has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a difficult time for everyone and we would love to provide work to those who need it. Please keep in mind that we may receive a lot of applications and cannot work with everyone, although we wish we could!
Please fill out this form if you are interested in being a Quality Assurance team member for Helen’s Closet Patterns.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this change! Please feel free to comment below or reach out to us at email@example.com!
This is wonderful!! The Google Form is set to private so we need permission to access it.
Thanks for the heads up! All fixed now!
You are amazing!
Helen, this is brilliant! As always, your thought process that led to your decision was intelligent, methodical, and considerate.
Having been privileged to pattern test some of your wonderful patterns, I admit I’m having a bit of a teary moment. The process was always a pleasure and I’m appreciative for having been included. Thank you!
Bravo for opening your Quality Assurance Team to those that are feeling financial hardship. Aside from emotional ups and downs I am weathering the storm and, hence, won’t be applying. Of course, I’ll continue to cheer you and the new team on!
All the best! xo
Thank you Sue!! You’ve got me choked up too! We have had so much fun in our tester facebook groups, thank you for being a part of that and always being willing to test and experiment with my patterns <3
You know I’m so proud and impressed with you! I hope that in a few years we can all look back and see that you lead the charge!
Thank you Gillian! You are such a big part of this change and I look to you for guidance often. Thank you for always being there!
This is a game changer. Your idea is ahead of the curve. Bravo! I’m ecstatic that you’re going to begin by selecting people who’ve experienced job insecurity due to the current pandemic.
Thank you Tammy!
How utterly respectful. And classy.
Thank you Kristin!
So sensible! This is the way to go if you want to be sure every mistake is caught and patterns are as good as they can possibly be on the day they are launched. There is no getting around that “you get what you pay for.” With this new system, you can fire people that don’t meet the timelines, don’t make the garment in the instructions and don’t find the mistakes. Hard to do that with volunteers. 😉 I really like the name change, too. So clear about what is expected. When quality assurance and marketing promotion are combined, it can be a jumble. Good luck.
Thanks Anne! Yes, this adds a level of professionalism to the whole process that can only be a good thing 🙂
Hi! Curious about the decision to not have a ‘tester round up’ blog post. I tend to find those really useful. I find them more direct and succinct than IG posts and hashtags.
Hi Lindsay! Great question. We want to separate the pattern testing process from the promotion and marketing side of things. The tester round up cann put pressure on the testers to take nice pictures, share their project, say only positive things – defeating the purpose of the test! We hope our QA members will like their project enough to share, and if they do, we can re-share their makes on our social channels. This way nobody feels any pressure and we can focus on testing the pattern 🙂
To make up for this, we plan to share more versions of the final pattern in our blog posts and build up our hashtags organically!
This is great! Really thought-leading. As with Lindsay, as a consumer, I quite enjoy seeing pattern tester garments and find them helpful as they give me a feel for how the pattern looks on different people (body shape, style) and what they decided to do with it (fabric, view, etc). I appreciate if people decide to approach the pattern differently, which results in them not going through all of the steps of the pattern, then it isn’t QA so ensuring they do is good. But it will be a shame not to see their output and have it collected in one place. Maybe the feedback form could ask QA team members if they wanted to opt-in to it, so you could still do a post (making it clear some may have opted out). I appreciate you may want to move away from posting the final makes if people were feeling pressure from that side of things, eg promotion and getting the ‘perfect’ photo.
Thanks Jennifer! We will miss the tester roundup posts too! I think we can move into a new style of sharing QA makes on social media (where the QA team members can choose to share on their own platforms) and also supplementing with our own blog posts showing versions in different fabrics and on different bodies 🙂
It’s funny, when I was listening to the podcast, I thought to myself “Helen’s going to be changing her process after this”
I love everything about this! I wont be applying (very limited time to sew), but just wanted to pop on to congratulate you on this next step in your business.
Haha, yepp! I knew going in to the interview that things were going to change and I am really happy to be the first to shift!
This is wonderful. I agree with all your points and I’ve often thought if this was a male dominated industry, testers would automatically be paid. This move shows great respect for your customers and testers. Thank you.
Thank you Shiela!
Thank you, Sheila!
I applaud you for this. You are showing respect for the QA team, and acknowledging their essential role. I will be watching to see if others follow your lead.
Thank you Ellen!
Helen, this is brilliant! What a great way to show how much you value the contribution that pattern testers make to your business. Really like the new title of Quality Assurance Team – it truly does better reflect the actual responsibilities we take on. BRAVO!!!!
I also agree with Jennifer on the Opt-in for Promotional Activities option for those on your QA team. The traditional tester roundup is essential for many sewists in determining whether to buy the patterns and with many not on IG, I think it would be difficult for them to get a better picture of how the pattern fits other bodies. Take Seamwork for example, you never see tester pics and have to wait a few months to see the patterns made up on various bodies (and some of your familiar or favourite sewists) to validate the purchase.
Regarding the current application for the QA team, you hadn’t specified in the blog post if the QA team positions are limited to Canada residents?
I love this new direction you are taking! It sounds great, and you have truly considered all the feedback you have received.
Helen, it seems you have been ahead of every curve. You were one of the first to expand your size ranges, and now you are one of the (or perhaps THE?) first to find a way through these troubling pattern testing issues. For me, you exemplify ethical entrepreneurship. Standing ovation. Truly.
Thank you so much, Cindy!
Always so on point Helen. Congrats on making this change! Caz xx
75 per tester is pretty generous. Is this affordable for you? In any case, I applaud the idea of paying testers whether you are able to repay them for all aspects of their testing… or even partially reimburse them.
Chapeau. You’ve made a really brave decision by taking the step to pay pattern testers. You’re probably the first pattern maker who decided to pay testers for their work and dedication. You have beautiful designs and hope to see many more of them in the future.
Thank you Sonja!
Congratulations on a great step forward! I’ve always been monetarily compensated for pattern testing. I don’t do it very often because it is quite time consuming. I go at it as I would have when I was a software engineer, with an eye towards a quality assurance testing result. The goal is to give lots of feedback on the technical aspects of the pattern and the instructions for quality purposes, which is why the trend in recent years of requiring “pattern testers” to sew up a pattern and then post it all over the internet caused me to roll my eyes hard and refuse to work with pattern companies. I’m a tester, not a cheerleader. I applaud you for bringing a level of professionalism to your QA efforts and I look forward to seeing what you do!
Thank you, Ann! Excellent points!
This is amazing! I have done pattern testing before and was always very upset that I was expected to help market the pattern with my own pictures and social media. Bl which is bad enough but what if i Wasn’t feeling the pattern or there was still significant issues? I didn’t want to put my name behind that. So this change you are making is definitely in the right direction! I hope more indie pattern companies follow suit!
I love this idea of paying pattern tester. I can totally understand why you’d envisage QA being intermediate and advanced sewers only, it may be valuable to consider having one or two QA sewists who are Beginner/Ad Beginner for any patterns you’re targeting towards this particular group. Many intermediate and advanced sewist will have a lot of assumed knowledge, e.g. one notch on the sleeve means it’s the front of the sleeve. Many beginner sewists having some working knowledge but can pick up components which could be stepped out in more detail or as I call it “proofed”. Whether they do a hands on QA or simply read your pattern instructions and the actual pattern, it will help provide some diverse input and identify parts which perhaps could be broken down a bit further to mitigate the risk of overlooking a component that’s “assumed knowledge” that can make or break a sewers experience.
Thanks Patricia! We love designing patterns that are beginner-friendly and have beginners in mind when we write our instructions. Lot’s of added tips (we have one about sleeve notches, even!). I love sewing my patterns with friends and family who are beginners to watch them (in person) sew the garment and follow the instructions. It is similar to what I used to do with UI and UX testing when i worked in web design. It is so valuable to see somebody use something in real time. It always uncovers those ‘assumed knowledge’ moments you are talking about.
Bravo to you.
As someone who has known you all your life, I’m very proud of your accomplishments and business acumen. As a long-time feminist, I applaud this ethical decision to pay for what has been considered ‘women’s work’ (and therefore often under-valued). I’m also very impressed by the supportive good-will within your sewing community. Yay Helen!! Yay sewists!!
Thank you, Sally! That means a lot coming from you!
This is a wonderful shift! I am in a very common size range so I won’t apply because you will have plenty of options in that size range, but I am thrilled with this program. I wish you the best of luck! I think I have now made seven pair of Winslows at this point and I think your work is fantastic. Congratulations on your growth, Helen! ~m
Thank you Myra!! I’m so glad you love Winslow!
This is incredibly thoughtful and progressive, thank you for recognizing this kind of work.
If I have filled out the application, when could I expect to hear back?
Hi Amy! We will be reviewing the applications in a week and setting up our first group!
I, too, am interested if the QA group will be limited to Canadian sewists. I’m in the US, and have already filled out the form, but hope that my address won’t exclude me.
Thanks Karin! We are accepting applications from people outside of Canada, too!
Bravo! To separate the promotion and QA process is a game changer. As someone who both tests and buys patterns, I’d far rather use patterns which are tested professionally. It reflects better on your business to have quality testing and makes for a better experience for consumers.
This is lovely. I really appreciate the respect this shows for the people you work with. Many of us have put a lot of time and effort into honing our craft, and fair compensation shows that you recognize that! Thank you for leading by example!
Innovative, thoughtful and progressive. Brilliant Helen !
I do tons of test knitting. I always am so appreciated. But sometimes I wish I would be compensated for the cost of the yarn. When testing I usually need to use yarn that in not in my stash. It needs to be a yarn that is currently available.
Helen, what you are doing is incredible!
I have tested for several designers and never considered payment. I love being part of the process I also like a new pattern.
I would not want to accept payment, but can see the benefit of others who would. Good luck to all.
Helen, this is amazing. You see call outs for testers online all the time, and especially when the demands are high, it really felt like some designers were taking advantage of people’s generous natures. Thank you for recognizing the worth of testing, and of the tester’s time!
Hi! Just wanted to say good on you for making this change! The point about testers being pressured to promote the pattern really hit home for me! I have been a tester for a few brands and on the last one in particular there was a requirement to take clear pictures for the tester round up and I ended up not liking the pattern but was obliged to submit the photos anyway – to be honest I didn’t expect to get picked because the compnay always picks a group of the same testers who are avid fans and have amazing blogs and I just have instagram. That experience has put me off testing for a bit but I am privileged enough to not really have to worry about the costs to test but it just doesn’t sit right to be signed up up front to market the pattern. I love your diligence and thoughtfulness in implementing this change, I am also privileged enough to still be be able to keep working from home in these crazy times so won’t apply but 1000 thumbs up from me! Take care and keep safe!
This is very exciting! I will be submitting my application even though I am not in your targeted group at the moment, one never knows what the future will bring. Kudos to you for being the change you want to see!
Well I have to say, you have proven me wrong! I was talking to my dear friend who is a sewist/ quilter/ artist about pattern designers. She and I have led many groups to sew charity quilts, bags, and other items. I’ve said to her more than once “do pattern makers hate sewers?” as some patterns can be impossible to follow. We are both very experienced sewers, with slightly different backgrounds professionally and in the sewing world. But we both agree that the writers of patterns could possibly have a plot to deter people from sewing (just kidding to some extent!). Thank you for recognizing the importance of this. I’m still working as a nurse so I won’t be applying, but love that you are raising the bar. Thank you!
I`d like to be a part of this process later but I`ll not apply now becouse I do not need the money like some of the Corona sufferers do.
Helen, this is SO awesome. I love that you have chosen to move forward in this direction, and I love that you talk through the process of getting your business to a place that you are able to make this decision. I think sometimes it is so easy to think about one side of the situation or the other, so I love that you’re bringing us as sewists into the business side of things in this conversation. Thank you also for offering this up specifically to those whose income has been affected by COVID! As a nurse at a large, inpatient academic institution, I am one of the lucky ones who has not had to worry about job security amidst this crisis, but it is also awful to know that this is not the sentiment of the majority at this time. You are awesome. THANK YOU!