Since joining the Modern Quilt Guild, I have enjoyed participating in the webinars they host on a regular basis. In September 2014, Shea Henderson of the Empty Bobbin Sewing Studio gave a webinar about pattern testing. It turns out that Shea is a huge advocate of the We Are $ew Worth It! movement, and one of my favorite quotes from her presentation is, “You have a skill as a quilter! Value it!” At the time, she was talking about pattern testing for someone – she does not think we should do so for free, because we have skills as quilters that have value. Shea’s main business is in selling her patterns, and she advocates paying testers.
I was on the verge of looking for quilt pattern testers when I watched the webinar, and I definitely took a step back and spent some serious time (2-3 months) considering her message before deciding on my course of action and asking others to use their considerable skills and valuable time to make quilts and provide me with invaluable feedback. I knew on a fundamental level that her message resonated with me; I am also a fan of the We are $ew Worth It! movement to charge what our quilts and work are worth (and it has been working for me). So after much deep thought and deliberation, I decided that I would pay my pattern testers.
Pattern testing requires not only a considerable time investment, but it also requires a significant monetary investment in fabric. I also try to make it clear with my pattern testers that I am looking for consistent, open communication from them during the process. I want more than a “great pattern, good job” as a response: I really want to know what does and does not work. Would an extra image or description or step be beneficial? Is something too wordy or not explained well enough?
So given the expectations that I bring to the table (and hopefully clearly communicate prior to a quilter agreeing to testing a pattern for me), I want to make sure that the people who are working for me are compensated. Because let’s be honest: it IS work. I do my best to make sure that the finished test quilts are included in the pattern, that the pattern testers are attributed in the pattern, and I also do my best to provide some nominal amount of money to help cover the material costs associated with making a quilt.
Is this a solution that would work for everyone? I don’t know, but I do know that I am always confused by only offering a pattern tester “exposure” through a blog hop. Does that do anyone any good other than the pattern tester? Maybe, but probably not enough to truly compensate someone for their hard work.
I realize this is a tough balance. I know first hand how much money you can output to testers only to have a pattern only sell 5 or 6 copies (*cough* Tessellated Leaves *cough*). I currently chalk it up as a learning experience, but it is not an experience I would like (nor can afford) to duplicate many times!
Another issue surrounding whether or not to pay testers (in my mind) is related to the law of attraction and intent. Because I have a strong intent behind what I am looking for and (hopefully) placing decent value for the exchange of services, I have had some pretty darn amazing pattern testers. I have heard lamentation about lack of quality feedback, and when something is done for free and out of generosity, how can there be a sense of accountability? And once jaded, isn’t it easy to maintain the status quo?
Paying testers or compensating them in some way for their efforts creates a beneficial situation in which they are more likely to want to pattern test for you again in the future, too. What other kinds of compensation have you given or received that helped build rapport and left both sides feeling valued and supported?
Have you ever pattern tested before, and how did you feel about the compensation for your time and effort? As a tester, do you gauge your level of feedback and promotion based on how valued you feel?
Have you ever had pattern testers work for you and is compensating your pattern testers something you do or would ever consider? Do you feel you have or would get better feedback and quality testers when you consider compensation?
I know this might be a very sensitive topic, but I do feel strongly that if we do not hold conversations about these kind of topics among ourselves that we will continue to perpetuate the cultural sense of that “craft” lacks value.
71 thoughts on “Thoughts on Pattern Testing”
This is something that I have never thought about before. I haven’t tested a pattern for someone before nor got a pattern tested; but I have read on many blogs many times things like “thank you very much for my pattern testers for putting time and effort to test my pattern, or I got this pattern tested by so and so many talented quilters…” None of these blogs gave further information as to under what conditions those testers agreed to test the pattern- except for a blog hop at the end of the release of the pattern. To be honest, I have always thought, well they have time and the interest in testing the pattern, and they get a free copy of the pattern. Also, they get their names exposed by the pattern owner which is good especially if the pattern owner is a well-known quilter. I kept on asking “is it really enough?”, but never thought about pattern testers could be paid in return for their time and effort and cost of the material. For some reason, I thought it is a “favour” they do. Now after reading your thoughts on this, I definitely support that the testers should be given what they deserve for the job they do. It is like a commissioned quilt in the end. Maybe you are not making the quilt for a customer but you are putting in the same effort, maybe even more. I also think that if the pattern testers are paid, you might feel better about setting some feedback rules as in what kind of things you want the testers to pay attention to. In the end, when someone is doing you a favour, you can’t really ask for too much, can you? This would help receive more realistic and useful feedback other than “great job, great pattern”. Another way to compensate the testers, if money is tight, might be to send them some fabric, or a small kit which has some fabric, thread, needles etc in return as a thank you gift. Not sure if it would cost more in the end, again depends on how much you can afford to create that kit.
I clearly did not state how much I compensate pattern testers, but I try to give enough of a monetary compensation in the form of a gift certificate to an online fabric store of their choice that it is somewhat close to covering the fabric costs for the pattern test. That is my goal, anyway, but I am not always able to provide that much money.
Again, I know that not everyone is in a position to be able to do that. In fact, I can’t do that very often and so I am experimenting with other ways to release my patterns without having them tested every time.
I am extremely interested in becoming a pattern tester. I have been sewing for more years than I care to confess- over fifty years. I was trained at a very young age, by my aunt- a dress designer with a very high end clientele. so I was held to a high standard. Through my years of sewing both for clothing and as a quilter, many times I have been surprised by either the lack of clarity, or “sewing assumptions” in the patterns I have purchased. For just the experience alone I would love to do pattern testing. Sewing is my passion. Re your questions regarding fair compensation for testers, I think as a smaller company, covering the fabric costs is compensation enough.
Good thoughts! I have been compensated with a gift card and by an exchange of pattern testing. One thing you didn’t mention is that the testers usually get a copy of the final pattern for free. Keep in mind that this is worth a small amount too. If there is a call for pattern testers I tend to only respond if I like the pattern well enough to make the quilt for this reason. I’ve also done some pattern proofing…not actually making the quilt, but taking a half hour to read through the pattern, check the math, etc. That is sometimes a happy middle road
The pattern testers get the final pattern for “free”–you mean after they’ve already put many hours of work into contributing to the improvements of the pattern. If they didn’t get that final pattern for free would they actually go spend money on it?! No, they’d continue to use the tester pattern because why pay more money for something they already have? Also that small amount of value in getting a free pattern is negligible to the time, materials, energy and frustration they spent on testing the pattern.
…frustration spent testing a pattern… not every experience is great, and I sure appreciate the feedback you gave me in pattern testing.
I agree that pattern proofing is a very happy middle road on occasion; and one I am thankful to know people who do great editing.
The final pattern is worth something, but in terms of acknowledging how much effort it is to make a full quilt for a pattern test, I think that is not really much compensation – especially if they went as far as I am hoping and providing great feedback on what does and does not work in the pattern (again, the editing is really the key thing I am hoping for and find difficult to get sometimes!).
Small-time pattern designer here – I like the idea of separating pattern “proofing” from “testing”. I can probably swing paying one person the cost of fabric to fully test the quilt, while I can pay another 2-3 people with a free pattern to proof-read and check the math. This is something I’m going to think about.
The other thing that is appealing from a designers point of view – if I compensate someone for testing, I feel more comfortable vetting quilters who have a style and online presence that is beneficial to me as well. Well made and well photographed quilts from testers is a huge help in marketing a new pattern. I’m appreciative of anyone volunteering their time and money for testing, so I’m certainly not going to demand high quality photos in return! Compensation is beneficial for everyone involved, though it definitely takes a certain profitability before it’s feasible.
I feel the exposure, free final pattern (and/or maybe they can choose another pattern from your collection?) is fine for payment. Yes, they are doing you a favor, but they wouldn’t have signed up to do it, if they didn’t like the pattern. Make sure there are straight forward expectations of what you are wanting out of the pattern testers and they should be able to decide if they have the time to do what you want in the time frame you gave them. I have done one before and am in the middle of doing one now and I feel like it is a bit of an honor that the artist is trusting you with their creation to test for any typos/errors/flow of pattern/quality of pictures/etc.
I don’t think my blog is currently big enough to really provide “exposure”, honestly. And maybe it is just me, but I really want critique and feedback of my patterns so that it is improved in the process and even if it is a small compensation, I am willing to pay to make sure people testing for me understand how seriously I am taking the process.
I definitely agree with your comment about being straight forward on expectations – that is very true and something to strive for.
This is a new topic for me also Yvonne and I read this post with a lot of interest. My daughter and I design patterns and we have been considering having some tested to ensure that they are easy to understand. I have also sewn a pattern test quilt for another designer. You have brought up some very interesting points and I can see why it took you a couple of months to work out what you wanted to do. My opinions are somewhat conflicted, depending upon which side of the testing I am on:
If I had a pattern tested I would not want the person to be shy about critiquing it, yet I think that might be likely to happen. I do worry about getting only “great pattern, great job” as a response. Compensating the tester in some way would make them feel more professional and less like “a buddy doing you a favor”. I like what Nurdan wrote “In the end, when someone is doing you a favour, you can’t really ask for too much, can you?” So I very much like the concept of paying the tester in some tangible way. I don’t think you need to carry it so far as to pay them as if you are commissioning a quilt. After all, the tester does get to keep the quilt.
When I was asked to pattern test I was so thrilled just to be asked by the designer that the thought of monetary compensation would not have entered my head. It really still would not. Testing her pattern was fun and it strengthened our friendship. Also, I received the pattern for free and I now have wonderful quilt to gift to someone. However, she offered to pattern test for me in return, an offer that will surely be taken up. So you could say that we engaged in bartering and that it was a fair trade of skills and services between friends.
Great thoughts, Lara. I agree that paying them to a level equivalent to commissioned work is not something I could afford to do. At best, I hope to be able to cover some of the material costs for the work.
I *really* like the concept of bartering, though, and trading skills for testing back and forth is a great option and one that I could definitely embrace.
I tested for a bag tutorial/pattern once. The compensation was some sort of point system for her shop. I never used it and I never tested again. The pattern was a free pattern on the creator’s blog so there was no ‘copy of the pattern’ in compensation, I also don’t blog so any blog hop exposure does zero for me. That said, I almost always seem to miss the call for pattern testing until it’s days old and full so I haven’t had the opportunity to do so for an actual quilt pattern. I think some sort of compensation is in order for that kind of a commitment. Whether it is monetary or maybe a gift card to a favored fabric shop, long arm services, etc. I guess that could be fleshed out between the pattern creator and tester in the beginning. However, if the person signed on, they likely are excited by the pattern and also do get the satisfaction of a finished quilt of a pattern they liked enough to test. We do all love this ‘hobby’ but it is an expensive one and starting out can be so financially trying with buying supplies, investing in a sewing machine and building a fabric stash that making quilts for free is only something I could do if I were very well off financially, which I am not. Honestly, I have a difficult time cutting into any of my fabric at first. It costs so much to buy that I am still afraid to cut wrong and ‘ruin’ supplies I had to save up to acquire to begin with. That is slowly getting better as I realize that you can figure out a way to use scraps so rarely does a cutting mistake ‘ruin’ the fabric or all uses. I think this is an interesting topic and I often wondered if quilt pattern testers always just volunteer for a pattern.
I guess volunteer is a word I have seen show up in the comments a bit; yes, in a since pattern testers “volunteer”, but I guess the way I view the processes keeps me from seeing them as volunteers. Again, my perspective was heavily influenced by Shea’s webinar and I know that had I not seen her presentation I probably never would have thought about it this way (or at least it would have taken much more time for me to develop these thoughts).
I have tested patterns for quilt and knitting patterns and I have not been paid in monetary form. For quilting, I have only been acknowledge thru. a link to my flickr site. As for knitting, I was paid in yarn and I was happy with that. All independent entrepreneurs have to start somewhere and I was okay to trade my services with yarn. I am more than happy to test for you if you ever need a tester.
Yes; starting somewhere is hard. I “compensate” through gift certificates to online fabric stores with the hope that it will offset the material costs in a small way for the pattern testing.
Honestly, I would love to be a pattern tester. I think it’s something I would enjoy and be very good at. But I can’t do it for free. Even a smaller quilt can have $100 worth of supplies, or a bag can have $50. I’ve always been very confused over the huge number of people seemingly eager to do this out of their own pocket for someone else’s benefit. It’s a valuable service and it should be compensated, and by more than an $8 pattern.
Material costs are quite significant, Lisa, and it is my goal to offer a small compensation in the form of a gift certificate to an online fabric store to help offset the costs associated with making the pattern. I cannot really afford to do that for many people or every pattern, but the learning curve on my side of the testing has been worth it so far.
Getting the pattern for free is a ridiculous payment or compensation. I’m being given something with the market value of $1-$10, after I already have a rough version of the pattern for testing, in exchange for the MANY hours I have put into testing the pattern. The market value of my time is $25 hour, I like to think. So even for a small paper pieced pattern, the market value of my time to test is $75. And that doesn’t include the materials I used to test it, which would have been used for something else otherwise. So getting the final pattern “for free” is an insulting joke. The pattern testers are doing the pattern writers a favor–NOT the other way around, like so many comments have said here. The pattern testing community perceptions are really skewed right now, and I think a lot of pattern writers are taking advantage of it (on purpose or not) to get free labor from people. One of my goals for the year is to value my time and experience higher, and to only work on projects that can honor my time and experience has valuable.
It is interesting how many people are excited an honored to be asked to pattern test. I know I am a cynical skeptic, and so I am definitely blown away by people offering to do so for me. I agree that your time is worth more than I can afford to pay for pattern testing; and I hope that I can occasionally strike a balance that is fair to both of us.
I’ve tested patterns and been compensated, which was great and others only gotten the pattern and exposure. I’m ok with the second option, because I would only volunteer if it was something I wanted to do. I’ve been given the chance to test patterns and either the timing wasn’t right or I didn’t like the pattern, and I passed on them. I don’t think I did any better of a job for the quilt I was paid to test, than others where I wasn’t. Am I worth more, sure, but I do pattern testing for something besides the money. I love quilting, but I’m not a designer, so I’m always looking for new patterns. Testing patterns is a way for me to try new ones, without having to pay for them. I understand where you are coming from, but as a tester, I don’t expect to be paid, but if I am that is wonderful too.
Thanks for your feedback, Shauna. 🙂
I tested a pattern once, and was “compensated” with the final version of the pattern. I was new (and still am) to quilting and quilt blogging, and thought, “Sure, why not?” The pattern was paper pieced, in 3 sizes, and I made the smallest size because even that was a pretty significant investment in fabric. I provided about 20 comments and suggestions for improvement, and the final version did include some of them. I am not a blogger, so I didn’t even consider that “exposure” was a thing.
I have the attitude that anything you sign on to do in life (and you should really try all sorts of stuff), you should do well. So I did my best job sewing the pattern and commenting, just because I think it’s the right thing to do. I wouldn’t have done a better job if I had been paid, but I will likely not test any patterns again in the future unless a close friend asks me to.
Regarding doing things well, I think that you may have that same philosophy, and paying pattern testers is part of doing your job as a designer well. You strive to make the best pattern you can make, and part of that is having it tested and soliciting valuable feedback. As a consumer, and rare but occasional pattern-buyer, I would be much more likely to buy a pattern from someone like you, knowing you would put the pattern on the market only after optimizing it.
Thank you for your thoughts and feedback, Karen. One of the things that amazes me so much about the quilting community is the high level of commitment and quality that most quilters hold themselves to. 🙂
I think Shauna used a keyword in her comment: Volunteer. Pattern writers ASK for testers, and people volunteer themselves. If you advise ahead of time that testing a pattern means you will get xyz in return for help, then those people are making their own choice and if they feel that it isn’t worth it then they won’t do it. Advising any type of compensation after signups seems a bit more “taking advantage” over mentioning it up front. People volunteer for lots of jobs that utilise skills. Here during bushfire season, a high percentage of our firefighters are volunteers — so spending time off their fulltime jobs, doing a hard and dangerous job for free. There are cooks preparing meals in shelters and meals on wheel type things, people foster pets or spend time working at an animal shelter because they know how to raise (injured) animals — all skills. Businesses also have interns and offer work experience for people to hain skills (i know some take advantage but that can happen anywhere, anytime). Without volunteers for assistance a lot of businesses could not function.
No matter what you offer to your testers it will never be enough as full compensation without risking your own finances. But in the end, your pattern is for the top, not the whole quilt so anytime you cover would only have to cover time spent on the top and those materials. Those can still be quite hefty though!
Things to consider for monetary wages: different countries have different pay rates (our minimum wage is twice as much as yours for example) and people may have a different expectation of wage, tax for the person accepting a job?
You’re not forcing anyone to sign up and pattern test for you. People are choosing to do it on their own when asked for whatever reason they feel like agreeing to do it.
Volunteer… interesting perspective. I have run pattern tests in two ways. In one, I put out a general request for people who would be interested in pattern testing. In another, I reached out to people I thought I was compatible with and whose quality of work from a quilting AND blogging perspective I admire. I had better success in receiving the feedback I desired and requested when I did not use pure “volunteers”. In both instances I laid out my expectations in advance and only sent out the pattern if the person agreed to what I was asking.
I also agree that I will never be able to fully compensate or afford to fully compensate an individual as if the quilt they are making in a pattern test were a commissioned quilt, but I do strive to cover (some) of the material costs associated.
That also means that I do not foresee having all of my patterns tested in this manner and I am looking into and experimenting with other pattern release and review options. Just my thoughts on the process at the moment.
Oh, an idea about the feedBack you get from testers: what if you had a form with questions ased around things you’re looking for specifically with a space for people to write their thoughts? Then sn ‘anything else’ at the end. That way people would be more prompted to look for and think about some of the specific things you want to know?
I do exactly that and try very hard to word my questions so that they elicit more than just a yes/no answer, although those tend to be the responses received anyway. 🙂
This isn’t something I’ve ever really thought about, given that I’m not good with patterns! Obviously in an ideal world it would be great to pay pattern testers, get the really useful critique and then sell hundreds and hundreds of the pattern so that you recoup the money well spent. But, as you say, I imagine that doesn’t happen much. I think the other, possibly more pragmatic ideal world, is that pattern testers work on quilts they love so at least their fabric costs etc are put into a quilt that they will want to keep, and that there’s reciprocal pattern testing so that the time spent helping to improve the pattern isn’t just a favour.
I really love the idea of a barter or situation in which the designer and tester feel that there is a reciprocal benefit. For now I am experimenting with helping to offset some material costs associated with the pattern testing, and we will see how that progresses.
I have tested before and have been compensated with a gift card and/or the final pattern and/or recognition from the designer. To be honest, I’ve never thought about being paid to test. As so many have already said, this was something I volunteered to do because a) I like the work of the designer or b) I like the pattern. I knew that at the end I would have a quilt I could gift or sell and that was okay with me. I like when the designer asks for specific feedback, and I feel like she/he has the right to ask for that info. After all, that is why they want their patterns tested – to make them marketable.
There are people I wouldn’t test for again. Those people are the ones who don’t communicate well or seem to expect I should be glad to work for them because of who they are in the quilting world.
Compensation is tricky. You can’t spend a fortune for testing and risk not making it back in pattern sales. That’s not smart business. But there are many ways to compensate someone – a gift card, fabric, recognition. Personally, when I volunteer I do so with the intent to give honest feedback, make the pattern to completion, and without any expectation of payment. I work as diligently on the test pattern as I do on any other quilt. As someone who is working to make quilting my day job, recognition from the designer on their blog or in their pattern and a heartfelt thank you is payment enough for me.
Thank you, Beth, for your feedback. At best I strive to cover a bit of the material costs right now; I cannot pay enough to truly compensate a person for their valuable time, but I do want to make sure they know I understand the time and material costs they are accruing on my behalf.
Hello! Hope you and hubby are enjoying your vacation! I’m still reading your blog! Happy Memorial Day weekend!
I have volunteered to be a pattern tester, and each time was given the opportunity to pick and choose what patterns I wanted to work with. I quite enjoy the process. I am lucky enough to have a substancial stash of fabrics so there was no additional outlay of monies to get the job done. Family and friends keep telling me to start selling my quilts, but honestly I cannot bring myself to ask the price that I should be getting so my finishes are on the shelf for now. I make shop samples for a friend who owns a quilt shop in exchange for longarm work and that is as close as I get to being “paid” for my services. I enjoy the process and do not see it as a money making venture. I continue to “volunteer” as needed.
Thank you, Lynda, for your feedback!
I just recently tested a pattern for a fairly well known clothing pattern designer. I felt like I was fairly compensated for my time with a gift card to a chosen sponsor-merchant. I spent a lot of time editing the pattern and giving thorough feedback. I was a bit miffed about the lack of participation of other testers. The designers had asked for feedback on the pattern itself and many people were silent. I think not paying worth while testers for their time perpetuates the cycle of lazy testers and encourages pattern designers not to pay testers for their time for fear of a lack of useful feedback. I think a blog dedicated to vetting pattern testers would be great. I think that any open and honest discussion by both testers and designers would only serve to show that we are, in fact, “$ew Worth It”.
I do like the idea of using gift cards to help offset either the material (fabric) costs of the pattern test or for a sponsor-merchant as you were given. A blog open to vetting testers should also include vetting the designers. 😉
I think it’s truly an individual taste on whether someone decides to take on pattern testing for free or not. I think that with compensation, it allows you the author, a bit more say in timeline and quality. I would consider testing a pattern for someone but knowing that I have a special needs kiddo and a part-time job, I can’t commit the time it would take to test a pattern in the requested timeframe. I think compensation puts more accountability onto the tester to produce quality work, thorough feedback, and a commitment to a deadline.
My thoughts exactly, Diana. Compensation helps me feel OK about those accountability topics!
I would like to be a pattern tester — sounds like a fun opportunity. I’ve never thought of the compensation aspect of it. I think a tester would need compensation of some sort, especially if they are using their own fabric. I’d hate to test a pattern that had errors and then I ended up with a “wonky” project. I think you should have a few keys questions for the tester to ensure you are receiving meaningful feedback. Good luck.
Yes, having a list of questions for the testers is one of the things I try to provide before they get started. My hope is that way they are aware of the areas of the pattern I am concerned about and they maintain communication with me so that they don’t waste fabric or end up with a “wonky” project! 🙂
Such an interesting discussion you have started, Yvonne. I completely agree with you, I’m going to spend more time and have more dialogue with a pattern writer if there is some sort of compensation. I had not given this much thought until I tested for you. I thought everyone did this for free and I volunteered because I really liked the pattern and wanted to make the quilt. I also think that if a pattern designer finds testers that they work really well with, building those relationships and limiting the number of people testing might result in a better outcome for the designer (whether they pay the tester or not). I always think that it must be such a crap shoot as to outcome for the designer when a new tester to them is brought on to test. If I were designing patterns, I don’t know that I would be willing to take that chance…. I will admit to having some control issues though 😉
Compensation doesn’t have to be a lot, but it should be at a level that makes the designer feel like they have some reason to hold on to some accountability and the tester is comfortable with. I realize that everyone has different ideas of what that threshold looks like, and I am really excited by some of the barter concepts that were discussed.
Hi Yvonne: This topic has had me thinking for a couple of days. I am currently testing a pattern for someone. This is the first time I am testing a pattern and I didn’t give a thought to compensation when I volunteered. I thought it would be something interesting to do . It’s interesting though because when I told one of my co workers about testing the pattern she asked if I was getting fabric as compensation. What I am getting in compensation is several free patterns. To be honest I didn’t even expect that.
Your comments about the value of craft and of women’s work are really interesting to me. I honestly believe that the work that women put into quilting is not fairly compensated and I don’t know how anybody makes a living selling quilts……woodworking however which is a craft dominated by men seems to provide compensation that is a little more fair.
What am I getting out of my volunteer experience. Well I’m making my quilt mostly out of stash so it’s material I would be putting into a quilt anyhow so why not her quilt. I also chose a pattern that I thought would work well as a comfort quilt for my guilds outreach program, simple with large piecing. I’ll be getting double duty out of the quilt if we make one for that program. I’m also getting the opportunity to help out another quilter because I value her work and want to support her. I would not feel good about being compensated for the pattern testing of your pattern that sold 6 copies. I would feel that I wasn’t respecting the value of your work. So much to think about, thanks for bringing up the topic.
The way I am currently viewing compensation is that I am offering gift cards to an online fabric store to help offset the material costs of the work. I don’t think I could ever afford to pay the true value of someone’s time as if I were commissioning the quilt from them.
Honestly, as long as you feel valued and good about the testing, that is a step in the right direction. I unfortunately know people on both sides of pattern testing that have felt like things were not done well, and perhaps a bit of emphasis on compensation might help with accountability. Just my current thoughts.
This has been on my mind for a while as I love designing patterns and feel like I should have them tested apart from myself!! but I don’t feel comfortable asking for free work. Exposure is not compensation. Ask a photographer or a painter to work for free and see what happens. I value my time as a quilter so I value other quilters too. I had a friend want to make a baby quilt for someone so gave her my pattern to test with all the fabric needed to make the top. I think that was a fair exchange but I couldn’t do that for a bed quilt or for 4/5 people. I cannot afford to pay a tester what I think they should be paid so I proof read my heart out, check and double check and make test blocks and the final quilt myself. Yes I want to sell my patterns, I feel like I should be pattern testing so I’m stuck with this conundrum and releasing patterns a lot slower than I would like!
“Exposure is not compensation.” YES! Thank you! As much as I like exposure, it doesn’t do a dang thing for the cost or time involved in me testing a pattern.
It is definitely a tough balance, Ruth, and I can relate to everything you say here. Ultimately, I have decided to have certain patterns fully tested by quilters, and I have an estimate of material costs in my mind that I try to at least cover most of via gift certificates to online stores. That means I try to limit the size of the quilts being tested (in some cases) or the total number of testers. I know what I think I can afford. I missed the mark entirely once and am really happy with how the other one turned out.
I think another option is to work with others to just have the pattern proof read. It is something I am exploring and thinking about, and if you would like to barter with me for some back and forth work, I would be open to that. 🙂
Would love to! Sign me up for that!
Your blog post made me think about why I have volunteered to test patterns in the past. There are really only two reasons that were met each time I volunteered (for free) 1. I truly wanted to make the pattern and 2. I was interested to see how the pattern was written. I enjoyed the process, gave back what I believed to be valuable feedback and was thanked by the pattern writers. If a call goes out again and the pattern meets my two requirements above, I would probably do it again.
Great point about being interested in how a pattern was written! I honestly have bought patterns in the past only to see how a big name designer writes patterns… 😉
I have pattern tested twice, and volunteered both times because I liked the pattern. I would have made the item anyway, and was pleased with the end result. While I like the thought of compensation or a token of thanks, I don’t feel it is necessary. I would test again under the same circumstances.
Thanks, Jasmine. I believe that you hold yourself to a high standard, and I can certainly see that if you knew you would end up buying the pattern anyway that there would be a much higher level of buy in to working on a pattern test!
For this reason, some smaller designers opt to form testing groups and do testing swaps – I’ll test for you if you test for me kind of a thing. It’s unfortunately unsustainable to pay pattern testers if you pay them more than you earn.
Otherwise, if an individual was going to make the pattern anyway, then getting it for free AND early is awesome. If I was going to make a quilt anyway, I would be thrilled to be able to make it right away! I give my pattern testers gifts after they are done, but I’m not able to afford to pay all of them for supplies and time. I think that would be great, but realistically, I’m not even at the point where I’m always making enough to cover my own supplies and time through patterns. I think it’s great to build up relationships until the point where that is possible. For that reason, I usually prefer having pattern tester volunteers who are friends, because the would have no problem telling me whether or not they want to pattern test, AND it’s a mutually giving/gifting relationship anyway. Not to say that I would have to do something tangible in return, but since we both give eachother things/time/service/a shoulder when needed/etc., it’s not an issue where we feel cheated because we did x for the other person and only got y back, if that makes sense. One of my friends helped me make blocks for a book quilt, and down the road I got the opportunity to fmq her baby’s quilt while she was in the nicu with him. One of my friends made a quilt for my book, and I provided her with the supplies and she gets to keep the final quilt, but I didn’t pay her for her time. Because she’s done so much for me in the past (that and other projects), I have started being able to pay her for other things as my “assistant”.
Joanna’s comment is right on – when the word volunteer is used, then there is no expectation of payment. If you have plenty of people who are happy to volunteer to test your pattern, then that’s their decision. I know I’ve done plenty of things for free for others. I know I’ve provided a ton of tutorials (and some patterns) for free, for the community to use, and I was never compensated.
There’s a balance. There’s the business side where yes, it would be awesome for everyone to get paid these awesome wages all the time, and then there’s the other side, which is the history of quilting – this wasn’t originally a commercial trade, but a way women created and created community. I think there are a lot of great things to come out of the “we are $ew worth it” campaign, but I do worry about the hyperfocus on the bottom line to the exclusion of the bigger picture. I don’t want everything I do in this community to be reduced to a dollar amount.
Thank you for this really well thought out response, Amy. I love how the comments of these discussion topics are so rich in value.
I agree that there is no way I can cover the true cost of what someone is providing me when they pattern test. Right now I try to cover a percentage of the material costs they are incurring by testing for me. I also really like the idea of barter or testing groups that swap around the role of designer and tester. Cultivating online relationships and finding those “friends” with whom I work well is also a part of this process. I do not have any close real-life friends who are quilters, so cultivating the relationships online has been an interesting learning process for me, but one that has been incredibly valuable and rewarding.
I also appreciate your comment about the “We are $ew Worth It” campaign turning everything into a dollar amount. The openness of this community to extending a helping hand is absolutely amazing and wonderful, and I want to be a good steward to keeping that community vibrant and alive.
I as well have always been a little confused regarding testing. I have 6 people testing two different patterns for me and I ended up not being able to compensate them in just ‘cash’ but I did provide their fabric selections. I definitely support the movement of we are Sew Worth It… but it is a hard balance in today’s society when they want quality but at a very low cost (yet most of their items aren’t even that high quality). I recently read another blog post about how much time and effort it takes to finally get noticed and really the hard work put into it to become “successful”. I don’t think it is any easy task, but one thing I am realizing is that for me, on testers it depends on their ability and overall presentation they give. I want them to be compensated because this is not easy by any means, but what is easy is talking to people and being forward with them and up front. I think you do a really well job at that in which is what helps you become more and more successful by the day. A healthy balance and mix of ‘free’ vs. ‘paid’ is something that is valuable to us because most who do it for ‘free’ do tend to be starter-uppers… and I like small mix of variety to see where my pattern may lean towards on the difficulty spectrum. If at all possible, I like to find someone just starting out with quilting in the past year or so to see how a ‘newbie’ handles it, it gives better reference for the ‘skill level’.
Have you thought about doing a QAL on the tesalated leaves? Truthfully, I am quite surprised. I think a QAL would maybe help spark it up a bit seeing then hopefully a wider variety of others intakes on the quilt colors, etc. While I do QAL and buy patterns, I tend to buy the pattern during or before the QAL because well… sometimes it’s just easier to read and have it all there rather than consistently looking for it in the QAL. All in all, keep up the amazing work, Yvonne!
I am honestly not really in love with the Tessellated Leaves design or pattern, and that is probably more the problem than anything else!! 🙂
Right now I also only compensate via covering a percentage of the material costs associated with the pattern testing. I don’t think that compensating more than that is something I can do (right now?) and ever hope to re-coup those costs. I am excited by the conversation this topic has generated and am so happy that the best part of these posts are always the thoughtful responses in the comments.
This is really interesting, Yvonne. I tried my hand at pattern writing last year and had a few testers that volunteered to test for me. They were all mini quilts that didn’t require much of a fabric investment. My only “compensation” was the free pattern and recognition on my blog, which I made clear from the start. I think that financially compensating is a wonderful gesture, but like you say, isn’t always a viable option.
Maybe in the future, it would be better to have people simply test a block rather than the whole quilt? Another option would to have someone read over and check all the math without actually stitching anything. I know that’s something I enjoy doing, and doesn’t require a huge time or monetary commitment.
I’ve haven’t been working on writing any independent patterns recently for a number of reasons, but I think it might be nice to work with a magazine or publishing company in the future. That way you have someone to help you orchestrate all those little details!
So the reasons I would (and do) like others to completely making a quilt as part of the pattern test is that I can get more exposure if they also post about the pattern and their experience. Having more options in the pattern also makes it more appealing to people who are unsure of color options (I believe).
That being said, I do think there are some middle ground options like you mention. However, and this is just where I am today, I am not interested in working with a magazine company (and a publishing company tends to want you to have previously worked with magazines); it makes no sense to me! Like I said, that is just where I am today.
I pattern tested some bags and I felt all right just to be included in the parade of pattern testers. It never occured to me to be compensated. I got the pattern for free and I was interested in it so I felt all right with that 🙂
I think that I have heard from people who were happy pattern testing for just participation in a blog hop and the pattern because they worked with really well written patterns (or at least, that’s how it seems to me). I think I have heard people be upset when the pattern required a lot of feedback and time to figure out. So maybe that is a trend I have noticed.
I have been a pattern tester in the past, I started testing patterns for an on line quilt pattern magazine, it was ( is) a great experience. We have a fairly detailed form ( critique) to fill out throughout the process and open communication, if anything should come up during the process that needs to be addressed before you can continue. We submit pictures of the finished quilt. Our ( compensation consists of being ( named/featured) as the tester along with the photos of the finished quilt in the magazine when it publishes and also ( we) receive a gift ( a few options we can choose from are kits, patterns, books-) we also have the quilt and written permission to display and sell it ( up to 5 of them) if we so choose.
I’ve also tested/created samples for a designer who creates rug hooking patterns/kits along with quilts. With her she sent me the patterns, I used my own materials, I sent her the finished projects which she needed for shows/workshops. She paid all postage. When she was finished with the ( circuit) she returned the items to me and was Very generous, sending new kits, patterns and handy/dandy gadgets that she uses/loves, thought I would like too ( rug hooking patterns are drawn on monks cloth and are quite expensive) . She also shared my name/info on her blog, website and displays as the ( hooker/tester) of the pieces.
Both situations have been wonderful experiences which I enjoy. I’ve been happy with the opportunities.
It sounds like you have developed some wonderful relationships! I like that they do send you or let you pick from some options to thank you when it is all over. 🙂
I pattern tested once. It was a fairly popular (I think) blogger and pattern designer. I ordered all new fabric (yes, it was on sale but did not come out of stash (which I also purchased)) in exchange for a “free” pattern once it was finalized. The math was off numerous times. I realize this is what pattern testing is supposed to discover but after the piece is cut it’s hard to go back and add .5″ to a half square triangle. Plus, I did not order any extra fabric (newbie to the pattern testing business). We were asked to complete the testing by a certain date. Of the 10 or pattern testers, I was the only one who completely finished the quilt by the deadline (as could clearly be seen in the pictures posted on the her blog) — and that’s because I ended up making a baby-sized version because it was the only option due to the math/cutting problem. I think a quilt looks completely different finished vs. just a top. I will not pattern test again because I know myself a little better now. I want to quilt to relax and have fun and it just wasn’t fun for me pattern testing (writing down thoughts, etc.). On the other hand, it’s not fun purchasing patterns and discovering math errors. I can understand the need for an additional picture, instruction, etc. but not math errors. I enjoyed your thoughts.
I just stumbled across this post. Great job sparking a discussion! I learned a lot from reading both your post and the comments. Thank you!
Do you compensate your pattern testers before they start testing (if they are making the quilt as opposed to pattern proofing) or after they have finished testing and have turned in their notes on the pattern?
Thanks for your help!
I just followed a link from Meadow Mist, since I’ve been reading the Pattern Writing series, there.
I think there are two things that make this a difficult conversation. First, I doubt any pattern designer could afford to pay for both supplies and time to, effectively, have a fully-paid tester. The second is that there is always a contingent of people who are willing to do the job for free – though the quality of that result may vary much more markedly.
At this point, the economics of the situation stipulate that if you compensate your testers in some way, you will most likely get a better quality of critique. The question of “enough” compensation would be between you and your tester. I might agree to test a pattern for free for a very well known designer and blogger in return for exposure and a link to my own blog. This would be a conscious decision on my part, and I’m likely to try to have some good content lined up and possibly a pattern launch of my own to coincide with it. I’m less likely to do that for a designer who’s audience is quite small. I may be willing to test from my own stash without requiring payment. I’m less likely to buy specific fabrics to do so without compensation.
I HAVE tested recipes for cookbooks without expecting compensation, even though sometimes those ingredients are also expensive. My only compensation there was a mention in the back of the book. Though I took away from it an excellent idea of what it takes to create a cookbook, and a reviewer’s worksheet that I will probably crib from heavily for my own pattern testing.
The same conversation goes on just as vehemently in the knitting world. And I think both are tied to the underlying issue of what a hand made item of anything is “worth.” Again, there really isn’t a hard and fast way to put a number on it. And always we come down to, what is “enough”? Is it morally superior to pay your testers, even when you’re not able to pay nearly what that labor should really “cost”? Is someone who CAN pay their testers twice what you can, correspondingly “better”? Are the people who volunteer to test patterns for free undercutting the bargaining power of those who wish to be paid?
In a nutshell – something is worth precisely what the two people engaged in the transaction say it is.
I DO think there is some value-added compensation for BOTH sides, if you can find someone to barter the work with. Because at that point, you’re likely not JUST sharing testing. You’re also sharing things like, “Hey, how did you make that illustration?” and, “Are you having better look with Illustrator or another program?” Secondarily, there is also more support, encouragement, and exchange of ideas than you might have simply from testers who do not, themselves, write patterns.
What I really think would be neat to have is a quilting oriented website that works like Ravelry does for yarn crafts. That sort of centralized forum allows a much better opportunity to A. discuss these sorts of things, B. find people who share your viewpoint on them who are willing to help you with your projects and C. Market the end result.
Great post that raise many issues that will no doubt be re-visited with this pattern writing series! When I listened to Shea’s webinar I confess that I thought that would put pattern testing into the realm of the successful established super quilter. I think I would only be comfortable offering like services (testing in return) or at least offering compensation for materials as you do. Well done for taking on this topic.
Hi! I followed a link from Meadow Mist Designs 🙂 I have tested for quite a number of different designers now, as well as made samples for a fabric distributor that went around multiple shops as a shop sample, and I have to say the experience in most cases has left me less than enthused to ever test again!
One sample I made was a fuil sized quilt, it needed to be completely finished so quilted and bound, not just a top, and when I posted it back I assumed it got lost in the post because weeks went by and I had heard nothing. But no it had arrived, they just didn’t bother to acknowledge it’s receipt. I wasn’t being paid but did get to keep the quilt when they were finished with it 12 months later, but a simple “thank you we have your quilt” would have been nice!
Likewise when I test a pattern there are so many hours that go into it, and I tend to be quite thorough and picky so there are a lot of notes to write up to send back, and many times I get either a “got it” acknowledgement or sometimes not even that – it is nice to at least say thank you when someone has just spend 10+ hours working for you for nothing! I don’t expect to get paid, a few times I have been sent fabric but this is not the norm, all I ask is for the designer to say “thank you, you are appreciated”, just seems good manners!
OK I will stop my rant now 🙂
I also found this post through the PWS on Meadow Mist Designs. I haven’t as of yet tested a pattern or written one for testing, but you (and the commenters) raise some very interesting points here. I guess I have a certain perspective on this topic because I’m already a freelance copyeditor, and heck yes I expect to be paid to trawl through awkward grammar and spelling errors and use my degree in Chemistry to figure out what an author’s trying to communicate! And I take a great deal of pride in doing a thorough, careful job for the journals that employ me and the authors who write the papers. Should proofing a commercial quilting pattern be different? I agree that if you have expectations of a professional (or near-professional) job in a timely manner and a certain standard of feedback then no, there isn’t a difference and some compensation for the tester is only reasonable (and I agree that a free copy of the finished pattern, while nice, would not really cover many hours of painstaking work). There’s nothing wrong with asking for (or being) a volunteer tester, but as you note, there’s less that you can ask for and or expect under those conditions.
However… science publishing does make great use of volunteers – as referees of manuscripts before acceptance for publication. They’re usually specialists in that particular field, and they’re not paid (at least, not by the journals I’ve worked with! Whole other can o’ worms, that is…) and they don’t typically get any overt recognition unless an author chooses to add an acknowledgement or comment in their paper if the referee was particularly helpful. They also don’t typically aim to do more than verify that the science is sound and performed in a reproducible, clear manner – they seldom comment on language or presentation unless they’re especially poor and they typically don’t correct those things. Refereeing is often seen as a valuable addition to a researcher’s skillset, though, and what goes around comes around – their manuscripts will (hopefully) be refereed in turn by an equally qualified expert and awareness of what makes a good manuscript (presumably) informs how they produce their own work. The quilting parallel would be “you test mine and I’ll test yours” – something that I’m personally really up for. Given that very few of us can financially afford to cover the true cost of someone’s time to fully test a pattern (I know I couldn’t!), reciprocal testing is a much “fairer” exchange imo.
tl;dr: I think it is fantastic that you recompense your pattern testers and I would aim to do the same if I get to that position. And reciprocal testing, especially for a new designer starting out, is a very valuable resource. When I have a better handle on my surroundings and time to commit to doing someone’s pattern justice (not to mention some concrete patterns of my own!), I hope that I will be able to do just that. 🙂
Interesting comments here. I recently retired and can now fill my days with my love of quilting. I originally had high hopes of making baby and lap quilts and then eventually sell, but from reading other sites it doesn’t appear that you can even receive enough to cover your expenses. Then I considered pattern testing – it sounds great and for just the love of quilting and exploring fabric combinations it would fill a void. But I have a different question – when you design a quilt pattern how do you know that someone else hasn’t already designed the same thing? There are so many geometric opportunites in quilting but I often see similar patterns claimed by several designers as their own.