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3. Pattern Testing with @divinedita – The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast
This Week’s Guest: Nandita of @divinedita
On this week’s podcast, we’re talking to Nandita of @divinedita about pattern testing. Nandita has written for the Curvy Sewing Collective and Sewcialists:
You can follow Nandita on Instagram at @divinedita.
Nicole: Okay, but one thing that. Podcasting is hard! I’m like so good at giving presentations, podcasting is like another thing. It’s so different.
Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community. In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared so in practice as we create a space for Asian soloists, and our allies. I’m your co host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado, which is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho peoples. I’m a marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own all natural skincare business called Chuan skincare, C-H-U-A-N and sharing my marketing tips on my blog, The Cultivate Method. Most importantly for this podcast, you can find my sewing account on Instagram at @i.hope.sew.
Nicole: And I’m your co-host, Nicole, I’m based out of Chicago, the original homelands of the council of the three fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Filipinx-American woman, a lawyer and a sewing enthusiast. You can find me on Instagram at @NicoleAngelineSews.
Ada: So before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, what are you currently sewing?
Nicole: Okay so, I am finally tackling my first blazer. But because it’s still Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I’m going to put my own twist on it. The base pattern is the Style Sew Me, Nikki blazer named after me, of course, I’m going to attempt to put a terno sleeve on it. I’m working with this beautiful floral silk blend mikado from Nicole Elise Textiles. And I’m hoping to have enough left for a skirt or something else but those terno sleeves take up a ton of fabric. If you don’t know what a terno sleeve is, head to my Instagram and my post from September 15, 2020 or thereabouts is my first attempt at it. Those are really big. I’m going to try to streamline it a little bit for my own body but you’ll be able to get an idea of what it’s like. It’s a distinctive sleeve that is a part of the national dress of the Philippines. So 2020 that was my first attempt and this is going to be my next. How about you Ada, what are you working on?
Ada: I can’t wait to see that terno sleeve. I am not doing a blazer I am working on some more formal Dresses or frosting Actually, I don’t know if they’d be called frosting exactly. But basically all the weddings I got invited to in 2020 were rescheduled for later in 2021. And all my ready to wear formal wear is black. Can you tell I went to school in New York? And after being inside all year, I just don’t feel like wearing black to my friends’ weddings. So I thought it would be nice to test my skills out a bit and make a floor length Sicily slip dress by Sewing by Masin in satin, say that five times fast. This pattern I’ve made it before out of silk that I repurposed from an old curtain panel. But this is the first time I’m using satin on a garment, not like an accessory and so it’s really nice periwinkle blue. Kind of think of Hermione in Harry Potter that dress. Oh, you know that dress. And it was a dream to cut out. I’m just terrified that my machine is going to eat it. And it’s slippery and shifty. So I’m going to experiment with some scraps before I put it through.
Nicole: That sounds like a good idea. I can’t offer you any unsolicited advice because you didn’t ask. But good luck. I believe in you.
Ada: Thank you, I believe in your terno sleeve. So today we are talking about pattern testing. And since the two of us have pretty limited experience in it, we thought it would be a good idea to bring in a guest.
Nicole: Welcome Nandita of Divine Dita. Nandita is a very talented sewist who has written for the Sewcialists and Curvy Sewing Collective Can you please introduce yourself?
Nandita: Hello Ada and Nicole. Nice to meet you both in person, meaning on the virtual in person. I’m Nandita, and I’m so honored to be a guest on the podcast. You can find me like Nicole said on Instagram where I have a sewing account under the handle @divinedita. As far as telling you a little bit about myself, something I don’t really broadcast but I think maybe this will be an aha moment for some of my followers. By day, I am an after school art teacher. I travel to different public schools within my county and I hold private classes for students from kindergarten to fifth grade. We delve into charcoals, paint, clay, you name it, I teach the medium. So I’ve been doing that now for several years. And my sewing practice dates back and I’m aging myself now. Early, early 90s, to which I took a 10 year, what I call sabbatical, and returned to sewing in 2015. I’ve been sewing ever since.
Ada: How would you say your identity intersects with your sewing practice?
Nandita: I would say as a first generation Indian American I was born and raised outside of Detroit. A lot of it comes from my culture in that hand making and anything handmade is highly valued. To put your heart and spirit and soul into making anything is almost like an act of service. So therefore, when I was younger, my mother who is a beautiful seamstress, made all of our clothes, as well as when we would visit extended family in India, she had a tailor who would make our clothes. So I’ve always worn clothes that were, if you will, bespoke. Now as I became older, preteen and teenager, that wasn’t cool anymore. And I wanted to just be like everybody else. So retail, here we come. And I didn’t wear anything aside from my Indian garments that were tailored to me for years.
Fast forward to college, I needed a part time job. And lo and behold, I interviewed for a job at Clothworld, which Joann’s Fabrics bought several years ago. And the only reason that I was hired is because I passed the math test. Apparently for sewing you need to know fractions, that three eighths and five eighths come in handy. So because I passed the test, I was on the cutting floor. I cut all the fabric. And the community that I lived in had a very large rural Mennonite community. And of course, Mennonites are known for sewing all their own clothing. So they would come in, and I was just in awe. I admired how they were able to create these garments from the fabric I was cutting.
So I then learned to sew from my mother, the Mennonites encouraged me. And I took sewing classes and one class led to another to another. And before you know it, I had taken probably 20 sewing classes. Again, I started sewing simple garments. And then I made all of my home decor. When I got married, I made my children’s layettes in their nursery, but not too much clothing. The fitting for the Big Four was difficult for me. And in 2005, I got fed up. I put the cover on my machine and I didn’t look at it for 10 years.
Ada: Wow. 10 years, 10 years.
Nandita: Yeah, it put me over the edge because a type A personality will do that to you. So I owned that I was very uptight about it. And I just wasn’t going to do it. Then 10 years go by and the dresses that are all really popular are simple A-line knit dresses that I once took apart looked at I said, “Oh, these are three seams, I need to try again”. And a light bulb went off. But the sewing world had changed. So PDFs came into play. And I was just almost in shock. Like, what is this? How do I do this? And therefore as we go into why I became a pattern tester, I wanted to learn more about PDF patterns. And I felt this was my best way to do so.
Nicole: I love that it’s such an intimate story about you know, connection to clothing and textiles and skill from your mother and in connection to the community that you were working and living in. While you were a fabric cutter. I will say just as an aside, I had no idea how much math was involved in sewing. I was like sweating the first time I was trying to, to, I think add length to something and I had and I was drawing curves and I get that you have to pass a math test in order to be equipped to work at the store that you worked at. So thanks for sharing that story. I think before we jump into pattern testing, I did just want to ask you know, what is your favorite thing to make now you have this long history of making tons of different things. What do you love to work on right now?
Nandita: Right now I am mainly interested in statement sleeves. I love a good sleeve. And so when I look at any potential pattern that I may apply to be testing, I always see: Are there going to be options for different sleeves? Even over necklines, the different sleeves I feel gives the maker and the design of the pattern more if you will not only wear, but potential. And so I love a good sleeve, or even a ruffle trim because again, depending on what type of material or textile you use, it’s important that you have an option. Of course, if you don’t want to, you can always leave it out. But having that option, I think elevates the pattern.
Nicole: What would you say to somebody who sees these statements, leaves, but is scared of trying it? Because for me, sometimes it especially as an earlier sewist, I was really intimidated by stepping out and trying something new.
Nandita: And that’s an excellent question. Because I hear this a lot, especially on my responses and DMs about the sleeves.
If you look at most patterns, you’re going to see that they have if especially a set in sleeve, you’re going to have an option of short, long three quarters, where the statement comes in, really and truly is what the gathers and the pleading, some will have what’s called a cowl neck and I happen to I know you can’t see it, but I happen to have on a statement sleeve today, that’s considered a gathered cowl. But most patterns will always have a straight what I call regular short or mid length sleeve. So for those of you who might be kind of weary, for the most part, you’re going to have an option. And then there’s just really trying it out with a muslin, meaning, you know, try it out with a less expensive textile, and wear it around for a little bit, you know, maybe not in public but around the house, you might be surprised that it grows on you. I think a lot of what holds each of us back is saying, Oh, that’s not going to look good on me. And I think unless we wear it, it’s kind of like when you’re trying to develop your palate, if you are a foodie. Oh, I’m not going to like that. But you’re not going to know. It’s like our mothers tell us, unless you try it.
Ada: So true. So true. I was gonna say that, that sleeve that you have on today is fantastic.
Nandita: Thank you.
Ada: Getting into pattern testing. When you came back to sewing in 2015, you said it was a very different world. Obviously, PDFs were starting to become popular. And we had all these indie designers starting to pop up. So the big four weren’t just your options anymore at Joann’s. Tell us a little bit more about how you got into pattern testing and why you still do pattern testing.
Nandita: I got into pattern testing, because I was noticing that many of the larger Facebook groups that I had joined for sewing seemed a bit stifling. If I can be completely transparent, it was a lot of the same aesthetic. There was a lot of I’ve been sewing for X amount of years. And this is how you have to do it. And part of sewing to me is an act of rebellion. Because I don’t want to look like everyone else wearing the same three pieces of clothes. So I started kind of following certain I wouldn’t say people, but groups that I had heard of just by doing Google searches of and I would type in independent, or indie patterns. And I started noticing that many of them had Facebook groups.
So I would ask to join, they used to be private. In the beginning, I would ask to join. And then I would really if anything, study the looks, study what they were putting out. Were they prolific? Were they putting out a pattern a week? Because to be honest, that’s a red flag for me. If you’re putting out a pattern a week, is the testing process really happening? Have you had all these designs in your head? And now you’re just opening your vault? These are things that I would think about.
And then I would look at the testers too, because you’d see them. “Oh, it’s launch day!” And look at, “Okay, what type of material are they using?” And this is completely in a research way. I’m not looking at how I think it fits. I’m not looking at what the fabric is, I’m looking at the design: is this a design that I would wear to work, because I teach around children. So I’m not necessarily looking for a ball gown. But if I were, do they have an option? So that’s how it almost vet my designer. And when I say my, the independent PDF designers, you know, who are they, because it really comes down to this. Everybody has their idea and aesthetic and style. If you want to branch out, you have to find the designers who may not be doing what you’re comfortable with, if that’s what interests you.
If you’re looking to do what I consider an A line dress with an option of a V neck and a or a regular t-shirt neck, there’s loads, try them out. Many of them offer free PDFs to get to know them. If you like it, start applying. And I think that’s the key in order to, you may be rejected 20, 35 times. I have applied to many, many designers. Several of them have never even written me back and I don’t take it personally. There’s a lot of people in the community and if it’s somebody that I’m really really having an eye on, I will follow them on Instagram and I will apply to every call. If I feel like this is something I really want to do,
Nicole: I think the key is to, if this is something you want to do, go for it. And like you said, don’t take it personally, I think maybe it’s my, like, my age group or how I grew up. But rejection is hard. I think it’s probably hard for everybody. But I know that I had to grow out of taking no’s personally. And I see it in a lot of my peers as well. I’ve just been rejected and said no, so many times that I’m not afraid anymore. I would rather be afraid, but do it anyway, or just go for it. So I love that. Why do you think it’s important for sewists to pattern test?
Nandita: I believe in order for the community to grow, especially seeing that many people overseas do not have access to the Big Four patterns like those of us who are in the States, with between the cost of shipping between the fact that with COVID restrictions, they’re not able to sell the latest and greatest. So for the community, the PDFs, and indie pattern designers, it’s almost like opening up an entire new world, you could be testing for a French designer that if you stuck with Big Four, not that there’s anything wrong with that, you would never have known that this person creates these garments that you’ve been wanting your entire sewing life.
And so I think as a way of building community, it’s important for makers who want the community to grow, to test and try these new designers especially. And again, this is my personal opinion, I actively seek out smaller designers who may not have the largest following, not because I think I’m going to be doing them any big favors. But more, I want to be able to get to know them on a level because they’re really, really working hard. And I believe that this is not easy to draft a pattern, especially when we have different shapes, sizes, heights, you name it. So the fact that there are a lot of them has been a lifelong dream. I want to be a positive light in that dream. And so if I can do that, and really promote, if the pattern fits the bill, then that’s what I’m going to do.
Because the Big Four, they’re going to have a following no matter what. They’re established. And I have my loads of Big Four too, I do the tissue patterns, that’s how I learned to sew. So they do hold a special place in my heart. But as of late, I’ve barely bought any, they’ve all been PDF.
Ada: That is such a good way to think about it. I learned the opposite way. I’m a millennial, I’m very tech-forward. And so googling how to sew I came upon a lot of these independent patterns, designers who, like you said, kind of made the wardrobe of my dreams of reality, as opposed to trying to picture it from a line drawing out of a catalog for a Big Four pattern. And since you’ve done this so many times, I’m so curious when you’re working, especially with these smaller designers, where does pattern testing actually fit in the pattern launch process?
Nandita: So the way it works mainly is that you’ll see a call usually on Instagram, or if they’re on Facebook, I find most of my calls on Instagram. And the way I do that is by following certain tags like #pattern, #independentpatterndesign, #patterntesting. I will follow those hashtags, because that’s where most designers are posting the calls. And I personally always look for a technical or line drawing, I need to see that before I see it on somebody else. Because when I stated earlier, it looks different on everyone. So if I see a line drawing, I know that the designer a) has done the work before and b) how it’s going to be for my taste, meaning where my adjustments are going to be. I’m short, I’m five foot two, I have a short waist, I fit into two blocks. So although I’m considered curvy by some, plus size by others, I fit in both straight and extended sizing. So that sometimes becomes a challenge, because it’s too big on one spectrum too small on the other. So I always look at what the block is. And I especially now as I’ve gotten more experienced, I look for sewing cups. As you know, most patterns are drafted for a B cup, which is a two inch difference between your high and your full bust. I’m at a three inch so that puts me in a C sewing cup. So if I see that all cup sizes are offered immediately I’m going to apply because we’re at a point now that sure you could do a full bust adjustment, but as a designer who’s wanting to reach more people, having that cup option is going to definitely make your pattern more successful.
Ada: I feel like most of the patterns we see are a B cup or a D cup even right? Like the, here’s the big two options, not necessarily even a C. If you become a pattern tester for a designer, is there a difference between what you receive, like, what do you expect when you sign up to pattern test?
Nandita: So a lot of times the designer will state you know, what they’re looking for some designers want you to be that extra set of eyes for grammatical or typographic. So that they’ll state that your job is to review the pattern and the instructions only because they’re confident in their pattern and the design, or they’ve already extensively tested it. And so now they need, I call it the grammar police.
Others will say, when you’ve read, and when you’ve made it, I just want fit pictures. And I’d like to touch base on this, because I’ve seen this a lot where many makers will say, I don’t really care for the stylized pictures that people are putting up on Instagram, because I can’t really tell. Well, what’s happening behind the scenes for most of these is that you will join a testing Facebook group. And that’s where you post your test pictures, and your fit pictures are where it might be gaping or where there’s excess fabrics or folds. And that’s done between you and the designer and the pattern testing group.
The pictures that you see, especially of mine on Instagram, are after the pattern has been basically, I don’t want to say fixed, but those issues have been addressed. And once that’s done, then launch day, I’m putting up what I call my “dress up pictures”. But the fit pics are usually on a private testing Facebook group.
So many times when you get comments like that, and I’m referring to comments that I’ve received, you know, “did you have to make a lot of fixes?” “did you have to do a lot of adjustments?”, where you’re gonna have to do an adjustment no matter what, unless you’re, you know, perfect, which I don’t really care to use that word, you’re going to need adjustments, and the designer will let you know ahead of time that feel free to make adjustments for height. For torso, all of that is usually included.
Once you’ve done that, then you send the fit pics, and I’ve noticed with the designers that I’ve been working with lately, I appreciate that I appreciate that they’re looking for fit pics, they’re not looking necessarily for a finished product right off the bat, several designers will say we need a fit pic in a 10-day span, where you go ahead and use whatever fabric you may have in your stash, it doesn’t have to be your fashion fabric, go ahead and take pictures of your standing front back side so that the designer can see where anything, any issue needs to be resolved. Once that’s taken care of, then you can go ahead and make it with your fashion fabrics.
Those are the pictures that you post for the launch date. Certain designers will ask you to post on multiple groups as cross posting. Again, that’s a personal choice, there are several groups that I do not belong to. So I always state that I don’t post on this group, my primary posting is on Instagram. And if that’s okay with the designer, then we move forward. And again, I respect the designer’s vision. But in turn, it should be noted that I’m not going to be posting to five different groups because I don’t belong to them. Or for one reason or the other. I don’t like to post on them anymore. But Instagram is my main hub, if you will. And so that’s where I post all of the patterns that I’ve tested. And then I will post a maybe two on Facebook,
Nicole: I have a quick clarifying question. And I’ve pattern tested. So I feel like I should know the answer. When we’re talking about fit pics, when you are selected for a test a pattern, and you look at the size that you measure into versus the finished measurements. And do you make the size you measure into? Or do you make the size that you want for the finished garment design? I don’t know if I’m expressing myself.
Nandita: I understand what you’re saying. For the fit test I will make to my measurements of what the pattern and I personally go by finished garment measurements. Some designers will not give those to you. But they will say this dress offers let’s say three plus inch ease at the hip. And then that’s kind of at that point. I’ll be honest, if you have a little bit of experience under your belt, you know if it’s going to work or not with three inches, but if you’re completely new, I think it’s helpful to have that finished garment measurement.
So then you can say for example, Nicole, let’s say that your measurements put you in a large, but you much prefer the ease of the medium. You can then let the designer know and for the most part, they’re quite open that this is my personal preference. I will, even though I’m testing, I had applied for extra large or large, I’m going to make the medium. That way, when you turn in your pictures for the fit test, depending on the designer, they will then decide which ones they put some designers like to go ahead with the finished product and label it. Okay. Nicole tested the medium, others do not. Does that make sense? Did I answer your question?
Nicole: Yeah, it does. And it sounds like, as long as you level set with the designer, once you have decided what you are comfortable with making, then that should be okay to proceed in that way.
Nandita: Yes, I feel like with a relationship, with any relationship, to be transparent from the beginning, leads to more of a successful outcome. And I don’t consider myself an experienced maker. If anything, I hold myself as advanced beginner only because there are certain things that I’m not interested in wearing or doing zippers and buttons. I didn’t like them in retail, and I don’t much care for them outside of maybe a few here and there on a cuff. So those are the tests that I don’t apply for. And I’m just being honest. But if I wanted to challenge myself, I have done a few buttondown tests, which wound up being wildly successful for me, in that it gave me a sense of not only accomplishment, but I really helped the designer I feel because it was one of those things right said from the beginning. This is intimidating for me, not because I can’t do it. But buttons give me the heebie jeebies. I’ve never liked a buttondown for many reasons. But I want to do this for myself. And I want you to see how it would look. And it turned out to be a very nice result all around. So that’s another reason going back to why I pattern test to take myself out of my comfort zone every now and again. You know, I think that’s important for growth.
Ada: You mentioned a few different ways that you look for pattern designers to test for, what are your criteria for patterns and designers aside from the buttons and zippers?
Nandita: Would that design be something that I could wear in my regular life? And what I mean by that is, aside from the pandemic, I wasn’t really going out a whole lot to let’s say balls, or very large parties. My basic design and aesthetic has always been dresses, I love them, I always have, or maybe you know, wide leg pants and a blouse on top. That’s what I like to wear. So that’s kind of what I look for.
As far as pants go, because I’m so short, I’ve never found the unicorn pattern. So I’m still searching. But it’s nice to try these different designers. So that’s something that I would look for, like maybe this leg will be the one as far as meaning, what else I look for the turnaround time, designers will tell you kind of what they’re looking for. And most that I’ve worked with have been 10 to 15 days, which sometimes can be challenging, especially like everyone else. We have jobs, we have families, we have other commitments. So if it looks like a simple garment. And what I mean by simple is that it’s pretty straightforward. You’ve got a front and back, is maybe an attached skirt, that is feasible for fit testing.
As far as gathering pictures and your final product, I consider this a type of not job, but it is a reflection of myself. So I want to take nice decent pictures with decent lighting outside is what I like to do. So I always include that I will be taking pictures on this day weather permitting. But if there is a hard, fast deadline, I make sure I meet it. And if I can’t I reach out to the designer well in advance, which has happened to me. Things have happened where I actually wound up in a bicycle accident and could not meet the deadline. The designer was just very, very gracious. And said don’t worry about it. And we muddle through.
But things like that happen. And for the most part, designers are very understanding. I have yet to experience any negativity. And I think it’s important to put that out there. There have been a few, and I’ve chosen not to name them, that have not followed through on what was to happen once the pattern launched. But I think that had to do a lot with their own personal situation. And so I don’t hold any grudges, but I likely won’t test for them again. And that’s okay too. I think it’s important that when I keep saying transparency and honesty, it is not one size fits all some designers you’re going to click with even if you never meet them in person, others, you’re going to notice that perhaps they’re not as forthcoming sometimes with the design, or they personally don’t meet their personal deadlines or their communication skills online. Sometimes are a little bit off, that becomes difficult and challenging to work for, and work with. So once you’ve tried it, and you realize that maybe this isn’t the best fit, it’s okay.
It really is, I think a lot of times and Nicole hit on this, certain people have certain personalities, rejection or saying no is difficult. I have walked away from two pattern tests. For these reasons, the communication was not there, the deadline seemed very, very challenging. And that being said, the pattern wasn’t up to par. But I didn’t announce or broadcast that because there was no reason to clearly something got mixed up. Something happened. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to disparage them. I’m just not going to test for them.
Nicole: I recently had to step away from a testing engagement, because of my own personal situation. I was, it was early, and I had realized, I think I’m in over my head. And I didn’t want to just crank it out. Because I don’t think that that really does the designer a service as well, if I’ve not really invested in going through the process fully. And it was, it was very difficult for me to say I’m sorry, you know. We hadn’t even gotten the pattern yet. I’m sorry that I won’t be able to do this. Just circumstances in my life changed. And I don’t think I’ll be able to commit to this anymore. And like you said,I also haven’t experienced any negativity with my very limited experience. But the designer was really gracious and understanding and it was such a relief to me to feel, you know, like, okay, it’s okay to and better, in fact, to say, maybe this isn’t for me right now. And I’m sorry, but they were so kind about it. Just wanted to share that.
One question, something that we had talked about, you know, is, when you’re pattern testing, is there a significant difference between a pattern that is going to be newly launched versus a pattern that’s going to be updated? For whatever reason, have you seen differences with that,
Nandita: I have seen differences. And the biggest one being is the turnaround, because if you’re doing like what’s called an upgrade, or especially now that many designers are extending their sizes, the pattern has been launched, it’s been out in the world, some of them have been wildly successful. And so therefore, to grow again, when I say the community and grow the market, the designer has made the effort to extend the sizes, especially with sewing cups, adding additional sewing cups, when that’s happening, mainly the designer will reach out and say, listen, the testing window is going to be for the next 10 days. And what I’m looking for is the pattern has already been vetted, I need for you to test it because you fit into this cup size, man, mainly, it’s the sewing cup size. And that for me is almost a no brainer. And that I love the design before. Yes, I’ll be honest, I fit in the straight size. But it would be just a little bit better if you had that extended cup. And so those are the ones that I immediately sign up for. Because not only does it make my life easier, that’s one last adjustment to do. So those I can do really quite quickly if it’s a brand new pattern.
I actually, and if it’s alright with you, would like to mention this designer, because she’s the first one who gave the most amount of time. And I really, really respect her for this. And that is Jen Barron from Sew and Tell Patterns. I recently did a test for her. And I’ve admired her design aesthetic for a few years now. And she gave us an entire month. And in that month, there was constant contact. She had done a Facebook group herself for the first time for testers only. And she was very receptive, receptive to things that most designers will acknowledge. But you don’t always see it in the finished pattern.
With Jen, she went through each one and it was her sophomore launch. So she had four patterns. So there was several of us testing, same time for different designs, which I think is a lot of work for a designer. So knowing that she put the time and effort into making sure that all of us could have ample amount of time, wwith the caveat that should something happen, let me know we can always extend it. I understand.
Really a helpful lesson, I wouldn’t say the pressure but knowing that, “Okay, I’ve got a solid month, I could really do something to make sure that I schedule enough time to get this done”. I personally am not a procrastinator, so I start working as soon as I get the pattern. But for some people who kind of work a little bit under pressure, I think it helped them to because it gave them the month to kind of maybe put it together one week. Maybe try a part of it another and so I felt like not only did she give us the month after She didn’t launch at the end, she had told us what the launch date was going to be. She did her own mockups. Again, she did her own pictures. And I found that to be highly professional. So as my own personal plug Jen Barron, Sew and Tell Patterns, a designer to keep an eye out for because she is talented,
Ada: When you said some people perform better under pressure. Like that’s me, as always sewing under a deadline. So it sounds like you actually do schedule time for pattern testing in between, you know, regular life not sewing, is that kind of how it works for you. How do you manage that?
Nandita: I do, I do. So once I have applied, and I if I received the “Yes, we’d love you to be on the team”, they will tell you when they’re going to send the pattern out. As soon as they send the pattern, I personally go ahead and download it to my laptop. And then I read the instructions. Before I do any printing, I read the instructions, I check out the layers. And if there’s a layer of I really prefer layers, I’ll be honest, there’s some designers who don’t do them. But I really prefer the layers.
I, then once I’ve read the instructions, I kind of can gauge how much sewing time this is going to take me. And then I print the pattern out. And I don’t like to print and tape on the same day, it’s a little bit too much for me. So I print it out. And then I go ahead and tape before I go to work. So I’ll tape up. So that keeps me on track to get ready for work. I tape up the pattern, I go to work, I come back, I give it another day. Everything is like every other day for me. And that’s just so I can reset and think about what I’m going to do.
Then I make a muslin, a muslin, the test, I see where I’m going to need the adjustments. And then I go ahead and I trace the pattern onto tracing paper that I use for my own personal reasons. And then I make the dress or the make. Once that’s done, I will submit the fit pictures on the group that they’re using, some like to use DMS on Instagram. Some like to use Facebook groups. And once that’s all gone through that process, the designers come back with whatever questions I may have, I will go ahead and resolve those. The following I’d say week I saw the garment. At the end, I take the pictures and I submit. So for me a good 10 to 15 days is ideal. Even if I’m not testing. I like to play on my phone a lot and check out what everybody else is doing on Instagram. So I do that too while I’m sewing.
Ada: So it sounds like you submit two sets of pictures. Is there anything else that you document or do to document your progress for the design?
Nandita: For me personally, I will write right on the pattern. Some people will use Dropbox, Jen. Again, I know I keep saying her name. But Jen uses Dropbox. And you can actually not edit but add your comments in Dropbox and she’ll see them in the group, and the group will see them. So that way, let’s say I get to page nine. And I noticed that there was a simple question mark, instead of an exclamation mark, I’ll say page nine. Here’s what we’ve got: punctuation error.
If it was with the sleeve, the sleeve head seemed a little off, I would enclose a picture and say the sleeve head seems a little off. Can I do this instead. But mainly the pattern designer will ask and will tell you what they’re looking for. You know, some like I said earlier in the interview, they’re looking for punctuation or grammar they’re looking for “did I number this correctly”, others will say “I’m really more interested in how this looks on this size”. Because mainly for me since I fit into both. It’s nice for designers, I think to see you could wear the 18. So I average between 18, 20 and 22 depending on the designer, but it’s always 18 on top I have found of late. So even though it’s an 18 on top, I’m grading at the waist and the hips. And sometimes I’m tapering in again, because my legs are smaller. So that being said, I think it helps them to see that this is where when I had to grade, how the grading looked
Ada: For those of us who maybe are on the newer side to sewing or pattern testing, are there any tips you have for anyone who wants to try it? How can you make sure that you actually get picked?
Nandita: So I think, again, it’s important to keep applying, you know, know that more than likely, it is possible, especially if it’s a bigger name and a bigger social media presence that you likely will not get picked. And it has nothing to do with your expertise, or what you look like you know, sometimes designers are also just like we’re looking at their feeds, they’re looking at ours. And if you are posting, they will take a look at how often has this person posted? Because let’s, let’s be honest, this is their business. They’re wanting to promote their product. We are marketing for them.
So if you’re posting once a month, keep in mind that unless they’ve developed some sort of relationship with you. Are you going to be the ideal tester for them? Are you going to be posting for them and we have to be honest about that, that this is part of the process. I think we must accept and recognize that this is a symbiotic relationship. So if I’m going to post your designs, because I believe in the pattern, I would like my make to be seen on your feed as well.
I think that’s how it works. And for what, for me at least, because many times you’re not compensated, some will give you a fabric allowance, others will say I will give you the completed pattern plus another, some will offer you a lifetime discount. And so for example, I’ve tested for Alice and Company patterns, another plug I love, love, love, love them. They’re out of England. And they’ve given me a lifetime discount, any tester gets a lifetime discount on their patterns, plus the pattern that you’ve tested the final version.
Things like that are appealing to me, because it is your time and it is your energy, but they also make sure to promote you on their stories and on their grids, which in turn leads to more opportunity for everyone. Am I right? If they’re seeing you and you’re seeing them? I’m following Nicole, I’m following Ada. And I’m seeing “Oh, I had no idea this designer existed. I’m gonna go check out that designer.” Then that being said, if I don’t see Nicole on the grid for testing, I’m gonna think about it. “So how did I find you?” I saw Nicole, but I don’t see Nicole on the page. Why don’t I see Nicole on the page. and again, I’ve said it before, these are my personal opinions. But these are things that I’m looking for.
Ada: That’s such a good point, like it is, it is a symbiotic relationship you are looking for cross promotion, a lot of the time. And I think that’s how a lot of people start to get their name out there, especially as they’re, they’re posting more. Are there any you know pattern testing etiquette tips and tricks you think everyone should know or follow?
Nandita: I do, I think sometimes when we’re reading about the pattern it’s really human nature to quickly say that it’s the designers fault. And I personally find issue with that, I think we are only human, All of us, and even after the patterns launched, there still could be errors or mistakes that were missed by both tester and designer. That doesn’t mean the pattern is complete garbage, it does not. Also, it’s not always user error but sometimes if you use a fabric that wasn’t intended for the design, it’s not going to look good.
And what I mean by that is if they come, if they say that this is ideal for a floaty rayon, or a lightweight woven, and you go ahead and use a denim. What’s going to happen. it’s not going to work. So that in itself doesn’t constitute you thinking in the past. So I think as far as etiquette goes, you know, we talk about kindness, and we talk about making sure that we’re really listening to one another, that goes across the board, you know, take a step back before you hit that send key. Think about what you’ve written, would you say this to this person in person, would you say oh your pattern sucks, or would you say wait a minute, let me take a pause, and so I tried to do that with everything, especially with sewing. Some things are going to work for different styles even, Even your posture is going to affect the way an outfit looks. And if you know that you slouch, okay you slouch great, try not to pick a garment that you have to stand up straight for simple,
Nicole: I just felt my spine myself sitting up a little bit more.
Nandita: We all do it.
Nicole: Is there anything else you think would be helpful for listeners to just know about pattern testing that we haven’t already covered?
Nandita: I think we should all approach pattern testing with, it sounds like a cliche, my friends, with an open heart. By doing that, not only are we learning about sewing and techniques and different skill sets, we’re learning about one another. We’re learning that some people have held on to lifelong dreams that they’re only now coming true, because they put themselves out there. It’s not easy to what I call, design your baby, put your baby out in the world, and hear that nobody likes her baby.
And this is not saying that I’m doing some sort of pity pattern testing, I’m not. But what I am looking for is maybe the smaller designer who doesn’t have the biggest following, but you can tell there’s a passion behind that make, and that they’ve done this a couple of times and now they want to share that. So, let me be a part of that, let me share and let me try and if it works fabulous, and if it doesn’t, it’s really not the end of the world. and I tell my students all the time, “ It doesn’t have to look like Miss Dita’s does. No, it shouldn’t. Does it have to be perfect, absolutely not. But should you be having fun.”
Yes, and that’s part of sewing, that’s my practice, that’s how I approach. So, you know, do I look at it as a job. No, I don’t, it’s not my job. It’s my hobby, but within this hobby I’ve been able to grow as a person, as well as a maker and grow within the community. I don’t think if it weren’t for Instagram I would have ever met, Nicole or Ada. So true, so true, and that comes from me putting myself out there by posting and tagging and following hashtags that serve my purpose, and serve what I want out of social media, and to go off on a bit of a tangent, you have to actively look at your Instagram or your social media as your mood board, what’s working for you, if you’re finding yourself feeling uncomfortable, or you’re just feeling like it’s one big argument, well then ask yourself, Is this the best fit for me right now. It’s completely okay to take a pause. You don’t have to be cranking anything out, especially if it’s a hobby.
Ada: So true, I do want to touch upon something that you, you kind of mentioned in passing You said your students call you Miss Dita. And before we got on today, we asked you how to say your name, none. I hope I’m getting it right, I would love to know, “What do your students mostly call you, Nandita?
Nandita: Yes, so where that came from is that growing up, and I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. And it was the 70s and 80s, it was just easier for people to call me Nan-dita (transcript note: short a sound). Although my name is Nandita and it means happiness. It just became easier and so instead of constantly reminding or correcting people I went with it, I did it just seemed like it was easier and there was other things for me to do, then in college I lived with some roommates, and as a term of endearment, they would start calling me Dita and for some reason it stuck.
And again, even though it might not be my full name, it really has a place in my heart because they loved me, and they still love me and they call me Dita and so I always introduce myself with my name, and then I say, “but my friends call me Dita”. And so Miss Dita came from that. Now that my students know what my name is. I will say I Miss Nandita because it’s easier for them. But you can call me Miss Dita. And so that’s what it’s become. Now just on a little side note I teach a lot of Asian students as well, especially South East Asian, who also happen to be Indian, and they will come to me and whisper, “Is your name Nandita?” because they too have names that I can pronounce so it’s really so endearing, because we’re looking at our future. And so I have these kindergarteners who have names that they are having to either correct or sometimes they have nicknames, and I will pronounce their names because I’m Indian, the way that their parents pronounce them, and it’s an instant connection and it warms my heart. And I always tell my mom, “Today I saw Mehta” andshe said, “You got my name right!”. So it’s really, it’s amazing what a name can do for somebody’s spirit. And when you say it the way that your loved ones which I say, you know your parents call you at home. It’s almost like you’ve, you feel safer. You feel like you’re seen,
Ada: I’m going to try not to cry. It’s, that’s so true, having almost just having that representation and having somebody who knows how to say your name correctly or who is a teacher who looks like you even, right, like for many of us growing up in the States, at least until very recently like we may not have had any or very few teachers who look like us, who could relate to us on that level. And I think what you’re doing with your students even just that little bit of acknowledgement for them is so powerful and I’m sure they’re going to remember it, way past kindergarten maybe in college and beyond. So Nandita, tell us where can listeners find you?
Nandita: So my online account and where I am most prolific and posting is on Instagram, and you can find me at @divinedita, and it’s a public page so you can go ahead and follow me if you’d like or just check out my grid, and you’ll see most of my pictures are of all my mix I do love to read so you’ll see book reviews every now and again, and I’ll throw in what I’m making for dinner.
Nicole: Well, thank you so much, Nandita. It was so great to talk to you today. We learned loads, and we hope our listeners did too. If you have any follow up questions, or anything more about pattern testing you want to know, go ahead and send a message or email us at the Asian Sewist Collective, and we’ll do our best to be able to follow up, but thank you so much again.
Nandita: Thank you for having me.
Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. Next week we will be wrapping up, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and Mental Health Awareness Month, with a conversation about self-care and sewing.
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Nicole: This episode is brought to you by your host, Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Shilyn Joy, produced by Ada Chen, and edited by Leslie Rehm Hunt. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.