Early in May I received an email from a reader who is quite frustrated with her recent purchases of patterns with costly cutting errors in them. She wrote to ask me to tackle this issue of pattern quality here on the blog. While I’m not a gun for hire for whatever bone someone wishes to pick with the quilting industry (!) I, of course, have a few thoughts on this, so here they are:
1. I can’t speak to what my friends and colleagues care about in their patterns writing endeavors, but I can tell you I have a mission statement for how I create mine. I don’t do this for fame and fortune (LOL!) I do it because I want people to have more fun making more stuff – I really consider pattern writing a SERVICE to both my industry and to our customers. MANY of my colleagues care just as much.
2. My reader asked “what the hell were the pattern testers doing?” My guess is they were trying their best. I have a core team* that reads and test-sews for me. Each of them have a specific area of skill that helps me – reading, drawings, flow, etc. Sadly though, ten people can look at a pattern and something still slips through. Whenever I’ve put a call out for new testers I never hear back from more than half the people who take the pattern draft. I will optimistically hope they had a “life happened” moment, and not presume they are just trying to get a free pattern out of me. And honestly, if they were, the joke’s on them as my first drafts can be pretty shaggy.
3A. My reader thought that testers were paid, which is seldom the case. I WISH I could pay my testers with cash; I send them patterns and occasionally other stuff, but it’s hardly equal to their work (I’m not given enough fabric to forward as compensation). Our industry is lucky to have a mostly kind fan base, and I’m beyond lucky that I have my team. They help because they want us/me to succeed. They think their effort is a worthy contribution for the betterment of the industry. That said, they are humans and therefore they goof up. As do I. I have a page where all errors are listed, and am sweatily relieved that most of my errors have been small, and not in the realm of the expensively large cut my reader was rightly upset about.
3B. Why can’t I pay them? Honestly, the profit margin at my end of a $12 pattern (that sells through a distributor to a shop) is in the neighborhood of $3.50. And sadly, it’s not enough for paying testers AND eating. Yes, I get all the profits from a PDF sold directly from my site, but it also takes about 100 hours to fully produce a pattern. And before you imagine my earnings are “bonus” in my family (like old-fashioned pin money) let me clarify for you that I have no husband, partner, other job, or trust fund. It’s just me.
3C. Why isn’t my income higher? The profits at the designer end just aren’t that high, so we rely on volume (and we have stores going out of business everywhere). While many of my customers respect what I do and happily pay for my design skills (and I adore you all for that), I’m sad to report that we still have a LOT of people who think that patterns should be free. These thieves copy our patterns far and wide to all their pals. A POX ON THEIR SEWING MACHINES.
4. My reader was upset that she didn’t get a reply when she wrote to a designer about an error. Again, all I can say is I write back as soon as I can, but within business hours – not at all hours of the night and weekends because really, this is quilting, not emergency medicine. I’m as responsive as I can be, and I care about fixing errors (see 1 above). And PLEASE check your junk/spam folder before presuming you didn’t get a response.
5A. My reader feels tempted to complain to her IG following to get the attention of the designer in question. To which I say, BE CAREFUL THERE. Yes, you get to say you’re not happy, but I think you should fear creating a social media pile-on of hate, because that’s what WILL happen. We have far too much hate in our world already, and the internet proves over and over again that people say the most horrible things from the anonymity of the keyboard. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t type in on the internet. One way to handle this would be to become respected for writing thoughtful pattern reviews, giving equal weight to the things that worked out, not just the ones that don’t. Really, if you had a good time with a pattern, let the designer know (my most favorite emails!) and tell your friends with as much fervor as when you run into an error.
6. How do we ensure pattern quality? I wish I knew. We have a lot of new designers flooding into the industry, and while some of their ideas are brilliant, their skills at writing that brilliance down haven’t caught up yet. Some of them are willing to improve, others don’t seem to care – which mirrors every other industry on the planet. Yes, a global pattern review site would be lovely, but few people would be willing to pay to access it – and it would need to be paid for as it would be a huge undertaking to build and run. At the moment, word of mouth is what we have.
I hope fervently that my industry colleagues care as much as I do to make the best product possible for our customers, and I know many who do. When we all step up, and we can all rise together.
I, for one, think YOU’RE worth the effort.
* My core team are Monica, Ursula, the ‘Flakes, the SLO Creative Crew, and the Lucky 13 Ladies – thank you!