Yesterday a sewing pattern beta-tester asked this question in a FB group:
“Is it customary to have to grade your own pattern down?”
The pattern she was testing was too big in the size she measured for, and when reporting this to the designer, she was told to grade it down .
Now, I don’t have all of the information, I have no clue who the designer is, there could be missed communication, maybe something was misunderstood, and I like to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, however this much I know is true:
Changing/grading/altering a sewing pattern in the beta testing round is wrong because it invalidates the test.
As one member of the group said: “testing means sewing the pattern exactly as printed with exactly the hems and seam allowances called for” . Bingo.
Every pattern should include a body measurement chart for that designer’s standard sizes. Part of alpha-testing is measuring the pattern pieces, adding in ease, and checking to make sure that each size corresponds with the measurement chart. Alpha-testing should be worked out internally within the pattern company BEFORE the pattern goes into beta-testing by “average consumers”. Beta-testers should be able to measure their body, choose their size(s) from the chart* and proceed to cut out a muslin. If the muslin doesn’t fit, then that needs to be reported back to the designer. Maybe the pattern needs to go back to alpha-testing for measurements. The answer is not for the beta-tester to re-grade the pattern.
*This may very well involve blending sizes. If your body measures one size in the waist and another in the hip, then absolutely you should blend the pattern from the size in the chart corresponding to your waist, to the size in the chart corresponding to your hip. This is the true test of the pattern fit.
As a pdf sewing pattern consumer, you rely on a limited amount of information before making a buying decision. An important element of that info is tester photographs. Ethically, the photos should reflect the actual pattern “as-is”, in the size(s) chosen from the measurement chart according to the wearer’s body measurements. Not doctored up, not changed on a whim, not clothes-pinned in the back to pull in the excess just to make a pretty picture. And not graded to a different size. If the tester has privately revised the pattern, then photos of the results constitute false advertising.
Some of the first pdf clothing patterns I bought had serious drafting errors, and grading that made no sense, yet when I looked back at the tester photos I saw that the errors had been “corrected”. (In one case, the smaller sizes in a fitted child’s dress had a pattern graded to measurements SMALLER than the body-size measurements in the size chart, in other words the dress would have been impossible to get onto the child.) I asked in the online groups whether anybody else had problems, and was accosted by the White Knights assuring me that the pattern was “perfect” and “tested by a large group of experienced sewers” and that any issues I had were all my fault, and that I must not be good at sewing.
However, when I further pursued the issues, showing screen shots of actual, specific, quantifiable, undeniable pattern errors, the story changed. Suddenly the Defenders Of The Queen admitted that they had indeed:
anything and everything including the:
- sequence of stitching
- method of construction
Now, I can understand why a tester would want to do this: she is investing time and materials, and wants a wearable outfit out of the process. However unless the changes are divulged, the photos are misleading, even deceptive. (A customer could very well cut out that same child’s dress, trusting the testers, and sewn it up only to go into the garbage.)
You can argue that the pattern industry has been doing this forever. The paper pattern companies started out using illustrations (watercolor, then later colored-marker) that elongated the figure and narrowed the waist:
During the 1970s they moved to photography, and quickly learned to airbrush:
When photographic processes changed to digital around the beginning of the millennium, Photoshop made it even easier to (possibly) embellish the truth:
However, two wrongs don’t make a right: just because stretching the truth may be done in pattern catalogs, that doesn’t make it any more excusable in indie pdf small business. More importantly, the relationship is different when it comes to beta-testing by individuals who vouch for the product personally. A beta-tester, as they say in the fine print along the bottom of the screen in television advertisements, is “Not an actor”: her endorsement is powerful since it is expected that she is being honest with her assessment of the product. While you read the glowing reviews of an indie sewing pattern when it is released, maybe you can guess that a tester might be accentuating the positive, but hopefully she is honestly talking about the product as-is. Not changed to suit her own preferences. Not changed at the encouragement of the designer either.
By the time a pattern goes into Beta-testing, all of the measurements should have been worked out through internal Alpha-testing. It’s crucial for testers, and pattern designers, to know the difference between alpha and beta testing. The responsibility of the Beta-tester is to make up the pattern exactly as it is, in the size(s) on the chart that correspond to her body measurements, and report any issues to the designer. If the fit is off, then the pattern should go back to Alpha-testing. Yes this is time-consuming. Nobody said patternmaking was easy.