Paper patterns, soft or hard?

Posted by Kathleen Fasanella on Sep 22, 2006 at 4:21 pm / Patterns / Trackback

[Edited 11/27/12 to update content and costs]
A selection of questions and answers about patterns. First up, Robyn writes:

After the pattern has been traced onto the fabric using the wax pencil, do I cut inside the line, cut on the line, or cut outside the line?

I’ve written about this a couple of times, there two entries; Marking and cutting and Tracing and marking, both illustrated with photos. If you don’t want to click through and will take my word for it, the short answer is cut the line away. Always. No exceptions.

Robyn also asks another question that I want to get your take on. I mean, I know what I would recommend but I’m interested in what you all think. Particularly if you already you use hard patterns because if you’re only using soft ones, it’s hard to know what you’re missing (yet).

The paper I am getting [my pattern printed out on] is a CAD print out. [The pattern maker] provides hard paper patterns at $3/per piece/per size. So I should bypass the CAD paper printout and go ahead and pay for the hard patterns? I don’t have a contractor just yet- just have home sewers right now (with industrial-type machines) Here is the pattern description:

“Output is also available on 2X manilla for those working in the leather industry or in need of manual markers. Your hard paper patterns will be labeled to your specifications and outfitted with a header card containing valuable production information such as a pattern piece/cutting list, pattern history and fit reference.”

$3 per piece is relatively inexpensive [2012 dollars]. You don’t mention whether she has a CAD system that will print out on oak tag so it could conceivably be less but then there is the overhead cost of the equipment ($6,000 for a sign cutter on up to $25K for the real deal). A fee of $3 per piece is on the low side considering the time it takes to cut them out and mark them. I used to do this job for $1 a piece but that was 20 years ago. Where did the time go? I don’t know of many pattern makers today offering this service (I still do) but the cost today is closer to a median price of $5 for each piece.

I think the “pattern description” is a little weird though. Whether you get your patterns on oak tag or not, you should get the equivalent of a “header” card (more often described as a pattern card or cutter’s must, this form is also in my book) so it’s not like you’re getting anything extra. And also, since I just happen to work in the leather trade, I can tell you we use 3X if not 4X. 2X is too lightweight. Those are for first patterns or patterns that won’t be used much. If you have a style that starts to be used a lot, cut it out of 3X before it degrades to the point that you lose some precision.

Robyn, your option can be to have the pattern maker make an extra print out for you if that is an option they offer (some don’t). You can put these on oak tag yourself (there are lots of suppliers -have I written about how to buy paper?). I don’t know how many pieces you have but you may save some money. I’m sure the pattern maker wouldn’t mind showing you how to do this (for a fee). While this job is fee generating, it’s not a fun job. As a pattern maker, you do it if you need the money but not otherwise. Also, I don’t know what kind of numbers you’re running and which styles (if you even know it at this point yet) are in the greatest demand. It may be worth it to you to put the patterns with highest usage on oak tag. As you grow, this will become increasingly important.

Personally? If it were me? I draft on oak tag. I can’t stand the flimsiness of soft paper patterns. I think it’s an occupational hazard. As a patternmaker, it’s worth it to me to use hard copy even for trial drafts but not everyone will feel this way. For me, using high quality work materials like oak tag is worth the expense; I know it’s more accurate and it’s probably more efficient. You enjoy a job more if you’re using good materials.

Related:
How to know if you need digital or paper patterns
Handmade or CAD patterns: which are better?

39 Responses to “Paper patterns, soft or hard?”

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Christy B.
September 22nd, 2006
5:58 PM

Hard patterns, hard patterns, hard patterns. I never realized how annoying thin paper patterns are until I had to start using them exclusively at work. They’re horrible to trace, get all foldy (that’s a word), and if someone cuts around them with a rotary cutter (I know some of you do) then edges get shaved off so easily and ruin the whole thing. If I recieved print outs I would always choose to trace them out onto oak tag with my tracing wheel.

Thomas Cuningham
September 22nd, 2006
6:56 PM

i was too cheap to pay $80 to get a hard paper pattern copied — did it myself — paid $50 for the shears, more for a roll of oak-tag — and it took me eight hours. (a suit w. lots of pieces) but it came out all right. next time I paid the $80. $3 a piece would have been around $120. I think it had about 40 pieces total including lining.

Josh
September 22nd, 2006
9:24 PM

I’m in my learning phase of making patterns so I have a big roll of floppy white paper that I use to practice on and oak tag that I use when I think I have something figured out enough. I think it’s good to have some floppy cheap paper to do wild experiments with.

jocole
September 22nd, 2006
11:20 PM

hmmmmm, have you written about how to buy pattern paper?

Judith
September 23rd, 2006
5:38 AM

Thank you for posting all this information. Im always wondering about this kinda stuff.

Charquis
September 24th, 2006
4:08 PM

I am just starting up an apparel company and I have a ton of questions. Thanks to this blog a lot of them have been answered. I really appreciate it.
Currently, I am having patterns made for my designs and I plan to manufacture locally. I do not know anything about patterns, sewing, or in and outs of the fashion world. I am just a girl with unparalleled style as far as everyone whose ever met me is concerned.

What should I be expecting from the pattern maker? I do not want to be taken advantage of.

J C Sprowls
September 24th, 2006
4:21 PM

I typically use kraft paper for the initial draft (w/out seam allowances) and then transfer to oaktag once the pattern has been proven and the seam allowances (and, inlay) have been identified. Kraft paper provides sufficient edge to chalk the seamlines onto the fabric; and, is durable enough to withstand transferring to oaktag, later.

I recently made a few drafts on marker paper. It’s great if you’re trying to do dart manipulation and pattern corrections directly on the figure. You can exploit the malleability of the paper for 3D work. But, it’s transferring the pattern to flat that’s a bear because the paper edges are not substantial – push pins help, though.

I suppose either approach is fine as long as it helps you achieve the end results and does not waste time, frivolously.

Would you please translate 2X, 3X and 4X oaktag? I’m only aware of 125-lb and 150-lb. I currently only keep 125-lb in the studio.

Oxanna
September 24th, 2006
6:17 PM

Thank you for posting all this info. I’ve been taught some of it (maybe all of it!) to one degree or another while in school, but it’s one of those things that is not EMPHASIZED, therefore it’s forgotten.

I’m a student at present, and am working with butcher paper for my flat patterns. (Someone suggested tissue paper. EEK!) I can easily see needing something heavier when working in the industry, however.

Kathleen
September 24th, 2006
6:23 PM

Would you please translate 2X, 3X and 4X oaktag? I’m only aware of 125-lb and 150-lb.

2X =125lb
3X =150lb
4X =175lb

Beverly
September 26th, 2006
7:01 AM

I am just starting up an apparel company and I have a ton of questions. Thanks to this blog a lot of them have been answered. I really appreciate it. Currently, I am having patterns made for my designs and I plan to manufacture locally. I do not know anything about patterns, sewing, or in and outs of the fashion world. I am just a girl with unparalleled style as far as everyone whose ever met me is concerned. What should I be expecting from the pattern maker? I do not want to be taken advantage of.

To Charquis – don’t even think about going any further with your plans until you buy and READ, READ, READ Kathleen’s book, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing”, which is available on this site (look in the upper left hand corner). The questions you have about pattern makers are all answered in the book, and so are many others you haven’t even thought to ask.

Buy the book – until you do, you are just treading water.

Jane Doe
September 26th, 2006
12:25 PM

It irritated the daylights out of me when the girl asked if paying $3 for a hard pattern piece was too much.

It kills me when people want to make money at other people’s expense. I understand keeping costs down, but geez…. You know how expensive oak tag is. The stuff is heavy so the shipping is outrageous, plus that patternmaker’s time is worth something. People may not realize it, but there is a skill to cutting out a smooth pattern.
Any she is too cheap to pay to have her product developed!

That pattern can be used forever and thousands and thousands of dollars can be generated from that pattern and she is too cheap to spend $3 to have it made right.

You know if a patternmaker can’t make a decent wage, we will all have to go and get different jobs and there won’t be any patternmakers for these creative types to get their ideas made into reality so they can be produced!!!! This is not China….

Kathleen give these newbies a wake up call….you get what you pay for…. a good patternmaker can make your garment or break it. It is all in the details, the nuances of the curves, the balance of the garment, one piece to another. This will make the garment hang beautifully or pull and twist and look like #@$%. Tell these girls they are paying for years for training and experience. That freelance patternmaker has to cover the supplies, their time, taxes, and other overhead. If she can cut out 10 pieces an hour at $3 she is only grossing $30 hour. That is not much at all!!!!!

Sorry, I am going off like this, but I figure you would be able to relate to my frustration.

laurra
September 26th, 2006
9:59 PM

Hi JC,
Have been thinking of you the last couple of days as I add seams to patterns with my $1.99 compass. Pretty kool laurra

J C Sprowls
September 26th, 2006
11:31 PM

Thanks, Laurra.

I think Josh also mentioned he uses a two-pencil compass to add seam allowances, too. I like that idea; and, stopped by the local art store to locate one. No such luck, however – they recommended I scoot across town to the architectural supply shop (yah… I’ll get right on that).

I need more tools like I need a hole in the head! But, that’s a whole other obsession…

I have this neat little seam allowance tool I picked up in school which works them up rather quickly, too. I just slide it along the edge of the seamline when I tranfer the proven pattern to oaktag.

Ann Katzen Hand Dyed Studio
September 28th, 2006
9:36 AM

Hi Kathleen, I just noticed a comment from last week asking where to obtain pattern paper and I have two sources I’d like to share.
Atlas Levy Sewing Machine Co in Los Angeles (atlaslevy.com) and Ralph’s Industrial Sewing Machine Co. in Denver (303 455 6831).
The Atlas Levy site shows most everything they sell (some prices lower than Southstar) but the Ralph’s site is only about sewing machines so you have to inquire by phone for other supplies.

J C Sprowls
September 28th, 2006
1:47 PM

Ann,

Ralph’s will special order paper; but, it is extremely expensive – as are most of their products. In fact, I’m mildly frustrated with that particular shop. But, they’re the only game in town; so, I’ll find someway to cope while I forge a relationship with them.

I’m tracking down other resources for paper because shipping just went up (again!). So far, I’ve found one potential resource, but the minimum is on the high side. Perhaps I’ll split the inventory by posting it to eBay when I commit to bringing it in.

I like Atlas Levy because their selection is relatively broad and it’s easy for me to accumulate enough items to warrant the order. I haven’t called them in a while; but, last time I spoke to them, they didn’t have the oaktag that’s colored on the wrong side.

Ann Katzen Hand Dyed Studio
September 28th, 2006
6:28 PM

Hello JC, Last summer I bought a roll of 60″x500′ alpha/numeric paper from Ralph’s, from stock, not a special order. I think I paid about $60 and it cost less than $15 to send it down to me in Santa Fe. Also, they were very nice to deal with. I see that Atlas Levy’s price is $50 for that length roll now (they’re also nice on the phone) so maybe I didn’t get such a good deal!

RK
September 29th, 2006
10:30 AM

This may be a stupid question but… Do any of you know a trick for un-curling the oak tag once it gets closer to the center of the roll and is so curly its hard to work with?

Im fairly new to posting but have been coming to this site for a while. Ive been using a pencil to trace from marker paper to oak tag and its been driving me nuts. I just read someones comment on using a tracing wheel. DUH!! Why did I not think of that before? Also love the idea of using a 2 pencil compass for seam allowances. You guys rock!

anitra
September 30th, 2006
11:08 PM

i am in the process of getting handbag samples made from my designs. i was quoted $175 for them to create a pattern for a 6″x9″ clutch. (not including the cost of assembly). does this sound exorbitant to you? i am fairly new to this industry so i don’t really have anything to compare it against. also, what other questions should i ask about the patternmaking process? i would appreciate your opinions and thoughts on this. thanks!

J C Sprowls
October 1st, 2006
6:13 PM

RK said: Do any of you know a trick for un-curling the oak tag once it gets closer to the center of the roll and is so curly its hard to work with?

Iron it. Really… the solution is that low tech. Turn it to the reverse side and iron it with a dry iron until it unfurls.

Ann Katzen said: maybe I didn’t get such a good deal!

I don’t mean to besmirch Ralph’s. I live in Denver; and, have been to their shop several times. On my first visit, they were so helpful they offered to sell me the stars. I am running low on paper, so I asked if they had some. They told me it would need to be special ordered and quoted me a price that was much higher than you stated. It was the information I had at the time…

Frankly, a lot of Ralph’s prices are about 50-75% more expensive than what I’m accustomed to paying. I don’t know, yet, if they’re trying to weed me out. Operating a supply shop is not my business goal. But, I may be forced to source larger quantities than I need and split the inventory with my friends and colleagues.

laurra
October 2nd, 2006
12:23 PM

Hi JC,
You mentioned you use kraft paper. I googled kraft paper and found some at Uline but not sure what weight to order 50lb,60lb,75lb. I would imagine 75lb and 60 width.I say 75lb for tracing round a pattern.What weight kraft paper do you find works for you? thanks laurra

J C Sprowls
October 2nd, 2006
1:26 PM

Laurra,

Thanks for the source. I need some packing supplies, anyway. Searching for an online distributor was on my list.

To answer your question, I typically use 48″ wide 60-lb paper. Though, I’d be interested to get a sample of 75-lb so I can give it a test drive.

RK
October 2nd, 2006
7:20 PM

Thanks JC, I will try that.

On the supplier topic I buy oak tag from Atlas in LA and I can definitely recommend them.

Anitra – on your quote question, I dont know of a standard rate for bags and purses although Ive worked on a few but it depends on what kind of clutch and how complex the pattern is. You should not assume that your first sample is included in the pattern quote – none of the patternmakers I know do the first sample. Do assume that your first sample is going to be considerably more expensive than your per piece production cost. I would definitely recommend reading Kathleen’s book if you havent done so already.

Battlepanda
October 3rd, 2006
8:40 AM

For students who are only making one garment at a time, I recommend using whatever thin paper happens to be at hand and then using the double tracing wheel by clover.

Leticia Valdez
October 16th, 2006
6:42 PM

I am working on a small collection of dresses and I want to know what the average fee for a single dress pattern is.
Sleeveles, above the knee dress.

Penny K
November 21st, 2006
11:00 AM

In reference to all the pattern questions, all patterns should be developed first on soft paper so seams can be balanced and walked, and darts can be folded and trued. Soft paper patterns should be stapled and taped and then carefully traced on to oaktag using rulers to clean lines. When cutting out oaktag patterns if you split the line in two with the scissors then you will be sure of a perfect duplication. If you cut off the line then how will you really know how much you cut into the pattern.Oaktag in the 2X weight is the most common in the industry. The under side of oaktag is green becasue it represents the wrong side in full patterns, and when using half patterns, the green side represents the left side of the pattern.

Kathleen
November 21st, 2006
12:39 PM

Hi Penny, I think your comment is an example of practices taught in school versus the cost effectiveness required in the workplace. consider:

all patterns should be developed first on soft paper so seams can be balanced and walked, and darts can be folded and trued. Soft paper patterns should be stapled and taped and then carefully traced on to oaktag using rulers to clean lines. When cutting out oaktag patterns if you split the line in two with the scissors then you will be sure of a perfect duplication.

In school, it is not uncommon for students to make drafts in soft paper (we used oak tag, no soft paper ever at my school) because oak tag costs quite a bit more than marker or kraft paper. In the workplace tho, a manufacturer can’t justify the costs of routinely using soft paper because labor costs so much more than paper (in school, your labor is free; the school keeps costs low by using the cheaper paper). On the job, using soft paper costs more labor-wise because it takes so much longer to do the draft in soft paper. You have to cut it out, prove it, and then you have to transfer it to hard copy, cut it out and prove it all over again to ensure the transfer was done properly because it often is not. Soft paper is too soft to get good lines, you can’t trace them readily. Besides, once it’s been folded up, it’s hard to get it 100% flat again for transfer to hard copy. To prove a dart in a hard copy pattern, all you need to do is trace off the dart legs and seam edge in soft paper and fold it up. It’s a lot faster and more accurate.

I disagree that one should cut down the center of a line. One should cut their lines away, always! Otherwise, the pieces will continually grow the half width of your line and how wide is that? Some people use markers so they could be adding as much as 1/16th at a pass.

My intent isn’t to find fault but to clarify the differences between what we are taught in school (and in pattern books), to mesh more readily with the values of commercial environment. I’m not implying schools are bad either but the instruction offered in them (and in pattern books) is very common and easy to find. As such, it tends to dominate the discussion -but that doesn’t mean it is right. What I’m trying to point out are practices used in real life, things you don’t learn in school or in pattern books.

If people want to follow traditional design school practices, I can’t stop them but sooner or later if they will be successful, they end up following my advice because it is more accurate. I wrote an in depth explanation of cutting and marking that I recommend people use.

Nick
May 28th, 2007
2:35 PM

I can give you a better price on hard paper patterns, which are digitized and cut on the Gerber PDS system. Please feel free to contact me off forum, and I can send you the digital versions of the pattern as well, which you can forward to factories.

Jodi
June 20th, 2007
3:09 PM

I am beginning my Design business for Women’s suits. I have past a Design school background – and in the past, I have made a pattern, done the first sample, altered the pattern (after making the first sample) and made the final garment.

Yet, now I do not have the time to make a pattern and do the samples. I am looking for a patternmaker and samplemaker (I live in the New Jersey/Manhattan area).

My question is that once the patternmaker makes the pattern from my sketch (and my direction), does she/he make the first sample, as well?

If not, and the sample maker makes the sample —-if it needs to be tweaked, I would need to go back to the patternmaker, get a revised pattern from the sample, and then go back to the samplemaker and make another sample. There must be an easier and less expensive way to go about this procedure.

Please let me know.
Thank you for your attention.

Kathleen
June 20th, 2007
3:54 PM

I am looking for a patternmaker and samplemaker (I live in the New Jersey/Manhattan area).

Me, me, me! I make patterns for suits! I’m not in the area tho. bummer.

My question is that once the patternmaker makes the pattern from my sketch (and my direction), does she/he make the first sample, as well?

It depends. Maybe, maybe not. If that’s what you want, find one who will. At this point I’m obligated to tell you that you should probably buy my book (not what you learned in school). See the sample chapters (including how to hire pattern makers). I don’t want to rewrite the whole song and dance here but a good pattern maker will make a dummy or mock up of the pattern, the basis of which you will approve the pattern before making a sample. If it needs tweaking, hopefully you’ll catch most of it in testing, before making a sample. Then, we haven’t even talked about blocks as a way of reducing your iteration costs. That’s in the book and on the blog in spades. People are probably tired of hearing me talk about it.

Andrea
June 25th, 2007
12:39 PM

I just got serious about my handbag collection. 7 styles and growing. One of my newest designs has 11 pattern pcs! I can’t express how important correct seam allowance and hard paper are to making a correct bag (all squares and angles). My bags go together 2x as quickly with less mistakes (and I am, sadly, still using a home machine). Accuracy in your pattern means less money lost on mistakes…better cutting and ultimately better sewing!

andrea
June 25th, 2007
3:37 PM

an addendum to my previous comment: I didn’t quite express how important hard paper is to sewing….my bags go together twice as quickly because hard paper allows me to mark accurately and cut accurately making them a breeze to sew. I will never again even draft a sample pattern in newsprint!

Kerryn
October 2nd, 2007
5:01 AM

RK said: Do any of you know a trick for un-curling the oak tag once it gets closer to the center of the roll and is so curly its hard to work with?
Iron it. Really… the solution is that low tech. Turn it to the reverse side and iron it with a dry iron until it unfurls.

An even quicker way to solve the curling issue is to use what your standing next to. Turn the paper to the reverse side and holding the corner pull the paper down firmly over the patternmaking table edge (as if you were trying to curl it in the opposite direction). This should balance out the curl in the card*.

*I can’t imagine using anything else!
My dream ‘tool’ is a plotter that plots and cuts on card (or oak tag as you all call it? where does that name come from??) it even cuts a pattern hole for hanging!

Monica
January 10th, 2008
7:16 AM

Does anyone have any thoughts on how to make a pattern table? What can I use for the top? I was thinking cork maybe (covered with oak tag) but I don’t know. Plus, I can’t find any thick enough. Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Kiya
April 15th, 2010
6:57 AM

I start with contractor’s paper from Home Depot. It’s heavier than craft paper and at $8 a roll with no shipping…it works for me.

[…] Notation: Now we can discuss grainline notation as it applies to hard patterns. I have to limit discussion or we’ll be here all day. [If you need to know about pattern […]

jacquelyn
April 4th, 2012
1:39 PM

Thanks for all this helpful information. Kathleen, you mentioned that you use oak tag to draft on, and you also said you don’t like to fold it due to degradation. I fully agree, but, for a symmetrical full pattern piece, I am puzzled as to how to copy the drafted right side to the left without scoring and folding the oak tag. I appreciate your thoughts.

Kathleen
April 5th, 2012
9:03 AM

Jacquelyn, you weren’t the only one with questions, it evolved into a thread called How on earth do you use oak tag to make patterns? Your specific question was answered here.

Handmade or CAD patterns: which are better?
September 28th, 2012
1:07 PM

[…] also read: Paper patterns, soft or hard? How to know if you need digital or paper patterns Why pattern makers resist learning CAD CAD vs CAD […]

Meet Martha. Need hard copy patterns?
October 20th, 2012
2:02 PM

[…] to help out part time. She’s been working with me for a week now. Speaking of, she can make hard copy patterns for those of you who need them. Please don’t hesitate to inquire if you need […]

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