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Adventures in Pattern Testing

Are you a goal setter? I definitely am. But I am one of those people who sets secret goals--I don't generally announce them. It's too much pressure.
 
But a few months into my quilting life, I had set a goal for myself. I wanted to be a pattern tester. It seemed so glamorous--getting a sneak peek at a pattern, the challenge of creating a quilt that would reflect my style and do justice to the designer's pattern, working for a favorite designer-- I wanted it badly! Maybe you do, too.
 
But pattern testing can seem mysterious. How do you become a pattern tester? What is involved?
 
In the last couple of months, I have pattern tested for three different designers. So I thought I would share some of what I have learned and help you decide if this is something you would enjoy.
 
I will be totally upfront and tell you, I LOVE pattern testing! For me, it is exactly the challenge I wanted. Although I will say I don't think I would have been ready for it a year ago when I first started dreaming about. And for some of my quilting friends, their interest dropped to zero after learning some of the details. Here are some of the key things I've learned about pattern testing.
 
Things I have learned
 
1. Every pattern testing experience is different.
 
I have tested for three designers and each has their own style. Some designers have very structured groups and other designers will simply give some general guidelines and then email you the pattern. It pays to be flexible and be able to adapt to each designers style. I personally enjoy lots of structure and the "team" mentality, but I can also work well independently. If you are a bit of a free spirit, be forewarned that not every pattern testing will be independent work (or vice versa--not every pattern testing will include a strong group mentality.)
 
2. It can be a bit stressful.
 
Perhaps quilting is your way to relax. This is going to change when you have deadlines to meet. I've had anything from 4 weeks to 8 weeks to finish a quilt for a pattern test. It isn't a whole lot of time if you are also working full time or are busy with family life (like me). I'm one of those weird people who becomes really focused when facing a deadline or am under stress. I have managed to do well with the time frames, but there were times when quilt making had to take priority when I normally would have sat and watched a movie instead. It's a different mindset when you are quilting because you "need to" versus because you "want to."
 
3. It can get a little pricey
 
When you are pattern testing, you have to buy all your own fabrics and materials. Sometimes you can work from your stash, but I generally needed to buy more of one fabric or buy additional fabrics to meet the pattern requirements. (Not to mention batting and thread and more.)
 
4. You have to stick to the pattern
 
The reason designers use pattern testing is to catch any errors they may have missed. You are double checking the fabric requirements, cutting instructions, block assembly instructions...there isn't any room for improvisation here. Designers are trusting you are going to work the pattern exactly as written to be sure a future customer can make the quilt based on the pattern. If you like to improvise or add in or subtract fabrics, you may feel disappointed that you can't really do that (at least not for your official test quilt).
 
And, side note, be sure you are ready to provide feedback if there are errors. Designers are humans, too, and mistakes will happen. Be ready to alert designers to errors and be understanding if now you have to buy more fabric or have to re-cut something. It happens.
 
5. Pattern testing is a great way to build your skill set
 
Sometimes, you may not be able to see the pattern you are testing for until after you have volunteered to be a tester. Of course, you can always decline to test a specific pattern if it is beyond your skill set or not just something you want to do.
 
My experience is the designers will put you on a testing list, send out the pattern and then you can opt in to test it--so don't worry-- you will see the pattern before you accept to pattern test. However, you may find yourself testing a quilt that has techniques or blocks that are new to you. This is a great way to expand your skills and become the quilt ninja you always knew you could be.
 
6. Last, but not least, pattern testing can be a great way to build relationships.
 
Hands down, this has been my favorite part of the quilt testing process. Meeting others who are also testing the same quilt can lead to some valuable and important relationships. It has been so nice to be able to reach out to someone and say, "Hey, can I pick your brain for a minute?" These testers have a wealth of knowledge they are happy to share. More importantly, they are some seriously cool, kind and creative people. That's my kind of people!
 
 
So maybe you have read through all of this and think, "Hmmmm...not for me! I want my quilting to be only for fun." Or maybe you think, "YES!!! How do I sign up?"
 
That second question was what went through my head when I first decided I wanted to pattern test. For you quilting mavericks, read on.
 
Maybe you will be lucky and have a friend or relative who is getting into pattern design. In which case, you probably have an "in." I didn't know any designers personally, so had to do what most testers do...keep my eyes open for testing opportunities. Which leads to my next section...
 
How to Become a Pattern Tester
 
Watch for Testing Calls
 
Designers will usually post on Facebook or Instagram when they have openings for testers. That was how I started testing. Just keep your eyes open and be sure you are following your favorite designers.
 
And do NOT be discouraged if you are not picked!! I got brave one day and asked a designer to test and she politely and sweetly declined. Pattern testing spots fill up quickly. In this case, the designer in question told me she had enough for now. I was extremely disappointed, and even a bit embarassed, but you have to keep your chin up and keep doing the work...which leads to my next pointer.
 
Your Social Media Is Now Your Portfolio
 
When I first joined Instagram, I did it only because I wanted to enter some giveaways happening in my sew along. I didn't really post much and it feel a bit braggadocious to do so. However, you have to shut down that inner critic and POST YOUR WORK! Think of your social media presence as your online resume.
 
Because this is what is going to happen: Your favorite designer is going to put out a call for testers. You've already decided this is for you because you read that awesome blog post by that "midlife quilter woman" and now know what to expect...so you sign up.
 
That designer is going review your instagram page and check out your work. It pays to have good photos that give a sense of who you are and how you work.
 
BUT, I cannot stress this enough: Your page DOES NOT have to look like that other person you follow who has those beautiful shots of quilts from mountain tops at sunset.
 
Your page, however, should be the best and most honest reflection of your style and who you are. In the words of the great Judy Garland, "Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
 
So unless you live on a mountain top and routinely take pics of your quilts on that mountain (at sunset), do not feel pressure or think that you don't stand a chance if you don't do the same. Be yourself and do your best work. That is my final tip.
 
Always Do Your Best Work
 
I really had to change my mindset when I decided I wanted to pattern test. For most of us, opportunities are not just going to fall in our lap. It does happen-- and hooray when it does--but for the most part, we have to actively be pursuing what we want. So be sure that you are always putting your best foot forward. It's like a job interview...you want to be prepared.
 
And because I'm feeling quotey, here is another good quote to drive the point home.
 
"My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life, but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment."
 
That is a quote by Oprah Winfrey--one of the most successful people on planet Earth.
 
So to summarize: Do YOUR best work, post it and watch for those testing calls.
 
WHEW! That was a lot of info, but maybe you want more? If you still have question or want more specifics, I'm always happy to chat with a fellow quilter! Drop me a line at hello@midlifequilter.com. Maybe it will even lead to a second post that will feature your questions.
 
Until next time, happy sewing!
 
PS: The quilt pictured above is my test version of the Shadow Diamond Quilt by Three Birds and Stitches. Pattern releases September 7, 2020.

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