The 13 Testers Every Indie Pattern Designer Needs

Here's a quick and dirty blog post for ya. And more because I want to start a discussion more than anything else.

I've been pattern testing since month 1 of sewing with PDF patterns. I can't really remember how this happened, but I know that my background as a lifestyle photographer accelerated my fan-to-tester status. In the 3 years since, I have tested for girls, boys, women, and accessories. I've met designers of all types, and encountered testers of all types. And while their personalities, sizes, and aesthetics vary greatly... their usefulness is undeniable. Here are the 13 tester "types" I come across most, what makes them valuable, and what doesn't.

Obligatory Picture for Pinning Purposes. But also kind of relevant, because it's the new KBSD Henley I finished testing this morning!

Obligatory Picture for Pinning Purposes. But also kind of relevant, because it's the new KBSD Henley I finished testing this morning!

If you are a designer considering your tester group assembling strategies (or a sewist hoping to make it onto their testing team), it's important to know the TYPES of testers every designer needs, and be reminded of their role in producing a successful pattern, and business:

  1. The Pre-Tester. The designer should be the first to sew up their garment, but you need a savvy, detail-oriented friend to do so too. There's no reason for 20 fan-testers to sew up the first version of a pattern, and spend a week finding the same obvious mistakes the 2 of you could have caught and corrected in a night. It delays your testing process and depletes your tester's resources.
    **Caveat** Your pre-tester should be average sized (aka, their measurements fit solidly within one size). And if they're not, they need to know thyself - so they can tell you when your pattern isn't working because their body deviates from the standard drafting proportions, or when it's not working because your pattern needs changing. 
  2. The Nit-Pick. Sure, she'll make the other testers roll their eyes - yours too - but what she is nice enough to tell you to your face needs fixing (while you have time to correct it, might I add) is what the haters elsewhere on the internet will use to rip your pattern to bits. Miss Nit Pick is saving more than your pattern - she's saving your reputation as a designer, too.
    **Caveat** The Nit-Pick has to do her due diligence first. IE: check printing squares, seam allowances, and fabric recommendations. She negates her usefulness if the problems she's reporting are user-error vs pattern drafting errors.
  3. The Fan-Girl. She's your gift to yourself, and a counterbalance to Miss Nit Pick. She'll praise your every brilliant suggestion, and encourage you through a very vulnerable time in your pattern production process. 
    **Caveat** Fangirls MUST be balanced. It's tempting to believe their hype, but put your ego aside if need be and remember you need to accept their kindness with a grain of salt, too.
  4. The Expert. Now, you shouldn't be designing patterns unless you are an expert, too, but sometimes you can get your mind so wrapped up in the details of pattern drafting that you can't see the obvious problems right in front of you. The expert is your brainstorming buddy, she'll save you hours of looking for those answers that are hiding in plain sight.
    **Caveat** She can't RULE your testing. It's your project and your vision. Just because she knows what she's talking about, doesn't mean she's got any business directing your product or your test.
  5. The Beginner. It's easy to forget how confusing some "sewing firsts" can be - the beginner will make sure you are taking your time to explain intermediate and advanced techniques fully, and provide helpful markings on the patterns to make the sewing project fun and educational for sewists of all levels.
    **Caveat** "Beginner" is only useful if, like your Nit-Pick, they do their due diligence. They're still responsible for reading instructions - that's why you wrote them!
  6. The Helper Bee. She who will bump useful content or go out of her way to answer tester questions she's already seen you answer. Bless you, helper bee!
  7. The Test-Police. Testing is not the time for hacking and taking liberties with a designer's vision. She knows this, and she's not afraid to say so. "You're a tester, dagnabbit! Sew the pattern you signed up for!"
  8. Ol' Faithful. She knows your patterns and your style, She turns everything in on time, and sews multiple revisions if necessary. Never underestimate the usefulness of a thoroughly vetted tester!
  9. The Newbie. Similar to the "beginner" - fresh eyes are always valuable when considering your pattern presentation, and your chosen sewing techniques. She may even teach you a thing or two! 
    **Caveat** You HAVE to be willing to hear what she has to say. It's unsettling sometimes to have your work challenged, but so long as Newbie here is kind about it, there's no reason to tune out her valuable insights about current "market standards," and how you measure up.
  10. The Editor. Dot those i's and cross those t's - your Editor scans text, images, and pattern pieces themselves for typos, run-ons, and other silly errors.
  11. The Fashionista. Most muslins aren't very pretty, and your testers aren't obligated to sew more than one version of the pattern they agreed to test. But the Fashionista here can't help herself. She's going to go out of her way to make one knock-out variation in a fabric combination that has mass appeal and will turn a lot of heads when it's time for promo.
  12. The Pro-Photographer. Or Semi-pro. Maybe some day you can afford to sew samples for professional product photography, but for now you need someone who will intuitively take detail photos, modeled photos, and generally photos that will sell the fun experience of sewing a desirable design.
    **Caveat** Their sewing skills MUST be worth photographing. If prints don't match, gathers aren't even, or topstitching thread sticks out like a sore thumb - all you'll wind up with are pretty photos of a mediocre product.
  13. The Guerrilla Marketer. She's got social media down to a science. She knows when to post and where to post, what to say, and how to engage potential consumers. You'll get days worth of buzz from her efforts!
    **Caveat** Whenever others promote your product, they represent your business - like it or not. Reaching new markets does you little good if your business is now associated with sexy/scandalous promotion, profanity, or other alienating qualities. 

How many of each tester do you need?? Well, that depends on your own talents. If you have expert photography yourself, there's no reason to put all your tester-eggs in the photographer basket. Pick testers who compliment your skill sets, not duplicate them. 

Regardless the "type" of tester here - all have important jobs, and should be appropriately rewarded for fulfilling them. Respect their feedback by updating your patterns accordingly, and don't overlook tester appreciation gifts - be they affiliate commissions, gift cards, or additional finished patterns. They owe you feedback, like you owe them thanks for their time, talents, and materials. Be good to them, and keep them around when they've been good to you.

Do you test patterns? Which tester type are you? What other types are there? How do designers reward your efforts?  I'd love to hear your experiences in the comments below! 

Follow