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

by Boris Hodakel  • February 16, 2019 • 10 min read

pattern making

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

For those that 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 to find designers that can take your ideas through to the development stage.

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

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

Influence of iconic designers

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

These skills translate ideas on paper into a real-world design and 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, we know and love today.

pattern maker

So what do these fashion designers possess that many do not? In short, they have specialised skills such as pattern creation that supports 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, in 1946 he founded The House of Dior.

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 that also showcase impressive pattern making skills such as Giannini Versace and Yves Saint Laurent among several others.

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 to support the 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 Tech pack here.

tech pack sewport

Types of pattern in clothing manufacturing

The starting point in design comprises 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:

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. This technique helps to highlight the areas for movement and 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.

Drafting

Drafting is often used to create the initial designs. They 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

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 can prove 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 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 or 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 to speed up the production process. This software can be used on 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 to digitised images, which are then printed via a garment plotter. 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 too.

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 recognised 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 an excellent place to start if you have little or no experience of pattern making. There are a host of options online to get you started, and many include a simple to use guide for crafting the perfect design.

Templates are otherwise known as a block pattern 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 style, 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. Plus assist you in developing a good relationship with a pattern making professional.

For fashion students considering a career path 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 a diverse insight 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 patternmaker 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 these technical skills, 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 lack of understanding that comes with 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. By 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
  • Have 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 utilise freelancers for one-off projects.

Copyright protection

If you hire a freelance professional to produce your production designs, you will have to consider the implication of copyright 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 non-disclosure 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 regulation 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 at https://www.gov.uk/design-right.

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 specification, 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 tech pack and specifications, patterns and fabric.

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

It’s essential to ensure there is open communication between your pattern maker and the clothing manufacturer. This will ensure 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.