Sunday, May 22, 2016
Thoughts on Pattern "Testing"
Let me start by stating the obvious: I love sewing patterns. Big 4, vintage, indie, free, printed paper, PDF -- all kinds. But, lately, I've been wondering: when it comes to smaller scale indie pattern companies...
What do you think about "pattern testing" as it exists in the sewing blogosphere?
I have a few thoughts that have been swirling around in my mind. I hope you don't mind if I share them candidly here.
My own direct experience is limited. I've helped "test" two sewing patterns so far (2nd tester project coming to the blog soon!), and the differing experiences I had, plus what I have read about from other sewers, have got me pondering the whole idea of bloggers as testers, in general.
There seem to be a lot more cooks in the kitchen. The whole online sewing community has exploded in recent years compared to what it used to be. As more (and more) indie pattern companies* have popped up and the number of sewers turning to blogging & social media has increased, now more bloggers seem to be testing indie patterns, too -- which used to just seem reserved for those more famous bloggers. At the risk of understating, I'd say that the more people there are now creating patterns and testing them, the wider variety of experiences (and professionalism) you'll have across the process.
*These aren't always full-fledged companies and can include bloggers simply dabbling in pattern drafting & design. Combine them with more established indie pattern companies and it can feel like everyone and their mother are peddling sewing patterns. I appreciate variety, but is it too much of a good thing??
Recently, I've taken note of some less than ideal pattern testing scenarios mentioned by other sewers online: strict/short time frames; over-the-top intense "applications" to even try to be a tester for some designers; the blurred line between "testing" as purely a marketing effort or something a bit more scientific; inadequate recognition for time and effort spent; the prevalence of uber positive reviews; the impression that it's only for the "cool kids," part of some elite sewing clique; etc.
With all that in mind, I know some of us in sewing blog land (and elsewhere on the internet) are simply not interested in being pattern "testers," but, for me (so far), I find I do appreciate being offered this opportunity to try out an independent designer's pattern in this way! I'm not anything close to a professional (I don't even like to think of it as "testing" -- that sounds too meticulous for an amateur like me) when it comes to testing and my reasons for engaging in the process are self-centered. Honestly, I volunteer because I like to get a first look at a pattern before it hits the market and a peek at what the designer is like in off-the-blog interactions; I like that participating presents me with the chance and challenge to sew something I might not have otherwise chosen for myself (of course I only test things I'm OK adding to my wardrobe); and, lastly, I like that: duh, I get a free** pattern.
**free, in the sense that I did not have to pay money for it outright, though I recognize my precious time and not-free materials invested as part of the process.
The post-test process is what I actually find the most exciting. The "tester roundups" that appear on the website of the designer once the pattern is released to the public leave me with mixed feelings, though. On the one hand, I really enjoy poring over the variety of iterations of the pattern and different sewers' takes and tweaks on the design. Sometimes a certain sewer's version of a pattern can really sell me on something I wasn't quite convinced was for me. The part about this "roundup" that rubs me the wrong way, though, is that some designers only include the best (however they choose to determine this) tester photos, leaving out those who don't make the cut for the aesthetic -or whatever- they're going for, and giving the impression to readers that those shown on the roundup were the only testers involved.
In a sea of sewers trying to get blog-famous, monetize their blogs, get book deals and other gigs, and rack up new followers, you can imagine how this is a bummer. If, like me, you're not trying to do any of those things (well, I guess I wouldn't say no to new followers?) and you're simply excited to participate in more sewing goodness, you can see how it would feel like a bummer and an insult. I say, in this case, if you're going to show any, you've got to show all in order to be fair to your testers and your readers & customers. Then, though, there are designers who don't share any tester versions, and all pre-release pattern testing is done discreetly, out of public view (and I presume by professional pattern testers? -- there is such a thing, right?) Should (and could?) smaller indies do this, too, or is the cross promotion between the tester and the pattern creator a good thing that should be preserved?
I'm finding myself grappling with the pluses and minuses of this whole process a little bit, and thinking about the two extremes that the whole endeavor seems to fall between: meticulous, technical testing of a pattern and then surface-level, fluffy marketing. I find the whole thing overall to be both fascinating and annoying! I like being a tester sometimes, and it's neat that this is an opportunity that's now available to more sewers than it's been in the past. Also, obviously, marketing your products helps sell them, which is the whole point, but what's the best way to do that while trying to consider everyone in this community? It can be annoying enough to induce eye-rolls when a tested pattern seems to take over your blogroll and a significant chunk of your favorite blogs are all overflowing with overwhelmingly gushy tester reviews.
At this point, I don't know what the answer is or if I'll ever be able to distill my opinion on it down into a single point -- is the current state of affairs when it comes to indie pattern testing good or bad or something else?
What do you think about it?