Friday 4 July 2014

Testing, testing, 1,2,3

A while ago, Leanne, posted a request for pattern testers for her Spin Placemat pattern. Given that our kitchen placemats have definitely seen better days I signed up and then promptly went on holiday and forgot all about it.

Well, a very polite nudge from Leanne later, I finally got around to pulling out the fabric for the placemat and decided that the kitchen mats could survive a bit longer, what I really needed was Christmas placemats :) I had taken part in a Christmas fabric layer cake swap a long time ago and still had several of the layer cake squares sitting in my stash, and as Leanne's pattern called for 5" and 3" squares for the pinwheel blocks this was the ideal use for them.

Spin Placemat

Teamed with some plain red for the borders also from the stash, I was good to go.

The pattern was very straightforward and with a finished size of 12.5" x 18" the placemat is substantial enough to cope with the placings for a banquet never mind a casual kitchen supper :)

Spin Placemat back

I found some Christmas fabric in my stash for the backing and some old Kate Spain  ( I think) fabric bought in Latvia for the binding, so it was a very economical project all round.

The pattern directions are for 4 placemats, but I am thinking of just making one more and giving them to our son and his fiancee who will be celebrating their first Christmas as a Mr and Mrs this year.

If you need to refresh your table linens or are looking for a quick gift to make for a housewarming, check out Leanne's pattern at her Craftsy store

As it happens, I have been taking part in an online discussion about using pattern testers and it has been an interesting topic. Long-term readers of this blog will perhaps remember the Zakka-style SAL that swept quilting blogland and the problems that we had with the number of errors in the book. Well, it seems that this was not a lone issue, as a couple of the participants in the discussion are taking part in the Gypsy Wife QAL, where it has become pretty obvious that the pattern was never tested before publication. You can read comments on the problems here and here One of the questions we were asking ourselves is "are quilters too polite for their own good?" Should we be making more of a fuss when we come across an expensive book or pattern that is littered with errors? If individuals like Leanne, can take the time to have their patterns tested before putting them up for sale, then why can't the great and the good of the quilting world do the same? Are we all so blinded by the reputation of the author/s that we are reluctant to voice a negative opinion?

I am sure you will all have an opinion on this topic, and I look forward to hearing it. In the meantime check out Leanne's pattern, which has been consumer-tested and passed with flying colours :)

Linking up to



  1. I've noticed that Christmas colours have been gradually changing from the tradtional red and green to include icy blues and other colours. I think it's great to watch this shift, although it is also making me think that, if I ever make anything Christmassy, I will include lots of yellows and bright blues (for Summer), because, although we have Christmas in Summer in Australia, we are always bombarded with winter imagery. It is only as an adult that I have started to find this odd (I guess as a kid, I just thought that the winter stuff was because Santa lived at the North Pole, but really it is mostly just English (and American) imagery that we have embraced, or perhaps never overcome).

    I think if patterns are going to be printed in a book, they should definitely be tested, or at least double and triple checked to make sure that they read correctly, and make sense.

  2. I didn't participate in the Zakka sewalong, but read quite a few posts from people having problems. I was surprised that such a ... problematic ... book was allowed to be published - especially by such a big designer. I don't recall seeing much input from her about the issues that people were having (although I wasn't really following the program to any great extent) - if I were a designer and that happened, I'd be horrified, and would take whatever steps were necessary to ensure a more accurate publication. I think there may be too many steps and layers between an idea in a designer's mind, to the finished product! At a certain point, I think the designers relinquish any control to the book publishers - that's probably where the problems arise. I think it's fabulous that so many "indie" designers are actually taking the time to have their patterns tested - it makes a HUGE difference in the quality of the product. Book patterns should be double and triple tested and then double and triple proofread too - quality control doesn't seem to be a popular department for publishers!

    Lovely placemat, btw - that's a great pattern!

  3. great mats, think I will have to make some too. Re mistakes I found lots in a maths text book which had incorrect answers in the back when Helen was doing her GCSE Maths at school, you would have thought writers would want to get things right as it is off putting, I certainly would not buy another book by the same author.

  4. What on earth were the publishers thinking? And what a lovely project - well done to you and Leanne! X

  5. Lovely place mat Fiona. All patterns, recipes etc should always be double tested by someone making the item and not just someone mathematically working it all out. I wonder if it's constraints of budget, deadlines or laziness which stop publishers/designers from doing this?

  6. Any sewing book that is for sale should have each and every project pattern tested by at least a couple of people not associated with the original pattern. It's so easy to overlook mistakes and when you read something you've written yourself, even harder. That's why proof readers are necessary, as well as pattern testers. I didn't do the sew-along, but do remember reading several times about the mistakes. The publishers will do well out of the book, so no excuses for not spending the money. The authors won't receive as much money, but then again, they're not taking the risks. If I was the author, I'd want to have my patterns tested before I sent the final copies off to the publisher.

    The placemat looks great, Fiona!!! You are powering on with the Christmas sewing.

  7. hear hear. I was involved with the whole Zakka thing... Someone above mentions that maybe budget is a constraint for getting pattern testers, but I've never seen a pattern tester paid. I've pattern tested bags and blocks and did it for free and would be happy to do it for any publishers, as would many other people out there. It's pure laziness, but makes me begrudge paying for a book or pattern when it's full of errors!

  8. Love the place mats!! and the quilting is perfect.. the pinwheels look like they are spinning! i think that if a person goes to the trouble to write a pattern that they should have it tested a number of times to make sure it is user friendly and easily understood!

  9. The placemats looked great, even if you did mention the 'C' word.

    For the testing, well, here's the thing, testing is my day job, so I have rather strong feeling about this. It's a real job, and a lot of people do it in a lot of industries because everyone's fallable, and designers in all walks of life make mistakes. In the craft industry, apparently we expect people to do testing for free (full disclosure - I have asked people to do this for one pattern and felt deeply uncomfortable about it). It's not a reasonable expectation for a number of reasons (some of which may not be pleasant to digest):

    1. Some 'testers' are only in it for a free pattern, they are not in the least bit interested in helping things through, they just want bragging rights on getting an 'in' on the latest big thing.

    2. Some testers are not actually that experienced as sewers and don't want to call out potential errors because they believe the designer must know what they're talking about because they've been doing it for so much longer.

    3. Some testers may spot errors, but are indeed too polite to mention it and/or don't want to risk not being asked to test for that person again (that kind of goes back to the personal street cred thing in point 1)

    4. Some testers don't have time to actually feed stuff back in detail, so a hurried 'yeah it was fine' comes through, when in fact there were maybe a number of issues they came across and perhaps worked around.

    5. As a designer, you can't actually force people to complete things if they're doing it for free. You may gently remind people, but get a litany of excuses through, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it except try and find yet another set of people to test for you.

    Testing properly is actually a skill, and not everyone has that ability, just like not everyone has the ability to write a pattern. There's a lot of logical thinking that has to go into both skills, the designer to put the thoughts down in the first place in a coherent manner, and the tester to pinpoint exactly where a problem is and (if they're worth their salt) how to get out of it again, or at least offer options. It's not just about making sure numbers are correct, it's about saying 'that sentence makes no sense at all, I get what you're trying to say, but maybe try saying 'XXX' instead', it's about identifying things that make a pattern more user friendly, such as labelling parts or dividing the pattern down into subsections. It is definitely worth paying for professional testers when you have a big product, be it a book or a large print run of a printed pattern.

    Now designers do not earn much from books, and expecting them to take the hit on paying professionals is rather unreasonable - if publishers can employ editors and photographers without affecting the designer's cut, why can they not employ testers on the same basis? If they are a craft book publishing company, surely retaining one or two people on staff to test across their range is not unrealistic, and when spread across a number of titles, the cost would be less than employing freelancers on a title by title basis, plus a reputation for very good, error-free titles can only be a good thing.

    After all that, are we really saying that we fully expect everyone involved in pattern writing to give their all for next to nothing? Are we demanding that the people who enable us to make beautiful things are paid a pittance so that we can enjoy our hobby without issues? I'm not sure I'm comfortable about that either.

  10. Wow! Katy brought up some excellent points. As someone who will be asking for some pattern testers in the future, it has given me a lot to think about.

    It would be great if we could form a little group of new designers who would be willing to test patterns for each other, paying attention to the issues Katy brought up. I would certainly be willing to do it for someone else, in detail, if someone else was willing to do me the same diligent service.

  11. Interesting discussion and I think Katy makes some excellent points. With my caravan cover, I clearly stated that it hadn't been tested (except by me in the tute) in my product description and the amount I charged only covered the etsy and paypal expenses, which I think was fair, but I was extremely worried that something would turn out to be wrong and that people would have wasted fabric. I only increased the price and took that out of the description after several people had made it successfully. On the other hand, as Katy says, we can't be expected to pay people to test patterns we are offering free or very cheaply. It's certainly a bit of a conundrum.

  12. Love the placemats Fiona.
    Interesting discussion; I think it shows great responsibility from the author of a pattern to have the pattern tested before releasing it for sale. It is truly disappointing to buy as you mentioned and expensive book and have all kinds of errors in the pattern.

  13. I like Jen's suggestion of testing each others. There is a big time commitment to testing, in addition to fabric and like Katy I'm not too comfortable asking for it for free. Quilters are generous by nature I've found but it still seems to be too much of a one way street for something as big as a quilt to ask for free labour and free feedback.


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