2020 was a big year for me in terms of pattern testing. At this point I’ve tested dozens of patterns for lots of quilters, and I’ve learned a lot. Now that I’ve also released my own quilt pattern, I’ve been on both sides of the process, which has been really cool!
I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned and some of my impressions about pattern testing with you, since it seems like there’s a growing interest in both designing and testing quilt patterns. Please feel free to comment below or DM me on Instagram if you have questions about my pattern testing journey!
So many people are designing patterns these days! I got started testing the Road Trip Redux quilt for Karen at Blooming Poppies back when she had under 1,000 IG followers. She’s pushing 7K now and has all kinds of amazing sponsorship deals, because she’s a great pattern designer. I’ve gone on to test almost all the other patterns she’s designed, because I really like her work. Following #patterntester and #patterntesterswanted will help you find projects you’re excited about, and you’ll make new friends in the process. As you build up a portfolio, other, bigger-name designers will have work samples to look at as they consider your testing application. Do it for the craft, not for the clout. And don’t get frustrated when people say no to you; lately, it seems like people get tons of tester volunteers. It’s really unwieldy to manage a tester group of more than 10-12 people! I ended up choosing the first nine people who raised their hands for my quilt pattern, and everyone else who asked was very gracious when I declined their offer (thank you!).
Know what’s expected of you.
Some designers (maybe most designers) want you to go over their pattern with a fine-tooth comb. Generally, your job is to find the spelling errors, weird layout hiccups, math issues, and anything else that’s off in the process.
Some designers are way more concerned with the math and making sure the steps make sense and the construction experience is feeling right. I’ve gotten some pattern drafts with only cutting layouts and instructions, so I often don’t look too closely at the other copy in the PDF because it’s not ready for a thorough edit. I’ve gotten some pattern drafts that are nearly perfect and the designer only wants to know my experience with the construction process. I’ve gotten some drafts with a note like “my instructions, spelling, and layout are really rough, please tear this apart.” It always helps to ask what a designer’s top priorities are if you’re not sure.
This is why most designers assemble a testing group, rather than one or two individuals. I’m a professional editor in my “real” life, so I frequently will go through a pattern like it’s a draft I’m editing for work. Some people are amazing at seam allowance math. Some people are incredible visual thinkers and can offer amazing feedback about cutting layouts. Your test is integral to the process, but you’re also just one person, and it’s OK to play to your strengths.
It is free labor.
Sorry, it’s true. But…I love doing it. This is the ONE area of my life where I’m OK doing free labor because it builds community, strengthens my network of amazing quilters, and offers me hours upon hours of joy (sometimes I also end up selling the completed quilt). Some pattern designers have compensated me with shop discounts, free patterns, etc. It’s also customary to receive a free, final copy of the pattern you tested, and I did that with my testers when I released the Northward Quilt in November.
I love being handed a project to test because I thrive creatively when offered restrictions and structure. My interpretation of someone’s design will be unique, and so will someone else’s; it’s energizing to be a part of that. But it does take at least 3-10 hours, particularly when someone is asking you to finish an entire quilt, not just a quilt top! So be prepared to treat it like work and to make your deadline. You are also on the hook for the cost of materials, but if you’re passionate enough about quilting to want to test patterns, you likely have a lot of those materials on hand. That being said, I spent hundreds of dollars on fabric to test patterns this year. Would I have spent that much on fabric anyway? Oh, hell yeah. I love fabric. Would I have finished as many quilt tops? Likely hell no.
Following instructions is crucial.
Because you’re trying to find holes in the instructions! Sure, your HST method may be better/easier/etc. You may prefer to make flying geese one at a time. But your job as a tester is to go through the pattern as it’s written to identify errors in the math, cutting instructions, and any weird hiccups during construction. You can’t do that if you aren’t reading and following the directions. So if you want to test patterns, keep in mind you’re not just making a quilt for fun, you’re assisting with someone else’s workflow.
Get extra fabric.
Patterns in the rough are, by definition, not ready for primetime. There have been MANY times I’ve found I just need one more 2.5” strip, or the instructions for a half-rectangle ended up with a unit that’s ½” shorter than the pattern says it should be, etc. Part of testing is re-testing, and it’s very likely you will find yourself making things more than once. So make sure you get an extra quarter yard or so, or use something non-precious. And if you’re working on something with blocks, ALWAYS MAKE A TEST BLOCK BEFORE CUTTING INTO YOUR BEAUTIFUL FABRIC!
Not everyone thinks in the same way.
I am a linear being. I read instructions and proceed. I never really look at cutting layouts, just the charts. My Northward Quilt testers were AMAZING and their feedback was deeply enlightening. Some of their suggestions were so far outside the realm of how I think about construction, it made me take pause—maybe I should break down WOF strips and subcuts in a different way. Maybe I should adjust this layout so everything is listed from largest to smallest piece. That was a huge eye-opener, and it works both ways. Some of the testing groups I’ve been in have offered amazing insight while we’re all mid-process, and I have benefited greatly.
How to become a pattern tester
Watch your Instagram feed.
I have done 100% of my pattern testing through IG. I follow quilters whose work I like, I think strategically about the testing projects I can take on, and I try to comment or DM as early as possible once requests go out. I have never messaged someone who’s not actively taking calls for testers to ask them to consider me. In general, I want to have something in common with the designer I’m working with—maybe I just love their work, or maybe we really love the same designers, or we live in the same region, etc.
You can also watch for links to forms—bigger designers will often put out a blanket call for testers as they’re developing a year’s or a season’s worth of pattern designs. I’ve filled out five or six Google forms with links to my work and references, and I’ve been accepted to almost all of those tester groups, though I didn’t end up testing for all of them.
I have heard others say that Facebook groups are also a really good way to access calls for pattern testers, but I’m not a big Facebook user so I can’t speak to that. If someone knows a good couple of FB groups for this, please feel free to comment below.
Think about presentation.
Post your quilt projects! Share work from quilters you love! Take good photos. Write captions that talk about your philosophy on quilting, and what it means to you to be a maker. Pattern designers are not only looking for people to make the patterns and offer feedback, they’re hoping you will also promote their work as you help create it. If you can demonstrate an understanding of what that entails via IG or FB or your blog or whatever, you’re way more likely to get into a tester group.
Familiarize yourself with quilt patterns.
It’s ideal if you’re already someone who uses quilt patterns—a prospective customer who can take a new pattern for a spin and reflect on the process. Testers usually come in knowing the basic elements of a quilt pattern and how they usually use one, how they usually follow instructions, etc. If you are an improv-only person, or if you exclusively make your own designs, you should develop this different skill set in order to be a more fluent pattern tester.
Put yourself out there!
Ask to test when designers put out testing calls. Fill out forms. Connect with people who are experienced pattern testers and ask them questions (you can totally ask me about this—send me a DM any time). The worst that will happen is someone will say no! I often see people shyly say they’re “hoping to start testing this year” or lowkey hint that they hope someone will offer them the opportunity. Rarely in life does someone just come out of the woodwork with an opportunity—chase those testing dreams! You are in charge of your own destiny, and the more you ask, the more you will be used to the interaction of asking, and the more you will hear yes.
Good luck on your pattern testing journey!