Five Top Tips for Patternmakers

Making each pattern helps to set the tone for an entire collection. Read on to discover key tips for ensuring patternmaking success.

1. Know your designer. Do you want to create the most successful garment outcome possible? If so, a team effort is necessary and a "meeting of minds" also is very helpful.  If you click with the designer you're working with, you can easily find out what they like and they can also pick up useful influences from your style of working and your expertise.  I always find it beneficial to do my own research: I like to see what's on the catwalk and in the stores, and to visit exhibitions. Also try to drape on the mannequin and try out new techniques and show these to the designer, who will usually appreciate your participation and often get inspired by your input.

2. Know your fabric. Fabric composition, drape, bounce, shrinkability, and stretchability are just some of the very important things to consider before starting a dress – hopefully your designer has considered this thoroughly already but do confirm that they know what the abilities and limitations of the fabric are.  Other important things to consider are embroideries, prints, plaids, stripes and motifs.  Discuss all of these in detail with your designer or the designers specific to those areas, and remember that beaded and non-beaded fabric will fall differently, prints may need to be placed instead of an all-over repeat to work best, plaids and stripes need to be matched at the seams. Photocopying any fabric of this nature and taping in directly on to the pattern is very useful.

3. Know your size chart. Ensure that you know how much ease is required on top of the company size chart and make your own chart that includes this information.  Make a solid block to your size charts; this will save you a lot of time and will help you remember their figures for fittings when you're suddenly asked, "What is the hip measurement on this?" and you can confidently reply, "36 in. including 2 in. ease!"

4. Know your fit model. Take thorough measurements of any new model or any regular models at the beginning of each season to note any changes.  Make it very clear to the designer how the model differs from the company size chart, for example: smaller bust, bigger hips, longer in the torso.  Also be sure to study the model's symmetry; check her shoulders and hips for any signs of imbalance, as this can lead to incorrect fit amendments, especially in asymmetric garments!  And be aware of any signs of a slightly hunched back, twisted spine, swayback, or protruding derriere. These variations can have a significant effect on the fit of a garment.

5. Appease your production team. The people in production are under as much pressure as you but their deadline is closer to the money so they tend to be more to the point and less creative than the designers. As a pattern maker you have to be both creative, problem solving and practical.  Remember to label your patterns clearly (style number, size, piece name, grain, notches, and drill holes) and to check that everything matches up. Mark your cutters with care and with crystal-clear instructions, and attach fabric swatches: know your fabric width! Misinformation in these areas can cause headaches that you don't want when you're launching a new season.

Olivia Humphreys is a UK-based patternmaker. She has worked for luxury fashion houses in London and New York in addition to serving as creative director for her own bridal label, Olivia McLaren
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