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Essentials of Pattern Making and Why It's Important to Get it Right!

by Boris Hodakel  • April 25, 2019 • 15 min read

pattern making

Creating patterns for clothing production is a skilled practice. The detail and technique behind each pattern ensure that garments are made to specification with a minimal margin of error. Once you’ve designed your clothing, your sketches will need to be turned into technical drawings before patterns can be created.

For those who are new to fabric patterns, there are many resources and professionals that can assist in the process. Sewport provides an easy search function to filter your requirements and find designers who can take your ideas through to the development stage.

This critical stage in development will help you to visualize the fit and decide on the size ranges of your clothing. Essentially, patterns bridge the gap between ideation and production, which makes this process straightforward for both the brand and the manufacturer.

Understanding the basics of pattern making will provide insight into how your garments will take shape. Take a look at some of the main elements of this art to take your initial sketches to the next level.

How to Create Patterns

There are a number of different methods that professionals use to make commercial patterns, and despite the conception created by pop culture, not all of these methods include three-dimensional dress forms. In fact, it's increasingly popular for pattern makers to use computers or even high-end tablets to make patterns that can be used to cut and assemble real-world men's and women's clothes.

No matter which pattern making tools are employed, the process of pattern development begins when a designer makes a sketch of a garment that they'd like to make. While this basic sketch is made with the human form in mind, there are quite a few more steps that need to take place to transform this initial idea into a garment that will fit a human body.

Pattern Making Basics

Essentially, pattern making is the art of translating a designer's basic idea for a garment into a real piece of apparel that fits the human body in a flattering way. A few simple techniques have been used in pattern making for centuries, and some pattern makers prefer to keep things old school.

However, generations of experience in making design patterns have produced adapted techniques in the art of pattern making. Any technique that turns a design sketch into a real garment is valid in the world of pattern making, and many designers have moved on from flat patterns to making three-dimensional patterns on mannequins or in the digital world.

As you take a look throughout the apparel industry, it's clear to see that pattern design takes many different forms just as design elements vary from firm to firm. However, the basics of pattern making remain the same: This process is all about bringing a designer's dreams to life in the real world.

Where Do People Make Patterns

Most large apparel producers have one or more pattern makers on staff to take care of sewing construction and other pattern-related tasks. These professionals generally work in the same building as the company's design staff, but they usually work in individual offices or offices that are shared with other pattern makers.

Freelance pattern makers, however, may work from home or have private offices. With modern technology, it's often possible for pattern makers, designers, and clothing manufacturers to work together in sync without ever meeting each other in person. That said, it's often preferable to physically meet with your pattern maker even if they operate out of their own premises; doing so makes it easier to share patterns, and face-to-face conversations are often better for establishing shared goals and sharing important information.

A pattern maker's office is often strewn with various bolts of fabric. These professionals may have high-end computing equipment, or they may have tablets placed on various surfaces. In addition, these offices generally have at least one or two big tables, and it's common to see pattern makers working with dress forms and mannequins.

How to Start and Where to Start

There's no set way to become a successful pattern maker. The only factor that's necessary to have at the beginning of a pattern maker's career is drive; this vocation is only suited for people who love fabric so much that they're willing to work with it every day for years on end.

Some background in sewing is usually a plus if you want to be a pattern maker, and you should have a good grasp of the different types of fabrics that are on the market. When you're ready to try your hand at this profession, there are plenty of easy ways to get started online; for instance, there are a number of comprehensive guides that cover the basics to pattern making and make it easy to try out this skill in your own living room or bedroom.

Some of the best pattern makers are self-taught, and you may not find it necessary to undergo traditional schooling to be great at this career. Some people, however, decide to jump into pattern making with hardly any sewing experience, and other professionals who are already active in the fashion industry get formal educations in this vocation to further their skills.

Where to Study Pattern Making

Many aspiring designers choose to learn pattern making as part of their studies in fashion design; almost all fashion schools offer courses in pattern making, and some examples of the top fashion institutes around the world include:

  • Central Saint Martins: Consistently considered to be one of the best fashion schools in the world, London's Central Saint Martins has produced notable alumni such as David Koma, Jimmy Choo, Alexander McQueen, and John Galliano. This school's Fashion Design program features courses on pattern making.
  • Parsons School of Design: With locations in New York City and Paris, Parsons School of Design is one of the most notable (and most expensive) fashion institutes. Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Alexander Wang, and Donna Karan all graduated from Parsons, and this school's Fashion Design undergraduate program offers one of the best educations in pattern making to be found anywhere.
  • London College of Fashion: This fashion schol offers tons of different undergraduate programs, and London College of Fashion even offers a Fashion Pattern Cutting Degree, which might make this institute the perfect place to get started as a pattern maker.

Going to school for pattern making, however, might not be the right idea for a number of reasons. Fashion school is expensive, and it's mainly tailored toward helping designers receive well-rounded educations.

However, pattern making isn't all that hard to learn on your own, and there are tons of online resources that can help you get started. In the end, your own personal drive and determination are what will determine your success as a pattern maker, and it's possible to set out on this career choice with a few hundred dollars and a laptop if need be.

The Role of Pattern Makers in Fashion

Pattern makers are the practical creatives of the fashion industry. While designers tend to get their heads stuck in the clouds with whimsical ideas and plans that will never pan out, pattern makers are tasked with the responsibility of making these dreams into products that can be mass produced or worn down the runway.

While clothing manufacturers are mere workhorses, pattern makers have to be imaginative even though they fulfil pragmatic roles. Designing a garment is one thing, but making sure that these designs can actually see the light of day is a pattern maker's unique responsibility. Pattern makers are to fashions as directors are to films; in the production of a film, it's the screenwriter's job to come up with amazing ideas and the director's job to make sure that all of the actors work together, and in the world of fashion, it's a pattern maker's job to make sure that designs on paper communicate properly tangible fabrics in the real world.

Influence of Iconic Designers

Many people envisage fashion designers as people who sit in studios drawing whimsical sketches for new fashion lines. However, there is so much more skill involved than this stereotypical outlook indicates. Designers not only have an eye for fashionable style, but they often possess a range of skills that can make a drawing come to life.

These skills translate ideas on paper into real-world designs, and they capture how the wearer will think and feel when they choose the garment. These types of designers have gone on to become the greats of the fashion industry who we know and love today.

pattern maker

So, what do these fashion designers possess that many do not? In short, they have specialized, skills such as pattern creation, that support the initial design work. Iconic examples of talented designers include Christian Dior. His creativity led him into a career in architecture during his early years. After his service in the war, he founded The House of Dior in 1946.

One of Dior’s most notable accomplishments was the creation of the "New Look." This infamous dress and skirt pattern was crafted to enhance the curvaceous silhouette of a woman. It attracted attention from all corners of the globe and still provides the foundations for many styles in modern fashion.

There are a host of designers who also showcase impressive pattern making skills such as Giannini Versace and Yves Saint Laurent.

Why Patterns Are Essential in Clothing Manufacturing

Essentially, an accurate profile of your clothing will produce the first fit sample of your collection. This sample has to be as close as possible to the final garment. Otherwise, significant changes will have to be made, which will cause costly setbacks.

pattern making cutting

What Information Do You Need Before You Produce Patterns?

A valuable resource to assist pattern creation is a Tech Pack. These specifications will provide everything from fabrications to construction methods that support your basic pattern.

Mistakes can be made if you don’t provide your pattern maker with enough information. A pattern can only be produced with accurate and detailed specs, so ensuring you do sufficient research beforehand will prevent errors.

You can find out how to create a tech pack here.

tech pack sewport

Types of Patterns in Clothing Manufacturing

The starting point in design consists of a flat drawing to get the basic outline and measurements for the fit. However, at this stage, this 2D illustration doesn’t accommodate the curves and attributes of body shape. To tailor the clothing to the wearer, darts (or folds) in the clothing are created to give it shape. This concept also provides a basis for the ultimate fit including how the garment will feel and move with the body.

There are three techniques at this stage of production, which include:

1. Flat Pattern Drawing

This method takes a basic pattern and translates it into a 3D shape with muslin fabric, which is then transferred to paper. Flat pattern making helps to highlight the areas for movement and improves comfort for the wearer.

Five main garment components create the base pattern in womenswear:

  • Front bodice
  • Back bodice
  • Neckline
  • Sleeve
  • Fitted skirt

Each element above is complemented by darts to get the right shape. As fashions change each season, these basic outlines can be manipulated to fit new trends.

2. Drafting

Drafting is often used to create initial designs. These designs are produced using standard sizing presets from factories or have been measured accurately using a fit model. This method is traditionally drawn on paper and has markings for ease allowance to complete the formation of the garment.

pattern making 2

3. Fashion Draping

This style of pattern creation involves draping the muslin over a form (or mannequin) to create a 3D shape. After a designer has reached the desired look, this fabric is then transferred to paper for the final pattern. This method can be more expensive than other techniques. However, it gives a fashion designer an overview of how a garment will look before making the final decisions before production.

Seam Allowance

Seam allowance is another crucial aspect of the pattern creation process. Simply put, a seam joins two pieces of fabric just enough to cover the raw edges of the material. The measurement is vital for crafting a smooth finish. However, there are variances in the seam allowances for different styles of clothing.

The seam allowance in clothing manufacturing can differ. In commercial garment production, a seam allowance of 16mm (⅝”) is commonly used. This measurement allows for alteration to the fabric to get the desired fit. It is also often suitable for a range of fabrics including loose weave materials.

Challenges in Pattern Creation

The production of clothing can be a complex and time-consuming process especially when changes are made during production. This may be caused by availability or a change in fabric, in which case the pattern will have to be altered.

It may appear that you can just use the same patterns as per the original design. However, even a slight difference in the material will lead to varying degrees of drape, shrinkage and give in the final product. By ignoring this alteration, you run the risk of producing ill-fitting and unsellable garments, which in turn will affect the bottom line.

Pattern Grading

Once you have the initial pattern for your garments, the next step is to create alternative sizing. This process is called pattern grading and involves making other sizes using your basic blueprint. Some manufacturers have standard guidelines for grading, and this is where you see common retailer measurements. For example, size 8 and beyond, sizes S, M, L, and so on.

Pattern grading doesn’t have to be complicated once you have the basic outlines. However, there are two systems to determine the grading.

  • Draft technique: This system applies increments to the pattern draft as a whole.
  • Track technique: This grading applies increments to the individual pattern pieces and essentially alters section by section.

To make this process easier, you can use computer-aided design (CAD) software to grade your patterns.

Technology and Resources

Alongside traditional pattern drafting methods, technology is making it easier to produce accurate designs that speed up the production process. This type of software can be used in both small and large-scale textile design for pattern making and grading. Otherwise known as computer-aided design (CAD), this system can work in harmony with several elements across the manufacturing industry.

For design work, brands can transform basic illustrations and sketches into digitized images, which are then printed via garment plotters. The use of innovative software enables businesses to keep up with trends and garment development through intelligent platforms. The changing aspects of the industry make digital pattern creation an invaluable tool for increasing efficiency and productivity.

There are many resources available dependent on your requirements. Some of the most well-known software solutions include:

  • Lectra
  • Gerber Accumark
  • Optitex
  • Autodesk
  • Assist

Digital Design Challenges

Alongside the benefits that digital technology brings to clothing production, there can be some challenges in the pattern creation process. As mentioned above, the number of industry-recognized applications available can sometimes lead to compatibility issues with your chosen manufacturing partner.

Before committing to a software package, it is advisable to check its benefits and potential pitfalls for your clothing brand. Some of the main areas to consider include:

  • Pattern conversion capabilities
  • Compatibility with plotters and printers
  • Shareable file types
  • Scalable features dependent on the needs of your project

Digital fashion design software can be expensive, so assessing your business needs will help you decide on the best resources for your future projects.

digital design making

Using Templates

Templates can be excellent places to start if you have little or no experience in pattern making. There are a host of options online to get you started, and many include simple guides for crafting the perfect design.

Templates are otherwise known as block patterns in industrial production. A block pattern is a custom-fitted, basic pattern from which patterns for many different styles of garments can be reproduced.

Using these types of resources can demystify the pattern cutting process and give you confidence in translating your designs to final outlines. However, for custom fitted clothing and unique styles, it may take some professional input to tweak your ideas.

Ensuring the perfect styling, fit and functionality is something that is mastered over many years. So finding the right creator to adapt and tweak your template and ideas is a worthwhile investment.

Learning How to Create Patterns

As mentioned above, producing a finished garment requires the right balance and expertise from start to finish. A great way to expand your knowledge of the production process is to learn how to create your own patterns. There are many resources including external courses, online study, and local workshops. However, learning this skill does require time and commitment.

If you are running a new business, it may not be viable to commit resources to this area if you have everything else to manage. In this instance, short courses can give you an overview. These practical taster sessions will help you understand the complexities of the skill and assist you in developing a good relationship with a pattern making professional.

For fashion students considering career paths in the industry, this skill is highly sought-after. It may not be as glamorous on the outset as becoming a fashion designer, but it will give you diverse insights into the whole clothing production process including design. This skill is taught in several universities, plus there are establishments that also offer apprenticeships.

Further information: How Fashion Apprenticeships Are Boosting The Clothing Manufacturing Industry.

For growing brands, an in-house pattern maker could be beneficial for responsive design and trend ideas. By hiring a specialist, you will have access to a wealth of knowledge for accurate pattern creation.

learning pattern making

Why Hire a Pattern Cutter?

As mentioned above, pattern creation is a highly skilled technique that supports the work of designers. Without this technical skill, fashion wouldn’t be where it is today. Hiring a pattern cutter can help you bring your designs to life, and not only that, this vital part of design turns sketches into wearable products.

One of the main issues that professionals face is a lack of understanding when it comes to this line of work. As it is a specialised area, designers often find it challenging that a pattern maker cannot completely translate a design into the prototype.

Of course, there will always be tweaks and compromises as some styles will require adjustment to fit the needs of the consumer. Building a good relationship with skilled cutting professionals ensures a smooth transition in the design and production process.

There are several benefits of hiring a pattern creator:

  • Experience of different pattern cutting methods
  • Knowledge of the production chain
  • Improve designs and wearability of garments
  • Use the latest technology to produce accurate specifications
  • Support the design process from start to finish
  • Review samples and make adjustments as required
  • Troubleshoot and resolve design issues

These individuals have a wide range of skills that they can bring to your company. You can also utilize freelancers for one-off projects.

Copyright Protection

If you hire a freelance professional to produce your production designs, you will have to consider the implications of copyright laws and who owns the rights to the completed work. As you will be designing a range that is exclusive to your brand, ensuring you have rights to the final design is paramount. This is usually not an issue as a contract can be drawn up between both parties. However, covering the finer details and establishing a non-disclosure agreement is essential to reduce the risk of your designs ending up in a competitor’s hands.

It is also advisable to check the copyright laws and regulations currently in place as there are varying degrees of protection for registered and non-registered designs. As stated in the UK Government’s Copyright Notice: "The UK unregistered design right protects only the shape and configuration of an article. It does not therefore protect 2D items (such as a sewing pattern) and surface decoration. UK and EU registered designs do allow for the protection of patterns in respect of dress making and embroidery and surface patterns. They can be protected for up to 25 years subject to payment of renewal fees."

You can find out more here.

Finding a Pattern Maker

If you’ve opted for a Full Production Package (FPP) with your clothing factory, pattern creation will be part of this service. As this aspect of production requires accurate specifications, garment manufacturers will use your Tech Pack to produce suitable fit and grading patterns.

For businesses that have opted for Cut, Make and Trim (CMT) production, you will have provided your clothing manufacturer with everything to start production. This includes a tech pack, specifications, patterns, and fabric.

CMT production can be a cost-effective option for established brands that already have good relationships with suppliers. It is also ideal for companies looking to ensure that they remain in control of the whole process. However, if you have no experience in the techniques of pattern making, hiring a professional will ensure you have accurate measurements and fits for production.

It’s essential to ensure that there is open communication between your pattern maker and the clothing manufacturer. This will ensure that the specifications are correct for sampling and final production.

To help find a design consultant, Sewport enables you to tailor your search and get quotes and advice from experts in the industry. There is a host of CMT and FPP factories to partner with including design studios specialising in pattern creation. Clothing manufacturers are on hand to offer advice on suitable resources to use. They can also take the hassle out of this step with onsite pattern cutting services.

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About the author:

Boris Hodakel is the founder and CEO of Sewport - an online marketplace connecting brands and manufacturers, former founder of various clothing manufacturing services. He is passionate about e-commerce, marketing and production digitisation. Connect with Boris on LinkedIn.