Have you ever wondered what it means to be a pattern tester or how you can do it? I’m about to dig in and help you understand just what it is a pattern tester does, why it’s important, the different parts of a test and more. This series is going to be a bit more text heavy than usual, and will have LOTS of information, but I hope it can answer (most of) your questions.
Welcome to Pattern Testing 101.
So what exactly is Pattern Testing? You’ve seen pictures on Facebook and Instagram
where people are saying they “tested” a pattern, or they’re announcing a new pattern release, or they don’t say anything but it’s a brand new pattern and you’re just not sure… What does it all mean and, well… what are they actually doing? First of all, testing isn’t just about pretty pictures, though it can be a big part of it. Good looking pictures can help you to be chosen to work for some designers, because that’s what grabs attention and helps sell a pattern. The actual point of it all, though? It’s all about making sure the pattern really fits – the same – throughout each size. It’s about making sure the instructions explain things well and are spelled correctly. It’s about making sure the pieces can be sewn together the way the designer wants and everything goes together well. You’re part proofreader, part seamstress, part model, part shopper and more.
Let’s start from the beginning, with the designer. They have an idea, the idea forms in whatever their creative process is and they begin to draft the pattern for their “base size”. This means that they have a specific size that they start with (typically their own size, or their kid, or someone they have close that they can sew for). They’ll usually sew at least one version to make sure it’s what they envisioned. Then they make all the other sizes in their range, a process called grading. This uses percentages and specific sets of rules to make it bigger/smaller in certain areas of the pattern. Once this is done, the accepted practice for indie patterns is that it will need to be sewn up in each size to make sure the calculations were right and everything fits throughout the range.
There are a few different parts to testing, but for today we’ll start with a quick look at the first step – called Pretesting. Pretesting is exactly what it probably sounds like: not exactly testing, but kind of the truest testing there is. I want to start here, because it’s the next step in testing – but I also want to put a little warning first… because I don’t want you to stop here after reading this.
Pretesting is not for EVERY tester. There are lots of different kinds of testers and this is for the person really interested in the technical side of pattern making.
Some designer’s pull from their normal testers, some of them have staff dedicated to this and others still will make their own for local friends/family and test on them. Before you get into a pretest, you need to be aware of a few things: there probably aren’t ANY instructions yet, you’ll be expected to be experienced enough to know how to do certain
techniques; you might not be making a full garment, but you also may not be able to finish this one as testing goes on. This is a fit check in the strictest sense, where any truly glaring problems will be found. There will be a handful of people throughout the size range sewing up a bare bones version of the garment. For a knit dress, you may only make the bodice; for a woven dress, it might be an unlined shell of the bodice; for a pants pattern, you might only make the shortest shorts option (even if there’s no actual shorts option). You’re absolutely going to want to use your cheapest fabric for this, and often you won’t even be adding closures or other finishing touches.
If that hasn’t scared you away, check back tomorrow for the next installment in Pattern Testing 101: How Does It All Work?