Blog,  Sewing Tips,  Uncategorized

Truth in Beta-testing

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:

  • tweaked
  • adjusted
  • modified
  • personalized
  • graded
  • altered

anything and everything including the:

  • width
  • length
  • neckline
  • armscye
  • straps
  • 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.


  • Annie G

    Well I will weigh in here. I recently tested one of my patterns and specifically stated where the garment should sit as they were pants. I have a clothing background of 30 + years and also teach fashion design/patternmaking in my private school- and also I fit on anatomically correct dummies and have an extensive sizing chart and finished garment measure chart in my patterns. When testing the pattern designer is relying on the tester to measure themselves accurately – and as I am sure you know you cannot ever get truly accurate measures yourself. When the photos strted coming in I thought “what”. Some were fabulous and these came from testers who I know are auper accurate. Other garment photos looked the garment sizing was really off. If I was a newish Indie designer (without my background) I probably would have questioned myself and started to change the fit. But as I knew my fit was sound I started to really dig in deep with loads of questions – and after finally nutting it all out the testers didnt take any notice where the pants were meant to sit (it was detailed to them) and/or thought their waist was way below their belly button and measured that area accordingly and used corresponding sizing for that area. Now these testers are not new to testing – I see photos of them testing for what I call the bigger Indie designers. So I suppose I am concluding that relying totally on the accuracy of the tester in some cases IS fraught with danger. Cheers. Ann

  • [email protected]

    Absolutely true that most people have no idea how to take accurate measurements, and may not know that it can’t be done by oneself. I feel that it’s due to the way we shop now: in mall chain stores, or at mass-market retailers, neither having an alterations department. Back when shopping was done mostly at department stores, customers were accustomed to being measured by the alterations staff. Clothes were more expensive (relative to income) but made to last longer, this investing in fitting made sense. Who even tried to get a good fit in cheap RTW these days? Many people have no clue how clothing SHOULD fit. Even sewists who sincerely want to sew to get a better fit, may not know where to start, or what they are aiming for. You are right that relying on the BETA testers can be fraught with danger…..I wish that designers put more effort (in general) into alpha-testing and establishing fit, so that beta-testing was simply for checking the final details such as ease in printing out and following instructions.

  • Frustrated With the Testing Process

    In a test, if you have draftd your patterns for a certain cup size, you would want testers in that specific cup size, correct? If a tester has to do a significant FBA to make it fit, does that also invalidate the test? Such changes are noted on final pictures, but still, who’s to say the FBA was done right? There are numerous ways to do it. If the testers don’t fit closely within the size/height/cup range, it just seems like there are too many variables to the test. Were I a pattern designer, I would want to see pictures of every adjustment someone had to make, from blending sizes, to adjusting for height, etc, so I would know how their method factored in to fit. Even in blending sizes there are different ways to do it, where the angle goes, etc, and I’m guessing a lot of testers don’t even have a French Curve.

  • [email protected]

    Wow, that’s a great question, do you need to be the drafted cup size to test? In the apparel industry the answer is yes, the fit model must maintain the cup size that is the manufacturer’s standard ( a million years ago I worked in the bra business and the joke was that all bra buyers must wear a B-cup since that was the test size….I thought they were kidding but sure enough before long I was testing bras). But for the indie pdf business? If I were the designer, I would give specific instructions for FBA for any testers not wearing the drafted-cup size. And if that means testers must have a French curve, that’s money well invested. I’d buy them by the dozen from Wawak and send ’em out!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *