Why are Indie Patterns Tested in Every Size?

Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that my pet peeve is inconsistent pattern grading. I’m annoyed by it, confused by it, and continue to ask “HOW does that happen? It’s not even possible to have inconsistent shapes and angles if using an automated grading program, or if manually grading by shifting on an x/Y axis.”

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Inconsistent grading seems to be a problem  when “computer grading” is done in a general-purpose vector program. But I’m still learning WHY it happens. This week in a Facebook group I saw this screen shot of a leggings pattern by an indie designer; please note the wildly inconsistent grading along the size range:

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One of the Facebook group comments was “I recall someone saying that this designer drafts her patterns to each individual tester”.

So my question is “Why would you do that? Why do indie pattern companies FIT test in multiple sizes?”

(Postscript: My thanks to reader Debbie Cook for this clarification point: I’m referring here to Alpha-testing, not Beta-testing. Beta testing (checking to make sure the average consumer can easily download the pdf file, and follow the cutting the sewing instructions) should be done by a variety of sewists at every skill and experience level.  Alpha-testing (checking the pattern for accuracy in fit/measurements/ease, walking the seams, seeing if the corners are trued) should ideally be done in-house by professionals. Of course this is expensive, and so it makes sense that indie designers would take advantage of the skills of volunteer sewists….however sometimes “too many cooks spoil the broth”: if the designer listens to fitting feedback from a variety of testers having different proportions AND THEN GRADES TO THEM, the resulting pattern can be a mish-mosh. More on Alpha and Beta testing here: http://7pinedesign.com/alpha-testing-measure-walk-true/ )

This may be surprising to the many sewists who volunteer for indie pattern testing, but here goes: Apparel manufacturers do not fit-test in every size.  They fit-test in the central size, and then accurately grade the pattern up and down the size range scale, using grade rules. (Of course if the design is being expanded into a different size range  (Infants, Toddlers, Kids 2-6x, Kids 7-14, Juniors, Women’s Plus, Maternity, etc) , a new block is used for that range and the central size for that range is fit-tested.)

In apparel manufacturing, samples are fit-approved on a fit-model , generally a size 8 in womens-wear and a size Medium in mens-wear. “Clothing companies tend to make clothes starting from the middle size (about an 8) and then scale up and down for sizing. “  Same story for commercial pattern manufacturing (paper sewing patterns for the home-sewing market): the fit is tested in fit-model size only, on a professional fit-model whose body works well with that manufacturer’s fit block.

(Fun fact: some manufacturers have special dressforms made, exactly following the figure of their fit model, and name the dressform with the fit model’s name.)

Why isn’t every size tested?

  1. Professional fit models are not available in every size (modelling agencies only hire fit models in “fit model size”
  2. Even if they were, fit-models cost about  $150 to $250/hr, so testing multiple sizes would be cost-prohibitive
  3. Sewing up every size in samples would be cost-prohibitive and time-consuming

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So why would an indie patternmaker fit-test in multiple sizes? Possibly because each one of the above objections does not apply:

  1. Amateur fit models (home sewists) are plentiful in every size
  2. You can get testing done in exchange for a pattern file
  3. Indie pattern testers provide their own sample-making using their own fabric and time

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If indie patternmakers CAN fit-test in multiple sizes, the question becomes, SHOULD they? In every endeavor there are benefits and drawbacks.

Benefits of fit-testing in multiple sizes:

  • More feedback
  • More photos (as Delphine of Just Patterns commented “seeing the pattern sewn in many sizes is what triggers sales”)

Drawbacks of fit-testing in multiple sizes:

  • Conflicting feedback: since testers do not all have  fit-model proportions, each tester will have different fit issues.  Professional fit models not only have to meet the standard chest/waist/hip WIDTH measurements, they also get measured for LENGTHS (shoulder to bust high-point, shoulder to waist, waist-to-knee, etc).  Amateur models may have all different length measurements (ie; different proportions), causing each garment to fit differently.  If you try to fit-approve everybody, you end up fitting nobody. And if you use each separate size for fit-approval, and grade your pattern that way, the result is a jumble of inconsistency.

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The most important reason that professionals do not fit-test in every size is this: it’s not necessary. If you use a good grading service, with consistent grade rules throughout the size range, all of the sizes will fit well. They won’t fit everybody perfectly (this is not made-to-measure or couture we’re talking about) but they will fit the greatest number of people adequately.  As a consumer (of patterns or of ready-to-wear) , once we’ve found the designer whose blocks work best with our own bodies, we can count on a fairly consistent fit regarding shape and proportion, even if we go up or down a size.

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And then this happened: The designer for Lil Luxe patterns sent out an announcement  this week regarding some changes in her business, and I noted this statement with particular interest: “After trying to expand up to size 12, with little luck of testers available, we decided to work with a standard size chart for sizes 18m – 10 yrs.”

I haven’t tried her patterns yet, but I do have the City Girl Romper, and look how  beautifully consistent this grading is!  She could easily add size 12 without needing to test on a fit-model (as long as it is for a not-yet-developing figure; going into a tween size range does require new fit-testing for that proportional shape):

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So my question remains: “Why are indie patterns tested in all sizes?

  • Do indie designers think it is necessary for some reason?
  • Is it for the photos?
  • For media exposure on FB, in blogs, on Instagram, etc?
  • Is the patternmaker not confident in their grader’s abilities?

Here’s what I do know:  for the purpose of fit-approval, testing in the full size range can backfire if a variety of different-proportions test results are all used simultaneously instead of grading from a central size.

Happy Sewing!

Best, Janet

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8 Responses to Why are Indie Patterns Tested in Every Size?

  1. Debbie Cook says:

    I don’t think indie patterns are necessarily tested for *fit* in all sizes (which is actually pretty easy to believe! hah!). They call for testers who then test downloading and assembling PDF patterns and going through the instructions with an actual sample to test those processes. The “designer” then end up with a whole slew of different sized testers’ photos of their finished projects which they use as “advertising” on blogs, etc.

    Also wanted to say that I enjoy your blog very much.

  2. I have only a limited experience of selling digital sewing patterns (we started in February this year) but from what I see so far seeing the pattern sewn in many sizes is what triggers sales. So I would say it’s mainly for marketing reasons…
    We developed, tested and graded (with a specialized CAD software) the patterns in house and put the patterns for sale. But we ended up setting up a facebook “development” group to have feedback on different aspects, understand users of our patterns better and have pictures on various body types. I think the latter gave a significant boost to the sales. A few weeks after us I saw that Jennifer Lauren launched something similar so I’m guessing this is really what it’s about!

    I only found your blog recently because I don’t really look at the children pattern offering, but I love your discussion posts (and had no idea people were not doing “regular grading), they are 100% applicable to adult patterns too!q

  3. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Hi Debbie, Well there’s Alpha-testing and there’s Beta-testing…..testing for downloading and assembling is Beta-testing, and for that purpose, the more the merrier. Having a pattern Beta-tested by sewists at all levels of ability is hugely helpful for finding errors and typos, determining which procedure steps are confusing, etc. What I’m confused by is the Alpha-testing for fit: in industry this is done in-house by professionals…it seems that when this is outsourced to customers that fit-confusion can be the result.

    Thanks for your comment and I’m going to update the post ! Best, Janet

  4. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Good point, Delphine, about seeing many sizes in photos….I’m updating the blog post about that (thank you!). The process that you are using for Just Patterns (developing, testing, grading in-house) is ideal. However. many indie businesses outsource much of the testing, including fit-testing, to customers in exchange for the pattern. The result can be a final pattern file with multiple shapes and proportions….many sewists have no problem with this, but I find it so confusing to work with! Thanks for your comments…I;m wishing you much success with your business! Best regards, Janet

  5. Jen says:

    I am probably going to be run out of town for saying this…BUT I think it *might* have to do with lack of experience. Lack of working in the industry and with pattern making in general. It seems everyone wants to be a fashion designer but really understanding the engineering behind pattern making and the correlation to fit is a lot different than sketching up some pictures and hoping for the best! They have the perfect market too – new sewers who don’t know any better and fall in love with the look. It really does a disservice to them because they don’t learn the proper techniques and accept ill fitting clothing as a norm.

  6. I like to have testers cover all the size ranges because I do all the work myself – drafting, sewing, writing, editing, digitizing… It’s nice to have someone else check each size for layering problems, line weight, notches, etc(not that I don’t also check but an extra set of eyes never hurts).

    I know that I can gauge size interest based on tester interest. If I have a difficult time finding testers in size 12, I’ll probably also have a difficult time finding buyers. There is a lot of work that goes into expanding sizes and if you don’t think there are enough buyers out there, then I can see deciding against it. Diminishing returns and all that.

  7. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Oh I totally get it, having Beta testers in all sizes and of all abilities is great and makes total sense. But your patterns have already been Alpha tested in house. The problem I see is when designers have volunteers doing the Alpha testing, especially when they give differing feedback regarding fit…and then the patternmaker tries to create the final pattern with each size fitting each tester. I have so many patterns that are a jumbled mess of shapes and proportions.

    I’ve often wondered about extended sizes in the girls’ range….I hear people say they want larger sizes, but I don’t know if that’s for older girls, or for young girls who wear bigger sizes. When I was a kid the department stores had “Husky” departments for larger-sized boys, and something for girls but now I forget what they called it. Funny that I don’t see that anymore at retail, yet there are plenty of bigger kids around….

  8. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Hi Jen, no worries, no judgments! The fact is that desktop-publishing has a low “barrier to entry”: in America 80% of the population has a home computer and 70% have broadband access. There is no license required, no degree necessary to design and sell patterns (there are safety regulations for selling apparel but not for patterns).It is 100% “buyer beware” when it comes to product quality. Some designers are highly skilled in attracting customers…it seems imbalanced at times, how much effort is put into merchandising, marketing, photography, social media, but not into technical product quality. And how would anyone new to sewing know if the instructions and drafting and grading are good or not? It’s kind of like trying new recipes, if you are an amateur cook, you “can’t know what you don’t know”.

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