If you’re at all familiar with the online sewing community, you’re probably also familiar with the many independent pattern designers who inhabit that space. Independent designers offer a mix of PDF only and/or print patterns and proliferate Facebook and Instagram.
I’ll go ahead and make it clear: I love indie patterns. [And Big 4 patterns, too! If I love it, I will sew it!] I was curious about the development process many indie designers use called pattern testing: essentially, before a pattern is released to the general public, an indie designer will enlist volunteer makers in a variety of sizes to sew up the pattern and share their thoughts, fit notes, edits, grammatical suggestions and more. It always seemed like a lot of work for designers…and I was right!
When Chalk and Notch Pattern’s Gabriela Longfish shared her testing call for the new Fringe Dress, I applied and was accepted as one of 40+ testers. For this test, there were multiple rounds that took place over three long weekends. I was only available for round 3, which was the final tweaks phase. Each person was assigned a size, based on their measurements, with recommended adjustments (for height, bust adjustments, etc), and a version. For this dress, there is an A version, with a button front (which I made), and a version B with a keyhole-type opening – and both versions include a blouse option. To organize the process, a Facebook group was created and we each posted on our fabric selection (for muslins and some brave souls who skipped right on to beautiful yardage!!) and our progress. We were also asked to share fit pictures with the pattern designer, either within the group or via private message. The major area of fit for this dress is the bodice so I shared multiple images from multiple angles, including some “artistic” shots taken by my 5-year-old. As we each completed our samples, we tallied corrections, suggestions and trouble spots on a shared document and completed the process with a final questionnaire regarding fit and style and lots of other feedback.
As each round was completed, the design and instructions were tweaked to incorporate the needed changes. By round three, my work was easy – other than a few grammatical suggestions (well, I am an editor!), I had nothing to contribute and the dress sewed up perfectly. This experience exceeded my expectations on multiple fronts, including the immense organization and the sense of community within the testers. Bonus points: Gabriela was a gracious, kind and grateful host through the whole process. Also bonus points: I had the best excuse ever to make a dress in a weekend – it was homework!
On to the dress! I’ve been looking to add a few hard working dress patterns to my pattern library – and this one checks all my boxes. It’s a feminine yet modern take on the shirtdress, with a lovely shirttail hem and pockets. The bodice is slightly fitted, with optional ties for additional shaping and plenty of little details to make it feel special – I am in love with the cuffs! Plus it sews up quickly, so it’s a great go-to for a surprise upcoming date night or a weekend wedding, depending on fabric. The pattern calls for a variety of drapey fabrics but for my tester sample, I used a (thrifted!) shirting from my stash….and I kind of love it! The solid really shows the details, I think, and makes for a versatile dress (for $4!). The dress is amazing as is but offers tons of hacking potential, perfect for sewing up the random drapey fabrics languishing in my stash. I will definitely be making more…and I have a newfound respect for the work that goes on behind the scenes in pattern development.