Monday, February 29, 2016

PWS- How to Write a Quilt Pattern - Pattern Testing (Topic 8)

Topic VIII - Pattern Writing Blog Series - Pattern Testing

A.     Testing

At this point in the process, you have your quilt pattern drafted and you have reviewed, checked, and double-checked the math a few times.  Now it is time for test the pattern to make sure that it is understandable, correct, and easy to follow.

B.     Why Testing Is So Important

As a pattern designer, one of the scariest e-mails you can receive is about an error in your pattern.  With your mistake, you have caused a quilter to waste valuable time and fabric.  Testing is important to minimize pattern mistakes.

In addition to making sure your math and directions are correct, testers can help improve your pattern.  For example, in one of my charm square friendly patterns, a tester suggested adding fabric requirements to use fat quarters instead of charm packs for larger quilt sizes.  In another pattern, one of the testers said that it would be helpful to add yardages needed if someone wanted to make a background out of a single fabric instead of a scrappy version.  These were both great upgrades to my quilt pattern and made it more useful to buyers.

In previous comments, there were some questions on how to know whether the piecing instructions were too brief or too wordy.  Besides finding the right balance by simply practicing and practicing writing patterns, your pattern testers can give you valuable feedback on your instructions.

C.     Testing Your Own Patterns

Most of the time, I write out my entire quilt pattern and then I become the first tester by going through the quilt pattern as I make the quilt.  In rare cases, I make the quilt first and then write the pattern.  Typically, when I do this I will still be the first tester and will remake the quilt in a different size.  As you work through the pattern yourself, try to follow the instructions word for word, and take notes on the pattern as you go.

D.     Pattern Testers

Using pattern testers is totally optional, but I am definitely a proponent of using testers.  Testers will be able to tell you if any parts of your instructions are confusing and point out areas for improvement.  They will recheck your quilt math, correct your grammar, and help with conciseness, clarity, and layout.  Everyone reads and interprets directions differently and what makes total sense to you might be confusing to another quilter. 

If you are lucky enough to have a number of pattern testers, you should try to have them test a variety of quilt sizes.  If your pattern contains baby, lap, twin, queen, and king sizes, it would be more helpful to have a variety of sizes tested instead of 5 people testing the lap size.

a.      Types of Pattern Testers

There are two main types of pattern testers, one that will make a quilt (or quilt top) with your instructions and one who will review your pattern (text, math, etc.) without actually making a quilt.  Both are good and valuable testers.

b.     What Makes a Good Pattern Tester?

A good pattern tester will give you feedback on what to improve and not simply make quilt using the pattern and say that the pattern was “good”.  A quilt pattern is like any other written document, there is always room for improvement.

c.      Paying a Tester

This is a sensitive topic, doing a good testing job takes hours so should you pay your testers?  This is a question you are going to have to answer for yourself.  A majority of pattern designers do not pay pattern testers.

In addition to being a pattern designer, I am also a pattern tester for a number of quilters.  I personally have never expected any payment when I test patterns.  I truly enjoying testing quilt patterns (I am of the non-quilt making tester variety) and enjoy helping other pattern designers.  I have received gift cards and handmade items as thank you’s and love them, but do not expect them.

I do not pay my testers.  Instead, I offer to test their patterns, mentor new pattern designers, sponsor giveaways on their blogs, give copies of the finished pattern, make small gifts, send gift cards, etc.  I try to pay them back as much as I can as I understand the time and effort that they are spending to help me improve my pattern.

Yvonne at Quilting Jetgirl has an excellent post about her decision to pay pattern testers.  I encourage you to go to her post  for another perspective on pattern testing.

d.     Testing BFF

Everyone should have a TBFF (testing best friend forever).  Your TBFF will give you honest opinions without sugar coating and you will feel comfortable enough with them to e-mail/text/call throughout the entire pattern writing process.  My TBFF is Paige Alexander (who blogs over at Quilted Blooms).  In addition to being an awarding quilter, Paige is a financial book keeper for businesses (so great with math and organization) and as a bonus is local so we get to hang out.  I cannot count how many times I have texted or called Paige to get help with cover page layout or wording in a quilt pattern.  It is invaluable to have a resource to bounce ideas off of and get real-time feedback during the writing process.  Paige not only reviews my patterns, she has reviewed each of my posts for this series too! (Though I have kept adding and tweaking the posts after she reviewed them, probably adding all sorts of typos and bad grammar back in :)

e.     How to Find Pattern Testers

There are lots of quilters out in the world that would love to test your quilt patterns, but the big question is how to find them.  If you have a blog or are active on Instagram, you can put up a picture of the quilt and call for pattern testers.  You can also find testers at your local guild if you are a member of one.  (There will also be a new resource to find testers that will be announced on Thursday, hint hint).  

If you are able to find another pattern designer, you can test each other’s patterns (this also solves the issue of paying for pattern testing as the testing goes both ways).  There are also quilters who advertise on the internet to test your patterns for a fee. 

I find that you do not need 10+ people testing your pattern as the whole revision process and organizing the testing becomes overwhelming.  I typically use between 3 and 6 testers per pattern.

f.       Testing Expectations

You should communicate clear expectations to your pattern testers, so that everyone (the testers and yourself) know and agree to what is expected.  Here are some questions to consider so that both testers and designers have a good and useful interaction:
  • What is the time-frame for testing?
  • Are they to make a quilt block, quilt top, or finished quilt?
  • How would you like comments back (written, verbal, on the pattern, in a separate document?)
  • Are they allowed to show pictures of the progress and finished quilt or keep it secret?
  • Are you going to be compensating the testers?

g.     Sample Tester Questions

I send out a word document with the pattern to be tested asking specific questions to make sure that I am getting the feedback I hope for.  Below is a sample of the questions I ask:

1.    Have you found any errors in the pattern? (i.e. incorrect measurements, misspellings, miss-labeling, punctuation)
2.  Did any parts of the pattern seem too crowded or spaced apart? 
3.  Any illustrations or photographs too small or too large?
4.  If you printed the pattern, was everything in the printed copy easily legible?
5.  Were there any steps you had to read more than once or twice to understand what they were?  Were there any part of the pattern that could be helped with more explanation?
5.  Would instructions for using another size fabric (for example: yardage versus pre-cut be helpful)?
6.  Any other tips for improving the pattern?

Stay tuned, on Wednesday (March 2nd) we will have a round table discussion with the guest designers about their experiences with testing their patterns.

On Thursday (March 3rd) I will be announcing a super new resource that will help you with pattern writing, tester finding, and connecting with other pattern designers!


  1. I missed a couple PWS post and now have caught up! I like the idea pattern testers, block testers and pattern reviewers. It hits every angle. My main worry is not being clear and concise with instructions and if your testers are use to making quilts from patterns, they know what works and what doesn't. If only you could include a section on how to make yourself sit down and actually write the pattern :)

  2. This has been a wonderful resource for pattern designers; thank you so much for writing this series. I have written a few patterns myself and I am also a pattern tester for designers of handbags. I don't get paid anything either, but I have the pattern and if I want to make & sell bags that I made from the patterns I have tested I can; although I haven't had much luck selling and the few I have sold I sold for just over my cost to make. I think we all have purchased poorly written patterns in the past whether for quilts, bag, clothing and having testers is so important not only for the designer, but even more for the customer of your patterns. If they aren't written well and you spend a lot of money buying patterns, then you won't be getting any repeat customers and word-of-mouth about how good or bad your patterns are can either help or hurt you. So I wholeheartedly agree you need testers. Every pattern designer needs testers and I don't know if authors of books have their patterns tested or not, but they should. I have followed some pretty confusing patterns in books and not sure if it's poor writing or poor editing of the book? I much prefer pdf patterns that are well written with lots of pictures. Everyone I know says they are visual learners and I think you cannot have enough pictures, because along with the text, the pictures help to explain. Their is nothing more frustrating than spending money on a pattern, fabric, etc. and then getting to a point in the pattern where you have no idea what you are supposed to do next because of poor instructions. I have abandoned too many projects because I couldn't understand what to do next. I do try and contact the designer, but some patterns don't even have an email or address on them. I have had more trouble with knitting patterns though because they usually do not have any pictures other than the finished item. With knitting you have to totally depend on reading and understanding the pattern and some designers just do not explain themselves well enough at all. I also like to try a free pattern before I purchase one from a designer so I can see if they write clearly enough for me to follow their pattern. If they write a good pattern for free then you expect when you purchase a pattern from them it will also be good and of course the opposite is true too so I wouldn't buy a pattern from someone who wrote a confusing pattern.

  3. So great. I work in a quilt store and can't tell you how many complaints we get. I believe in testing!

  4. Testing and editing are both so important. Last year I considered buying a new book on medallion quilts. However the chapter on customizing the patterns stopped me cold. There were 3 formulas in the chapter, and all 3 of them were wrong. I make medallions all the time and use the methods the authors were trying to convey, so I know how they should have been written. (All 3 used multiply sign instead of divide, and 1 of them also had order of operations stated incorrectly.) I felt so frustrated for anyone who would buy the book and try to follow instructions, only to end up more confused and discouraged. And the money out of pocket for those mistakes is not trivial for a lot of quilters. So thanks for this post, as it helps to reinforce how essential that process is.

  5. Cheryl, you have always been an excellent writer with clear and easy to follow instructions, but your improvements made over time to the illustrations and layouts including the front covers are awesome! I have learned so much just from reviewing your patterns and feel privileged. Thank you!

  6. One thing when choosing pattern testers, I think it is important to have quilters who are in the target group test, as well as someone with lots of experience and someone with not so much experience. This allows for the best feedback - the experienced quilter will see a problem much more easily then the new quilter, who will follow the directions to the letter, even when wrong. I have tested a few patterns for designers and have loved the process (I would classify myself as the newbie piecer, as I spend much more time with the quilting then the piecing of quilts). I never considered being compensated for my time - heck, I got a quilt and a pattern out of the deal! Being a retired teacher and retired legal secretary, proofreading just comes with the territory. Great series!

  7. Cheryl, I have to thank you again for this series. Your posts have been so detailed and valuable, and this one is yet another I'm going to have to refer back to when I get to this step in my pattern writing. Can't wait to see what's coming Thursday!

  8. Thanks so much for this series! At any given moment I have patterns percolating in various my head, scratched on paper, partially mocked up on Illustrator or in the testing phase. Everything you've posted has been so motivating!!

  9. You really covered a lot of good points on this post Cheryl. I am learning a lot as the series goes along that I will be putting into practice this year. Thanks.

  10. What a fabulous series this is, Cheryl! Pattern testing is still such a questionable phase of the process for me, so this shed some light. That's a great idea having other designers test your patterns, since then the payment question can become moot. I always feel bad asking for testers, but nearly always would be happily willing to test another's pattern.


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