How we make patterns in real life
Ginevra sent me a link to an interesting and lengthy post from a home sewer (“sew 4 fun”) who was explaining her ten year long experience learning pattern making. It’s a good read, much better than my entry, go check it out and then come back. I’ll wait.
Oh, you’re back! Awesome. Other than my self serving observation that she’s learned to have a great deal of respect for pattern makers, she has -in a manner of speaking- come full circle to make patterns using a process similar to that used by professionals. Imagine that! I’d say she’s learned well enough indeed:
I wasn’t expecting miracles, or at least I didn’t think I was. I knew it would take a few months and a lot of hard work to get my measurements right and get my sloper to fit, but that was ok… So I put in the hours of hard work, learning how the software worked, reading the manual from cover to cover, taking all my measurements exactly as instructed and sewing sloper, after sloper, after sloper, after sloper, after sloper……20+ slopers later! Yes that’s right… And what did I learn? I learnt that building a pattern from the ground up is so much harder that altering an already drafted pattern, because there are so many variables that I didn’t even realise existed. So many things I have to know about part A working with part B. Things that take many years of learning, and a heck of a lot of trial and error.
Contrast the above with something I’d said several years ago:
Drafting a basic fitting shell (”sloper” to home sewers) is just a whole lot of work. In real life, there’s faster ways to get there. Beginners feel as though they have to earn their stripes the hard way, that they have to put a lot of work into drafting a basic fitting shell as tho it were a rite of passage or something. It’s amazing the work they put into it and what for? They still end up with a jizillion iteration cycles. Bummer.
“Sew 4 fun” continues:
What do I do today? I buy commercial patterns and alter them, and have the utmost respect for pattern makers. They have years of experience* that I simply don’t have the time to learn. It would take years of practice to learn how to draft some of the styles I see in Burda magazine, and I’d still have to sew a muslin to test if the design elements worked. Rather than sewing one, two or three muslins to get the fit right, I’d be sewing the same number of muslins to ensure I got the design elements right. I don’t have this sort of time so I leave it to the experts.
In real life, we don’t draft each design from zero and no, we don’t use home patterns. Nor slopers or fitting shells. We use blocks of existing patterns we’ve made with proven performance. Since there’s residual confusion about blocks, those are:
A block is the pattern of a style that sells well for you. It sells so well for you that you use that pattern to generate new styles. If you are in the gestation of your line, you won’t have any real blocks because you haven’t sold anything yet. In such case, a block could be whatever pattern you’ve used to generate most of your products. It is the building block of your product line. Let’s call it a parent pattern. You use the parent pattern to generate styles from it or children.
I just think it’s very cool that after ten years of study, this home sewer has stumbled on the solution employed by professionals. There’s no loss of integrity doing it like this, there’s still plenty of work to do, consider making protos!
I have worked for plenty of companies that didn’t cut protos in all colorways. Plenty. It does seem like overkill and typically, we’re all very confident in what we’re doing because most of the time it comes out okay. But if your colorways are using fabrics you haven’t used before and consequently, you haven’t been able to gauge their performance, you should cut a proto. If not, the problem usually becomes apparent when making up salesmen’s samples which is when you can least deal with it… People always talk about “moving up another level” and by this, they usually refer to increased sales, greater esteem in the marketplace or greater distribution. To move up another level, you must move your product development practices up another level first.
As I’ve also said many times before, I think it’s the educational system (no criticism implied; it’s the nature of the beast) that sets people up to think they need to learn pattern drafting in a rote fashion, starting from zero with a fitting shell. The books show it like that because it’s easiest to illustrate and drafting can be challenging enough without introducing ambiguities. Anyway, because books always show the same starting point, it become inculcated in people they must start there too. Our process is more like this:
Now, the way we do it is to buy or use something that is similar to what we want to do and we fit that. Then we use a basic body -a block or an existing pattern, the fit of which we already like- and transfer to that, whatever the distinctive features of the new style. Plus, we make our fit changes. This way our first prototype will come out looking pretty good. For example, let’s say we’re making a coat. We are not going to start with a basic fitting shell. We will start with a coat pattern that we already have, that looks closest to the style we want to develop. That’s much different than how they teach you in school where everybody starts with a basic fitting shell. Fitting shells are pretty close to useless when it comes to style development; doing that, one will end up making a lot more iterations than we do. In real life, you’d be hard pressed to find a basic fitting shell pattern in the plant of any manufacturer. Beginners go from a “sloper” to coat incrementally. That’s a lot of work. Start with a coat. Make the changes, including fit. Then, bingo, you’re there. If you want to make a blouse, start with a blouse. Develop a basic range of styles that fit you and use them over and over again.
If I could successfully convey one idea to enthusiasts or anyone who wants to learn patterns, it is to do this. At some point you will be starting from zero but from there you create styles via iteration cycles. Build successive styles on the previous ones. I personally wouldn’t start with a home pattern because so much about them annoys me (inaccuracy, unjustifiable ease, improperly made facings, pieces you need they don’t include or mention you need, no interfacing patterns, bad lining patterns etc) that it’s faster to make my own. A pivotal thing is learning to walk patterns and correct them but most of all, a willingness to take charge and forget what the book or any number of “experts” say and approach it logically. People are far too invested in other people’s advice. I found (pdf) an interesting quote from Arthur Schopenhauer today and handily enough, have an excuse to use it:
It is quite natural that we should adopt a defensive and negative attitude towards every new opinion concerning something on which we have already an opinion of our own. For it forces its way as an enemy into the previously closed system of our own convictions, shatters the calm of mind we have attained through this system, demands renewed efforts of us and declares our former efforts to have been in vain.
In other words, it’s work to learn something new. If you’re going to learn something new, clear out the old clutter first. And who wants to admit all the time and money they spent previously was wasted? A useful question to ask one’s self is, does this advice I’m about to follow, defy the laws of physics? Pretend you know nothing about sewing. Pretend the item is made of sheet metal, can you get those pieces to fit neatly? With extremely rare exception (this isn’t, nor this), they should.
I was chatting with one of my very few pattern making clients today and at the risk of alienating any future customers, I had an epiphany, discovering I’ve deliberately chosen clients who have the capacity to replace me. The one I talked to today hasn’t had a lesson in his life but he’s so detail focused he noticed a missed notch. Heh. I love that. It makes me glad I picked him all over again (I’d ignored for him awhile). Plus, he asked some “dumb” questions (love, love those) which gave me great ideas for some future tutorials. I guess my clients are more like students than customers. Students who get lessons for the price of having a pattern made that we can each then work off of, and I can explain what I did and how they should incorporate those lessons into other styles they generate. It’s no fun to just make something, pass it off and who knows what comes of it after that? Each pattern should be a learning tool.
*Oh, and in reference to one last thing from “sew 4 fun”. She’s right in that it can take a long time to learn pattern drafting but maybe not as long either. If you’re doing this on the side, part time, yeah, it’ll take awhile and you have to do all the work. In many respects, professionals have a lot of unfair advantages so it’s cruel to compare yourself accordingly if you’re not in the same situation. Our learning cycle time is compacted, we’re doing this at least eight hours a day, not after dinner or on weekends. We also have support staff, someone to cut the pattern in fabric and sew it for us. While they’re doing that, we’ve gone on to “learn” another pattern. In fact, any pattern maker worth their salt will admit it’s been ages since they’ve actually sewn anything. The time we spend learning through practice is greatly compacted. And we get paid for it so we don’t have to squeeze it in around everything else. I think most people’s (including enthusiasts) time is better spent learning more about production pattern making to fix the patterns they already have.