Sincerely, Shantelle

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I get a lot of comments and questions from friends and family about my sewing, especially since I’m a SAHM who does not own a business. Most weeks, I spend at least 4 days sewing, and a lot of that time is spent testing patterns and sewing strikes, and aside from the finished product(s) at the end, people don’t always understand how I’m ALWAYS sewing or exactly what I’m doing with my time.

It’s no secret to my sewing circle that I’m pretty much a full-time pattern tester (if there is such a thing). I’m in several different designers’ tester pools, although I haven’t sewn for them all equally, but that pretty much ensures I always have something to do unless I choose to take a break.

I will pause and preface this by saying all experiences shared here are MY OWN and are written how I interpret the process(es). As with everything, others may not agree, or have differing opinions on the matters, and that's OKAY. It's the beauty of being human and perceiving things individually. So let's get to it...

  • What’s pattern testing, how do you become a pattern tester, and what do you do?

Before a sewing pattern is released for sell to the public, it undergoes a series of tests from the designer and his/her team. Typically, the designer drafts the pattern and pretests it. I’ve seen pretesting vary from the designers sewing them up themselves, to designers reaching out to certain testers or making a call. I pretest for a couple different companies and it’s usually just to see if the garment looks as the designer envisioned, and if there are any major fit or drafting changes that need to occur before pushing it through to real testing. This is where the testing call comes in.

The basic concept is the same throughout each company, though the specifics vary. Sewists will usually see a post stating that a company has an open call. We fill out an application with the size or measurements we are applying to sew, select options (sleeve length, top length, etc). Some designers require us to add pictures of our work so they can gauge our sewing and photography skill levels. Contrary to what some may believe, designers usually want a good mix of sewists in pattern tests to ensure that the pattern and tutorial is easily sewn and followed by sewists of the skill level it’s marketed for. Not EVERYONE in the group will be a skilled-super-sewist. They chose ME, after all!

Designers usually select a set number of sewists for each size of the pattern. Upon acceptance into the test, sewists are added to a Facebook group. From there, fabric recommendations, patterns, instructions, and any other relevant information regarding the test is posted. Garments are sewn, photographed from various angles to show how they fit, then posted in the group for others to see and for the designer to get feedback and ask questions on perfecting the fit. Patterns will usually undergo a couple of changes, or versions, in the testing process. Once it has reached its final version, we sew it up once more in our “final” fabric & take final photographs for promo (which is what y’all see me post on Facebook and Instagram). For some groups, the pattern is proofed for major spelling/grammatical errors, and to ensure the tutorial flows properly, and then the pattern is scheduled for release.

  • Why do you do it “full time”?

Good question! I honestly just enjoy it. I find acceptance in the testing community, and the companies I affiliate with strive to be inclusive and diverse, which makes me feel good about what I’m creating. I love trying new things, fine-tuning my skills, and making cool clothes for myself and my family in the process. I’ve been challenged so many times, learned so many techniques, and I’ve sewn with so many different fabric bases due to testing. In fact, I sewed my first separating zipper, first buttonholes on clothing, first placket, & first swimsuit ALL through testing. I’ve also met so many amazingly talented sewists who inspire me to be more creative in my process and who come with an abundance of knowledge in techniques, tools, and are just generally awesome people to (virtually) be around. I’m ALWAYS learning and I love that! Since there are deadlines, it gives me something to do while being a stay-at-home mom and helps me manage my time. On occasion, I have the tendency to overwhelm myself by agreeing to too many tests at the same time, but I’m working on learning to set firm boundaries, not be afraid to say “no” more, and NOT APPLY FOR EVERY DANG TEST!

  • So what’s in it for you?? How much do you get paid?

This is perhaps the NUMBER ONE question I get asked about pattern testing. Either this, or it’s phrased as a statement like “wow, you must make SOOOO much money sewing all the time.” The short answer to this question is that I make $0. Pattern testing is 100% voluntary! All testers are given the final version of the tested pattern at the end, free of charge. Some groups I test for give a credit for the pattern, or even an extra pattern from the site, as well. Personally, I make money from my affiliate commissions during promotion periods. I am also sometimes provided free or highly discounted fabric for tests. I do other sewing related tasks that I am paid for, like step photography for pattern tutorials and occasionally sewing for friends or family members. Pattern testing is my little bit of happy. My husband fully supports my hobby, our family is well taken care of, and I am treated well by all the designers I test for, so unless any of that changes...I plan to continue testing to my heart's content.

  • You mentioned strikes earlier...what are those?

Sewing “strikes” or strikeoff sewing is basically the pattern testing of the fabric world, except it’s less “open.” Most pattern companies I work with have 100+ testers in their pool, but the fabric companies have teams of 10-20 sewists. Generally an application is opened for new sewists for fabric shops, and we “apply” by submitting photos of our best works. Fabric hosts are looking in particular for great quality sewing, well lit and fabric focused photos, and in many cases, the ability to sew quickly upon receipt of fabric. Some like more frilly, over the top sews, while others are okay with everyday wear sews. It’s usually provided in the call exactly what types of applicants they are looking for. I’ve applied a nice handful of times, and not been selected that same handful of times haha. I was finally chosen as a SOS in December by two separate companies, and since then I have been contacted by hosts and invited to teams to sew for a handful more.

As with pattern testing, each of the fabric companies I sew for operates differently. In all of them the strikeoff fabric is provided to the sewists for free. Some require us to pay shipping, while some eat that cost. Some allow us to get extra fabric at discount prices in advance, while others provide a discount after the promotion period is up. Different amounts of fabrics are provided from the companies (I’ve received everything between 2 fat halves to 4 yards plus panels), but we are given a specified amount of time to sew the fabric and then promote it for them in promotion groups, sewing groups, blogs, Instagram, etc. Some send monthly amounts, some send only when they have new fabric rounds, and some have teams where different groups of sewists sew and promote at different times.

Fabric hosts/designers send their images to a fabric printer, who then prints out “strikes,” which are essentially tests of the fabric. This allows the host to check that colors are printed properly, images are the correct scale, and that the quality of the fabric base is what they desire. They then send these to the strikeoff seamstresses. Upon receipt of the fabric, we have to sew items based on the turnaround time provided, and photograph and promote the fabric. People then purchase this fabric on a preorder basis, then it’s shipped to them in 6-12(ish) weeks when it’s done printing. The “payment” to us for this work is free fabric, and I will gladly do it as long as I am able. It’s fun & encourages me to get creative in pattern and fabric coordinating. It also allows me to try new fabric, and has really gotten me more into the custom world. I wasn’t really much into it before, but since I’ve been sewing with custom quality cotton lycra, I don’t think I can ever go back haha!

Before I became a stikeoff seamstress, I thought it was this impenetrable elitist sewing community, only reserved for the crème de la crème and that I would NEVER get in because I’d never be good enough or compare. What I ended up learning is that there are several of my sweet sewing friends from testing right alongside me. They are the same people I see interacting in my sewing groups asking for AND giving advice. Adding to that, sewing specialties and styles range from everyday kid & adult clothing, to super cool, crazy colorblocked and decked out clothing, to animal clothing, to bags, costumes, and everything imaginable. Just like in the pattern testing world, many fabric hosts seem to want a mix of sewists with different aesthetics to showcase the various ways in which their fabrics can be used. I'm elated that I get to be a part of it!

In all, sewing is mostly a hobby, but it is extraordinarily rewarding for me. The challenges I've faced, the skills I’ve learned, the experiences I’ve had, and the people I’ve met keep me in this community. Hopefully this answers all those burning questions about what I do with my life! Any questions I didn't answer? Feel free to send them over to me on Instagram until I get my comments up and running here!!