A Designer’s Guide to Hiring the Perfect Pattern Maker
As an emerging designer, working with a world-class pattern maker can make or break your clothing line. They help make it possible to produce your garments in a range of sizes, whether that be for large retail production or just a single collection.
While choosing the best pattern maker for your project may seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be. In this guide, you’ll learn about the role of a pattern maker, what you should look for when seeking one out, and how to work with your pattern maker so you can bring your fashion designs to life.
Understanding What a Pattern Maker Does
Pattern makers work behind the scenes in the production of every successful fashion line, yet many people are unaware of what a pattern maker really does. Pattern makers use a system of design knowledge and mathematics to create templates for your garment concepts. They iron out the tiny details to ensure that when your clothing comes to life in fabric, it will look just as amazing as it did in the fashion design sketches.
As a fashion designer, you’ll need to collaborate with a pattern maker to create your own patterns that will act as a guide for sample makers, seamstresses, and manufacturers. No house can stand on a weak foundation, and no fashion line can begin without excellent patterns.
To begin, let’s review some vocabulary so you’ll be prepared and well-versed when you start your search for the perfect pattern maker.
- Pattern Grading: This is the process of creating a range of sizes for a single garment style. Pattern grading takes precision and strict adherence to a formula to translate a design into a range of sizes.
- Template: A template is just another word for pattern, which is the blueprint of a garment.
- Paper Pattern: Typically created on paper or cardboard, a paper pattern is created once the pattern maker has refined their design. This final pattern design is clear and legible, so it can be copied and reprinted. While the average consumer can buy paper patterns to sew their own clothing, fashion designers give them to the manufacturer to produce the garments.
- French Curves: Essential to fashion designers and pattern makers alike, this classic tool is a perfectly curved ruler used to make lines and cuts in patterns and fabric.
- Pattern Pieces: These are the individual cuts of fabric in a pattern design that fit together to form a garment. Imagine them as pieces of a puzzle.
- Tech Pack: A tech pack is a digital document that contains all the information for the manufacturers to create the garments, including patterns, textiles, graded measurements, hardware specifications, and more. Tech packs are essential communication tools throughout the product development phase.
- Production Pattern: Production patterns are templates that are polished, graded, and ready for manufacturing and production. This is the end result of your work with a pattern maker.
- Draping: This is a classic form of patternmaking that involves draping muslin or another preliminary textile over a dress form. The textile is pinned and marked while still on the dress form. This gives the pattern maker a visual 3D “map” to design the pattern accordingly.
- Sample Maker: A sample maker is someone who works with a seamstress to produce samples of your clothing line that you can present to potential retailers and fashion industry professionals.
Should You Choose a Freelance Pattern Maker or Product Development Team?
One of the first decisions you’ll have to make is choosing a freelance pattern maker or professional production house to create your samples. Either one can execute the pattern design and deliver paper patterns that can be translated to fabric.
Freelance pattern makers usually work at an hourly rate or on a per-project basis. While this might seem more affordable upfront, you’ll want to make sure they can meet your expectations in terms of your timeframe and collection size. You also want to keep in mind that the more years of experience and education they have, the higher their hourly rate will be.
On the other hand, working with a product development team can provide more cohesion throughout every stage of designing your clothing line. For instance, TEG offers pattern and sample making from sketches, pictures, or any pieces that inspire you — there’s no need to learn how to use complex illustrating programs. This leaves you with more time and energy to be creative as the visionary of your clothing line. It’s also worth noting that with TEG, production patterns are included in the overall pricing of developing your collection.
What Tools Do Pattern Makers Use?
Pattern design can be drafted traditionally through paper patterns or digitally with CAD, or computer aided drafting. Like all tools of modern technology, it’s important for a pattern maker to have years of experience hand-drawing pattern pieces more than simply using the latest CAD methods.
The art of pattern design requires a technical understanding of fashion design that can’t be replaced by a computer. Clothing is inherently tangible, something that is touched, felt, and worn. Therefore, experience with traditional drafting for fashion design is vital to becoming a good pattern maker. That said, CAD pattern design can be useful for speeding up the process of pattern grading and making the patterns easier to understand for the sample maker.
Whether a pattern maker uses CAD software or paper and pencil, every pattern maker should be familiar with rulers, French curves, and muslin mockups. These classic drafting tools give the pattern maker a better understanding of constructing patterns that translate beautifully when draping on a dress form. Consider the CAD options as tools that make pattern design easier, not a replacement for the technical skills of traditional pattern design.
What to Consider Before Choosing a Pattern Maker
Depending on your project, you’ll have to consider what you want and need. For example, if you plan to grade your collection to produce a range of sizes, you’ll need a pattern maker with direct experience in pattern grading and tech packs.
If your collection consists of one-of-a-kind, high-end couture pieces, you need someone who is highly trained in traditional pattern making and drafting for haute couture specifically. This means that they’ll have extensive experience with structured tailoring, ruching, working with unusual fabrics, and creating unique silhouettes.
Experience and Education Are Everything
When it comes to choosing a pattern maker, experience and education are crucial. Pattern making is a precise art for apparel design and it takes years of practice and applied experience.
For pattern makers, education comes in the form of both experience and formal schooling. While degrees are a great asset, applied experience is more important. Here are some questions you should always ask before hiring a pattern maker:
- How many years of experience do they have in patternmaking for fashion design?
- Do they have the mathematical expertise required for pattern grading?
- What is their experience with textiles? What sort of fabrications have they worked with in the past?
- Have they created designs that are similar to what you want?
Look at Their Portfolio and Ask for Testimonials
A great pattern maker will always have a portfolio upon request. For instance, if your collection has multiple blouses, ask for examples they’ve drafted. Get as specific as necessary to feel confident in choosing them as your pattern maker.
It’s also important to find out who they have worked with in the past by asking to see their portfolio. It would be helpful to see the completed garments and patterns side-by-side to give you an idea of how well their patterns translate into apparel design and production. Asking for testimonials from past clients is another great source of information. Don’t be afraid to ask!
What Are Their Methods for Pattern Making?
When seeking out a pattern maker, identify their preferred route for pattern making. If they tend to start with draping, you’ll have to work directly with them to drape every individual piece of the collection, pinning, and marking as you go to get the exact look you wish to achieve.
There’s also the important question of whether they use traditional drafting or digital tools to design patterns. Many pattern makers will use a combination of drawings that they then scan and then polish using CAD software. It’s vital that every pattern maker has experience designing patterns by hand, as it gives them an understanding of how pattern pieces translate to fabrics that will become garments.
However, it’s certainly not a bad thing if a pattern maker utilizes digital tools to improve and replicate patterns. This can speed up the process and leaves little room for error.
Do They Have Experience With Pattern Grading?
If you plan on producing a range of sizes or manufacturing your clothing line for retailers, high-quality pattern grading is a must. Ask your potential pattern maker about their experience with grading. Do they have examples of graded patterns in a variety of common sizes? Can they show you a completed fashion line for which they graded the patterns?
How to Work With Your Pattern Maker to Avoid Mishaps
Once you’ve started your project with a pattern maker, stay involved throughout the process to ensure things are going according to plan. At the root of any positive professional relationship, open communication is a must. Both you as the designer and the pattern maker should feel comfortable asking questions and discussing details to make sure great patterns are delivered at the end of the project.
Like Any Good Relationship, Communication Is Key
In your relationship with your pattern maker, there’s no such thing as being too clear. No question should go unasked for both you as the fashion designer and your potential pattern maker. Discuss pricing, timeline, and expectations at the outset. This will help prevent any issues throughout the product development process.
Be Clear About Budget
Know your budget before you even begin to work with a pattern maker. Whether you’re working with a fashion design team or a freelance pattern maker, you need to be aware of the costs of getting patterns that fit your standards.
Know Your Timeline
Always convey your timeline and whether there is any room for flexibility. If your pattern maker has a deadline, they’ll know how to gauge your expectations for the quantity and quality of what they can deliver. Communicate your timeline from the very start so your pattern maker is on the same page as you.
Find the Best Pattern Maker for Your Fashion Brand
At this point, we trust you have a much clearer understanding of how to find the perfect pattern maker for your designs. Since pattern makers are key to the success of your clothing line, it’s vital to know all aspects of this stage of product development.
At TEG, we offer high-quality creative services like fabric and trim sourcing that you won’t find elsewhere. Our top-of-the-line sourcing managers skillfully guide you through sampling fabric swatches, negotiating minimums and prices, tracking orders, and more.
Whether you’re an emerging or established designer, we’ve helped over 2,000 designers during the last 15+ years bring their visions to life. We’d love to help you, too!
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